Freedom in Christ

by Tim Isbell, February 2017
(For a shortcut to this webpage, just type bit.ly/freeinjc into any browser)

"Freedom in Christ” sounds strange to many who think that the Christian life is primarily about keeping detailed rules.

Most Christians understand they are free from the eternal consequences of their past sins. But fewer Christians realize that there is more freedom than that! I first started thinking about this post when reading The Go-Between God by John V. Taylor. Today my understanding of freedom in Christ goes like this: 

As we grow as sons and daughters in God's family, the Spirit teaches us to respond spontaneously to every unforeseeable, concrete moment - regardless of what we see in the details of the Law. The gospels describe Jesus living this way, unbound by the rules of religious experts. Indeed, the New Testament describes several instances when Jesus exercised exactly this kind of freedom, which even helps us navigate choices between evil options. Eventually, as we follow Jesus we find ourselves living more out of our relationship with Jesus than out of our understanding of the Law. In such times, we are keeping the essence of the Law without focusing on it. 

So why did God give us the Law in the first place? Because the Law protects us until the Spirit has time to bring us to a deeper relationship with Jesus.

Connecting to Scripture

Reading Taylor's book is very helpful at a conceptual level, but it doesn't explicitly link to scripture. So I made a mental note to try to make that link. After many weeks of procrastinating, one Sunday morning our Pastor Chris Hoch read this scripture: The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith (Galatians 3.24, NIV). I immediately scribbled the reference on a scrap of paper as a reminder to take a closer look. Subsequently, I read Galatians through in The Message and was shocked at how thoroughly Saint Paul describes this dimension of freedom in Christ. See especially Galatians 3.23-27, 4.4-7, 5.4-6, 16-18. Saint Paul writes about these things in other places, too, such as Romans 3.19-22, Romans 7.4-13, 14-25 (Note the change to present tense, indicating that this is Paul describing himself after conversion), and on through Romans 8.1-17, and 2 Corinthians 3.4-6.

A couple weeks later Pastor Chris read an example of Jesus living out this freedom from Matthew 12.1-14. I sensed that God was providing me with a perfect example of Jesus living exactly the way Saint Paul described in Galatians, and in precisely the way Taylor unpacked in chapter 8 of his book.

But there was one thing missing before I could create a web page to communicate this concept. I needed a contemporary example. So, here it is:

A personal story

Decades ago I was a layman in a local church with a young pastor who met with me weekly to process various ministry issues. One morning he asked for advice on how to respond to a young couple whose wedding he would officiate nine months later. The previous weekend they told the pastor they were trying to live as Christians, but most weekends found themselves renting a motel room. So they asked the pastor to marry them before the next weekend and keep it a secret until their church wedding.

After some bumbling and not enough prayer, I responded that I didn't think it was wise to accommodate their request. The pastor agreed and soon gave them the news. We almost lost them to the church, but fortunately, they stayed. Still, I remained troubled by my own advice.

A couple years later, Dr. Clari Kinzler and his wife happened to visit Robin and me in our home. Clari was our District Superintendent (our tradition's version of a bishop). At one point, I described the advice I had given our pastor and asked Clari for any wisdom he could share in such situations. He responded that it depends on the circumstances. For instance, sometimes the couple is not mature to the point of delaying short-term pleasure for the long-term good in any area of their lives. In such cases, it might be appropriate to marry them right then, keep it quiet, and do the church wedding later. Then he said something to the effect, "Whenever you are confronted with a decision like this, after some prayer you are free to do the most redemptive thing you can think of. The church will be okay with this." I was shocked by his grace, and I stored it away. Essentially he was saying that there's a higher Law - to do the redemptive thing at every crossroads. In this higher Law is refreshing freedom. 

Several years later I was a pastor and Clari was still our District Superintendent. This time I was working with a couple who were on the path to marriage and already living together. Along the way, they became Christians and decided to join the church. In my membership class, they discovered that we expect members to live celibate outside of marriage. Immediately after the class they came to me and said, "We need to talk." So we set a time that week. 

I phoned Clari for a refresh on his advice, and he asked my assessment about this couple's level of maturity. I responded that their lives demonstrate high maturity in business and other areas, but not so much in living as Christians. Clari replied something like, "Maybe this is a case where you need to help them understand how Christians live." Immediately I knew he was right. So, I made some notes to guide the conversation and soon met with the couple. They took it remarkably well, adjusted their lifestyle, and I married them about eight months later. 

I refined the notes that I used with this couple and still use them in premarriage counseling. Eventually, I posted them here: Premarriage Sexuality

So, to wrap up...

God uses rules to lead us and protect us as we move into an intimate relationship with Jesus that frees us from slavery to those very rules. This freedom even guides us when we must decide between two evil options.

Here's one final observation: these freedoms in Christ are simply not available anywhere except within a deep, personal relationship with the Jesus of the Bible.  

Want to talk with me more about this? Just use the Contact Tim function (bottom of left-hand panel of this web page), and we can set up a Skype, Google Hangout, or perhaps a simple phone call.

Blessings,

Tim


Notes: 

  1. Premarriage Sexuality is one of several tools that I've packaged within Advice for Couples. It is also packaged within my premariage counseling resource for pastors.
  2. John Calhoun, another of my District Superintendents, recently recommended John V. Taylor's book, The Go-Between God . It is out of print, but I was able to find a used copy through Amazon. After reading it, John Calhoun and I processed its material in a series of long phone calls. That along with substantial conversations with my long-term spiritual friend George Larson led to my Notes on The Go-Between God.
  3. Eugene Peterson, who gave us The Message translation of the Bible, was my spiritual formation professor during one of his guest courses at Fuller Theological Seminary. So you may notice a bit of Peterson in my understanding of Christian faith.
  4. For more on these concepts, check out Beyond Conversion - 1 (posted about 7 later. I intend to post three more pages dealing with life beyond conversion: one dealing with the Christian community dimension, another on the global (as Pope Francis calls it, "Our Common Home") implications, and one on the Marks of Christlikeness which flow from an authentic Christian life beyond conversion. So, please stay tuned.


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