Category Archives: theology

Do we overvalue freedom?

A recent Time magazine article profiled Jonathan Franzen and his new novel, Freedom.

“It seemed to me,” Franzen says, “that if we were going to be elevating freedom to the defining principle of what we’re about as a culture and a nation, we ought to take a careful look at what freedom in practice brings.”  The weird thing about the freedom of Freedom is that what it doesn’t bring is

Cover of

happiness.  For Franzen’s characters, too much freedom is an empty, dangerously entropic thing… No one is freer than a person with no moral beliefs.  “One of the ways of surrendering freedom is to actually have convictions,” Franzen says.  “And a way of further surrendering freedom is to spend quite a bit of time acting on those convictions.”

These are provocative and jarring statements for those of who are rapidly devoted to our independence.  As a nation we often centralize the virtue of freedom.  After all, it is our freedom that is central to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

I can anticipate the objection from my Christian friends: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1).  No matter that such a verse is often taken out of context.  Remember that Paul urges everyone to use their Christian freedom as a means to sacrificial service (Galatians 5:13).

Freedom for most Americans means freedom from — from responsibility (e.g., marriage, family, employer, rules, etc.), from tyranny, from authority.  As American Christians most of us have uncritically imbibed this idea that freedom in the Christian life is freedom from sin, freedom guilt, and freedom for fear.  All of these things are true.  As Christians we are free from many things.  However, to define freedom as merely from is incomplete.  We are free for.

You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness… But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life (Romans 6: 18, 22).

How can freedom lead to slavery? Freedom from sin leads to willing submission to God.  “I have been bought with a price” and, therefore, am willing to serve God.  I am free to serve God and to serve others.  Jesus willingly sacrificed his heavenly status and comfortable position for my redemption (Philippians 2).  Am I willing to sacrifice my freedom for him?  Am I willing to sacrifice my freedom for others?

Self-sacrificial love that values the gospel above all personal fulfillment and comfort is the greatest testimony of the self-sacrificial love of Jesus.

God is All You Need (whether you know it or not)

I was intrigued by this statement a few weeks ago: “you’ll never know God is all you need until He is all you have.”

Am I the only person that thinks this is false?  For many people the reality of God’s sufficiency will become clear in a moment of crisis.  However, it is possible to know that God is sufficient by simple faith.

At the moment of salvation you have completely trusted that God is all you need.  If you still need another moment of crisis to prove His sufficiency, then I wonder about your initial conversion.

Watch your life and doctrine…

I came across a brief video clip of C. J. Mahaney.  He was offering advice backstage at the 2010 SBC Pastor’s conference.  His simple advice was from 1 Timothy 4:16:  “Watch your life and doctrine closely.”

I empathize deeply with C. J.’s concern.  It is much easier for me to watch my doctrine than my life.  I must be careful to pay close attention that the information I gain about God results in a life transformed to look like Christ.  The result of any knowledge about God is a life that bears much fruit for His glory.

A timely reminder.

Education is not the solution to sin…

I have been musing recently about the way political conservatives and political liberals (those on the “right” and the “left”) view the past and future of America.  In the middle of one of these moments of reflection I stumbled on a blog post by Doug Wilson.  Wilson’s reflections on Glen Beck and the Bible provided motivation for me to jot down a few thoughts.

1.  The problem with humanity is sin.  The only way for humans to “fix” their sin problem is to “repent and believe.”  To say it another way, the only way to fix the problem of humanity is to trust Jesus.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins… but because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:1, 4-5).

2.  Wilson makes clear in his post that one of the main problems in America is humanism.  Both liberals and conservatives have a basic belief that mankind is “good” and “the explanation for evil is ignorance.”  I see this sort of logic applied on both sides of the political system.  The result is a belief that good logic and argument will be enough to convince people to agree with you.  With the right information and the right decisions our society, the humanists argue, will be “fixed.”  Both sides (the right and left) are unable to agree on which direction to take our country, but the underlying assumption is that American can be “fixed” by proper information.

I came across a really good illustration recently that speaks to this very point.

Imagine encountering a man’s body lying by the side of the road.  You decide to pull over to check the man’s condition.  As your car comes to a stop, you jump out and run toward him.  Reaching down to check his pulse, you realize he has none.  He’s dead and gone, perhaps due to a heart attack.  What can you do?  Based on his appearance, you deduce that the man may have suffered heart failure due to a lifetime of poor eating habits.  Instantly, you leap to your feet, rush to the car, pull out a diet book, and begin screaming important information from its pages as you head back toward him:  “Chapter 1:  Eating for Health and Heart!”

Stop to examine the absurdity of this situation.  No amount of information on eating habits is going to resurrect this man.  He’s already dead.  The only real solution would be for him to somehow obtain a new lease on life.  In the same way, no amount of education will change the heart of a spiritually dead person.  Life is the only solution to death.

Andrew Farley, The Naked Gospel

The Idolatry of Patriotism

I just read an article by Gregory Boyd in the most recent issue of Relevant Magazine.  I think this is one of the most well-written and concise treatments of the issues of nationalism and Christianity.  Of course, Boyd would be no stranger to this topic as the author of Myth of a Christian Nation. I recommend everyone read what he has to say in preparation for this July 4 holiday.

Below are some cogent excerpts from the article:

The danger of idolatrous patriotism is not just about how we compromise our love for enemies.  If we become too invested in our nation, we can forget our real citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 1:27) and our job is to live as ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20)…

I appreciate that America recognizes my rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” but there is nothing distinctly Kingdom about these rights.  They’re nowhere to be found in the Bible.  To the contrary, as a follower of Jesus I’m called to surrender my rights to life, liberty and happiness, and instead submit to the will of God.  These rights are noble on a political level, but they can get in the way of my call to seek first the Kingdom.  I’m grateful America extends these rights to people, for most countries throughout history have not.  But my sole allegiance is to the heavenly Kingdom that calls me to surrender my rights.  If I get too concerned with an earthly country that frees me to pursue my rights, my healthy patriotism becomes idolatrous.  I’ve put my country’s ideals before God.

Despite the fact that He lived in an age when plenty of political and nationalist issues were being hotly debated, Jesus never displayed the slightest interest in such matters.  He didn’t come to bring us a “new and improved” version of the Kingdom of the world.  He came to inaugurate a Kingdom that is “not of this world.”  It’s a Kingdom that is no more Israeli than it is Palestinian; no more American than it is Iraqi; and no more socialist than it is democratic.  Instead, it’s a Kingdom that encompasses people from every nation and political persuasion, for it puts on display the “one new humanity” Jesus died to create (Eph. 2:15).  In this Kingdom, Paul declares, there is no longer any Jew or Greek (Gal. 3:27-29).  In our Kingdom, all national, tribal, ethnic, gender, social and economic distinctions are insignificant.

So over the Fourth of July weekend – and all year – be appreciative of your country.  Be patriotic.  But make sure your patriotism pales in comparison to your sacrifice, commitment and allegiance to the Kingdom of God.

Thoughts on Christian Hypocrisy

Recently I was musing over the common maxim regarding hypocrites in the church.  You know what I’m talking about; this idea that someone loves Jesus but not the church.

Jesus made a big deal about hypocrisy.  For him hypocrisy was so bad because it involved a lack of acknowledgment of one’s own sin and type of self-righteousness.  Self-salvation is impossible.

On the other hand, I think hypocrisy is so dangerous because it calls into question the efficacy of “new life” in Christ.

Sin is often a continual problem for the Christian, but acknowledging one’s sin does not justify it (Romans 6) and one of the results of salvation is obedience (John 14).

I am continually wrestling with the idea that what I do matters (though it does not save).  I wonder at what point honesty about my sin becomes merely a way to justify my disobedience.

If I do think that my life should reflect the character of Christ (my savior) and that my actions should demonstrate the legitimacy of my new life in Jesus, how do I avoid letting outward behavior become a substitute for the inward working of God?

Highs and Lows – You Don’t Have to Learn the Hard Way

I have recently heard the idea that “you can’t appreciate the highs without the lows.”  Most of the time it comes from well-meaning people trying to encourage someone who is going through a tough time or who has made some mistakes.  Other people invoke this expression justify why they have to “learn things the hard way.”

I think we should file the phrase “you can’t appreciate the highs without the lows” under “statements that have no meaning at all.”

Can I appreciate a good marriage without experiencing a bad marriage?  Can I be thankful for a good job if I haven’t had a bad job?  Can I enjoy sobriety unless I have battled addiction?  Must I experience bankruptcy to appreciate wealth?

Obviously it is illogical and unbiblical to think that bad is necessary to appreciate good.  Granted, the bad times can provide perspective to the good, but I am of the opinion that information can be as good as experience.  I, for one, prefer to learn from the mistakes of others.

The Bible teaches us to learn from tough experiences and mistakes, but it never indicates that we must experience these things to appreciate the blessings of God.  I imagine that the Bible would never warn us about sin if we could only “learn the hard way.”  Warning someone to avoid sin would be of no use because the only way they could learn that something is bad or has negative consequences is from experience.  Do you see where I’m going with this?

If sin was necessary to appreciate God’s goodness and grace, then God is deficient.  God either created sin or is in need of sin to accomplish his task.  Since this is not a Biblical or logical option, we can deduce that we don’t always have to learn the hard way (though we often choose to learn things the hard way).  I think that faithful obedience and simple trust in God is a more fulfilling avenue to joy than the highs and lows of experiential learning.