“For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh.” (Gal. 5:13)
“Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God…” (1 Pet. 2:16-17)
As stated in part 1 of this series, two cherished qualities of life here in America that resulted from her being founded upon Christian principles are freedoms to live, worship, and work as we please, and the prosperity [affluence] those freedoms have purchased. In part 1 we looked at too much affluence, and the destruction it has loosed upon both society and modern Christianity. In this part 2, we will look at freedoms in that same light.
Freedom, like money, can be used for good or evil, and as with money too much of it has never been a good thing. Excessive freedom makes people think they can do anything they want without thought or consequence. Excessive freedom makes people narcissistic, and undiscerning to the realities of life. It can be likened to the “milk of babes” Hebrews 5 speaks of in a spiritual sense. The Writer admonishes those who do not learn because of a “lack of practice” that would lead to discernment. Because people have no experience [practice] of what it is like to live with any sort of difficulty, oppression, or anything that would lead them to discipline themselves, they develop a very naïve perspective on what the world is truly like outside their own borders. We take all we have for granted because it is all so easy. Speak to most young people and they are all for globalism, which embraces patently oppressive regimes along with all others. They do not understand danger because they’ve never known any. They’re not used to hearing the word, “No.” The flesh runs wild where there is not enough discipline and too much freedom.
One of many references to discipline in the Bible’s book of wisdom states, “For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching is light, and reproofs for discipline are the way of life” (Prov. 6). According to Hebrews, discipline is the path to the “peaceful fruit of righteousness,” and “God disciplines us for our good.” Yes, freedom is a wonderful thing, but too much of it means a lack of discipline which leads to ruin. Yes, Jesus came to “make us free indeed,” but He did not mean freedom in the flesh to do whatever we desire.
All this freedom with no restraint is resulting in increased lawlessness across all spectrums of society. Calls are arising in to allow children to make all their own decisions free of parental control of any kind in the name of freedom, thousands of children are murdered every year in the name of “a woman’s freedom to choose,” it’s open season on law enforcement officers, mass shootings are becoming common place, and large homeless populations burden many cities. The more freedom we continue to allow without discipline of any kind will only increase all of this lawlessness.
Do we find similar issues in the kingdom? Can too much freedom be a problem there as well? What has that led to? For one, our errant and untrue definition of grace as “unmerited favor” has led most Christians to believe they have latitude in the way to live life the Bible simply does not afford under grace. As I have written many times in the past, the true definition of the Greek word “Charis” [grace] is “the divine touch upon the heart and the reflection in the life.” Unmerited favor is more closely akin to the OT definition of mercy, and when you think about it, without the Holy Spirit living within them the Jews needed that. Ah, but now that we do have the divine touch upon the temple of our heart there must likewise be the evidence of the transforming power of God! Nonetheless, every Sunday pastors continue to tout unmerited favor because the freedom of that, like everything money buys, makes being a Christian so undemanding and convenient. Paul says to this, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not” (Rom. 6)! The writer of Hebrews says, “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment” (Heb. 10). Sound like we can take advantage of any freedom we desire?
One of the great saints of modern times, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a true martyr who was murdered by the Nazis because he would not sign off on Hitler’s state church, and who built a Christian community in the most horrific environment imaginable, a Nazi death camp, discussed unmerited favor as “Cheap grace we bestow on ourselves….the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, and absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, and grace without Jesus Christ living and incarnate. Then he delivered this warning which has proven all-too true today, “The word of cheap grace has been the ruin of more [believers] than any commandment of works!”
There is a place where sinful deeds, if not repented of, become sinful practice. Even for the believer, sinful practice is not covered under grace. In fact, without repentance grace doesn’t even gain a foothold and sinful practice means sin without repentance. Jesus’ first words to us were, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” No repentance, no kingdom. No repentance, no grace. Paul speaks of the sort of repentance God desires. Within it there is no room for allowing sinful deeds to become sinful practice. He says, “I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance. For you were made sorrowful according to the will of God…For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation…For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong” (2 Cor. 7)! This is repentance in action. It is sorrow according to the will of God because it is that evidence the divine touch demands. It makes us hate and reject sin, and it keeps us from the sort of lawless practice that led Jesus to say to some who profess belief, “Depart from Me. I never knew you” (Matt. 7). Repentance is there to say, “Whoa! Reel in the freedoms and think about what you’re doing! Change your ways and return to God!” That’s godly discipline, and it must trump freedoms when they become “opportunity for the flesh.”
Perhaps the most visible example today of this very violation of Galatians 5 above is the flippant, irreverent, and frankly dangerous way we administer and participate in holy Communion. Paul says people died because of flippantly and irreverently and without repentance participating in this most holy of ceremonies! And yet today there is rarely any admonition or even teaching around more than half of Paul’s discourse on Communion in 1st Corinthians 11. It allows us to live worldly lives all week, then go to our temples where we are repeatedly assured by our teachers the Table is all about grace, most often ending Paul’s discourse at “Do this in remembrance of Me” [before all the warnings begin]. Then we partake of Communion and go out thinking we are free. In truth, what we have done is exactly what Galatians 5 speaks of. No need for repentance, no need to face our worldly living, no conviction of the Spirit. It’s all been covered by grace and we’re good, right? Instead of using the Table to root out and deal with sin, we use it to excuse and cover it up, only furthering the dangerous practice of it.
We have become a nation of entitlement, greed, lukewarmth and selfishness under the umbrella of our boundless freedoms and affluence, the two characteristics concerning America we seem to be most proud of. If I could sum it up for the church, it would be with Jesus’ words to another affluent society and church, no doubt also experiencing the same boundless freedoms affluence always buys, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were cold or hot, so because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,’ and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked…” (Rev. 3). Where does puking us out of His mouth fall within the boundaries of unmerited favor?
I take no pleasure in concluding with this, but I must write what I feel the Lord is telling me to. The very thing the church needs most here in America is for her to fall and fall hard. I fear the only thing that will wake us up from the lukewarm sleep our affluence and too many freedoms have slowly brought on since the end of WWII is not mere correction, but complete undoing. He will have to tear our love of money out of our cold, dead fingers before there will be any chance for true revival, because true revival will only begin with heeding those famous nine words of the One who brought the greatest revival the world ever knew, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
The church in America is at such a state now it doesn’t even realize its predicament, just like the one in Laodicea. If we will not repent of our love of money and boundless freedoms on our own, and we won’t because as this world spins ever more deeply into the cesspool it has become, we haven’t repented, it will be forced upon us for our own good. Get ready for tough times, friends. Very tough times. Forsake the love of money now and embrace the disciplines of God, for they will train you well for what is to come.