closeup photo of sprout

For freedom you were set free

Last week I thought about how I’ve tried to establish healthy changes in my life. Obviously, I succeed and fail because it is not a mechanical process. In fact, I have noticed that when I make lifestyle changes, there is a little danger lurking behind these healthy changes.  Because I believe these habits will make me healthier and more vibrant for Christ, therein lies a seed of either arrogance or self-righteousness. I have noticed for me when I make some healthy changes in my life, I run the risk of falling into these two unhealthy attitudes. 

Let me first deal with the self-righteous attitude. This is where I begin to think God likes me better because I display healthier attitudes.  Whoa, this is very hard to detect, and it poisons the soul slowly.

I used to keep track of how many days in a row I had my devotions.  As the streak grew to a thousand, I would compulsively try to maintain it because I was so driven by the practice. I would get home late at night but not pillow my head until I had written several sentences in my journal. In doing so, my devotional time had little impact on my love life with my Lord.  This was because I slowly adopted the perspective that God loved me more than others because of the consistent time alone with him rather than the quality of my time with Him.  Instead of my devotional time being a result of our relationship, it became the basis for my relationship with Him. 

It would be no different than following a rigid rule to spend an hour a day with Mary Kay, regardless of what was going on in our lives.  Eventually, Mary Kay would sense she was just a time slot on my calendar, not the love of my life. Love cannot be defined by such rigid time restraints.

The same is true of my running, eating, serving, giving, and just about anything else in my life. When I see God’s acceptance of me as dependent on how I perform in any of these areas, I am headed for trouble. 

I think this is what Paul is talking about in his letter to the 1 Corinthians, in 13.1-3 (The Message), he writes:

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

1 Corinthians 13.1-3 (MSG)

Basically, he says you can perform everything very well, but if you don’t love God and others amid all you are doing, your efforts are wasted. 

God loves me like I am, and healthy habits help us experience life as He intended, but they don’t make me any more acceptable to God. Period.

The second danger of becoming rigid in our healthy habits is that we tend to look down on people who aren’t as disciplined as we are in certain areas. We can become critical or condescending of those who aren’t as good as we are in controlling one area or another.  We tend to create rules for our spiritual life.

There are many Christ followers who think they are more spiritual because they do or don’t do certain things. Some think they don’t drink alcohol or smoke cigars, or drive fast cars, so they are spiritual. To my amusement, the converse is true for others who think because they are free to drink alcohol, smoke cigars, and drink fast cars, they are more spiritual as they experience God’s grace and freedom. 

To my amusement, some think abstaining is a measure of spirituality, while others think participating in them is a measure of one’s spirituality.

Paul addresses both perspectives when in Colossians 2.20-23 (NIV), he writes:

Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

Colossians 2.20-23 (NIV)

I love what he says to the church in Galatians 5.1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free…”

Paul reminds us that neither perspective is closer to experiencing God’s grace. God’s grace and being truly free is to be freed up from thinking that these have a spiritual influence IF THEY BECOME AN END IN THEMSELVES. That is, when individuals feel better about themselves than others.

Neither I nor Paul are saying there are no absolutes.  Paul is clear about the areas which step outside of what he describes as “self-imposed worship” and plain sin. But we will save that for another blog.

There is a dynamic, mysterious, and organic factor to growth. It is not a rigid adherence to rules but an internal construal toward what produces a radiant relationship with Christ in each of our lives. What produces growth in plants is rain AND sunshine, soil AND air, wind AND stillness, external nutrients AND internal DNA. Healthy growth is not a regimen of rules but a dynamic interaction of many factors dominating and then subsiding. 

The same is true of our lives.  We establish healthy norms in many areas I have mentioned, but then we live life amid that “normal” while not allowing it always to dominate.  We must be freed up from judging others and feeling self-righteous in ourselves.






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