What comes to your mind when you hear the word freedom? No matter how many times I read the apostle Paul’s declaration in Galatians 5:1 a chill runs down my spine:
“It is for FREEDOM that Christ has set us free. STAND FIRM then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery,”
Freedom! It is a precious commodity we often foolishly take for granted. Perhaps that is why Paul follows his proclamation with a warning to protect our Christ-won freedom by “standing firm” in our faith.
Opening up to Galatians 5 in the Counseling Room provides a great opportunity to expand some spiritual basics. We talk about how the challenges that are part of life, can be a powerful source of blessing as we rely on God’s Spirit and the Scriptures to help us make right choices. Our discussion often goes something like this:
- Since, according to Paul, Christ’s goal in coming to this earth was to win our freedom, we talk about the two sides of freedom:
- Christ freed us from the burden of sin that plagues the world, perpetual fear, eternal death, condemnation to hell. When we invite Christ into our lives, the Holy Spirit moves in to help begin cleaning out the old garbage patterns of our former lives. As this occurs, new patterns of thinking and living will begin to reflect outwardly the work that began on the inside. (Amazing grace in action!)
- Secondly, we talk about what Christ freed us for. Christ freed us for Himself. Once we are no longer in bondage to our old sinful ways (including serving ourselves), we are then entirely free to live for, love and serve God with glad hearts!
- We then talk about “standing firm” in our faith to protect such amazing freedom. This is where our discussion of idols comes into play. Unless we deal with our problems by identifying the idols that want to rule our hearts, we can never truly be free.
What is an idol? An idol is anything that we allow to get in the way of living out our Christ-won freedom. Fear, anger, bitterness, lust for status and a myriad of other idols that I put in the “if only” category are problem areas we talk about. To think, “If only I had ____, then I would be happy” or, “If only ____ would happen, then life would be good” is to serve an idol as well as to believe a lie.
This past week I met a young woman who faced a most unusual idol: DUTY. I have never thought of duty as anything but a virtue until, as she shared her story, I could see her suffering. In her desire to honor God by loving her neighbor, whenever she had a moment to herself (she is a busy wife and mom) she admitted a long history of compulsively calling people who are very needy out of a sense of duty. I could see her struggle as she admitted that what she really longed to do some of those times was to enjoy her God-given gifts of painting and writing.
As she spoke I remembered the wisdom of a young Scot named Eric Liddel who faced a similar challenge. Eric was born into a family dedicated to foreign missions in China. There was no doubt of Eric’s love for God, but his sister Jenny worried that Eric, as he became famous as an Olympic runner, was forgetting his duty. A critical scene in the movie, Chariots of Fire, retells their conversation (very roughly paraphrased here.) Eric spoke tenderly but firmly saying, “Jenny, Jenny! There will always be China and I certainly will be going back. But Jenny, God made me fast and when I run, I feel His Pleasure!”
It struck me that what has been missing in the life of my client is balance. Her desire to honor God’s command to love her neighbor was certainly a good thing, except that it got in the way of loving God Himself with all her mind, heart, soul and strength. I recommended that she build in time to “feel God’s pleasure” as she paints and writes to His glory. My prayer is that as she loves God first, she will be energized to love those around her more freely with the love she has received from God.
Is there a problem you are facing that is getting in the way of your Christ-won freedom to live for, love and serve God with a grateful heart? Then I encourage you to turn to God in prayer; confess your sin and admit your need of more of His Presence in your life. Then give thanks for His loving provision of His Spirit and His Word to strengthen and help you to stay closer to Him as you face challenges together. The latter part of verse 6 in Galatians 5 reflects how duty becomes joy as the love of Christ fills and frees our hearts: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”
All to His Glory!