April 20, 2014

Freedom in Truth

He is risen!  For Christians there are two pivotal events celebrated each year both of which have become enshrined as major festival points in our culture as well.  One is Christmas.  We look forward to that for several obvious reasons.  The other is Easter.  Other than Easter egg hunts, the Easter Bunny’s arrival, and dress shops hoping to make a few extra bucks…and perhaps jelly beans…I love jelly beans…Easter doesn’t get quite the same build up that Christmas does.  And this makes some sense.  Of the two, culturally speaking, Christmas is way more important.  Families make it a point to get together for “the holidays.”  There’s a host of iconic music associated with Christmas.  Santa Claus comes at Christmastime.  Stores running in the red hope to get back in the black for the year over the Christmas shopping season.  The Hallmark Channel and Lifetime together release about 8,000 movies.  TBS sells its soul and runs The Christmas Story 12 times in 24 hours…okay, so maybe not everything about Christmastime is worth anticipating.  Anyway, there’s definitely a lot more energy around Christmas in our culture.  But, for Christians, while we should definitely celebrate the Incarnation, the moment when the eternal God took on flesh and dwelt among us, without Easter, we wouldn’t celebrate Christmas.  For us Easter is way more important because in Easter we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead; we celebrate the historical event on which our entire worldview rests.  More in line with what we’ve been talking about for seven weeks now, on Resurrection Sunday we celebrate the beginning of our freedom, the act which once and for all broke the chains holding us down in a mess of sin and brokenness.

For the past several weeks we have been working our way through a series called Leave Your Chains Behind.  The whole idea of this journey has been that while freedom may be a really high value in our culture, most of us just kind of play at freedom instead of getting down to actually leaving our chains behind and living as free people.  We spend most of our lives as marionettes pretending we’ve got no strings to hold us down all the while ignoring the ropes that keep us on a pretty short leash.  If you have missed any part of this series you are welcomed to go to the church’s website, printed there on your bulletin, and catch any of the previous six parts.  This morning, though, you don’t need to worry about it.  As we come to the end of this journey this morning, I want to do two things with you.  Now that we know all about leaving our chains behind in favor of freedom in Christ I want to show you how to do it.  From there, I want to show you why the Christian worldview is the place where you will find the freedom you desire.

In order to do this I want to take you back to some words of Jesus that we looked at a few weeks ago.  If you have a Bible in some form, find your way to the Gospel of John.  John was one of Jesus’ best friends in this life.  He was also one of the twelve guys who traveled around with Jesus for three years listening to and learning from Him.  In other words, there weren’t many people in the world who knew Jesus better than John did.  In any event, as John wrote his particular narrative of Jesus’ life and ministry (one of four in the New Testament which we call Gospels), he wrote about a generation after Mark, Matthew, and Luke.  He was writing at a time when most of the first generation of Jesus followers had died and the torch was largely being carried by a crop of folks who only knew about Jesus.  John was probably one of the last living people to have actually known Jesus.  If you think about that, the church was probably going through a bit of angst at this point in history over whether or not this was all really worth it, if Jesus really was who He said He was.  After all, the trouble the believers were receiving from Rome was starting to get more intense.  If this guy wasn’t really the Son of God, this wasn’t worth it.  As a result, John wrote primarily to reassure believers that Jesus was in fact fully God.  In order to do this he included a number of pivotal conversations Jesus had with other people wherein He revealed His divine identity with ever increasing specificity.

In one of these conversations, recorded for us in John 8, Jesus opens by declaring to a group of folks in the Temple including a number of religious leaders of the people that He is the light of the world.  This declaration sparked a debate that ended with Jesus claiming the personal name God revealed to Moses at the burning bush as His own and nearly getting stoned to death for it.  In the middle of this conversation, though, Jesus began describing how His eventual crucifixion and what came next would serve as proof of His divine identity.  When He said this, several folks in the crowd believed Him.  And knowing this was happening…because He was Jesus and knew that sort of thing…Jesus looked at them and said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Here then, in a nice, neat little package, Jesus declares for us the way to freedom.  So far in this series we have defined freedom, looked at the alternatives, unpacked the lifestyles associated with our choice to live as free people or remain slaves to sin, and seen how to actually live as a free person in our culture.  Here at the end, then, we have saved the best for last.  We finally get to see how to get free in the first place.  If you want to leave behind whatever chains are keeping you from becoming fully who God made you to be, this is how you do it.  You must embrace the truth.  Understanding that real freedom is found in living within the spacious bounds of reality (and not simply in doing whatever we want to do since the things we want to do often do not lead to freedom for us), if we want to live as free people we need to embrace those borders and accept them as guardrails for our life.  In other words, we need to embrace the truth.  Real freedom is found in truth.

And yet, we live in a culture in which the question Pilate asked Jesus just before sending Him to be executed rings loudly in our ears: What is truth?  We live in a culture in which truth is boldly declared to be relative.  Truth is whatever you make of it.  We make our own truth.  What’s true for you isn’t necessarily true for me.  These and other postmodern platitudes poison our hearts and minds when it comes to being free.  They keep us from recognizing and embracing what is actually permanent and unchanging: truth.  The reason for this is found when we understand that Pilate actually asked Jesus the wrong question.  He asked what is truth when he should have asked who is truth.  You see, truth is first and foremost a person.  It is a person who by His character defines the bounds of reality within which we find the freedom for which we so desperately long.  It is the person of Jesus.  Jesus is the Truth.  And real freedom is found in truth.  It is found above all else in the truth that about 2,000 years ago when a Jewish Rabbi named Jesus bar Joseph was unjustly put to death as a political insurrectionist and a religious blasphemer, He did not stay dead.  On the third day He rose up out of His tomb signaling a final defeat of the power of sin and death and the slavery they bring as well as the coming of eternal life and the freedom it brings.  This one historical truth is the foundation point for the whole of Christianity as we know it.  It all flows logically from this one single point.  This truth is first and most important.  Real freedom is found in truth.

But, while the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the most important truth we can embrace, it is not the summation of truth.  Truth begins here and then extends out to touch every area of our lives.  This means we have the opportunity to live as free people in every area of our lives.  The goal of the freedom Christ offers is not for us to have little pockets of freedom in our lives, but for this freedom to completely blanket our entire existence.  Indeed, a slave may be given the leeway to make some free choices in a limited set of areas, but this does not change the fact that the defining narrative of his life is slavery.  You may think that making the free choice to come to church every now and then or to pray on occasion is enough, but if in the rest of your life you are still driven by your desires you are not a free person.  You’re merely a slave playing at freedom.  It’s time to stop playing and embrace the real thing.  It’s time to embrace the truth—all of it, not just part of it.  Real freedom is found in truth.

So then, if we are going to embrace the truth which sets us free, we need to know it.  If we are going to view the world through the lens of Christ who is the truth which frees us—a perspective sometimes called the Christian worldview—what are the details?  We know the foundation point, but what else is there to know?

Well, how about the truth about this world.  One of the views about this world that’s increasingly popular is that it came about by entirely natural processes with random, beneficial changes serving as the engine of progress.  On this view, you and I are nothing more than animals.  We may be smarter than the average bear (or dog or lion or zebra or gorilla for that matter), but at the end of the day, we’re just another species of animals randomly produced by a purposeless world.  The thing about animals, though, is that they act entirely by instinct.  They are driven solely by their desires.  They don’t make any meaningful choices; they just do what their appetites tell them to do.  Friends, there’s no real freedom there; only a hologram generated by a false definition.  And if there’s no freedom, there must not be truth.  Real freedom is found in truth.  So the truth?  The truth is that we live in a world uniquely designed by God with a purpose: to bring Him the highest glory and us the highest good.  Well, because He’s the Creator and we’re not His purpose kind of supersedes ours.  Well, because His purpose comes before whatever our personal purpose happens to be we are either working with Him toward seeing it fulfilled or we are working against Him.  But again, because He’s the Creator and we’re not, we don’t actually have much of a shot at thwarting His purpose.  In fact, we don’t have any shot.  So then, because He’s going to get His way no matter what (because He’s God), we have two choices: go His way, freely decide to want what He wants and live like He wants us to live (which, again, are parameters set with our highest good in mind), accept the truth of who God is and adjust our lives to it; or, spend our time kicking against the goads, letting our sin-broken desires call the shots and lead us down a miserable path of slavery, opting for a sand salad like Noah made me when he was playing in the sandbox the other day instead of, say, a Thanksgiving feast.  This is simply the truth and when we live by it, we’ll find the freedom we desire.  Real freedom is found in truth.

Do you see how this works?  The more places we accept the truth into our lives, the freer we will be.  Real freedom is found in truth. It is the truth that sets us free.  So what other areas of life does the truth touch?  How about how our behavior?  There is a large body of tradition both ancient and modern dedicated to the notion that right and wrong are actually pretty fluid concepts.  There’s nothing that always right or always wrong.  They are determined more situationally.  If in a given situation something seems to be right, it probably is.  But, if in another situation it seems wrong, well it probably is then.  Look, you operate with your concept of right and wrong, I’ll operate with mine, and as long as we mostly leave each other alone, everything will be fine.  As far as how this works in the public square, as long as not very many people are hurt we’re probably on the right track.  But, do you know what comes when you actually try and live this way?  Chaos.  Do you know what flies out the window when chaos reigns?  Freedom.  Chaos is never a long-lived ruler because it always gets supplanted by whoever can amass the most power in the shortest amount of time.  Then, he makes the rules and everybody can go along with it or pay the price.  Again, no freedom there which means, no truth there.  But the truth?  What’s the Christian worldview perspective on this?  Right and wrong are objective categories defined by God’s good character.  Certain actions may not always be right or wrong (for example shoving someone in anger versus shoving someone out of the way of an oncoming car), but the spirit behind them is.  It’s always wrong to intentionally hurt or disrespect another person.  It’s always right to sacrifice our needs in order to help someone else.  If we seek to live our lives out of sync with the character of the God who defines right and wrong we are merely going to be meeting one or another of our appetites.  Well, if we are driven by our appetites, we aren’t in control of ourselves.  And if we aren’t in control of ourselves then we are slaves.  When we live in harmony with God’s character, however, freedom floods in.  We can do whatever we want because we want what God wants.  This is the truth and it will set us free.  Real freedom is found in truth.

Well, those are both “out there” truths.  They are more focused on what’s going on in the world around us and how we can adjust to that.  What about some “in here” truths.  How about the truth about you and me?  Again, a lot of folks think of you and me as mere animals driven by our instincts, or perhaps driven by our genes.  We just do what the molecules tell us to do.  In this there’s nothing about people that makes us particularly worthy of respect, any more at least, than any other creature in the world.  We’ve already seen how this lie doesn’t really make us free.  The truth is that you and I were created uniquely by God as the pinnacle of creation and are the only creatures made specifically in His image.  This means that we are inherently worthy of respect and possessed of an inestimable value.  There’s literally no creature more important in this world than us.  Now, that truth comes with a lot of responsibility since we are tasked with caring for the rest of the creatures God made as His stewards, but it also comes with a high hurdle for how we should be treated.  But, this truth goes deeper still.  While we were created perfectly in His image in the beginning, we left that behind when we decided to pursue our own image.  We are now broken at every point by this decision which is called sin.  We’re not as bad as we could be by God’s grace, but we are thoroughly fractured.  Every thought process and line of reasoning we have is tainted such that we will always choose sin (and slavery) when given the chance.  This may not sound particularly encouraging, but if we don’t get this right, we’ll never get the next part right.  If we never understand how or even that we’re broken, we’ll never bother getting fixed at all or at least in the right way.  We’ll be forever mired in slavery instead of walking in the truth which frees us.  Real freedom is found in truth.

Thankfully, there’s one more part to this truth.  This is the truth about the solution to our problem.  We can be redeemed.  Brokenness need not be our end.  Slavery is not our natural state.  We were designed for freedom and free we can be.  This freedom begins when we accept the sacrifice of Christ on the cross to pay the debt of sin we owe to God.  But, and this is important, what Jesus did on the cross did not solve the long term problem of our inability to be in a permanent relationship with God.  It solved the immediate problem and gave us a fresh start, but the long term issue of sin’s grip on our lives remained unaffected.  You see, simply paying the debt of sin we owed to God wasn’t enough because the fact is that we were going to sin again.  If we weren’t His death on the cross would have been enough.  We could have had a rocking Good Friday service and gone home for the weekend.  We wouldn’t need to be here now.  But, because we were going to sin again (and again…) we didn’t simply need the forgiveness bought and paid for on the cross.  We needed an entirely new operational framework between us and God wherein we could have not only our sins forgiven on an ongoing basis, but also receive the ability not to sin.  This was accomplished in and by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  In accepting the reality and the efficacy of the resurrection, we embrace the kind of lasting freedom that is what our hearts having been longing for all along.  This is the truth and real freedom is found in truth.

Let me offer you one more truth this morning and then we’ll be out of here.  This is the truth about what comes next.  And the truth is this: some of you this morning are ready to receive all this truth we’ve been talking about.  You are ready to receive it and adjust your life to it.  You are ready to live in the newness of the life that is truly life, the life that is truly free.  I pray you let down all your barriers and accept the truth that the Jesus who rose on the third day is Lord.   When you wrap your heart and mind around this fact you will step into a freedom unlike anything you’ve ever known before.

For I suspect many more of you, though, you did buy into this notion at one point or another.  You walked the aisle and got baptized when you were little (in part because your parents said that’s what you needed to do).  You prayed a prayer with somebody one time and felt pretty good about yourself.  But, for a long time, it hasn’t really been impacting your life.  I mean, you give some lip service to following Jesus, to being a Christian, to praying, to believing in God and all that stuff.  But for a while now that hasn’t really been impacting your life in a meaningful sense.  Again, sure, you feel better when you pray or when other people tell you they are praying for you, but most folks would attest to that.  Let’s own the truth together this morning: you say you believe in Jesus as Lord, but you live like you don’t.  Now, this doesn’t mean you’re a terrible person so don’t go getting all defensive on me.  Rather, you’re just living your life like He doesn’t really matter.  You’ve got your broken places that He could bring to wholeness, but you feel like you’re managing them well enough that you don’t go down in flames very often.  You’ve got some broken relationships—maybe even key relationships like with your spouse or your kids—but you’ve managed to achieve a base level of public civility such that the poison doesn’t bubble up to the surface very often.  You do feel the weight of the world pretty often, but you handle it okay…you know, as long as by “okay” I mean checking out, worrying, or going hyper-control freak every now and then.  Your life’s not as good as it could be, you’ll admit, but you’re getting by.  Now, that is a pretty low hurdle for success, but hey, at least you’re not disappointed very often.

 

But here’s the catch: if you have at some point in the past heard this message and even embraced the concept, you know that there’s supposed to be more to life than the rat race you’re running every day.  You secretly long for a freedom that goes beyond simply being able to choose this or that.  You long for a freedom that goes beyond feeling like all you do is determined by some force or another over which you have no control.  You long to be free from feeling like you don’t really have any control over your desires…even when they hurt you or someone else.  You long, essentially, to be free with the kind of freedom Christ promised.  Friend, this freedom is yours for the receiving.  You need only embrace the truth once again and let it soak the ground of your life.  And the truth is this: the Jesus who rose from the dead on the third day is Lord.   When you accept it and live like it…you’ll be free.  You’ll be free because you’ll be living fully in line with the truth rather than merely giving lip service to it while living a lie.  Friend, real freedom is found in truth.  Take up the truth and live free.