Surrendering to Slavery and Finding Freedom

Sometimes you don’t know the weight of what you’re carrying until you feel the weight of it’s release.

-Unknown

Middle aged prisoners chains and cuffs over a brick wall

Over the last twelve years God has taken me on a journey of learning to receive his grace. It began with the revelation that truly he loves me. Not just that he “so loved the world” but that that includes little ol’ me. He actually knows me. Every part of me. He sees it all and he loves me just the same. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

Here’s the thing, he’s going after hearts. He calls us to live a holy life but it’s not that he is preoccupied with sin—that’s just a symptom of him not having our hearts. He is drawing us in with his love and kindness, not his anger. (Hosea 2:14, Romans 2:4) Anger causes us to put up walls, but love breaks down those walls. When someone is angry with us we instinctively feel the need to protect ourselves, to put up our defenses. We feel fear and shame. But perfect love, God’s love, casts out all fear. When we truly experience God’s grace it is humbling.

We may have experienced his grace and love before and felt so humbled in fact, that we couldn’t even receive it. So we tried to earn it. We tried to be good enough. We, perhaps unwittingly, tried to please him through our good works and acts of service. “If I can make my Father proud, then I’ll be worthy of his love” our subconscious minds think. When we fell in our sin we made sure to stay on the ground long enough to demonstrate our awareness of our failings and our willingness to pay penance. We stayed away from his presence for a little while because we felt unworthy.

Could it be that we have such a hard time accepting God’s grace because it is truly so amazing that it literally is beyond our understanding. Rather than accepting the fact that it really is that good and it probably wont ever fully make sense to our minds we settle for a lesser grace and choose to strive in our own strength. All he is asking us to do is to give in and receive that love and grace; to give in to the incredible goodness of who he is.

Many of us though, haven’t been able to fully receive his love and grace which renders us unable to extend it to others. We get caught up on the sins of others (and ourselves) which only serves to distract us from the desperate love of God that he is waiting to pour out on us. We call out other’s sins to make ourselves feel justified by comparison. Or we hide in our shame.

When we’ve learned to accept God’s love and grace for ourselves we realize that no one is good enough and that’s the beauty. It frees us up to love others unconditionally and not hold their sins against them because neither does God condemn us.

Did you feel tension reading that last statement? Instinctively many of us rush to put conditions on God’s grace out of fear someone will use it as an excuse to sin. When we haven’t fully accepted God’s love we will fear. But fear has no place where perfect love is. It was for freedom he set us free, not fear. (Galatians 5:1)

There’s a beautiful dichotomy found in God’s grace. His grace is sufficient for every struggle we face. Strength to resist every sin we are tempted by. He doesn’t give up on us and his grace doesn’t run out. Even when we’re unfaithful he is faithful. When we turn our backs on him he is there waiting for us. The minute we turn around we find ourselves face to face with him, not staring at his back like we may expect. And yet his will isn’t that we keep struggling with the same sins, but that we are set free from them.

The problem is that on our own we are powerless against sin. When we try and fight sin simply by the strength of our will, whether it’s greed, lust, selfishness, gluttony or whatever your particular flavor of sin happens to be, we will fail miserably. We have to come to the place of complete dependence on God. When we’re weak then he can be strong. If we think we can do it on our own strength we will inevitably fail.

Freedom in Christ looks like weakness. Freedom looks like surrender. Freedom looks like slavery.

We exchange our slavery to sin for slavery to righteousness. (Romans 6:18) We become slaves of Jesus Christ and in doing so find true freedom. Independence and self-sufficiency is slavery to sin but complete surrender to Christ means freedom from everything that would try and control us.

His grace is sufficient. His. Grace. Is. Sufficient.

When we encounter the humbling love and grace of God and surrender in weakness we are able to embrace the fact that we could never earn it or be worthy of it on our own. This swings wide the door of our hearts to receive his love instead of striving for it and sets us free to love him and others back. There is nothing we can do to separate us from that love. We can’t earn it, we can’t lose it and we can’t make him love us more than he already does. All that is left to do is to receive.

As slaves of Christ our hearts are so fully consumed with God and his awesome love that sin, while we will still be tempted, has no hold on us. We choose to honor God with our choices because we are in a relationship, not following a religion. Religion requires rules. Relationships require love.

Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no records of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

If we were able to walk in perfect love as described in those verses, sin would essentially be a non-issue. If husbands and wives lived out love perfectly in their marriages infidelity and divorce wouldn’t exist. If we didn’t envy we wouldn’t steal. If we weren’t self-seeking we wouldn’t cheat. If we fully rejoiced in the truth we wouldn’t lie. And if we were patient our car horns would get used a lot less use! But we are imperfect humans and so we love imperfectly.

Maybe instead of spending all of our effort putting up external boundaries and guidelines to avoid sin we should evaluate the posture of our heart towards God. Have we surrendered to him in weakness? Have we truly received his love? And do we love him back with all that is in us?

We love because he first loved us. It’s because of his amazing love that we are compelled to love him in return. We just receive it and walk out our salvation in his strength. (Philippians 2:12, 13)

The Space In-between: When Faith Looks Like Foolishness

“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior”

-Hillsongs “Oceans”

Faith looks like foolishness in the space in-between the word God speaks and its reality. Noah looked like a fool building a giant boat for a supposed flood and planning to somehow get two of every animal on board to live peacefully together for months. Until the rains started coming. And coming. And water bubbled up from the ground and began to accumulate. One inch, six inches, two feet, 7 feet and on and on until the waters covered the earth. It was only then that the strength of his faith was evident.

In preparation for a major battle, Gideon pared his army of 32,000 down to 300 in obedience to God. Then they took torches to the edge of the enemy’s camp, blew trumpets and broke jars causing the enemy to fight against each other and flee. A foolish move led to victory because of Gideon’s faith in God’s word. Joshua put his trust in God when he told him to march his army around the walls of Jericho for seven days and blow trumpets. As they stood before crumbling walls his soldiers were able to see the miraculous hand of God at work.

A young shepherd boy named David killed a giant with no armor and no real weapons—only a slingshot and a rock. The soldiers must have cringed at the thought of how badly Goliath would soon slaughter David, or maybe even laughed at the lunacy of such a small boy fighting a battle-hardened soldier. But the risk paid off and the soldiers’ laughter was silenced as Goliath’s massive body crashed to the ground.

Let’s talk about Mary the mother of Jesus for a moment. “Joseph, I’m pregnant and the father is the Holy Spirit.” Really? Really. Why did God choose her? Maybe it was because he knew her heart and that he could trust her to carry his promise with faithfulness and integrity. He knew that she wouldn’t cover up what God had told her in order to save face and protect her dignity. She faced serious consequences in her day to be unmarried and pregnant. She had no guarantee that Joseph wouldn’t simply call off the engagement and abandon her to an unfortunate fate. In the end her foolishness was revealed instead as faith, but she had to be willing to lay down her pride in the process.

The list of biblical accounts similar to these goes on and on. When God finds a person who fully trusts him, he can then trust them with the secrets of his heart. If it always made sense to us, if it worked according to human wisdom and the laws of nature, it would be so much easier. But it wouldn’t be faith. Hebrews 11:1 says that “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we don’t see.” Faith always requires a risk. This is why we take a “leap of faith.” There are no step by step instructions. There is no map. There is no checklist. We simply hear God speak and then leap into the unknown, trusting that God’s prepared the way ahead of us.

Peter looked pretty foolish stepping out on the water at Jesus’ invitation. Surely expecting him to sink below the waves, the other disciples must have watched in wonder as Peter began to walk on the surface. It’s in the space in-between the word God speaks and its reality that faith appears as foolishness to those around us.

Why doesn’t God just function within our framework? Why not ask us to do things that make a little more sense? Why make us risk failing or looking like fools? Because then the extraordinary would be reduced to the ordinary. Then the miraculous could be boiled down to science. And God would be lessened to a god that fits in all of our boxes.

If we are willing to risk looking foolish in the space in-between, God can show up in a big way. These are the moments when the atheist can no longer deny the existence of his creator. These are the moments when the unloved can see that their Father will go to any length to make them aware that the creator of the universe knows and loves them. If we desire to be greatly used by God, and we should, we have to be willing to be foolish in the eyes of the world. 1 Corinthians 1:25 says that the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom. Even the greatest wisdom of earth is merely foolishness compared to God’s wisdom.

As Christ-followers we have a choice. We can relegate God to a status slightly above our own, believing that Jesus was just a teacher here to show us how to be good people. We can put God into our box of what we understand with our finite minds, claiming that anything outside of that is foolishness. We can choose to worship a God that exists to answer small prayers and provide a support crutch in our tough times. We can essentially choose to worship a god of our own creation, who follows our rules, formulas and equations.

Or, we can take God at his word, believe he is the God of the impossible, and step into what he’s calling us to do even if we appear completely foolish in the process. We can choose to worship a God who is actually worthy of worship because he’s not simply a greater version of “us.”

He is altogether higher, greater, wiser, more loving, more powerful, more merciful and gracious than we as humans will ever be on our own.

And as we live out the space in-between the foolishness and the revealing of our faith he continues to reveal his character to us. As we put our faith and trust in who he is he will provide the strength we need to persevere and will shape and mold us to be more like him. When we reach the other side of our test of faith we will see the hopeless find hope, the unloved find love, the broken and depressed find healing and joy, and the dead come to life in Christ.

We’re not simply here to exist on earth and live a cozy life full of comfort and convenience. We were given an assignment to share with the world a God who loves so deeply and desperately that there is literally nothing he wouldn’t do to ensure they receive that love. He knows the hairs on their heads, the tears they’ve cried and the needs of each life. But he won’t do it without us. We are the tangible, visible expressions of God’s love and if we are going to be that love manifested on earth we will have to step out of our comfort zones and onto the waters of foolishness.

To the rest of the world, it is the picture of foolishness as our foot slowly travels through the air, over the edge of the boat and finally reaches the waves. Only as they see the surface of the water unbroken and our feet resting soundly on top will the reality of our faith become evident to those around us. And only then will we truly change the world around us.

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“You call me out upon the waters, the great unknown where feet may fail. And there I find you in the mystery, in oceans deep my faith will stand.”