Saturday, May 26, 2012

Freedom in Christ

Jesus said, "...If the son sets you free, you will be free indeed." John 8:36 (NIV)

I have been struggling lately.  I wonder how much freedom we should allow others. How much freedom should I have? What is true freedom? Where does one draw the line between freedom and responsibility? If Jesus has set me free from my sins, why do I still dwell on them? Why can't I forgive myself?

Part of this is easy.  I have a hard time forgiving myself, because since I am aware of God's love and forgiveness, and His call to "Go forth and sin no more," I should not continue.  Because I am keenly aware of His mercy, I should accept and give mercy, and dwell not on failures, mine or others.  This does not mean that I accept sin, but rather that when I, or someone else repents, the sin is forgiven, and thrown as far as the East is from the West.  That is pretty far. I am grateful.  

Now the more difficult parts... I believe true freedom is internal. No one can make me do anything. It is all my choice. I don't even have to pay taxes. I can choose jail if I wish.  Personally this is not the option I choose, so I shall continue to pay my taxes.  To extend freedom to others, I must decide how much freedom do I pass on. Since I am not the one who granted freedom, I cannot limit freedom.  Jesus has granted freedom to all who call upon His glorious name.  I further believe that Christ limits freedom only in how much it impacts on my relationship with Him, or with others. I cannot tread on other people and call it freedom. 

As it is written (in the Scriptures):
  Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge.a Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2 The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. 3 But the man who loves God is known by God.
4 So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.
7 But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. 8 But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.
9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.

a Or “We all possess knowledge,” as you say
The Holy Bible : New International Version. electronic ed. Grand Rapids : Zondervan, 1996, c1984, S. 1 Co 8:1-13

Of course, this does not pertain only to eating certain foods, or about false gods.  The principles can be applied universally to our lives.  To draw the line between freedom and responsibility, I must realize that I have to consider others as more important than myself.  This is the difficult part of life.  Christ said if anyone would follow Him, he must deny himself daily, take up his cross, and follow Him! 

Therefore, as a follower of Christ, I have freedom to do what I want. I do not have the freedom to trample on others' freedoms. I must extend at least the same grace to others as I want to receive from them, and from God.  For God does not hold blameless those who do not forgive others.

To make this more real, let's look at one practical application:

I like  beer, wine, and various other alcoholic drinks.  I also like the flavor (and effect) of coffee.  There are people for whom alcohol is a stumbling block. I once was so addicted to coffee that I could not live without it.  Now, I can take it or leave it. I can drink, or not drink.  If I am with someone that does not drink alcohol, I do not drink either. I know there are many who are still addicted to coffee, alcohol, or other things.  The grace is passed by allowing others to make their decisions as to whether they will drink alcohol or coffee or not.  I do not believe there is anything wrong with drinking either one in moderation.  However, if there is anyone who has a problem with drinking, or thinks it is wrong, I do not drink around or with them. Nor do I bring up matters of conscience by talking about drinking around them.

This post kinda took on a different twist as I typed it than I was thinking when I started, so I hope it makes sense to someone other than me.