Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Freedom to Do What is Right

The goal of faith in Christ Jesus is not heaven but Christlikeness.  Heaven, which is being in the presence of the Triune God, is the result of our commitment to be like Christ Jesus.  The apostle John reminds us that; “Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Christ did” (1 John 2:6; NLT).  We can’t be with God if we are not on the road towards Christlikeness.

Much of what we find in the letters of the apostle Paul are about this reality.  Over and over again we find Paul urging his readers to take off the old way of living and put on the new life.  To actually clothe ourselves with Christ. For this reason Paul writes:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-8; ESV).

Jesus could have clung to His rights as God and remained in heaven but instead He put those rights to the side and obediently serves humankind out of the love He has for the Father and the love He has for His creation.  Part of becoming like Christ, according to Paul, is to adopt humility as a way of life.

How do we imitate this attitude of humility?  I think it begins by recognizing that God has given us certain rights.  I have the right to pursue a self-centered life, that doesn’t mean that is the best decision to make, but it is a choice God has allowed me to freely make.  The nature of freedom is that there is more than one option open to us.  While I have the right to pursue a self-centered lifestyle I also have the right to put others ahead of myself.  For example, in the evening I have the right to sit on the couch and “unwind” while watching television.  Couch sitting and television watching is an option open to me if I want to do it.  Yet, another option is to take my dog Barkley for a walk since he has been in his kennel all day long.  I much rather “unwind,” but Barkley needs to be walked, and I am free to choose to go for walk and not live a life that is totally about me.

If we are going to be like Jesus requires that we don’t focus simply on what we desire the most in the moment, but to do what is right.  Adam and Eve were free to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but that wasn’t the right choice.  God told the couple not to eat from that tree and that there would be negative consequences if they did.  The right choice was to freely eat of any of the other trees that populated the garden.

Ananias and Sapphira were free to use their land, and the money, anyway they wanted to use it, but giving only part of the money and lying about it wasn’t the right choice.  Freedom is a dangerous responsibility because people have the ability to choose the wrong thing.  If we are going to be like Christ Jesus we need to discover the right choice and then commit our lives to doing it.

The apostle Paul said that Jesus chose to obey the Father.  In our freedom how do we know what right option is?  The right choice is what lines up with God’s will.  If we just base this choice off of feelings we will often choose wrong because more often than not our feelings are contrary to God’s will, and therefore we will end up living a life of disobedience rather than a life of obedience.

The apostle Paul also wrote; Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (ESV). In order to know God's will and be able to make the right choice, we have to submit to God as He transforms our minds.  That requires the humility to admit that we don't know what is best, and trust God to do the right thing.

We make the best use of our freedom, not through indulging every little desire that we have, but by choosing to serve people.  When we demand that people acknowledge our rights we push people away from us, but when we choose to love we open up an opportunity for people to see God.  Christ chose to serve His followers and we must make the same choice.

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