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Not Your God #1: Freedom

Not Your God #1: Freedom

When we think of idolatry we often imagine it to be an easy sin to detect and stay clear of. Thoughts of carved images and statues from the Old Testament come to our minds and certainly no good Christian succumbs to such things. But, there is another side of idolatry that is more subtle. It’s the type of idolatry that takes something good and makes it more important than God. This idolatry doesn’t involve formal worship or a confession of faith, yet it is just as dangerous. Martin Luther once said, “That upon which you set your heart and put your trust, is in reality your God.” Our “Not Your God” series takes a look at several modern day idols that can wrestle away your heart faster than you may think.

Not Your God – Freedom

We start off this series with a tricky topic. We have to be careful when defining freedom because the Bible does talk about it as one of the primary reasons that Jesus came to earth. Galatians 5:1 says, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery (NASB).” If it seems wrong to think that freedom in Christ is idolatrous that’s okay because it isn’t.

The type of freedom we guard against is different. It comes from a different source than faith and it centers on a different existence than faith. This is the freedom of citizenship among nations of this world. Now, you might be thinking to yourself that freedom in this sense is not a bad thing either. It may not be as important to a Christian as the freedom of faith, but it is still a virtuous thing. If you think this you are correct. Anyone who has grown up in Western culture has been taught to value freedom. Citizens of the United States have fought for this freedom and continue to. And it is a noble thing to stand for.

The problem we face is when our pursuit of this nationalistic freedom overshadows the freedom that Christ won for us on the cross – because they are different. Freedom in this world is a temporary blessing that can be taken away. It serves a purpose for here and now but not for eternity. All rights have an expiration date as all things of this world do. The unique thing about faith in Christ is that while it liberates us from sin, death, and condemnation of the law, (eternal blessings) it does not give us the right to do whatever we chose. In fact, faith actually binds us to our Master even more than before we believed because it engenders a desire to serve God. God’s path of righteousness is much narrower than the world’s path of self-proclaimed rights. Paul described the freedom of the gospel in this way, Romans 6:18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness (NIV). You see, no matter who you are and what you believe, you are serving something or someone.

Think of the difference in this way:

Earthly freedom leads me to think I have the right to do whatever I choose,
which leads to an existence without boundaries,
which leads to sorrow and captivity under sin.

Faith freedom leads me to believe that obeying God is the best path for my life,
which leads to an existence within the confines of God’s Word,
which leads to greater blessings for my life and greater glory given to God.

Freedom becomes idolatrous when a person uses it to convince themselves that they are completely independent from any servitude in the world, which is also a great irony because the illusion of total, personal independence is one of the most enslaving philosophies ever. When Jesus said, “Whoever is not with me is against me… (Matthew 12:30 ESV) He dispelled any notion of absolute autonomy. We are always serving something or someone. We live at a time when freedom is offered as an excuse to pursue any self-edifying pleasure. That belief takes something which is noble and forces it to serve as a cover for sinful purposes. This is the freedom that becomes more important than God.

Arguments abound today about free speech and freedom of expression but no one considers the consequences of this so-called freedom. America is becoming more and more polarized on what is acceptable when it comes to expressing or protesting this freedom we have. What our nation has forgotten is that if our highest pursuits and goals are only in temporary things, if there is no higher spiritual mooring for our lives, then we will simply fight and struggle in the same muck and mire that all civilizations before us have plodded through. We can call it the pursuit of freedom if we want – that sounds nice. We can claim to be a greater, more sophisticated civilization – that will calm our insecurities for a time. We can say that we have the right to do what we want – we may from earthly leaders but not from God. Whatever excuses we offer, we will continue to nitpick and fight against our differences if we don’t have anything greater or more important to appeal to than our personal freedom. That’s because we’ll be serving an idol, even if we try to convince ourselves it is something noble.

Remember what Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin (John 8:34 NASB).” We are fallen creatures. We can see the worth in something like nationalistic, earthly freedom but if we take it and use it as a cover for sin or a balm for all problems it will be a mirage of true hope. Peter, himself, warned: Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves (1 Peter 2:16 NIV). There is only one path to true peace and liberty. This path is not freedom apart from God, however, but freedom given from God and received by faith in Jesus. Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (John 8:31-32 NKJV).”

Freedom in this world is not your god. Don’t let it’s trappings and pursuits over-shadow what the real, true, flesh and blood God did when He came to earth for you. It is for that freedom that Christ set you free.

A Book of Faith

A Book of Faith

“My faith is in a person, not a book.”

In WWII soldiers were issued the New Testament for Servicemen. It was a copy of the NT with a metal cover. Given the nature of combat, there were indeed times when the literal book saved a soldier by stopping a bullet. This hard copy edition of God’s Word soon took on a mythical status. It was God’s book that could actually stop bullets! Certainly, the effectiveness of this protection was not simply a matter of a metal cover with compacted pages. The times in which this book literally spared a person’s life was a matter of God’s providence.

We hear the quote above often today. We who hold to the clear words of the Bible as they are presented in their given context are often scoffed at as if we believe it’s the literal pages which save us. It reminded me of a bumper sticker I saw this past week that displayed a similar thought, “It’s not WHAT that matters, it’s WHO”. True, indeed. We would never want to emphasize the literal book itself at the expense of Who the book is about. Religion in name only is not true religion. But, what do we do when the WHO (Jesus) tells us that true faith is all about the WHAT (His Word)?

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

Giving the impression or making people feel that the WHAT of our Christian faith isn’t that important can quickly become idolatry. If we don’t heed what Jesus teaches or what He stands for, then we will simply turn Him into what we want Him to be. So is the path that all who ignore the clear words of Scripture eventually walk. Just as the New Testament for Servicemen displayed God’s protection and providence, at times; so also the words of Scripture today display God’s grace and forgiveness. Both the WHO and the WHAT matter, and both are essential to faith and salvation.

John 8:31-32 is certainly straightforward enough, but earlier in the same Gospel, the Holy Spirit was even more direct. At the very beginning He revealed that the WHO is really the WHAT.

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1,14)

Simply put, you cannot have the WHO without the WHAT. Jesus is called the Word precisely because the written and spoken Word is necessary to understanding and believing who He is. To follow the Scriptures is to follow Jesus and to follow Jesus is to follow the Scriptures. This applies to the continuance of faith just as much as it applies to its beginning. We have an example of this from a group of Christians who struggled with the same thing,

“This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:2-3)

Paul admonished the Galatians because they were drifting from that which had first brought them to faith. They began in the Spirit by “the hearing of faith.” Clearly, at the very beginning, faith was indeed about a Book, and the WHAT mattered greatly. But, Paul called them “foolish” because they had drifted from this foundation. In a very modern fashion the Galatians began to ignore the teachings of God’s Word. They probably figured they knew enough about the Bible and didn’t really need to use it anymore. Paul’s entire point was that the Bible matters vitally to faith, at any point in the Christian’s life.

We do well to remember this truth as we approach another anniversary of the Reformation. God used this event to bring His Word (the Book, the WHAT) back into peoples’ lives. Today, as a result, we have greater access to the Bible than ever before. But, the same lie of Satan remains; namely, that we shouldn’t get so caught up in the words. Breadth of access does not guarantee faithfulness. Instead, it can very quickly lead to shallow understanding, belief, and faith. Let our boast be in both the WHO (Jesus) of our faith and in the WHAT (His Word), because the two cannot be separated.

 

Bible Study – The Gospel of John

Bible Study – The Gospel of John

In this Bible Study episode, Pastors Mark Tiefel and Nathanael Mayhew take us into the Gospel of John.  John’s Gospel is different than the other three Gospels.  He emphasizes that Jesus is true God and records miracles and words of Jesus that reinforce that truth.  John points out that Jesus was God, but that He came in the flesh to give His life as the sacrifice needed to redeem sinners.  Jesus is “The Word,” “the Lamb,” and “the Messiah” and more.  He is also the Great “I AM” of the Old Testament, Jehovah Himself.  Jesus says He is the I AM, Yahweh.  John points to these I AM statements of Jesus throughout His Gospel to show that Jesus was Yahweh.  The Jews recognized what Jesus was saying and wanted to kill Him because He had blasphemed by calling Himself God.  John also makes a connection between Jesus and Life.  Jesus is Life (John 14:6), and the Life that Jesus brings to the world through His death and resurrection is received by us through faith.