Freedom and Forgetfulness

So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law. (Galatians 5:1, NLT)

God’s purpose for our lives is freedom. 

Freedom from the tyranny of the expectations of others. Freedom from our fear of condemnation. Freedom from the fetters of addictions and sin and guilt.

He calls us to true, tangible freedom; not abstract, theoretical freedom. This is a deeply experienced freedom; freedom that radically and utterly redefines our relation to others and to God. This is no mere religious pep-talk or emotive sermonising but a life-altering, paradigm-shifting reality of living in the Spirit of God.

Freedom is God’s calling, His heart’s desire, for each and every one of us. Not just the saintly few, but every one of us who calls on the name of Jesus as Lord. Freedom is the song of the Father’s heart into which He draws each of us, the dance of liberty for which He created us from eternity’s beginning.

But many of us – myself included – have heard only whispers and tasted no more than a tantalising bite of this freedom.

We are plagued by the question, Can I truly experience such freedom? Is God that good?

With our heads we honour God as a good and loving Father, but that truth has not yet taken root in our hearts. There is an insurmountable distance between the life that we know we have been called to and the reality we presently live in.

In our sinfulness and our thwarted attempts at holiness, many of us feel disqualified from living in this freedom. We ask “How can God love me like I am? How can I escape this state I’m in?” Our backs are broken by the weight of guilt that dangles precariously between our knowledge of our own sin and our apprehension of God’s holiness.

Having been saved by grace, we have now taken sanctification into our own hands. We are left demoralised and depressed that what we know should be our experience of the Christian life is not the one we actually do experience. Having started out in grace, we become tied up in a law of our own making, as if the road to perfection is one we must now walk alone.

These feelings of unworthiness, guilt, and spiritual stagnancy are born out of lies we have believed about the character of God. I have believed that God’s love for me is no more than theoretical, abstract, distant. I have believed that yes, God loves me in some detached, forensic sense, but that doesn’t mean He actually likes me. I have believed the lie that His love is a reluctant love, not a reckless Gospel-love that leaves the ninety-nine to run after the one.

True freedom comes from the rectified understanding of God’s character and of ourselves that comes when the truth of the Gospel takes root in our hearts.

When we take the truth of God’s love, grace and goodness seriously, we are forced to stop taking ourselves so seriously. When we comprehend deeply the truth that we are loved unconditionally – yes, without any qualification – we are freed from our addiction to condemning self-inspection and self-analysis.

When we realise that we have no foundation to stand on but the Gospel, that we have no right to stand before God apart from the grace He has freely lavished on us, we can do nothing but laugh on our own pitiful attempts at righteousness.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (2 Corinthians 3:17, NIV)

How can I still take myself seriously when I realise that all my best efforts fade like vapour before the Righteous One, the Holy of Holies, the God of the Universe? How can my heart do anything but skip with joy and mirth when I comprehend the price of righteousness paid on my behalf by the precious blood of Jesus?

How can I hold up my own righteous deeds with any air of importance before the One who sent His Son to die that I might live?

Every pretence, every show of makeshift morality fades away in the light of His goodness, evaporating before the heat of His furious, reckless love. I have nothing to stand on but the foundation of the Gospel. When I look on Him, how can I think so much on myself?

True freedom, then, is the freedom of self-forgetfulness of the Gospel. When I see my Great High Priest interceding on my behalf, I cannot obsess over my own life or worry about my own ability to be righteous any longer. When I look upon His perfect righteousness, I stop caring about my own pitiful attempts at goodness.

True freedom comes not from running away in fear from our sin and shame, but running to the One who alone can break their shackles. The life of the Spirit leads us not to morbid navel-gazing but to the self-forgetfulness that comes from knowing that we are radically beloved by God, and nothing can change that: not death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell (Romans 8:38).

To claim this life of freedom for ourselves, we don’t need to do more righteous deeds or strive to be more holy by our own strength. Instead, we must stop looking to ourselves altogether, and look upon the character and goodness of our Father in Heaven who loves us indescribably, with feet grounded on the Gospel of Grace. Freedom comes with the realisation that Jesus – and only Jesus – can stand in the gap between where we are and where we long to be.

Freedom comes when the deep rooted lies we have believed about God and about ourselves have been supplanted and we lay down our constant self-analysis and condemning consciences. It is all a matter of where we fix our eyes: looking upward rather than inward; into the loving eyes of the Father rather than upon ourselves.

Freedom, simply, is living in the self-forgetfulness of the Gospel. 

We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honour beside God’s throne. (Hebrews 12:2, NLT)

 

The Wanderer

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love.

I’ve been running for a while now, but my commitment to training has never been exemplary. Over the years, my dedication has come in fits and bursts, as temperamental and varied as the English weather.

The times when I’ve been most dedicated are when I’ve had a race to fix my mind on and work towards. Anyone who does sports will know the motivating power that an upcoming competition exerts over your training. You subordinate your diet, your health and your routine according to the hope of the prize at the end – the taste of victory, the sense of achievement, the medal at the finish line.

When I don’t have a race or event to work toward, I find my motivation to train slips away all too quickly. I care less about my diet. I do less exercise. My running becomes the thing I cut out of my busy weeks for the sake of more urgent tasks.

And the fruit of losing that motivation is evident: I feel lethargic, unfit, unhealthy, and lacking in discipline.

This, too, has been the story of my walk with God during this season of life.

A few weeks ago I began to feel incredibly burnt out. I’d been doing lots of stuff – good stuff as well – and yet I’d lost sight of the reason I was doing it. I’d stopped setting my mind on the goodness of the gospel, the reason for our hope and the saving power of God – and had gone on in my own strength. It was like I was doing lots of things for God – church events, CU events, the like – but I’d stopped doing them with God.

My burning-out brought with it feelings I’ve constantly struggled with in the past. A sense of alienation from God. Lack of clarity about why I was doing what I was doing. Feeling a loss of God’s presence. A lack of joy in my devotion to God. The sense of being a servant rather than a son.

I, so prone to wander, had lost sight of the grace that saved me at first, the grace that leads me on. Like the “foolish Galatians” against whom Paul has much to say, it was as if what had begun in me by a work of the Spirit, I was trying to continue by an effort of the flesh (Galatians 3:1-3).

“Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home,” pens John Newton in his famous hymn. The grace in which we started out is the same grace that leads us home, the same grace that sustains us day by day, the same grace that brings us before God. Having lost sight of that grace, I’d wandered away from the fold of grace, just like the unmotivated runner who loses sight of the prize and sabotages his training.

When we lose our wonder and cease to fix our eyes on the incomprehensible, saving work of the Cross, we wander into all kinds of dry and dark places.  Like crazed wanderers in the desert, we stray from the life-giving springs and deep wells of grace to go after the false hope of a mirage. Our hearts are so prone to grow lethargic at the indescribable goodness of the gospel that saved us – at such great cost.

Like a river of living water that never runs dry, it is God’s grace – freely given, poured into our hearts through faith – that gives life, life in abundance. Fixing our eyes on Jesus changes everything. It produces in us hope, endurance, joy, assurance, security, and breathes new perspective into every circumstance. It is the power of salvation to those who believe.

Fixing our eyes on this great gospel, let us “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14 ESV). The hope of that prize changes everything.