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freedom is more than an optimistic sentiment

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While seeing friends in North Carolina we visited the Billy Graham library. Walking amongst items and testimonials of those Graham served alongside and those to whom he served up the transforming person of Jesus, I couldn’t help but marvel at the gift of my own salvation. Standing a few feet from where his and Ruth’s bodies now lay within a well-kept garden, a surprising word came bustling up through my soul: free. 

When I think of freedom, I think of wild horses bounding across an open field. I think of a rushing river, never stagnant. I also imagine its opposite: chains or a prison cell. Living freely felt bold and risky, and held at my arm’s length. For a rule-follower, freedom seemed unsustainable, untethered from anything solid. It was many years before I realized what freedom is Christ truly meant. Hint: it’s not simply an optimistic sentiment. 

Peter, a disciple of Jesus, challenges us to “live as people who are free… living as servants of God” (1 Peter 2:16). Freedom is the way of life Christ purchased for us with His death on the cross. It’s not a special level we reach as we mature. It is not a temporary state reserved for the days we feel victorious. The moment we believe Jesus as Savior and Lord we become free people.  

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1

John MacArthur says, “God’s gift of redemption brings salvation from both sin’s oppression and sin’s consequences—and one day from its very existence.” For us to live enslaved to our sufficiency, or fear, or success, or inability is like God presenting His gift, and us refusing to accept it. 

He says, You. Are. Free.

And our lives respond with, I’d rather not.  

My path to embracing freedom has been slow and a bit challenging. Why? Because for a long time I worked for God as if an employee, instead of receiving, as His child, all He wanted to be and give. 

In His presence is fullness joy, but as a worker bee, I struggled to hear His kind voice, to find His loving eyes, amidst the flurry of my efforts to please Him. I battled the lie that since God had done such a miraculous and wonderful saving of me, it was only right that I should respond with something in return. Freedom was transactional, elusive, sometimes foreign and oftentimes out of reach. 

I’ve long known the facts of freedom, but once my soul yielded to the tangible freedom Jesus held out to me, I took a step toward joy I’d never known before.

Living free is a continual coming to His glorious throne, knowing rest for my soul, whatever the circumstances. It is the gift of His presence in prayer and the Bible, no matter how faithful (or not) I feel, as a daughter enjoys the company of her Father.

To embrace our freedom, we must accept the unchangeable truth that we are in Him and He is in us. It is accepting what He says about us as true no matter what. We’re free to live by faith and not sight – “a life of joyful reliance on what God does for us, not what we can do for God” (John Piper). Our freedom identity stabilizes us when we’ve made mistakes, when we’re hurt by another, or when life threatens to unravel us. We’re free to enjoy creation and the Creator, free to walk closely with His Spirit. We’re free to love and be loved, to depend on His sufficiency every moment. We’re free to act on confidence in Him over insecurity in ourselves, free to confess and to forgive. And like Billy Graham, we’re free to speak the Truth boldly, surrender our passions to God’s purposes, and as we breathe our last, say ‘gain’ (Philippians 1:20-21).

Can you see freedom in your life? If not, what is stopping you? 

 


 

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

–Charles Wesley, “And can it be that I should gain”

four questions that help activate faith in my life

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It was one weighty situation after another, and I felt paralyzed by the need to think, feel, and decide wisely. Choices of when to speak and when to be quiet, how to wade unfamiliar relational waters, and how to listen to God were all on full blast. I was in knots for days, and it dawned on me, how does my faith help me here?

The Self-Reliant Fixer and the Trusting-Surrenderer in me were wrestling, and I was weary. Where was my faith? It was in my feelings and whether they could be trusted. It was in my ability to solve problems, to be a good advice-giver. It was in the pressure-inducing lie of ‘choose well or it’ll be your fault.’

I was at a crossroad: continue wrestling anxiously with myself or allow God’s truth to clear-cut a new path of being. By His grace, I confidently chose the latter, and living by faith became less of an abstract Biblical idea and more of a tangible framework for the storm hidden under the surface. I’m learning faith is surrendering my way to deepen my capacity to know and pursue God’s way.

Here are four questions that have helped energize my faith:

  1. Who is being exalted here?

Me? or God? Living by faith in God decreases pride and self-reliance… why? Because we can’t help but be humbled in light of our perfect Savior. Like Abraham, who “with respect to the promise of God, did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God” (Romans 4:20). My thoughts do more harm than good when not illuminated by faith, because faith glorifies God, not self, as sufficient. One of the most gracious things the Lord continually reminds me of is I am the creature and He is the Creator. We live by faith and not sight when we choose to find God in the midst of pain, uncertainty, or weakness, and exalt Him.

  1. What does the Bible say about this situation or my emotions?

Living by faith is a daily submission to the authority of Scripture and treasuring the truth of God. By applying His promises to our circumstances, we open ourselves up to flourish in both mundane and marvelous moments. Faith is allowing Scripture to inform our decisions and attitudes, conforming us to the image of Christ. We live by faith and not sight when we trust Scripture over what we see and feel.

  1. Is the gospel instructing my self-examination? 

In #1, I am reminded to submit to God in low humility and exalt Him. But my faith also states my position in Christ before God. Excessive self-demotion is contrary to the gospel that invites me into life with God. Living by faith in God promotes confidence and acceptance even when we fail… why? Because your failure can’t disqualify Christ, and you are in Christ. Focusing on ourselves too much is like quicksand. Allow the truth of Scripture to not only pull you out, but also to be the light that helps you see more clearly. Maybe you’ve heard these words by Robert Murray M’Cheyne: “For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.” We live by faith and not sight when we see ourselves accurately: near God, raised and seated with Christ, walking with His Spirit on earth to declare praises of Him. (For more on how God sees you, click here.)

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a high view of God is our stability in any situation

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It’s a week where multiple out of control things have crossed our path – a scary diagnosis, an uncontrollable wildfire, difficulty among relationships.

Out of control being the key phrase. I can’t change hearts. I can’t send rain. I can’t heal someone’s body.

In trials, tempting emotions are fear, worry, disappointment, or hopelessness, but an even greater call than those is the call to look at God.

To gaze at God is another way of saying: remember God! (Which is another way of saying “look away from you and your resources and look to your Father.”) We must go beyond acknowledging His existence and step higher into His nature.

God is vastly different than we are. He doesn’t need sleep or nourishment. He isn’t surprised by circumstances. He doesn’t need to learn new facts. He is present in yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He is sovereign over every rain drop, sickness, activity, problem, and occasion. Not only is His power limitless, unrivaled by anything on earth, He is purely good and perfectly kind, never changing.

Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable. Psalm 145:3

Our view of the Trinity must be higher and greater than our view of what is around us or inside of us.

To widen, deepen, and lengthen this vision of God, we need Scripture. If we don’t learn who He is from His Word, we unintentionally live considering God like we consider ourselves.

I write this from personal experience. My view of God was small, human-like, resulting in a distorted view of His nature, producing anxiety and pride, instead of blood-bought identity and new life. But He’s gracious in not leaving us in our natural patterns of thinking, but continually renewing us to holier ones.

In her book None Like Him, Jen Wilkin says this:

Image-bearing means becoming fully human, not becoming divine. It means reflecting as a limited being the perfections of a limitless God. Our limits teach us the fear of the Lord. They are reminders that keep us from falsely believing that we can be like God. When I reach the limit of my strength, I worship the One whose strength never flags. When I reach the limit of my reason, I worship the One whose reason is beyond searching out.

Find comfort in this: God is an expert on you. He knows every detail, past and future, of every circumstance, joyous or sorrowful, in your life. We remember Psalm 139:1-6, “O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.”

He is an expert on every heart. We cannot change people, no matter how passionately we desire peace, restoration, or maturity for them. This is God’s domain. We pray His great grace in another’s life, and encourage them toward His Word however we can.

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