A lot of people have this concern that Christianity is like a straitjacket on belief and behavior. A lot of people believe that to be a Christian means to be a rule-following, box-checking, robotic, unthinking, judgmental, inflexible, severe, self-righteous, pleasure-avoiding sheep.
People wonder, “Does being a Christian mean you allow some other force to arbitrarily tell you what you can and cannot do, what you can and cannot believe whether it makes sense to you or not?”
This Sunday we look at how the writers of Scripture viewed God. It’s very different than this straitjacket idea. It’s actually so different than this judgmental, legalistic character that it may be kind of shocking to you.
I don’t know that there is a more important question a human being can ask than, “What is God like? If someone created all this, if it’s not all just some accident, who is our maker, and what is his nature and character?”
That’s what we’re looking at in this series.
Gallup did a survey and found that Americans have four distinct views of God.
The most common view of God is — an authoritarian, angry, judgmental God ready to judge the unfaithful or the ungodly.
And I’d be willing to bet that it’s that view of God that keeps a lot of people at a safe distance from Christianity.
I bet the question a lot of people in our community wonder about Blue Oaks is this: Deep down, is Blue Oaks just another one of those narrow-minded, simplistic, bigoted, hate-filled, judgmental, intolerant, homophobic kinds of churches?
That’s an important question.
I know a lot of people who grew up in religious environments where they came away
seeing God as judgmental
seeing God as someone who demeans women
seeing God as someone who doesn’t tolerate questions
someone who enjoys heaping on the guilt
someone who issues capricious and arbitrary rules
someone who likes to bring the party to a screeching halt any time and anywhere any one is having a good time
But is that accurate? Is God judgmental?
To answer that question, I want to look at a couple scenes in the life of Jesus.
And then I want to close today by looking at what the writers of Scripture understood about God.
Jesus said in John 14:9
Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.
So if we want to know if God is judgmental, the first way we can answer that question is to look at Jesus.
The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 15:7:
Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you…
So how did Jesus, how did God in the flesh, accept people? What did his life and teaching communicate?
I want to look at two scenes from the life of Jesus.
The first is a story Jesus told in Luke 18.
Gathered around Jesus in this story are a group of self-righteous, religious elitist types who thought they were superior to everyone else in the world.
And instead of increasingly becoming more loving, their brand of spirituality had resulted in these religious types becoming less loving over time.
So Jesus tells them a story about two guys who came out to the temple one day to pray.
One guy was a religious Pharisee, just like these people he’s telling the story to; and the other was an ethically-challenged tax collector.
The Pharisee, who was kind of the religious professional in that day, stands up and he prays a prayer out loud.
He says: “God, thank you, thank you, thank you that I’m not like all these other people here—these adulterers, these murderers, these evildoers, even this tax collector, this tax collector who scams and lines his pockets with dishonest gain.”
Evidently this religious leader was feeling pretty good about himself. But what he had missed was his sin of pride.
The second person who comes to the temple to pray is the tax collector, which in that day was kind of the moral equivalent of a drug dealer, a wife abuser, or a child predator—an evil person.
This guy was shunned in society by any respectable people.
This tax collector was so ashamed of his life that he couldn’t even look up at God; and in his prayer with God, he beat his chest: Have mercy on me, a sinner.
You need to understand that in the setting in which Jesus was telling the story, his listeners had no doubt about who the good guy was and who the bad guy was.
And they’re all waiting for this ethically-challenged tax collector to get zapped, to get the lightning bolt of judgment.
But then Jesus turns the tables and he does something completely unexpected.
He points to the tax collector and he says: This greedy, sleazy, scum of the earth — this guy who moments ago humbly cast himself on the mercy of God, he’s okay in God’s sight. He’s going home today justified before God.
But this religious leader, the one who has all the right answers, who is so virtuous and religious and so orthodox, who is so full of pride and arrogance and intolerance and judgment — he’s not okay in the sight of God.
And Jesus concludes this parable by saying:
For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Luke 18:14)
There must have been a shockwave run through the crowd that day, because this is not the way a story like that is supposed to end.
The religious guy who looked to be the godly one to everyone there is NOT the good guy in Jesus’ story.
Jesus says he’s got a pride problem; he’s got a holier-than-thou problem; he’s got an attitude problem.
God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. (James 4:6).
The truth is this religious leader was more damaged by his false sense of righteousness than the tax collector was by the obvious moral malfunctions in his life.
Now here’s what we need to understand about God in this scene: God is repulsed, God is nauseated, by religious pride.
The only people Jesus was judgmental toward… were the super-religious types who looked down their noses at everyone else.
There’s an episode of The Simpsons where Homer sees his born-again neighbor Maude Flanders over the fence.
He gives her a warm greeting: “Hey, haven’t seen you in a couple weeks. Where have you been?”
Maude cheerfully replies, “Oh, I’ve been away at Bible camp, learning to be more intolerant.”
This very thing repulsed Jesus.
This very thing is what thousands of people have felt from Christians.
This very thing is what thousands of people have felt in many churches.
Sometimes people come into churches and they feel unspoken messages… like:
Who the heck are you and what are you doing here?
Go back home and change your clothes.
Go back home and make yourself more presentable.
Go cut your hair or get some new jeans and then you’ll be welcome at our church.
Or maybe the unspoken message some people feel is:
Your skin is the wrong color.
Your nation of origin is unacceptable.
You belong in your own church.
Or maybe it’s:
If you’ve got any doubts about God, if you’ve got any questions about God, you can’t bring them here because we’re already convinced around here… and skepticism is unacceptable here.
The reality is that the thing that keeps many people away from God — is proud, arrogant, angry, pompous, judgmental Christians.
If you want to know what God is like, just know at whatever level you are repulsed or nauseated by religious pride, God is repulsed even more.
David Burchett wrote a book titled “When Bad Christians Happen to Good People.”
Isn’t that a great title? I wish I had thought of that one.
Do you know who the religious person, the Christian person, is that repulses me the most?
Sometimes people come up to my wife, Kathy, and say, ”It must really be great being married to someone like Matt.”
And Kathy kind of dry heaves… because she knows the truth about me.
The religious person that I’m often most disappointed with … is me.
And I don’t ever want to lose that perspective.
I don’t ever want to lose that sense of my own sinfulness.
I don’t ever want to lose that sense that this tax collector had, that spirit that says: God have mercy on me. Because on the best day of my life, I’m still a sinner. I’m the one in need.
That’s a spirit that a lot of people are waiting and longing to see in Christians.
That’s the spirit that Jesus honors in anyone who follows him and is dependent on him and his grace in their life. That’s a spirit that we should never lose.
Alright, a second scene from the life of Jesus is recorded in John 8.
In this scene Jesus is talking to a group of people; and he’s suddenly and crudely interrupted by a group of so called holy, religious men — Pharisees — who rush into his presence and are dragging a woman who has just been caught in the act of adultery.
And they say to Jesus:
In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say? (John 8:5)
Now this scandalized woman is guilty. There’s no doubt about it. There is no attempt on her part to deny it.
And no doubt, she’s embarrassed and humiliated to be brought out in public like this.
The best kept secret of the night before is now public tabloid material in that community.
And it’s obvious this whole scene is a set-up to trap Jesus.
My guess is the religious leaders set this up with the man. It had been a premeditated, well rehearsed plan.
Because who walks down the street and stumbles into people — “Oh, look, there’s someone committing the act of adultery.”
Typically that happens behind closed doors. Typically that happens in hotels under assumed names. Typically that happens in secret.
But evidently there were some peeping Pharisees hanging around a window, catching them in the act.
They weren’t trying to bring this woman down; they wanted to bring Jesus down.
And so now Jesus is in a dilemma. If he says stone her, the people will say: “See, he’s just like every other religious leader. We thought he offered love. We thought he offered hope. We thought he offered forgiveness. We thought he offered grace. He’s no different than the Pharisees.”
If he says: “Let her go, forgive and release her,” he would be breaking their laws.
And so they’ve got him trapped; they’ve got him in a dilemma. And that’s exactly what the text says they were doing.
So here’s this insignificant woman just tossed as a pawn for bait, caught in the act, and they go: “What do you say, Jesus? The law says to stone her.”
The silence must have been deafening at that point. The drama is intense.
And without saying a word, Jesus bends down, and with his finger he starts writing on the ground like you would on a dirty car or something.
This is the only time in the Bible that it’s ever recorded that Jesus wrote anything… and we don’t know what he wrote.
Maybe he started writing in the dirt the sins of her accusers.
Then Jesus stood up and he said:
Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her. (John 8:5).
Who’s going to be first?
I think in that moment everyone felt sick because they knew they’d been discovered; they knew they’d been found out.
And looking into their hearts, Jesus bent down and continued writing some more.
Maybe he wrote words like ‘greed’ or ‘lust’ or ‘envy’ or ‘hate.’ Maybe he wrote the names of their girlfriends in the dirt.
And one by one, all throughout this crowd that had been so toxic, so venomous, so loud moments earlier — rocks started falling out of their hands and they started walking away.
And now there are just two people left: Jesus and this woman.
Two of the most diverse people who have probably ever stood eye-to-eye.
A man; a woman.
One who had never sinned; one who moments ago had been caught in sin.
The Son of God; a cheating spouse. Eye-to eye.
But Jesus, as he always did with imperfect people, he didn’t accuse her. He didn’t condemn her; he didn’t write her off.
He built a bridge and he said: Hmmm. Where is everyone?
“Has no one condemned you?” And she said, “No one, sir.” (John 8:10-11).
She was probably all braced now for this big sermon, for the big ax to come down on her.
But instead, out of the mouth of Jesus came these words of grace:
Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin. (John 8:11).
He gives her the assurance of grace.
“Neither do I condemn you. You’re forgiven. I’m not going to hold this against you.”
Then he gently points her in a new direction: “From now on, why don’t you go and leave your past behind? Why don’t you go and walk in a new direction? This is an opportunity for you to get a fresh start.”
It’s interesting to me that the crowd that wanted to condemn her couldn’t. And the only one qualified to condemn her didn’t.
We don’t know anything else about this woman, but I can’t help but wonder if years later tears didn’t come into her eyes when she thought about this day… when she squeezed a husband whom she never would have known without the grace that she was given on that day.
Or maybe she went in and looked over a crib and saw a child she never would have had were it not for the grace that she was extended on that day.
Now here’s what I want you to take away about God in this scene: God is an acceptance magnet… and an extender of grace.
That scene helps me to understand what Paul writes to the Roman church when he says,
Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you.
Some of you have decided that the safest thing for you is to keep your distance from Christianity.
And I know why you keep your distance. You say that somewhere in your past you had a bad experience with Christians.
And I bet I can tell you what that bad experience was.
You got rejected by spiritual people who you thought would accept you.
And that’s tragic.
Jesus never did that, because God is an extender of grace. God is an acceptance magnet.
Jesus was accepting of the very people that the religious elite in that culture were repulsed by.
Now, I want to tell you something that’s universally true about people. It’s true about me; it’s true about you.
We, too, are acceptance magnets.
All of us are drawn to environments and relationships of acceptance.
And conversely, we move away from relationships of rejection.
When you came in here today, you didn’t look around for strangers to walk up to, did you? You didn’t say: Honey, there’s some strange-looking folks over there. Let’s go over and introduce ourselves and sit with them.
No, you scanned the room. If anything, you looked for someone you already knew. You looked for someone you knew would accept you.
Jesus knew this about us, and so he just exudes this spirit of acceptance.
And that’s why I think so many of us around here are just drawn to Jesus.
You look around Blue Oaks carefully and you’ll see we are all kinds of people:
lawyers and mechanics
black people and white people
Indians and Asians
young people and old people
people who had no faith in their background growing up, people who grew up in homes of strong faith
people who are comfortable at the country club, people who are comfortable at the rodeo
We have Jewish Christians in this church, we have Arab Christians in this church
Democrats and Republicans
people who love the San Francisco Giants and normal people
At Blue Oaks we have them all
The issues that might divide us anywhere else draw us together here because of an acceptance magnet named Jesus, who always says to people:
You just come to me. Come just as you are to me.
You don’t have to dress up to come to me.
You can bring your doubts.
You can bring your skepticism.
You can bring your agnosticism.
You can bring your family problems.
You can bring your alcoholism.
You can bring your financial problems.
You can bring your failures.
You can come with your moral imperfections, your divorces, your past.
Just come as you are, Jesus says. And, like this woman, let me help point you in a new direction with your life.
So two scenes where we see what God is like by looking at Jesus.
There are so many more. Read about the life and teachings of Jesus and you’ll understand God’s character.
Alright, now I want to look, in the time that remains in this message, at how the writers of Scripture viewed God… because this is important.
A lot of people have this concern that Christianity is like a straitjacket on beliefs… or on behavior.
A lot of people believe to be a Christian means to be a rule-following, box-checking, robotic, unthinking, judgmental, inflexible, severe, self-righteous, pleasure-avoiding sheep.
People wonder, “Does being a Christian mean you allow some other force to arbitrarily tell you what you can and cannot do, what you can and cannot believe… whether it makes sense to you or not?
Alright, so I want to look at how the writers of Scripture viewed God. It’s very different than this straitjacket idea.
It’s so different that this judgmental, legalistic character… that it may be kind of shocking to you.
Rabbis, teachers of the law, would talk about how when the Bible begins, God has kind of surprising instructions for the human race.
He makes human beings in his own image, and then we’re told this:
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; (Genesis 1:28)
Rabbis would note that these are the first words God gives to human beings. They’re the very first command, so they’re to be treated with a lot of importance. They’re real significant.
God doesn’t say, “Don’t sin.”
He doesn’t say, “Read the Bible a lot.”
He doesn’t say, “Make sure you affirm the right beliefs.”
What he says is kind of surprising — “Be fruitful and increase in number.”
Now if human beings are going to increase in number, what activity is that going to involve?
It’s a three letter word… that rhymes with Hex.
It’s going to involve sex.
Trust me on this. I’m a professional. I know.
I was actually going to say the first commandment really is, “Have sex,” but that doesn’t quite capture it because God doesn’t just say, “Be fruitful and increase in number.”
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth…
He’s talking to two people.
The earth is roughly 24,000 miles in circumference. We now have 7 and a half billion people and counting. To go from two people to 7.5 billion people, how much sex is that going to take?
A lot of sex!
Not just that, in order to make sure this commandment is fulfilled, God makes sex actually an extremely desirable and delightful activity.
So the first commandment is, “Have sex. Have a lot of sex. Have a lot of great sex.”
Is everyone still with me?
Rabbis would say, “That’s in the Bible. That’s the very first thing God tells the human race to do.”
Who knew? Who would guess that?
Then the second commandment:
And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Genesis 2:16-17)
Now most people fixate on the last part of this. We’ll come back to that.
The initial command here is, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden.”
In Hebrew, it’s actually a double command. It’s like, “Eat! Eat!”
It’s like an Italian mom who says, “You’re too thin. You’re not eating enough.”
Not only does God want them to eat, but the quality of what he wants them to eat is astounding.
We’re told elsewhere in the beginning of Genesis,
The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. (Genesis 2:9)
He didn’t have to do that. He didn’t have to create variety packs.
delicious, fabulous, indescribable
The second command is God saying, “I want you to enjoy eating. Eat freely whatever you want.”
He doesn’t stop there. There’s one other command given before the fall. God says to the man and woman, “Exercise dominion. Take charge.”
Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:28)
That is all of the earth and all that moves upon the earth.
“I want you to do great stuff. Make things, invent things, study things, discover things, and organize things. Do city planning. Figure out architecture. Build great cities. Make art. Make paintings and music you love. Train dolphins, ride elephants, collect butterflies, and make machines that will move really fast.
“Create language, story, myth, romance, airplanes that will take over the sky, and technology you’ll just love. Do great stuff! Have a lot of great sex, eat a lot of great food, and do a lot of great stuff.”
He doesn’t stop there. The writer of Scripture says:
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
Now blessing is real important. God loves to bless. The rabbis would talk a lot about that.
To bless means to project good into the life of another person. God loves doing that.
Now, there’s a connection here between God’s blessing and God’s commandment.
“God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful…
The connection is not what a lot of people think.
A lot of people think God is saying. “Well, I’ll bless you. I’ll give you. I’ll do stuff for you, but then I want you to do stuff for me.”
No, that’s not it.
The connection is God blesses them, and then God commands them to do stuff.
And as they do the things God commands, they experience God’s blessing.
They have a lot of great sex.
They eat a lot of great food.
And they do a lot of great stuff.
The rabbis, people in Israel, recognized though, “We’re fallen, so we’re blind. We stumble around. We do the wrong stuff. We don’t know how to live the good life… but God will help us to know.”
Now, God’s heart for human beings to flourish and live lives of joyful productivity and meaning is so great… they would say things about the law like:
My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times. (Psalm 119:20)
Really? Seriously? “My soul is consumed with longing…”
It’s like they can’t get enough of God’s laws. They just want more.
The first psalm kind of famously says the person who is on the right track, who is flourishing, delights in God’s law.
Blessed is the one… whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. (Psalm 1:2)
Who does that?
Later on, the psalmist says,
I open my mouth and pant, longing for your commands. (Psalm 119:131)
Panting is actually a picture of what a dog does.
My brother-in-law will make his dog sit and wait to get a treat. The dog has to wait for the command.
But while the dog is waiting he’ll start to pant, salivate and start sobering all over the place because he just can’t wait for the treat.
That’s the picture the psalmist says. “Yeah, I can’t wait for the treat. God, give me another command.”
Why is that?
It’s not because the psalmist is some repressed, legalistic, box-checking, rule-following, robotic character.
It’s because he’s convinced that there is a God… and he is good.
If you just look around at the world, you know this God is unbelievably creative, imaginative, provisional, and abundant.
Even though the world isn’t the way it’s supposed to be and it’s messed up, actually this God who would create such good stuff wants us to live good lives of meaning… and not to waste our lives or get addicted or enslaved or do stupid things or hurt each other.
As someone who loves God, loves life, and wants the planet to flourish, the writer of Scripture was convinced that all God’s commands are given to bless human life.
This is so very important.
All of God’s commands (every one) are given not because God is legalistic, not because God is on a power trip, but because God wants to bless human life.
If that’s the case, where did the idea come from that God is this severe, legalistic, judgmental God?
Well, I am glad you asked.
In Genesis, chapter 3 we’re told,
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1)
Now of course God didn’t say that at all. God didn’t say, “You must not eat from any tree.”
God said, “You must eat from every tree except for one.”
What’s going on here?
This is a very important insight into the way our mind works.
If I’m going to not do the right thing, I must find a way to rationalize not to do the right thing.
If I’m going to disobey God, I must begin by distrusting God. I can’t trust that God is looking out for my best interest. I have to look out for myself.
That’s exactly what happens to the human race. We see this in what the woman says back.
The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,
Notice she doesn’t say, “God commanded it, because he loves us.” Just, “Yeah, we do have permission for that.”
but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” (Genesis 3:2-3)
Now when you’re reading the Bible, it helps to be attentive.
God never said, “You must not touch the tree.”
Why is that in there?
Because if I’m not going to obey God, which is just to say if I’m not going to do the right thing I know I ought to do, I will find ways to play tricks with my mind and make it sound more severe — more unreasonable than it really is so I can justify not doing it.
“Yeah, God said we’re not even allowed to touch it. I don’t know why he’d do that.”
You know, some people when they read this story, they’ll wonder, “Well, why did God put a forbidden tree in the garden at all? Didn’t he know that was going to make them want to disobey? Why didn’t he just let them eat from every tree?”
Understand it’s not about the fruit.
It’s called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
It’s not some arbitrary thing like, “Don’t walk on that sidewalk” or something.
This is a very concrete Hebrew way of expressing the idea that human beings want to be able to decide what is right or wrong for themselves.
“I don’t want to have to have a moral authority outside of me that can command me, that can hold me accountable. I want to decide — this is right for me, and that is wrong for me. That’s what I’ll do. I get to be autonomous with that. I’m kind of like my own god. I kind of get to make up my own moral rules.
“Then you can do that too. You can decide what’s right and what’s wrong for you. I won’t judge you, but I get to decide what’s right and what’s wrong for me. No one else can tell me what to do.”
That’s not an idea, by the way, that ended 3,000 years ago. That’s very contemporary.
Everyone has to decide for themselves what’s right or wrong… but there’s a big problem with that.
Pastor and writer Tim Keller does question and answer sessions a lot of times with people, a lot of times with people who are skeptical or thinking about faith.
He writes this. I thought this was kind of interesting. Keller says:
“One of the most frequent statements I heard was that, ‘Every person has to define right and wrong for him—or herself.’
“I always responded to the speakers by saying, ‘Is there anyone in the world right now doing things you believe they should stop doing no matter what they personally believe about the correctness of their behavior?’”
People abuse. They’re violent. There are wars. There’s robbery.
“They would invariably say, ‘Yes, of course.’ Then I would ask, ‘Doesn’t that mean that you do believe there is some kind of moral reality that is “there” that is not defined by us, that must be abided by regardless of what a person feels or thinks?’
Almost always, the response to that question was a silence, either a thoughtful or a grumpy one.”
See, what the writer of Scripture is saying is there is a right and a wrong that’s just built into how things are. I don’t get to make that up any more than I get to make up the law of gravity.
The law of gravity is just there, and I can’t actually break it. I can break myself by violating it, but I can’t break the law of gravity.
There is a rightness and a wrongness. There is a good and an evil. It’s built into how life works.
I didn’t put it there, and neither did you.
We can discover it.
We can reflect on it.
We can think about it.
We can learn about it.
We can obey it.
We can violate it.
But we can’t make it up.
The writers of Scripture had this love for the law because they said, “You know, if we rightly understand it and try to pursue it with God’s help, it’s going to show us how things are and what a good life looks like.”
Now, if that’s the case, it leads to a real important question.
What about harsh laws in the Bible?
Sometimes you read something in the Bible, and it seems so severe or vengeful.
Here’s an example.
Anyone who injures their neighbor is to be injured in the same manner: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury. (Leviticus 24:19-20)
That seems to us just kind of primitive and cruel.
Go back 3,000 years. In the ancient world…
They have no police departments.
They have no judicial systems.
They don’t have defense attorneys, prosecuting attorneys, or this kind of elaborate law enforcement structure.
In that world, if you’re rich and powerful, you get away with whatever you want to. If you’re poor, you get the shaft.
If I’m rich and you’re poor and you break my tooth, I’ll kill you if I want.
This rule is actually saying, “Nope, that has to change.” It’s putting restrictions on what can be done.
It’s saying, “Even if you’re rich and powerful, if someone knocks off your tooth, you can’t kill them. There are limits on you. Even if you’re poor, if someone who is powerful hurts you, you have rights too.”
This was actually an enormous step in the direction of justice.
We know this because when Jesus came and he would teach about this, now it was always to be lived out in the context of the great overall commandment, “Love God with all you have, and love your neighbor as yourself.” None of the law is to be observed in a legalistic or mechanical way.
We know this from Jesus’ teachings and from Jesus’ life, because Jesus actually taught us that God wants us to be free.
It’s a really interesting thing. We think about the law as this straitjacket. It’s a problem.
We define freedom as, “I want to be free to do what I want,” but the strangest thing happens. Any time someone lives their life to do whatever they want, whatever they want to do ends up enslaving them.
The writer of Scripture puts it like this:
…people are slaves to whatever has mastered them. (2 Peter 2:19)
See, God’s law when it’s misused can be a straitjacket, but there are a lot of other straitjackets.
Alcohol is a straitjacket.
Lust is a straitjacket.
Money can be a straitjacket.
Success and anger.
We start out thinking, “I just want to be free to do what I want to do,” and then we find out, “I’m no longer free to NOT do it.”
God wants you to be free so much that when you had broken God’s law, when you owed God this debt you could not pay, Jesus gave his life to purchase freedom. You don’t have to carry that debt anymore.
Robert Smith surprised the Morehouse College class of 2019 with a special graduation gift.
This is what he said during his commencement speech:
”My family is going to create a grant to eliminate your student loans. You are graduating from this university debt-free!”
His gift to 400 graduating seniors is about $40 million.
Students were ecstatic. Students were crying. They were jumping up and down. They were high-giving one another.
One student with $90,000 in student loans said, “I would do a back flip if I could.”
Can you imagine that moment… as these 400 graduates learned they’re debt is forgiven.
Well, the writers of Scripture tell us — that’s why Jesus went to the cross. That’s why Jesus shed his blood. That’s how much God wants you to be free.
You don’t have to live a life enslaved to whatever it is that’s enslaving you right now.
That debt can be paid.
But then one more thing. The apostle Paul writes this:
It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. (Galatians 5:13)
See, it’s the weirdest thing. When I live my life to do whatever I want to do, I think I’m free, but actually I’m destroying my freedom.
When I surrender to God, when I abandon myself to God, when I say, “God, now I’m going to put my life into your hands. I’m going to die to my agenda and my ego. I want to, just from one moment to the next, God, go on this adventure of what we shall do together” … then I’m free.
That’s the deal. That’s the way it works.
Let’s pray. Would you bow your head and close your eyes?
Maybe you’ve never asked God to forgive that debt of sin you carry around. He loves doing that, so you could just pray to him right now, “God, would you forgive my sin? Would you free me from that?”
Then maybe there’s some area in your life where if you’re really honest about it, you’d say, “I have not surrendered this part of my life to God. I know God is calling me to do something — to do the next right thing.
There’s a word I’m supposed to say.
There’s someone I need to forgive.
There’s a resentment I’m holding onto.
There’s someone I need to seek forgiveness from.
There’s a lie I need to clean up.
There’s someone I ripped off, and I have to go make it right.
There’s someone I wronged sexually, and I have to go ask forgiveness.
There’s something I’ve been keeping hidden, and I need to bring it into the light.
Just tell God right now, “God, whatever it is, I’m willing to do it.”
Maybe you’re not willing, so you’re prayer can be, “God, make me willing to do it.”
God, would you come into our midst and set us free.
God, there are people listening to my voice right now, and they’re just chained, they’re just enslaved, and it’s miserable.
They’re just one surrender away from freedom.
God, would you come and free us through our friend, Jesus? We pray in his name, amen.