Freedom Only Comes In Following

“All who are called to salvation are called to discipleship, no exceptions, no excuses!”
Bill Hull

One of the greatest benefits of the Gospel of Jesus lies in the area of freedom.

Gal 5:1-13  MSG Christ has set us free to live a free life therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.

There is a universal craving inside of every human being to be free.  No one wants to be in slavery or bondage.  Our nations Declaration of Independence states ” “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men…are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty (feedom), and the Pursuit of Happiness.”  For those who are in Christ there is a freedom from the devil and the power of sin.  As Paul said it isn’t a freedom to sin, but from sin (Gal 5:1-13, 1 Pet 2:16, 2 Pet 2:19 etc.). 

Herein lies a dilemma.  If Christ has set people free why is there still so much bondage to sin and its destructive effects?  Why do marriages, families, and relationships continue to break down?  Why do people get delivered from all kinds of destructive maladies only to return to them and be overcome by them?  I am talking about God’s people.  The old bumper sticker, “Try Jesus” is often scratched out with the experience of people who write over it, “I tried Christianity/Jesus and it didn’t work.”yo-yo

I have seen it work like the yo-yos we played with when we were kids.  People get delivered out of the hand of the 
enemy/sin only to progress for a while then get sucked right back into the hand of what they were delivered from.  How does a yo-yo get completely free? The string has to be cut, and it has to be tied to another hand.  This is the only way of freedom.

Freedom in Following

Colossians 2:6 CEV You have accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord. Now keep on following Him.

This is where discipleship comes into play.  When Jesus made His famous statement, “if the Son sets you free you will be really free” (Jn 8:36), it was in the context of the truth He was trying to get across about how His freedom works.  He was speaking to people who were beginning to believe in Him.  

Disciples of Jesus are people who do not just profess certain views as their own but apply their growing understanding of life in the Kingdom…to every aspect of their life on earth.” Dallas Willard

John 8:31-36  MSG Then Jesus turned to the Jews who had claimed to believe in him. “If you stick with this (continue in My word), living out what I tell you, you are my disciples for sure. Then you will experience for yourselves the truth, and the truth will free you.”…So if the Son sets you free, you are free through and through.

In the Gospels 25 times Jesus called people to follow Him, only 4 times does He say to believe in Him.  The clear emphasis is on discipleship (a follower, learner, and an adherent).  One reason there is so much bondage upon people who believe is that they don’t continue to follow.  As the call of the Great Commission states, “make disciples (followers) teaching them to obey everything I commanded” (Mt 28:18-19).

God’s freedom only comes through following.  It isn’t just a decision to believe that leads to freedom it is a decision to follow Jesus and put into practice His way of living.  Christianity isn’t a decision, it is a journey following Christ.  As we turn away from patterns of thinking, feeling, and behavior that destroys (puts us in bondage), and we walk with Him who gives us power to live it out, we become free.  It is a progressive freedom.  It is a roadway of freedom.  We may occasionally trip and stumble, but if we keep following we continue to experience more and more Proverbs 4:18-19  The road the righteous travel is like the sunrise, getting brighter and brighter until full daylight has come.  (19)  The road of the wicked, however, is dark as night. They fall, but cannot see what they have stumbled over.  God's Freedom only comes though Following Click To Tweet

Essential aspects to walking with Him and His truth which leads to freedom

  • God’s word must become your objective basis of faith and practice.  Psalm 119:105  Thy word is a lamp (small lamp) to my feet, and a light (sunlight) to my path.  His word clearly shows us what leads to life and freedom as well as destruction and bondage.  If His word says it and that settles it, end of story!   
  •  We must continually get His word in us through reading, studying, and listening to it. There are a great host of online Bible materials and easy to read and understand Bible translations.   
  • We must commit to let the word measure our attitudes, thinking, and actions.  Our feelings and desires may be real but that doesn’t make them right.  We turn to Jesus and turn away from those He clearly tells us to forsake and avoid
  • You must commit to put His word into practice, not just listen to it (James 1:22-23).    If it doesn’t affect your attitudes and behavior it isn’t really affecting you.  

    The level of our obedience is most often determined by the behavior standard of other Christians around us. –Jerry Bridges

     
  • Walk with people who will help us hear and obey God’s word in the everyday issues of real life. The Bible calls it “fellowship.”  Biblical friendship is being around people who will communicate and help reinforce God’s truth in every area of life.  It is real fiends who will tell us what we need to hear not just what we want to hear.   Eph 4:14-15  As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;  (15)  but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, (Zechariah 8:1-16).

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The Joy of the Whole Earth

new-miracle-drug

Religion could be a miracle drug.  Can you imagine what would happen if any drug being researched for potential release by the FDA showed that if taken only once a week it would reduce mortality by 20-30% over a 15 year period?  What if this same drug taken once a week would greatly reduce depression, suicide, increase mental health, produce more happy and fulfilled marriages, lead to greater family stability and satisfaction, kids doing better in school, and overall better health?  Do you think people would be clamoring for its release?  Do you think people would be willing to pay for it?

What would people think of others who would protest to keep this drug out of the general population?  What about organizations created to try to remove any advertisement or public indicators of the drug’s existence?  Do you think those organizations would be well thought of by the general public?  All of this goes on today.  While it is not a drug that is being neglected or suffering continual attempts to keep it hidden from the public, it is something else, Jesus’ church.

Recent research released by professor Tyler J. VanderWeele of Harvard University builds on over 20 years of research to show that even once a week church attendance tends to produce the above mentioned results.

The Joy of the Whole Earth

joy-of-the-earthFor over 38 years of serving God I have kept track of the continual research about the
benefits of Christianity and church on people.   Almost every report summarizing research says the same thing.  God’s life in and through the church is better.

I have looked into great historical research by historians like Rodney Stark about the positive effects Christianity and the church have historically had on culture.  It is undeniable that the church compared to other organizations and segments of society has been the greatest force of good, health, and positive progress for culture throughout history.

The Church is the most amazing organization ever produced.   Looking at the past 2000 years you have to admit that its creation, endurance, and influence is miraculous.  It has survived and continues to survive terrible persecution.  It has survived many disappointing imperfections from its leaders and members causing shame and dishonor in the eyes of society around her.   It has also survived consistent neglect by many of its own members.  In spite of all of those challenges and faults throughout the centuries the church has demonstrated what God’s has designed her to be, His chosen instrument of blessing to the earth.

Bill Hybel’s, “There is nothing like the local church when it’s working right. It’s beauty is indescribable. It’s power is breathtaking. It’s potential is unlimited. It comforts the grieving and heels the broken in the context of community. It builds bridges to seekers and offers truth of the confusion. It provides resources for those in need and opens its arms to the forgotten, the downtrodden, the dissolution. It breaks the chains of addictions, and offers belonging to the marginalize of this world. Whatever the capacity for human suffering, the church has the greater capacity for healing and wholeness.”  This was the vision that ran through the spiritual veins of the apostle Paul, John, and the writers of the New Testament and needs to run in ours as well. 

Almost everywhere you go in the world there are churches seeking to bring benefit and blessing to the world around them.  They are battling and overcoming poverty, ignorance, disease, and the consequences of sin in families and communities. I have been to remote villages in India and Africa that have little else, but they do have a church.

I have seen churches outdo other groups during natural disasters like floods and tornadoes in quick response times as well as longevity of care.  It was estimated that after Hurricane Katrina, churches outdid in the amount of and longevity in providing meals, relief, and volunteer workers. Over 90% of the meals provided and served came from churches.

Every natural disaster has had similar characteristics. History has also demonstrated that the lion’s share of motivation and effort to correct societal ills such the sickness and disease, education, women’s rights, the abolition of slavery, and the Civil Rights movement had their origins in the church.

God had shown us that His design for His church as the “city of God” is that it’s the “Joy of the whole earth” (Ps 48:1-3).  Jesus described her in Matthew as “the light of the world, a city set on a hill” (Mt 5:13-14).  The idea of “joy of the whole earth” means “the best or a reason to rejoice in.”  It refers to what James later said about the church being “the first fruits among His creation” (Jas 1:18).  In other words the positive effect of what God can do in the lives of people is seen first among and through His church.

Yet many church cynics both inside and outside the church see something else.  They see problems and shortcomings and end up having the same attitude that the enemies of God’s people had during the Babylonian exile when they mocked His city when it didn’t look so good.  Lam 2:15  All who pass along the way Clap their hands in derision at you; They hiss and shake their heads At the daughter of Jerusalem, “Is this the city of which they said, ‘The perfection of beauty, A joy to all the earth’?”  Google “problems with the church” and you will find over 132 million hits.  Search “hurt by the church” and you will find over 47 million.

We need to see communities of faith push past the cynicism and rise up to live the life God’s has designed His church to live.  With Jesus in her midst He advances the Kingdom to others through the power of the gospel. Jesus didn’t just write a message in the sky to effect the earth with the gospel.  He formed His community, His family, His church, and sent them into the world together to demonstrate and declare His gospel life and message (Jn 17:18, 20:21).

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An Important but Neglected Aspect of Prayer

cleansing-the-templeJesus and the disciples were coming into Jerusalem amidst the shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord…Hosanna in the highest!”  I am sure the excitement was exhilarating.  His disciples were sharing His glory as He came into Jerusalem to set up His kingdom.  It had to be an unbelievable thrill.   

Once in Jerusalem they immediately entered the Temple.  It was the great structure that housed the very presence of God.  Not long ago it had been refurbished by Herod which even made it more spectacular in appearance.  

“Prayer does not fit us for the greater work; prayer is the greater work.”
Oswald Chambers

It was the Passover so there was an increased activity and buzz in the Temple.   People were bringing their sacrifices to honor God.  It was difficult for those who had to travel a long distance to bring a sacrifice so they would purchase them at the Temple.  Those of limited financial means would buy doves or pigeons for their sacrifice. Some of those who sold animals took advantage of the situation by offering second rate animals for first rate prices.  Just like food in the airport is more expensive, the marked demanded that they could charge a little more.

Then there were the money changers.  People came from all over the world with their own local currency.  It had to be exchanged for Jerusalem currency in order to pay the Temple tax.  These money changers were experts in knowing the value of foreign currency and they, like the animal sellers,  had no problem upping the price.  They charged fees for their services and some historians believe they made anywhere from 20%-300% interest per year on these transactions. 

Both the animal sellers and money changers performed a necessary service but the problem was in “how” they were conducting themselves.  They had a self-serving motive in the midst of serving God.

As Jesus entered the temple He observed all the activity in light of God’s design.  A righteous anger began to burn within Him. Jesus began to think about how Isaiah described God’s design for His house (Isa 56).  It was a place to love the Lord, minister to Him, and for all nations to seek Him in prayer.   

Isaiah 56:4-7 …to them I will give in my house and within My walls a memorial… Also the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to Him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be his servants…even those I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joful in My house of prayer…For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples/nations

All the busy activity and the self-centered motives of the animal sellers and money changers was getting in the way of what the Temple was about. The Temple was the place for all people to meet God, but the money changers and the animal sellers were getting in that way of that.  There mind wasn’t God but themselves. Their self-centered pursuits were actually inhibiting others from connecting with Him causing God’s zeal to began to burn inside of Jesus. 

Jesus did something very unexpected and what some would consider unchristian.  He made a whip and began to turn over the tables, poured out the coins, and drove the animal sellers and money changers out of the Temple.  He exploded with a great force of zeal.  No meek and mild Jesus here.  The Lion of Judah was roaring.  He was demanding that God’s House be what God designed her to be. 

After getting people’s attention the Gospel writers recorded that Jesus began to teach them from Isaiah 56, Mark 11:17 “Is it not written, ‘My House shall be called a House of prayer for all the Nations’? But you have made it a robbers den” (Mt 21:13, Lk 19:46, Jn 2:17).

This gives us insight into the zeal inspired thoughts of Jesus when He drove people out.  We have often heard it expressed that the idea of a “house of prayer for the Nations” means that the church is to be a place where we pray for other nations.  While we should do this the idea of “house of prayer for the nations” from Isaiah 56 has a little different twist. 

Ministering to God is the First Priority in Prayer

As the gospel of John states, zeal for God’s House consumed Jesus (John 2:17).  He knew that the first priority of prayer in God’s house was more than praying for things or people.  The first priority was to “minister to Him, and love the name of the Lord.”  The word “minister” here means to serve, attend to, give constant attention to.  It means that in God’s House He gets our attention first.  We focus on Him, linger in His presence, and listen for His voice.  Any activity, like the animal sellers and money changers, should never distract from this, only enhance it.

Not only do we minister to Him but we “love the name of the Lord.”  The idea is that as we minister to Him there well be a corresponding expression of love. 

This is the first priority of prayer!  It is not presenting a quick shopping list of prayer requests.  It is turning our attention to minister to Him and love Him.  This is the foundation of prayer!

Ministering to the Lord and loving Him isn't a warm up for more important things. It is the seedbed… Click To Tweet

Ministering to the Lord and loving Him isn’t a warm up for more important things.  It is the seedbed for everything He does.  It isn’t a waste of time but a priority.  If this isn’t a priority then all of our coffee bars, light shows, smoke machines, dynamic worship bands, and anointing speakers pose the risk of becoming a distraction like the sacrifice sellers and money changers.  When we do things with self-serving agendas (look at how anointed I am) they can become the same problem that the sacrifice sellers and money changers had.  

Things that we do in God’s house only work if they enhance our connecting with God, not distract from it.   We need to have the same “zeal for Your house” consuming us that Jesus did.  It is a zeal that keeps the most important thing the most important thing, to minister to and love the name of the Lord.”

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