Friday, March 07, 2008

Freedom In Practice

Having captured a glimpse of the ideal state of the Christian life, how do we translate that vision into reality? Living without strict boundaries is easier said than done, and it leaves us fully accountable for the consequences of our actions. We may not serve a God who will zap us for coloring outside the lines, as it were, but what we do still matters - possibly even more than it did when we were slaves to legalistic thinking.

The authors of the New Testament all express concern about what we do with our freedom. So how do we determine what we should and shouldn't do? As soon as we try to articulate that by constructing lists of rules, we find ourselves falling back into legalistic thinking. If this dilemma doesn't present us with an outright paradox, we are at the least faced with a tension that we can never fully resolve.

Either way the only proper response seems to be, once again, to rely fully on God's Spirit to guide us. And as much as we may be tempted at times to try to control the behavior of those around us, we have to be willing, at the end of the day, to surrender our 'right' to be right by abandoning our efforts to force them to do what we think is "for their own good." Keeping our own two feet on the path is difficult enough; add in the burden of directing all of another person's steps and the task becomes virtually impossible.

Even so, it's nonetheless true that those new to the faith need guidance of some sort before they can thrive in a boundary-free environment. They need training wheels, as it were, to help them learn how to control their new bicycle. The challenge lies in figuring out how to prepare new Christians to live freely and responsibly without instilling in them a legalistic mindset.

Children first learning how to ride a bicycle understand that the training wheels won't be on their bike for very long, and that no experienced bicycle rider continues to use them. Nonetheless, churches frequently treat the training wheels of the Law as something that we can never outgrow. We become so fearful of sin that we revert to the belief that a perpetual state of spiritual infancy is preferable to the possibility that somebody might ride their bicycle into a ditch, or into the path of an oncoming car.

Once again, fear becomes our undoing. We fear that freedom will inevitably lead to anarchy, so we redefine freedom until it becomes a synonym for conformity. We fear Satan's power to deceive and destroy, so we opt to wield worldly power in an effort to destroy the destroyer. We fear that our loved ones will end up in hell, so we feel justified in using any means that we think might save them from their sin, no matter how abusive.

In the process of subjecting others to what we think is best for them, we lose our own freedom. By fighting fire with fire, we become the embodiment of the same slavery from which God once set us free. We seek to eliminate risk, and in so doing we cut ourselves off from the source of our true power.

Freedom is not without its frustrations. Not only must we allow others to make their own mistakes, but we likewise must respect the choices of those who refuse to give up their training wheels. This creates another potentially unresolvable tension, since the latter seldom reciprocate our respect for their freedom, but in the end it's simply one more thing to entrust to God.

After all, if God can't be trusted to meet them where they're at, what hope do we have?


Peterson Toscano said...

eugene, excellent post! I just had dinner last night with someone I met years ago during my time at my first ex-gay ministry. We spoke about how the rules that seemed so clear when we tried not to be gay, turned out to be traditions not actually based in scripture.

Add to that the knowledge many of us have learned about the Bible, the process by which we got it and it got transcribed through the years.

Leaves us without a document for us to look to for all the answers. Instead we have to worship in Spirit and truth resisting the very easy flights of fear that can beset us.

But in doing all of this we can get beyond the immature questions of what to do with our sex organs and move onto issues of love and mercy and justice.

Anonymous said...

Hi Eugene,
Thanks for the thoughtful post... this is stuff I've been ruminating on for months. While we say we're not legalists, the legalism has been reinforced for me by the holiness tradition I am a part of.

Talking about my homosexuality, I recently asked my pastor/wife what "freedom" really meant to us as Christians. She didn't have an answer... I think you helped at least to define the paradox of freedom for me.

Jeanine Byers said...


Entrusting others to God's care. Exactly!