Dear Moms, God Doesn’t Need You To Be Perfect


It was one of those days. One of those days that started out like all the rest and then, somewhere in the middle, headed completely south. I’m pretty sure my son whined from sun up until sun down and was bound and determined to steal all of his sister’s toys just to be spiteful. My patience was thin and by thin, I mean nonexistent. If I’m being honest, I may have even dropped a swear word. Throw in some self-pity and a little resentment towards my husband and you’ve got a recipe for a stellar day.

I can relive these moments and cringe at my failures. Some days, okay a lot of days, it can feel like I’m in competition against some kind of motherhood/homemaker ideal. Her house is always spotless. She never loses her temper. She always has fresh baked cookies and she has time to do creative, thrifty things like turn old pillowcases into adorable outfits. Have you met her? I know you have. She lives in your head just like she lives in mine. 

We have this idea that we need to be perfect, even that God expects us to be perfect. The thing is though, my worst days, days like today, often lead to the sweetest moments. As I put my son to bed, crying softly into his freshly cleaned curls as we read about Jesus, he grasped the Gospel just a little bit more. As we talked about how Mommy sins and Daddy sins and Jesus takes all your yucky sin, I could tell it was starting to mean something to him because it was meaning something to me. 

If we’re not careful, we can offer our kids the Gospel, but refuse it for ourselves. We can preach grace, but live out legalism. In the end, it won’t be our efforts or “perfection” that will lead our children to Jesus. If anything, they will only push them further away. What will make God’s grace irresistible to our children is to stop resisting it ourselves, to let it fill all our broken places and spill over onto them.

So, Moms, God doesn’t need you to agonize over your failures. He’s actually pretty good at using screwed up people to do amazing things (see: the Bible). He doesn’t need you to be perfect. He’s pretty much got that on lock. What He needs is for you to get your messy, broken, sleep-deprived, possibly unshowered self to the Cross and He needs you to bring your children with you. 

Yes, Monogamy is ‘Unnatural’

Friday is my husband and I’s five year anniversary. On that day, my husband and I stood before God, family, and friends and took vows of commitment to one another. I’m not here to hand out marriage advice. Five years feels like a big milestone, but I know it’s not much compared to people like my parents and grandparents, who have been going strong for 30, 60 plus years. Like any marriage, we have had and have our difficulties.

I recently read that, after splitting from her second husband, actress Scarlett Johannson called monogamy “unnatural” and “a lot of work.” This is an opinion I’ve heard from other celebrities and many people in general. I’m not here to condemn her for view. Actually, to some extent, I’m here to agree with her.

We feel that there is something unnatural about monogamy because there is. What comes naturally is what comes easily and what comes easily is self-love. Commitment, the promise to love another more than ourselves, to stick with it when things gets hard, flies in the face of all of our natural instincts. But if our only standard for living is what feels natural, we have reduced our lives to virtual meaninglessness. Nearly everything worth attaining takes work and sacrifice. The student spends hours studying despite the fact that he would naturally rather not. The marathon runner trains, pushing himself through pain and straining against every natural instinct which begs him to stop. If we only do what feels natural, we may have comfort and ease, but we have very little actually worth having. 

In our society, we are both idealists and cynics. We want to believe in a love so powerful, so consuming that it is always easy to give, that never demands something we don’t naturally feel like doing. We want the sensation of falling in love, but we don’t ever want to hit the hard ground of reality, where things become mundane and difficult, where feelings dissipate. The problem though is that we inevitably do hit the ground and when we do, we feel that love has failed us somehow, that if it was real love, it wouldn’t be so hard. Falling in love is effortless and only takes a moment, but choosing to love for a lifetime takes a lifetime of work.

Real love is made of weightier stuff than feelings. It finds its form and substance in difficulty. It is refined in pain and trials like silver in the fire. It is not simply felt, but forged. It matters more when it is given in spite of and not because of natural instinct. Loving in moments of ease might make us feel good, but it means very little.  We all love that which makes us feel good and no one needs vows to do what is natural. Real love, however, is very unnatural and costly, but then by definition, it is very precious. If we only strive for that which costs us little, we will only attain that which is not worth very much.

I write this not to hold my own marriage up self-righteously or to condemn anyone who has gone through divorce, but rather to dispel the notion that love should come easily. Five years is very short in the long run and I know that we will yet encounter greater difficulties than we have so far. There may come a time when one or both of us will want to throw in the towel, but like a runner who runs to win a prize, I set my face toward the goal with the expectation of difficulty, a prayer for endurance, and the hope of reward. I am determined to keep my vow, to strive for the essence of love that God has given me, the love which promises, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Indeed, we find this love perfected in Jesus Himself. Being fully God, there was nothing natural about Him condescending to come to earth and certainly nothing natural about Him dying on a cross. Leaving us in our sin and self-wrought misery would have been natural, easy, and just. Being fully human as well, we know there was nothing easy about Him doing it. Indeed, he sweat with blood and prayed with tears that the cup should pass from Him. Showering us with mercy and grace came with great pain and at a very high cost. And yet, because of His love for His bride, the Church, He laid down His life in order to make her His own. This is real love, love which has supernatural power precisely because it pushes us beyond our nature to imbue our lives with beauty, hope, and purpose. 

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Holiness Made Its Home Among The Cursed

At Easter, it is natural to reflect upon the death and resurrection of Christ. This year, I find myself also thinking upon the broader scope of His life and its meaning for us. What does it mean that He was Emmanuel? What does it mean that God not only forgave our sins, but came to dwell among us, the sinners? It means God was not merely after forgiveness, but restoration. Restoration of the world in its entirety. Restoration of the human condition in its entirety.

You don’t have to look far to see that we live in a broken world. There is pain. There is injustice and evil and grief. We can find that even our greatest joys can be tinged with sadness as if we know things are still not what they should be. We can be haunted by the dauntless specter of death, our one shared and final fate though something tells us it shouldn’t end that way. Why? Why is the world fraught with sorrow? Why does life end in death? Because we are fallen. We bear the curse of our sin and every square inch of creation bears it with us (Romans 8).

Yet in the life of Christ, we see mercy dawning. We see God retracing the steps of the Fall. We see the Holy One enter the cursed womb and set into motion our ransom, our rescue. The first place He sent sin’s curse was the first place He sent sin’s cure. And there is nowhere He has commissioned His curse that He has not also commissioned His grace, no scars of His judgment that He has not also touched with the healing of His redemption.

The incarnation means that Holiness made its home among the Cursed. Yahweh, a name too sacred to be spoken by our tainted lips, became Emmanuel, God With Us. How astounding that the holy, eternal God entered into the wasteland of our transgressions. How astonishing to see Him be born of a sinful woman, labor among the thorns and thistles of our cursed ground, touch and heal the sick and perishing, and finally, die the shameful death of a common sinner.

Christ, the God-man, our lamb and conqueror, subjected Himself to our curse that He might defeat our curse. The Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). Who could but falter under such an unfathomable burden? Yet, He never did. He carried it to completion and finally, cast it off, hurling our iniquities into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19) and with them, our condemnation. Now we find the wrath of God is quenched, spent, satisfied like a fire which finds nothing left to burn. Its cup is emptied. Not a drop remains for He drank it all for thee.

What, then, remains for us to fear? What part of our curse shall hold terror for us still? Shall we fear the womb, be it emptied or filled or aching with the pain of loss? No, for our Lord has been there. Shall we live in dread of sickness? Jesus has taken up our infirmities (Isaiah 53:4). Shall we falter under the burdens of loneliness, grief, persecution? He has been well acquainted with them all (Isaiah 53:3). Shall we tremble as we face our final breaths? No, for Christ has breathed them before us.

He has lived and hurt and died, not merely pardoning us from afar, but entering fully into our human experience and leaving grace for all and in all in His wake. Yes, this ground we tread is cursed still, but now Holiness has been here, sowing the seeds of redemption. For now, they may seem to lie dormant as in winter, or barely shooting up, as in the first, fledgling moments of spring, but someday…someday, they will burst into full bloom. They will chase away the curse forever. All will be made new. It will. It will.

“The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy….” Isaiiah 35:1,2

“But only the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the LORD will return. They will enter into Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” Isaiah 35:10

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Rob Bell, Jesus Wasn’t “Relevant” and His Church Shouldn’t Be Either

Today, I happened upon an article about Rob Bell and his recent remarks to Oprah that the Church will become irrelevant if it continues to cling to the teachings of the Bible. From what I know about this man, he has renounced the doctrine of hell and obviously, doesn’t see the scriptures as authoritative. Without the Bible, I’m not sure Christianity can be called Christianity, but nonetheless, this is nothing new. The church has always been tempted to give way to the culture in the desperate hope that it can influence the culture.

However, this is completely counter to who Jesus Christ was. Jesus wasn’t “relevant” in His day and He never will be today, not in the sense we want. He wasn’t the Savior anyone hoped for or looked for. He didn’t tell anyone what their itching ears wanted to hear.

He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised and we esteemed him not. Isaiah 53:2-3

A “stumbling block” and “rock of offense,” Jesus came to love, yes, but to love and lead people out of their sin. Never once did he amend His message in order to make it more palatable, more popular, or more “relevant.”

The great irony is, that if he had, He would’ve been irrelevant. 

Can you imagine if He had told the woman caught in adultery, “Go and keep on doing as you please.” Or to the tax collector, “Continue in your greed and thievery.” Or to the Pharisee, “Stay in the comfort of your self-righteousness.” These messages would have been well-received, no doubt, but they would have had no impact. If this had been Jesus’s message, the Cross itself would be not only pointless, but laughable and certainly, irrelevant.

A drop of rain which falls in a stream becomes indistinguishable from it. It has no power or influence over the stream, for it is simply carried along by its tide. It is the rock which stands staunchly immovable against the tide that has the power to influence the course of the stream. The more the Church adjusts its views to appease the culture, the more it will look like the culture. And a Church which looks just like the culture will have nothing notable to say to the culture.

Those who suggest we “update” Christianity’s teachings say they are motivated by love, but love without truth, love which points out no wrongs and accepts all is a love which renders itself meaningless and powerless. Jesus loved people enough to tell them they were wrong. He loved them enough to tell them they needed something they couldn’t obtain on their own. And He loved them enough to die to give it to them.

Yes, Mr. Bell, love has, indeed, won, but without a battle, there is nothing to win.  As Tim Keller said, “We’re far worse than we ever imagined, and far more loved than we could ever dream.”  Through the cross, Jesus both showed us our greatest problem and satisfied our greatest need. This is the the Good News which Jesus came to bring and the most relevant message Christians have to offer the world.

Election 2016. I Shall Not Fear.

  This election is drawing to a close and I can’t say I’m sorry to see it go. Perhaps, that is the only thing most of us can agree on. It has certainly been the most tumultuous, divisive, and, might I say, ridiculous election I have seen. It hasn’t been pretty to witness what’s happening to this country on either side of the political spectrum.

Though, I can’t help but feel that this election is not so much doing something to this nation as it is simply revealing what we have done to ourselves. We are merely reaping what we have sown: strife, envy, malice, greed, immorality. 

It can produce in us a deeply rooted anxiety at what might lie ahead.  As a mother of children who are growing up in this mess, I am no stranger to this feeling. It rises up and whispers perniciously that I should be afraid. And sometimes I am.

Yet, we are a people of faith and not a people of fear. We trust in what is unseen. Hopelessness is not befitting the children of God who, every day, are being drawn closer to a living hope, an imperishable inheritance, a better country ( Peter 1:3,4, Hebrews 11-16). Therefore, we must combat our fears with truth. When our hearts whisper despair, we must shout back words of hope, for our hope is great indeed. 

Our God is mighty, sovereign, ruler over all. To him, the nations are like a drop in a bucket. He is transcendent and yet, imminent. Both King and Shepherd, He is sovereign over this mess and with us in this mess. He will not falter or fail to achieve His will. “For he spoke and it came to be; he commanded and it stood firm. The LORD foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations” (Psalms 33:9-11).

Therefore, “it is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes” (Psalms 118:8-9). For we know “the earth is the LORD’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it” (Psalms 24:1). “He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing” (Isaiah 40:23). 

Whoever rises to “power,” Trump, Clinton, is as nothing before Him. Their heart will be in His hand. Like a stream, He will direct it wherever He pleases (Proverbs 21:1).

So, we “do not put our trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground, on that very day their plans come to nothing” (Psalms 146:3-4).

Nations may be in uproar. Kingdoms may fall (Psalms 46:6), but “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea” (Psalms 46:1-2). Though corrupt and evil men rise to power, though troubles come our way, though darkness and madness seem to rule the day, we shall not fear.

For “the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love…We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in you” (Psalms 33:18-22).

For the Mother Whose Life Feels Small

It has been a while since I’ve written. I’ve wanted to write, but honestly, I just haven’t had much to say and don’t want to write something just to write something. With the New Year, I’ve been reflecting back on where my writing took me in 2015. I don’t regret a single thing I wrote, but it has caused me to sort of re-examine why I write and what I want my writing to achieve. I think the ultimate answer to that question is that I’d like my writing to enlighten or encourage and, in the best of cases, both.

I remember driving back to school the summer before my junior year of college and calling my dad to tell him I didn’t want to study Microbiology anymore. “I want to write,” I told him. It was a little crazy, but I changed my major to Philosophy halfway through school and as I got into my studies, I knew I had made the right decision. I felt so assured of God’s purpose for me. My strengths, my passions, and God’s plan all seemed to be in perfect alignment. And they were, although in a different way than I thought at the time. I saw myself doing what I loved, thinking and writing, and doing it for the glory of God. If I was honest though, I envisioned more than a little glory for myself too.

It’s funny how as we get a little older, we realize that our lives are not going to be quite the movie or biographical material we thought they would be. It can come as a bit of a shock to our individualistic American sensibilities that we are after all, quite common. Growing up, I was a star. I say this not to applaud myself, but more to laugh at myself retrospectively. I was a star athlete, a star student. Man, I had potential. With my perfect GPA and variety of extra-curricular activities, I felt as if I was on an upward path to something really special.

Now sometimes, I feel more like a rocket that failed to launch. My days are quiet, as quiet as days with a one year old can be. Each day is a repetitive cycle of diapers, dishes, and laundry. My greatest recent achievement is teaching my son where his nose is, which he points to and inevitably starts picking. I love being home with him. I treasure the moments of tickle-induced giggles and sleepy bedtime snuggles. I wouldn’t trade any of it. I know I am so incredibly blessed.

But sometimes, my life just feels small, so very insignificant. I look at people who I went to school with, out conquering the world and doing big, important things and think, What am I doing? Putting on real pants if I’m having an especially motivated day, that’s what. “I know what I’m doing is important,” I told my husband the other day, “but it just doesn’t feel very important.”

What I’m learning, really re-learning and then re-re-learning, is that importance cannot be measured in audience members or applause or even in difficulty. The greatest of tasks can be cloaked in the humble and ordinary. Purpose is not always tangible and it’s often delayed in fulfillment. The one who sows the seed waters bare ground for days before he sees any reason to. And then it is many years until that seedling becomes a great tree. So it is, I think, with being a parent of little ones.

My husband and I met with our pastor today to get some advice about starting to discipline. On the way home, I was thinking about the end goal, the vision of the godly man I hope my son will grow to be. I was struck by what a great task the Lord has given us and how very important it is, but that that importance is only felt in light of this far-off vision. What this world needs most apart from Jesus Himself is men and women who are like Him. And so it needs fathers and mothers who do the mundane task of watering and nurturing our children like the tiny plants they are. That is my task, my great, great task which for the moment, feels so very, very small.

So for now, I’ll teach my son where his ears and feet are. I’ll make sure he has a clean diaper and keeps his fingers out of outlets. I will do these menial tasks to meet his basic needs, to love him. But someday…someday, I will teach him greater things. I will teach him to love what is good and to hate what is evil, to cling to what is honorable and right and true. I will point him to Jesus, to life. And someday, I pray, he will be like a tree, planted by the stream which is Christ (Jeremiah 17:7), bearing much fruit and offering shade to the weary. I hope that day comes and that then he will know what I am learning: the most important things in life are often what make us the least self-important and the greatest life is the life which is given away.

 

“Do Not Judge.” What Jesus Really Meant

One thing I learned from my post about Bruce Jenner going viral is that Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged,” is the favorite Bible verse of many. I also think it might be one of the most grossly misunderstood and abused verses. This led me to do a little research on it and hear what some respected Bible scholars have to say. I found this article by Sam Storms to extremely helpful and clarifying so I thought I would share.

http://www.samstorms.com/all-articles/post/matthew-7:1-6

As he says, the misunderstanding mostly stems from relativistic thought that has pervaded the American psyche. “To their way of thinking, this verse demands that we never exercise ethical discernment in our evaluation of others, indeed that we never evaluate others at all. We are told we must always manifest complete and uncritical tolerance toward every conceivable lifestyle or belief.” -Sam Storms  But this is completely contrary to the immediate context of the verse and the teaching of the Bible as a whole.

Moreover, it is completely absurd and contradictory. We hold this command not to judge as a standard for all and cry “foul” when it is broken. Yet, in so doing, we abandon our relativistic ways for an absolute standard by which to judge others. You see, none of us really live by relativism. We preach tolerance and subjectivity, but we live by absolutes.

What this verse really prohibits is self-righteousness where we see ourselves as sinless and others as sinful and therefore set ourselves as arbiters of justice and condemnation. We all have this self-righteousness in us. None of us has completely pure hearts. Christ is the model of which we all fall short. He boldly told people their sins, but then forgave them unconditionally, not blessing them to continue on sinning, but freeing them to “Go and sin no more.” I pray that as I grow in Christ, He will remove the dross from the silver that I may be more like Him: perfectly loving and perfectly truthful.

The Gospel for Bruce Jenner

A few days ago I wrote a post about Bruce Jenner. My main point was that I don’t think this man is a hero. It has received over 2.5 million views and I have received some 4,000+ comments, many of them accusing me of being a hateful, judgmental, idiot. I am only human and I think we are all judgmental at times, but I really don’t think anything I said was hateful. I’m not sure when disagreeing with someone became the same as hating them, but there you have it. Nonetheless, it has compelled me to write a follow up post.

I have two goals when I write. First and foremost, I aim to exalt Jesus Christ, to show Him as the supreme treasure that He is, and secondly, to shed the light of the truth of His Gospel on issues here on earth. I have been accused of not showing God’s love to Bruce so that is what I want to do now in the best way I know how. I want to share the Gospel of Christ for Bruce Jenner, the Gospel for all of us. I will speak it all. I will not add or subtract. I will not be ashamed of the Gospel for it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). So, Bruce, this is God’s message of hope and love to you.

Bruce, you are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). You are God’s idea. You are fearfully and wonderfully made, woven together in your mother’s womb by the very hands of God (Psalm 139:14-15) You have intrinsic value and worth not based on your self, but on your Creator.

But Bruce, you have a problem. You and I both have a problem. Because we have sinned, because we have broken God’s law and marred his image, we stand guilty before a holy God. None of us is righteous (Romans 3:10). We all have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). This sin has infected our souls, our bodies, even the very ground we walk on. It has so skewed our perception of reality that we cannot see the truth of God (Romans 1:21-23) nor can we see who we were meant to be. That is why we struggle to find our identity.That is why we look for it in all the wrong places, in money, in sex, in materialism, in fame, and even in altering your body to become a woman. We think these things will liberate us, but the truth is, they only keep us in bondage.

Not only that, but because God is holy and just, His wrath is aimed at us (Romans 1:18). Because of our sin, we are by nature objects of this wrath (Ephesians 2:3). Bruce, some people will try to tell you differently. Some will say that God is love and therefore, He just wants you to be happy and do what pleases you. Well, God is love, but if we don’t first see His righteous wrath, we will never understand or receive His amazing grace. The Gospel is meaningless and powerless to save without this truth. If we didn’t have a sin problem Christ would not have needed to die. But He did die. Why? Because the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Yet, God has shown His love for you, Bruce, by dying in your place while you were still in sin, while you were still rebelling against Him (Romans 5:8) in order that He might give you eternal life (Romans 3:21, Romans 6:23, John 3:16) and set you free from the bondage of sin (Romans 6:18). You see, His love does not affirm us in our sin but liberates us from it.

Bruce, Jesus died as a sacrifice for your sins. He rose from the dead in victory over them.  He stands now, arms open, calling you to Himself so that He might freely pour out His grace and love upon you. All you need do is go to Him, but one thing you must know. You cannot get near the mercy of God without also getting near His holiness. You cannot come to the cross on your own terms. You cannot have him as Savior without also yielding to Him as Lord. Christ died to put your sin to death so you must put it to death too (Romans 6:5-14).

No, I don’t think you are a hero, but Jesus is. Bruce, are you weary? He will give you rest. Are you confused? He will give you truth. Are you struggling to find hope and meaning? Jesus will give it to you. He will give you life. He will tell you who you were made to be.  You were made to be His. Listen to Him. Answer His call.

Weary, burdened wanderer, there is rest for thee at the feet of Jesus in His love, so free. Listen to His message, words of life, forever blest. Oh, thou heavy-laden, come to me, come and rest

There is freedom, taste and see. Hear the call, come to me. Run into His arms of grace. Your burden carried, He will take, yeah yeah, He will take

Bring Him all thy burdens, all thy guilt and sin. Mercy’s door is open, rise up and enter in

There is freedom, taste and see. Hear the call, come to me. Run into His arms of grace. Your burden carried, He will take, oh, He will take

Jesus, there is waiting patiently for thee. Hear Him gently calling, come, oh, come to me. Come, oh, come to me. Come, oh, come to me

Won’t you come? Won’t you come? There is freedom, taste and see. Hear the call, come to me. Run into His arms of grace. Your burden carried, He will take

Natural Does Not Make Moral

A moral philosophy has pervaded our culture that is (or should be) disturbing.  It comes to us dressed in what appear to be enlightened thought and words, but anyone who thinks even slightly deeply about it can see that it is the exact opposite.  It is in fact, hopelessly primitive. It is the philosophy which equates the natural with the moral.  If something is natural it cannot be prohibited and if we desire something, we must necessarily have a right to it.

This is no more noble than it is novel.  We, living in the post-modern age, tend to turn up our noses at those who came before, scoffing at their backward and binding sense of morality.  Indeed, we believe ourselves to have transcended and transformed what has come before us into something better when in reality, we have most decidedly descended, not into anything new or inspiring, but into the most base manner of thinking. In so doing, we make ourselves to be nothing more than creatures of instinct, indistinguishable from the animals.

There is indeed something very attractive about this line of thought and it is not hard to figure out what it is.  It is easy and it gets us exactly what we want.  Morality dictated by something other than our instincts is almost never convenient and rarely in line with our desires. Doing the right thing is, more often than not, very hard and very costly.

Of course, there is the glaring argument that if it isn’t right, then it would not be so ingrained in our nature to desire it.  We are, after all, “born this way.”  But what does that have to do with morality?  With truth?  Since when is “what is” the same thing as “what ought to be.” I find no necessary link between the two. In fact, I am more deeply convicted that there is much about what is, in the world and within myself, that really ought not to be.   I was born selfish, but does that mean that my selfishness must be condoned, even celebrated as good?  If all that counts is what comes naturally and what I desire, then anything, anything goes.  Let us think past the ends of our noses and realize that if we make natural instinct the sole basis of our morality, we have not merely revised moral law, we have abolished it.

We must be careful to remember that what has set humans apart from all other living beings is our sense of a moral law and our conviction that this law should govern nature and not the other way around. What has made the human experience beautiful and meaningful is our unique ability to perform very difficult and very costly moral acts: to die in the place of another, to remain faithful to our spouse until death, or to tell the truth at great cost.  These are the acts we celebrate and admire and yet they are anything but natural.  In fact, they go completely against nature.  They are, in the sense that they go beyond nature, supernatural. And it is this ability to think beyond and act in spite of our natural desires that makes us uniquely human and makes our humanness meaningful.

 

The Right Kind of Slavery

A couple weeks ago I posted my thoughts about the question of whether or not living a life of holiness was necessarily opposed to living a life of pleasure.  I argued that contrary to common thought, the life of holiness will yield the life of greatest pleasure.  A closely related issue is the question of freedom.  What does it mean to be free?  Does living for God mean giving up your freedom?  These are important questions and I’d like to share what I’ve been mulling over lately.

First, we must examine what we think freedom is.  Then, we must determine if our view of freedom coheres with the reality of human nature and also whether, such freedom is possible or even desirable.

Freedom According to the World

America is by far the most individualistic society in the world.  We prize autonomy above all else.  The human right to liberty is the primary ideal on which the country was founded.  The founding fathers believed that humans had an inherent dignity which gave them certain rights and freedom which should never be violated.

However, I would say that freedom has come to mean something more today than it did then.  Personal liberty was never meant to be absolute.  The right notion of human dignity and liberty has been twisted into something it did not used to be, a bloated and irrational conception of freedom.

Today, our understanding of freedom has become the idea that we, as self-governing, rational individuals should have the right to do whatever we please, with whomever we please without any regard for consequences or accountability to an authority imposed on us against our will.  This kind of thinking has infiltrated our music, our media, basically ever aspect of our society.  The individual has been exalted to god-like status.   This is nothing new.  It is merely selfish arrogance masked as something noble, the age-old rebellion of man against God masquerading as “enlightenment” and “progress.”

Besides the fact that it is very hard to see how a society who has discarded the Creator who endowed them with such inalienable rights, can still maintain that they have such rights, there are other problems with this view.  It is not really possible nor, if we think about it for any length, is it really even desirable.

It would be very hard to maintain a society where people were actually free to do whatever they wanted.  There could be no laws.  There could be no protests against the behavior of others.  Chaos would reign.

Even if it was possible, would such a world even be one we would want to live in?  Of course not.  Our beliefs are inconsistent.  None of us really want a world of complete freedom.  We want the bad guys in prison.  We want those who have wronged us punished.  Our tolerance and subjectivity shatter in the face of evil.  Deep down, we do not want a world where there is absolute freedom and no final justice because we know that such a world would render our lives meaningless and neutralize our sufferings.  The real and ugly truth is that we do not want everyone to escape the consequences of their actions.  Just ourselves.

Moreover, I would argue doing as we please does not really bring freedom at all.  Those who seem the least concerned with following God’s law or any sense of moral obligation other than their own desires and whims usually end up in the greatest bondage to addictions and destructive lifestyles.

Freedom According to the Bible

So if doing as we please without regard for consequences is not true freedom, then what is?  The Bible takes a very different stance.  Its notion of human freedom is both less and more than ours for it exalts God rather than man. Man is not his own absolute authority.  His actions do have consequences and he will be held accountable, not to the moral code he creates for himself, but to the laws of an eternal, holy, just God.  None of us are free from God, but if we submit ourselves to God, we can be free from the destruction of own foolish ways.

Yes, we all have free will in the sense that we make our own choices and these choices come from our own hearts. Each human life is sacred and therefore should always be treated as an end and never merely as a means. However, our human dignity does not mean we are our own masters, exempt from God’s law and immune to His judgments.  We were simply not designed to be our own master and therefore any attempt to be will end in disaster and frustration. It goes against our nature.  The truth is that we are all slaves to something.  We were created to worship and whatever we worship, we serve. Whatever bewitches our hearts will own our souls.  We are in bondage to whatever we love most.

This is startling and offensive to our American sensibilities, but if we survey even a little of human history or look into our own hearts, we cannot deny it.  Yes, we are free to make our own choices in this life, but the sum of our choices is merely the choice of what we will be slaves to, what master we will serve.  In fact, the Bible only gives us two options.  We can either be slaves to sin or we can be slaves to righteousness (Romans 6:18-23).

To be a slave to sin is to live without reference to God.  It is to “exchange the truth of God for a lie, and worship and serve created things, rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25).  The problem with this kind of slavery is that it is in direct opposition with reality and in total opposition to our built-in purpose to be God-worshipers and God-reflectors.  In essence, to reject God’s law in order to live a life of licentious freedom is to live a lie. Absolute freedom without the guide of absolute truth is a dangerous thing.  To freely follow our own passions and desires is not freedom from God but voluntary bondage to the objects of our own misplaced love and worship.  Many who live for such “freedom” ultimately find it to be a cruel master.

If being a slave to sin is to live a lie, then being a slave to righteousness is to live in the light of the truth of God. It is to make our choices in accordance with the reality of God’s existence, the truth about who He is as the Creator, and the subsequent truth about who we are as the created.  As Tim Keller put it, freedom “is not the absence of limitations and constraints but it is finding the right ones, those that fit our nature and liberate us.” -Tim Keller, The Reason for God

Freedom then, on the Biblical account, is nothing more than choosing the right kind of slavery.  Now to us, slavery has major negative connotations which we need to check at the door.  Choosing the right kind of slavery merely means to serve the God we were made to serve and worship the God we were created to worship.  It means exalting God rather than ourselves.  In so doing, we find that, paradoxically, such slavery leads to freedom because it releases us to fulfill the purpose for which we were designed and thus, to attain the abundant life which God always intended for us.

No, we are not “free” to do whatever we like.  We are still bound to the authority of God, but we are no longer bound to sin and therefore, death (Romans 6:21).  We are now bound to Christ and therefore, life (Romans 6:22). We are bound to a God of infinite love and wisdom “who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:31) and “who works all things for good for those who love him” (Romans 8:28).  What better Master to serve?  Who could be more worthy of our utmost love and devotion?

Jesus said, “if you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).  The precondition for freedom is truth and the precondition for truth is holding to His teaching and thus, being His disciples.  The life of true freedom then is not the life of freedom from the authority of God, but the life submitted to the authority of God.  Christ is the only One we were meant to worship and the only Master who will free us from death unto life eternal.