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Saturday, March 6, 2010

Don't Fear the "Dictionary"

In grade school, I put off looking up words in the dictionary because I didn't like discovering that I'd been spelling them wrong for the umpteenth time.  It seems funny to me now, since I have a degree in English and every time I mention that to people, they joke that they need to watch their spelling and grammar around me.  What good was it doing me to avoid opening the dictionary, anyway?  It was still misspelled, whether I knew it or not, yet somehow ignorance really did feel like bliss.

Some Christians feel the same way about the Bible.  So many people out there preach how we are "free in Jesus," and that statement is no lie.  Unfortunately, we too often misinterpret that sentence to mean things that it shouldn't.  Do we know better, or are we just afraid to look?

As I've said before in my post, "To Obey is Better Than Sacrifice," total freedom is actually anarchy.  Rules and laws are important to protect our freedoms.  When we say we follow God, we are saying that we obey Him and accept His rules and His leadership.  Before we knew God, our lives were various degrees of anarchy against rules and order, but when we became Christians, we voluntarily gave up our so-called freedom to rebel, to hate, to harm others, to act out against the way God wants our lives to be.  We gave up the stress of keeping up an outward attitude of holiness (aka an act), the fear of getting caught, and the hard work of keeping all the lies and tricks from catching up with us.

So when I speak of being free in Jesus, I mean that when I am obeying God and living the way He planned and designed me to live, rather than doing my own thing, I feel somehow freer than before.  It feels better than it did the first time I looked up a word in the dictionary and discovered that I had spelled it right.  Jesus wasn't exaggerating when He said, "my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11: 30 NIV).

The problem with the phrase "free in Jesus" as it is usually used is that many use it to lay claim to freedoms that God doesn't offer Christians,  such as freedom and entitlement that doesn't take into account other people's freedom and entitlement (anarchy).  Sometimes people are trying to get away with something by claiming that "freedom in Jesus" allows them all these freedoms, but many just haven't read God's Word enough to know what God calls off-limits.  Often they choose not to look or search deeply into their own hearts, for fear that they might have something to repent of.  I don't know if this is laziness, a vague sense of conviction they are trying to brush off, or a type of immaturity that is unable to accept the consequences of their actions.

Whatever the reason, the Bible says that God doesn't wink at ignorance (Acts 17: 29-31).  At the end of our lives, we will have to explain to God why we did everything that we did.  Whether we know what to do but choose not to, or just willed ourselves ignorant, we will still have to account for everything we have done.  If you ask me, it's best not to get into trouble at all, but if you're going to anyway, you should at least know what you did to deserve the punishment.  When it comes right down to it, most people know in their hearts when they are doing something that might get them into that kind of trouble.

So to get back to my point, the real bliss, the real freedom in Christ, is knowing God's ways and walking in them (Jeremiah 7: 22-24), not living in fear of breaking rules we are not aware of or don't fully understand.  When we've made God's rules part of the framework and habits of our lives, we suddenly are free to live greater, happier, easier lives.  There are no laws against doing what is good (Galatians 5: 22-23); there is nothing really to fear for doing what is right, except the opinions of those who still fear being "found out" by the dictionary, so to speak, and their opinions don't ultimately matter.  When it comes down to it, it is better to know what God asks of us and do it than to live in fear of His displeasure.  Ignorance is not bliss.

The Test of Freedom

I don't ask you to think about this--whether the freedoms you claim in Christ really come from God--without trying to help you test them for yourself.  It isn't a good idea to make your spiritual decisions solely on what someone else says.  Ultimately you need to know what God thinks about something, not what other people think.  Not even my opinion, or your pastor's opinion, or your mom's opinion means more than what God's Word says.  I can't give you a cumulative list of all the do's and don'ts of the Bible, but I can try to give you biblical pointers to help you judge whether something you are doing is okay with God.  The rest is up to you.

  1. Does it show Christlike love to someone else?  The Bible says, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another," (John 13: 34-36 NIV).  Paul also wrote that we shouldn't do something in our freedom if it causes another person to sin (Romans 14: 21-23).  If it doesn't show real love and consideration for those around you, you should question whether you, as a Christian, should be doing it.
  2. Are you doing it to get glory and attention for yourself?  The world's way seeks to get on top or put yourself first, but God's way is to be humble and serve others (Luke 14: 7-11).
  3. Is it the opposite of the fruits of the Spirit? (See Galatians 3: 22-23, linked above).  The fruits of the spirit are characteristics of God's nature.  If it truly is the opposite of God's nature, there is probably something written in the Bible that tells you not to do it.
  4. Do you feel guilty about what you are doing?  Does it make you wonder if God would disapprove?  If so, you know on some level that something about what you want to do goes against something you've read in the Bible or heard preached.  You need to find out what that is.
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, it's time for some serious Bible study.  God wants you to be free, but He knows that living with sin and guilt in our lives is actually bondage and suffering (Psalm 38, Isaiah 42: 6-8).  That is why Jesus came.  God has made an easier way than living in fear of the "dictionary," always afraid of what it is going to say about you.  The Bible says, "The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice," (Proverbs 12: 15 NIV).  The best advice I can give you is to seek God's advice, which He's put down in His Word so you don't have to wonder about it.


Kamal Singarapu said...

Thanks Rachel for a wonderful post. I heard it somewhere "Bible will keep you away from the sin or sin will keep you away from the Bible." I have experienced that in my own life. When one is in the act of disobedience he/she does not naturally recognize the immediate need to open the word of God.

Your example of your spelling mistakes and your refusal to look up dictionary is just fitting right with the context of what you are trying to say.

Thanks a bunch for your insightful thoughts about Freedom in Jesus.
Keep Blogging...

- Kamal

Rachel said...

Thanks, Kamal! It's always encouraging to find that others are enjoying my blogging efforts. It makes it worthwhile. :)
You make a good point. Without the Bible as part of our daily reading, we have a tendency to forget, to excuse ourselves, and to relapse into sinful behavior. It's so important to keep reading and applying it to our lives!