Free! I Mean Really Really Free!

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:31-32 (ESV)

We’ve all seen the movie.  The convict has served his time.  He sits before the parole board, three stern looking people who decide the prisoner has paid his debt to society and can now go free.  Soon the (now) ex-convict is standing at the prison wall between two guards.  The gates swing open wide, the reformed criminal nods a final farewell to his minders and, with some slight trepidation, steps into the glorious freedom of the outside world.

For someone who has been incarcerated for many years, the return to society must be quite disorienting.  Mind you, my experience with the penal system goes no deeper than Johnny Cash at Folsom PrisonThe Shawshank RedemptionCool Hand Luke and a documentary I once watched about Angola State Prison.

Still, I can’t help but think that readjustment to the outside world must be tough.

For Christians, accepting God’s forgiveness can be tough as well.  We are used to living with sin.  It surrounds us.  It invades us.

But, when we seek the Lord and ask His forgiveness, repenting of our sins and choosing to follow His will, we are like the convict before the parole board.  We are now set free.  The sins of the past are gone.  Our record is expunged.  The gates swing open wide and, with great joy and relief, we step into the glorious freedom of Jesus our Savior.

That freedom is permanent.  We are no longer slaves to sin.  We are enslaved to Christ, which is truly no enslavement at all.  We have no fear.  We have no doubt.  We walk in grace and mercy and truth.

Through the freedom of forgiveness, we experience the deep profundity of the love of God.  And it can be hard to accept.  There are people who want to make sure we remember our sins, who do not wish to forgive.  

Still, we are forgiven.

There are those who insist on their own set of rules by which to live. They forget that Jesus saves, not the law.  The law defines right and wrong, and sets the parameters by which we should live.  But it provides no forgiveness.

Still, we are forgiven.

Sometimes we ourselves simply cannot get past our pasts.  We cannot forgive ourselves for our wrongs, no matter how large or small.  We can’t see how anyone else could ever forgive us.

Still, we are forgiven.

Understand, sin is a very heavy matter.  It is sin that brings about death.  And yet, we are put right through the saving grace of Jesus Christ as a gift – not something that can be earned, but a free gift from a freeing God Who came to take away our sins that we may live in eternal freedom.

Today I want to encourage you to walk in the glorious freedom that the Lord has given you.  Accept it.  Do not spend another minute weighted down by guilt, or fear, or anger, or unforgiveness.  Recognize as a fact that, in Jesus Christ, your record is clean. You are free.

You are free!

Sin is not permanent.  It is universal (all of us suffer from the sin affliction).  Only God is truly eternally permanent.

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” – John 8:35-36 (ESV)

Amen!  Now… go revel someone in your God-given freedom.  And help someone else with their heavy load.




Good Enough?

I have some good news for all of us.  As of the time of writing this, we still have 354 shopping days until Christmas.  This fact thrills my nine-year-old none at all.  In fact, in the interim between Boxing Day and the ball dropping in Times Square, my son has already began his Christmas 2016 wish list.

My guess is, come November, he won’t want a bit of it.  His wants and interests will have changed.  Something else will glitter and shine and supersede his current interest in Star Wars and all that is popular with his fellow third graders today.

Truth be told, even we adults suffer from the same malaise.  The gifts under the tree are wonderful and fun and very much appreciated.  But, after the beautiful wrapping is torn and crumpled, the bows tossed (or recycled – I think my mom still has bows from 1973, but I can’t swear to it), the mess cleaned up… Well, the feeling of exhaustion is more like a hangover.

We all love gifts – both giving and receiving.  The look in my child’s eyes when he unwraps a toy he has been anticipating for weeks is unmatchable, and fills me with such joy.

But, now that the Christmas tree is down and the holiday music on the radio has finally stopped, and life begins to return to a rhythm of normalcy once more, we can look back with great fondness on Christmas just passed.  However, (hopefully) the gifts under the tree weren’t the highlight of the holiday.

The greatest gift we have each received wasn’t found under a Christmas tree.  He was found in a manger.

Okay… I realize that may sound cliché, and that’s a shame if it does.  There is absolutely nothing trite about God sending His own Son to save us.  You see, by definition, a gift is something freely given to you.  You cannot earn it.

And, the truth is, none of us could earn our salvation if we tried.  We are all too utterly lost (in and of ourselves, that is).  The Law sets the guide posts of how to live.  It defines morality.  But it cannot save us.

The Pharisees are the perfect case in point.  They believed they were the holders of right.  But what they possessed was self-righteousness, which is no righteousness at all.  They coveted power.  They wanted to be right.

But they had not love.  They knew right from wrong.  But they couldn’t turn their knowledge of right into righteousness because they simply did not love.  And, without love, “righteousness” is a façade, a farce.  Today, the Pharisees have become synonymous with hypocrisy and all that is wrong with religiosity.

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. – Romans 3:21-26 (ESV)

There is a word in verse 25 that truly defines our gift from God: propitiation – appeasing God.  Sin requires atonement.  We need forgiveness.  We need to be able to get back to right relationship with the Lord.

We can never be good enough to do it on our own.  Without Christ, there is no love.  Without love there is no salvation.  None of us deserves forgiveness.

Thankfully, Love trumps the Law.  And God, filled with grace and mercy and love for us, stepped in, becoming the perfect – and only acceptable sacrifice – for our sins.

On Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, God Incarnate Who walked upon this earth and showed us how to live, how to love, how to relate to one another and to our Father.  We celebrate the coming of our Savior.

The gift of Jesus is one we should unwrap every day, hearts filled with great anticipation and humility and thanksgiving.  We should be filled with joy, realizing all the Lord has done – and continues to do – for us.

Good enough?  We’ll never be good enough.  Thankfully, we don’t have to be.