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Freedom - Fact Or Fancy

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Scripture: John 8:31-41

" To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word. I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you do what you have heard from your father.” “Abraham is our father,” they answered. “If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do the things Abraham did. As it is, you are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. You are doing the things your own father does.” “We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”"[1]

The things that I got away with as a child.  There probably was no point in my life in which I was more free.  The more dependent that I was on my parents the greater freedom that I enjoyed.  I had fewer responsibilities, fewer expectations.  It worked well for me as I can remember.  There might have been a few chores but all in all, it was pretty good.  I had to mow the lawn but I never had to buy a lawn mower or to put gas in it.  I had to take out the garbage.  Not so bad.  Today I have to buy it, bring it home, consume it, sort and bag the refuse, take it to the curb.  I am engaged in this process all the time in my adult life.

I found this little reflection on the freedoms that we had as younger people.  I thought it was worth sharing today.

I Can't Believe We Made It!

According to today's regulators and bureaucrats, those of us who were kids in the 30's, 40's, 50's, 60's, 70's or even the early 80's, probably shouldn't have survived.

Our baby cribs were covered with bright colored lead-based paint. We had no childproof lids or locks on medicine bottles, doors, or cabinets, and when we rode our bikes, we had no helmets. Not to mention the risks we took hitchhiking.

As children, we would ride in cars with no seat belts or air bags.

Riding in the back of a pickup truck on a warm day was always a special treat.

We drank water from the garden hose and not from a bottle. Horrors! We ate cupcakes, bread and butter, and drank soda pop with sugar in it, but we were never overweight because… we were always outside playing.

We shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle, and no one actually died from this.

We would spend hours building our go-carts out of scraps and then rode down the hill, only to find out we forgot the brakes. After running into the bushes a few times, we learned to solve the problem.

We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on. No one was able to reach us all day. No cell phones. Unthinkable!

We did not have Playstations, Nintendo 64, X-Boxes, no video games at all, no 99 channels on cable, videotape movies, surround sound, personal cell phones, personal computers, or Internet chat rooms.

We had friends! We went outside and found them. We played dodge ball, and sometimes, the ball would really hurt.

We fell out of trees, got cut and broke bones and teeth, and there were no lawsuits from these accidents. They were accidents. No one was to blame but us. Remember accidents?

We had fights and punched each other and got black and blue and learned to get over it.

We made up games with sticks and tennis balls and, although we were told it would happen, we did not put out any eyes.

We rode bikes or walked to a friend's home and knocked on the door, or rang the bell or just walked in and talked to them.

Little League had tryouts and not everyone made the team. Those who didn't had to learn to deal with disappointment.

Some students weren't as smart as others, so they failed a grade and were held back to repeat the same grade.  Horrors!

Tests were not adjusted for any reason. Our actions were our own. Consequences were expected.

The idea of parents bailing us out if we got in trouble in school or broke a law was unheard of. They actually sided with the school or the law. Imagine that!

This generation has produced some of the best risk-takers, problem solvers, and inventors, ever.

We had freedom, failure, success, and responsibility --- and we learned how to deal with it.

The call to come to Christ personally was an appeal to freedom.  I wanted to be free from the consequence or the penalty of my sin.  I wanted freedom from the guilt that I felt because of my sense of sinfulness.  I wanted to know that in the next life I would be accepted by God and that I would be guaranteed an eternal existence with Him.

I found that not long after I came to Christ, there were a great number of people who wanted to introduce me to a new form of bondage.  In the absence of sin’s bondage, there were well meaning people in the church who wanted to tell me everything that I should and shouldn’t do, now that I had declared myself to be a follower of Christ.

This was disappointing to me because it didn’t feel much like freedom.

Paul found these people in his own spiritual pilgrimage.  They were the confiscators of the religious freedom of other people.  He called them the Judaizers in the book of Galatians.

" 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 (Galatians 5:1 NIV) [2]

With all my heart, I believe that Christ has come to set us free.  There are times when we live as though we were bound.  There is nothing quite so sad as the Christian who lives in needless bondage.

This morning I would like to highlight three life-giving principles or keys that will allow us to experience the sort of freedom that God intends for us to know.  If we implement these in our lives, I believe that we will take yet another step in personal spiritual intimacy and discovery as we come to know the very heart of God

1.   Action – Faith must be “acted on”.

" To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples." (John 8:31, NIV) [3]

Principle #1 Freedom begins with obedience.  Obedience is the pathway to discipleship.

Every moment and every situation challenges us to action
and to obedience.  We have literally no time to sit down and
ask ourselves whether so-and-so is our neighbor or not.  We
must get into action and obey -- we must behave like a neighbor to him.  But perhaps this shocks you.  Perhaps you still think you ought to think out beforehand and know what you ought to do.  To that, there is only one answer.  You can only know and think about it by actually doing it.  It is no use asking questions; for it is only through obedience that you come to learn the truth.

  ... Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), The Cost of Discipleship

a)     Faith is not meant to be a passive experience.  We are recipients of God’s undeserved mercy and grace but this is just the beginning of a lifetime work.

"In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 1:4-6, NIV) [4]

Not only has God begun a work in your life but he is “carrying on” that work.  I hope that you realize that He is active in your life and that you are fully cooperating with the Spirit.

We can’t educate ourselves into spiritual maturity.  To gather information is not the process of spiritual maturity.  On Resurrection Day I will challenge our faith family toward a decision – a public acknowledgement of some sort of their decision to receive Christ as personal savior and Lord.

To “hold to” the teachings of Christ means the active integration of scriptural truth and life experience.  It is the constant practice of the most basic truths until they become not second nature but nature itself. 

It is relearning and replacing a natural response pattern with a supernatural response pattern until the supernatural response becomes the natural reaction.

"Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:17-21, NIV) [5]

Knowledge alone will never produce this.  Repeated practice will create spiritual “muscle memory” until it is engrained and automatic.  This is to “hold to” the teachings of Christ

b)     Faith is not meant to be a passing fad. 

Divine experience (vv. 31–38). True morality is to experience (to put into practice) Jesus’ teachings. To know right but to do wrong (as the Pharisees had done) is to live in slavery to sin. But to practice Jesus’ teachings is to experience a truth that brings total freedom.

He warned them that continuance in the Word—discipleship—was proof of true salvation. When we obey His Word, we grow in spiritual knowledge; and as we grow in spiritual knowledge, we grow in freedom from sin. Life leads to learning, and learning leads to liberty. [6]

True discipleship is the ongoing practice.  It is not temporary or the trial version of the faith.  The test of time validates a person’s profession like few other things.  What you say about the spiritual things will carry greater weight the longer you walk with Him.  That means that the most influential years of faith should come in time.

Harold Sherman quite awhile ago, wrote a book entitled How To Turn Failure Into Success.  In it he gives a "Code of Persistence."  If you give up too easily, write this down and read it daily.

1. I will never give up so long as I know I am right.

2. I will believe that all things will work out for me if I hang on until the end.

3. I will be courageous and undismayed in the face of odds.

4. I will not permit anyone to intimidate me or deter me from my goals.

5. I will fight to overcome all physical handicaps and setbacks.

6. I will try again and again and yet again to accomplish what I desire.

7. I will take new faith and resolution from the knowledge that all successful men and women had to fight defeat and adversity.

8. I will never surrender to discouragement or despair no matter what seeming obstacles may confront me.

To “hold to” the teachings of Christ means not only to practice them but to persevere in them.

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.  Talent will not; nothing is more common than successful men with talent.  Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.  Education alone will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.  Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

Calvin Coolidge

2.   Consequence – Live it and you know it.

"Then you will know the truth, . . . . ..”" (John 8:32, NIV) [7]

Principle #2 Spiritual insight is a consequence of active obedience

John 8:31–32 combine several of John’s key theological words in an illuminating way.  To “know” the truth is not to intellectually comprehend, but to experience. To know the “truth” is not to focus on a body of knowledge, but to live in touch with reality as God knows reality. To “hold to” Jesus’ teachings is not a reference to doctrinal purity, but to a commitment to put Jesus’ teachings into daily practice. To be “free” is not to live selfishly, doing whatever one wants whenever one wants, but to live a disciplined and godly life which releases us from our bondage to sin so that the choices we make lead to what helps us rather than to what hurts. All this can be found if we are only willing to really be the disciples of Jesus.[8]

a)     To know the truth is not to intellectually comprehend but to experience.  I don’t like amusement parks but many people do.  There’s nothing amusing to me about strapping yourself in a device that is specifically constructed to scare the “you know what” out of you.  People pay money to do this.  They stand in long lines and wait in the sweltering sun to expose themselves to a thrashing, twisting, dropping ride.  They are likely to be “hurled upon” by someone else who should never have eaten that cheeseburger and fries before they got in line.  You see this is the reason that I do not go to Grand Manan between December and April unless I have a guarantee that the waters will be smooth.  I don’t want to be subjected to that kind of ride and I don’t want others to be exposed to the way that I respond.  I think that my feelings here are “normal”.  I think any sane person would feel that same way.  My mother was on a trip recently when it was rough enough to flip a pop machine and some upright freezers in the galley.

Now I could save you loads of money and who knows what else if the next time you want to go to an amusement park you would come to see me.  I can tell you what it is all about and you won’t have to go.  I’ve been to Disney World.  It’s a people trap operated by a mouse and I can save you beaucoup d’argent if you want to come hear me tell you about Disney World.  And believe me, I can tell you about boat trips to Grand Manan.

Problem.  You can’t really tell a person that you’ve been to Disney World until you’ve been there.  You can’t tell a person what it’s like to ride a “Tilt-A-Whirl” until you’ve been motion sick on one and if you want to drive to Grand Manan you really have to take the ferry.

You know what else?  You can’t possible know the Christian walk if the only thing you ever do is talk about it or listen to someone else talk about.  It is an experience to be lived 24/7 for the rest of your life.  It’s not to be tried but it is a decision to turn your life toward God and to head in that  direction and to never – ever – ever turn back.  If you’re looking for a ride, it’s the greatest ride that you’ll find in this life.  Every other ride is pale by comparison.  Some people say that they “got on” and then “got off”.  If you get on the ride that I’m on, you’ll never get off.  There’s nothing else that compares.

b)     To know the “truth” is not to focus on a body of knowledge, but to live in touch with reality as God knows reality.

What a statement!  “To live in touch with reality”.  Many would say that the problem with Christianity is that we are not in touch with reality.

As a matter of the “faith” we have a reality oriented faith for sure.

Things that come and go need to be dealt with and not denied but they are not the greatest reality.

The car you drive is beautiful most likely.  I love the “new smell” of a car.  My faith relates to this reality in a few ways.  If I hold back from a basic level of giving to God to drive a new car then I have declared before heaven that this human creation that will rust and wear and collect dirt and occupy my concern and create distress in my heart everytime it is marked – I have declared before heaven that this is a god and to a degree I worship it ahead of the God of the universe.  If I love it so much that I create a holy fear in my children that they will suffer my wrath if they execute the God-given right of children which is to strew garbage upon it’s floors and to mercilessly slam it’s doors, then I am choosing a relationship with my vehicle that may damage my relationship with my kids and somehow in the name of reality, I don’t understand how we place a relationship with things over our relationship with God and our loved ones.  But you know what, this makes perfect sense because the secular mind and value system will readily trade away the things that money can never buy for the trinkets of life.  We have read the story of Esau and ridiculed him who traded his blessing or inheritance for a “mess of pottage”. 

I would say that the farther away from God that we stray the more likely we are to be seduced by life.  We trade realities.  We look at the things that shine and sparkle and forget about the things deep within our hearts that become more and more important as we grow older.  Silly things like family, faith, friends, our marriages.  The faith that I know keeps me diligently in touch with these great realities.  It reminds me always that I will give an account before God of the manner in which I use everything important thing that He has given me.

This stirs my soul not because I am afraid to face God.  I will do it one day with confidence in my Savior on whose merits I will stand.  I have this real desire to please God.  I want to hear Him say “Well done!”

To experience first hand faith – to remain fully in touch with reality this is the consequence of following Christ as a real disciple.  Every other thing is fiction.

3.   Reward – Life as God designs it.

". . . ., and the truth will set you free.”" (John 8:32, NIV) [9]

Principle #3 Freedom comes as the ultimate reward of obedience and insight.

a)     Blindness is the greatest form of bondage.  An inability or an unwillingness to see the truth.

Ray Stevens, in a song called “everything Is Beautiful”, wrote the words, “There is none so blind as he who will not see.  We must not close our eyes, we must let our thoughts be free.”

“They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”

The greatest blindness that these religious people suffered was their inability to see the true state of their own souls.  Don’t let regularity of church attendance or faithfulness in giving or the faith heritage that you claim blind you to your need of Christ in a personal spiritual encounter.

“Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

b)     If blindness Is the greatest bondage then the ability to see with clarity and truth is the greatest freedom that there is. 

If freedom were the permission to do as a person pleased, it would be anarchy.  If I forsook responsibility, my family would be desolate.  If freedom were the absence of absolute truth then I could never wrong anyone else nor could I be wronged regardless of what happened to me.  In a very real way, I am governed by those that I love.  My personal agenda is secondary or even less significant because I have chosen to get married and with my wife to parent children.  My children are not indebted to me for my choice.  It is my privilege to parent, my privilege to be married to my wife.  I chose it all, the good and the bad, the joys and the pains.

The path toward freedom begins with a choice that I make to extricate myself from my self-centered universe and to replace it with truth. 

"Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6, NIV) [10]

As long as I remain at the center, command central, then I have a distorted view of everything.  I interpret people, events, circumstance in relation to the way that they impact me personally.  What creates discomfort in my life is bad.  What defies my understanding is silly or stupid.

Freedom begins with the voluntary surrender of your will to a higher authority. 

Everybody longs for freedom.  But for many people its pursuit leads to bondage.  The greatly loved Bible teacher Henrietta Mears knew the secret of true freedom, and she wanted her students to know it too. With young people in mind, she said, "A bird is free in the air. Place a bird in the water and he has lost his liberty.  A fish is free in the water, but leave him on the sand and he perishes.  He is out of his realm.  So, young people, the Christian is free when he does the will of God and is obedient to God's command.  This is as natural a realm for God's child as the water is for the fish, or the air for the bird."

Recently we put up a hummingbird feeder with four feeding stations. Almost immediately it became popular with the hummingbirds that live in our area.  Two, three, or even four birds would feed at one time. We refilled the feeder at least once a day.  Suddenly the usage decreased to almost nothing.  The feeder needed filling only about once a week.  The reason for the decreased usage soon became apparent. A male bird had taken over the feeder as his property.  He is now the only hummingbird who uses our feeder.  He feeds and then sits in a nearby tree, rising to attack any bird that approaches his feeder. Guard duty occupies his every waking hour.  He is an effective guard. The only time another bird gets to use the feeder is when the self- appointed owner is momentarily gone to chase away an intruder.

We soon realized that the hummingbird was teaching us a valuable lesson. By choosing to assume ownership of the feeder, he is forfeiting his freedom.  He is no longer free to come and go as he wished.  He is tied to the work of guarding his feeder.  He is possessed by his possession.  His freedom of action is as circumscribed as if he were in a cage.  He is caged by a situation he has created.

-- W. L. Barnes, Free As a Bird


[1] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[2] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[3] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[4] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[5] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[6]Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (Jn 8:31). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.

[7] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[8]Richards, L., & Richards, L. O. (1987). The teacher's commentary. Includes index. Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.

[9] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[10] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

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