The ultimate Freedom
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I had an interesting experience with my kids a couple of days ago. It all started when we saw a rock climbing place. Near a river they put up a small area where you could climb up different levels of difficulty. The easiest part was just like a ladder, to get used to the height. The most difficult wall was absolutely impossible for someone like me to climb.
When our kids Anna (6 years old) and Noah (4 years old) saw the wall, they were very excited. Since we weren't prepared for this, we didn't bring any equipment. So we allowed them to climb the easiest part (the ladder). But what amazed me was how differently I treated the kids.
With Anna, things were very simple. All I had to tell her was this: "Anna, when you feel scared or not safe, then just stop, and come back down." She completely understood, I didn't have to tell her anything more. She gave it a try, took a few steps, got scared, came back down. A few minutes later she tried again. She stopped at the same height. Next time she was able to go one step higher. Then again one step. And eventually she figured it out and was able to go up to the highest level. I wasn't the least bit scared. I could give her complete freedom. She knew what to do and when to stop.
Not so with Noah. With him I had to be A LOT more firm. I had to tell him in advance where to stop. I had to tell him to climb slowly. I even told him to not move unless I gave him permission. And then only to move the body part I told him to. "Right hand. Holding tight? Yes? OK, then left hand." He listened very well. And eventually, he also made it to the top. And by the time we left, he was pretty good. Eventually I could give him a lot more freedom as well. Because by then he got what I was trying to tell him. But it was a lot more work for me to get him to that point.
Why did I have to treat them so differently? Well, simply because of their difference in maturity and their different characters. Anna is 2 years older and very aware of danger. Telling her that "there is potential danger" makes her extremely cautious. So all she needs to know is to be careful. She's aware that falling down from that wall would hurt her, probably to the point of breaking a bone (or even worse). So she was aware of the danger, knew her limits, listened to her feelings (in this case fear) and didn't try to go any further than her comfort level. Over time, as she got more and more comfortable, she was able to go further and further, until she reached her goal.
Noah is a completely different character. For him there is only one thing: The goal! He just wants to go to the very top. And he's completely unaware of potential dangers, things he should be considering or possible consequences of not being careful. He's single minded: "I want to get to the top. And I will." Thinking about anything else is just beyond him at his age.
So what was my role as a father? Well, they both had the same goal. I love them the same. I want both of them to reach that goal. And they did. But the way I had to teach them was completely opposite. With Anna, I could give her complete freedom. She knows my heart. She knows my intensions. She understands my concerns. She has internalized everything I have been teaching her over the last 6 years. And so all I have to do is tell her: "Stop when you don't feel comfortable." She completely understands what I mean by that. And she lives it out. I can give her complete freedom.
Noah does not yet have that level of comprehension. Simply telling him "Stop when you feel uncomfortable" doesn't do anything to him. He feels totally comfortable climbing up to the very top without second thoughts. He's unaware of the details that I am trying to communicate. He is unaware of the potential dangers. He doesn't see the big picture yet. So what he needs are small rules. "Stop at that level", "Don't move unless I say you can", "Go very slowly". And of course the most important one: "Come down immediately when I tell you to." (One time he actually nearly got me. I told him: "You're at the limit, now come down." His completely innocent response: "I can't!" His simplicity cracked me up and I nearly allowed him to go further. Thankfully he obeyed. And the next time, I did allow him to go one step higher)
Alright, so where am I going with this? Well, the simple truth is: That's how God treats us as well. Think about it. God has a lot of rules. Just read through the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. I mean, talk about something that feels legalistic. For example:
Deuteronomy 19:5 As when a man goes into the wood with his neighbor to hew wood, and his hand swings a stroke with the ax to cut down the tree, and the head slips from the handle, and strikes his neighbor, that he dies; he shall flee unto one of those cities, and live:
That's clear, isn't it? Sounds like me telling Noah: "Right hand now. Stop. Left hand now. Stop." Very detailed.
Why did the Israelites need such a detailed law? Well, there are many reasons. But one of them is: They were not mature at all. They didn't know anything about God. Their continual rebellion against and disobedience towards God over the 40 years in the wilderness show how little they knew about God, about His hear, about His power, about His intensions, about his love. So since they were so immature, they needed very clear, very detailed instructions: The law!
Paul is making the same point in his letter to the Galatians:
Galatians 3:24 Therefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
One of the points of the Old Testament law was to show the people who the coming Christ will be.
So what did Christ do when He came? Did He do away with the law? No, of course not. But as the scripture predicted: The law will now be written on our hearts, by the Holy Spirit.
Jeremiah 31:33-34 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, says the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, says the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
So before the outpooring of the Holy Spirit on the day of pentecost, we needed to study the law with our minds. Now we can receive the Holy Spirit who will write the law on our hearts. We don't need to learn all the details of the law anymore (though nothing wrong with that). We can now enter a relationship with Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit. And as we develop that relationship, we will naturally change. And instead of "having to learn the law" with our minds, which can be a strenous process, we can now focus on a relationship with Christ. And as we do, we will automatically internalize the law of Christ. So the law, written on tablets of stones, isn't needed anymore. That doesn't mean we do away with it. But it means that there is now a much, much better, much, much easier way to embrace, understand and obey that law: Living in a relationship with Jesus.
So what about us? We are all living after the day of pentecost. What does this mean for us? I believe the same principles apply to us as well. Since we are having the privilege of running Alpha at our church, we are also dealing with a lot of people who are taking their very first babysteps in their walk with Christ. And there are a few questions about "the law" that we receive all the time. For example:
- Can I still go on parties?
- How much can I drink?
- Can I still go dancing?
- Why is Sex before marriage wrong?
- Can I still date non-Christians?
- Do I have to go to church every Sunday now?
The list could go on and on. The question is: Why do new Christians ask all these questions and feel the need to get answers to all these rules? Well, the answer is the same why Noah needs detailed instructions: As very new Christians, people simply don't understand the heart of God yet. Their hearts haven't been captured by God's heard yet. They might have entered the kingdom making a conscious decision. But parts of their hearts are still caught in their old life. And to get out of that old life, they first need very strict rules: "This is what you can do. And this is what you cannot do!" Rules that direct your life. A law.
Noah at the rockclimbing wall needed to get a very narrow framework of what he could do and what he could not do. That's why he got instructions like "Left foot next, not right hand!" He needs to hear all these rules in order to eventually internalize them. And once he internalizes them, he will understand my heart better.
In the same way new Christians often need to hear clear restrictions: "No, night clubs aren't good for you, so don't go there anymore!" etc. Why? Because they don't know any better yet. They don't know God's heart yet. They don't understand yet what dangers are out there in the world. They are like a baby, being completely excited about their new life. but having no idea about the Spiritual battle that is going on around them.
But once people start internalizing the law, things start to change.Then we don't HAVE to obey the law any longer. Then we naturally obey. Anna now naturally understands the concept of danger and caution when it comes to heights. So I don't need a law for that for her anymore. She knows. And she naturally obeys it.
God's law is not the purpose in itself. It's a way of us coming closer to Christ. That's what Jesus meant in the following verse:
John 8:31-32 Then said Jesus to those Jews who believed on him, If you continue in my word, then are you my disciples indeed; And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
The order of things is counter intuitive, but very important. We start by obeying God's commandment. That is evidence of Faith in Jesus. This evidence will confirm that we are indeed Christ's followers. As a result of obedience we will know the truth. We will internalize it. Not just knowing about the Truth. But we will know the Truth in our hearts.
And then comes the best part: We will be set free. Then we don't need to obey rules any longer. Because we naturally know what we are supposed to do. We don't HAVE TO obey any longer. We now can enjoy the completely freedom of knowing where God's limits are and why those limits are there. Plus we can ask Him to give us the strength to stay away from those boundaries. Can't get any better, can it? That's where we can find true freedom. Not the freedom to simply do whatever we want to do. But the freedom to be fully human, fully guided by God and to live the perfect life that God created us for.
As one preacher put it: It's the ultimate freedom of being completely dependent on God.
At the rock climbing wall, I had noticed that Anna now enjoys the freedom of having internalized my laws. Since she embraced and internalized my disciplines about heights, fear and danger, she can now make her own decisions on the rock climbing wall without me. And there is no greater joy for a parent than seeing our children grow into that kind of ultimate freedom.
That's our heavenly Father's heart. He's not after legalism. He doesn't want us to become fearful of Him. His intension is not to stand behind us and discipline us as soon as we cross a line.
His desire is to reveal Himself to us. As we obey His commandmens, we will know His heart. And as we know His heart, we will be transformed into His likeness. And as we are embracing His heart, we will enjoy the ultimate freedom to obey God's law naturally, without even having to think about it.
John 8:36 If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.
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