Sprung – Galatians 1:3b-5

Would you buy alien invasion insurance?

A recent Gallup poll revealed that a significant percentage of Americans believe that aliens have visited the earth. Even so, I bet alien invasion insurance would be a tough sell especially if the premiums were very high.

Two factors mitigate its appeal.

  1. Nobody’s ever experienced one. Aliens might be real and if they have visited this planet from a distant star system, they’re surely advanced enough to win an interstellar conflict. But, we’ve never even had a skirmish with them. People pay insurance premiums for “peace of mind” over events that cause them concern. I’ve never met anyone who lies awake at night wondering how they will rebuild should a photon cannon level their home.
  2. By the time benefits become payable, it’ll be too late for a refund. Suppose they come and take over. Who’s going to enforce the payout?

The gospel is a hard sell for the same reason alien invasion insurance is.


People are understandably unwilling to prepare for a world yet to come. Nobody’s ever experienced a divine judgment. Sure, everyone is going to die, but the promise of eternal bliss afterward to those who pay some sort of earthly price is impossible to verify. To my knowledge the dead haven’t started leaving ratings and reviews.

The call to “save yourselves from the coming wrath,” sounded more credible in premodern times. A pandemic announced God’s wrath rather than viral mutation. Volcanic vents threatened eternal suffering in a subterranean realm of the dead rather than geothermal activity. Nowadays the appeal to “get saved,” is met with, “From what?”

Additionally, the gospel requires a high premium. The New Testament presents Jesus as demanding that we give up our relationships, possessions, and rights to ourselves in order to have it. In other words, “Give up everything to prepare for something no one’s ever experienced and for which there can be no real guarantee.” Not a great sales pitch.

These weaknesses of gospel presentation in the modern age not only alienate unbelievers; they result in flaccid faith among church goers as well. A person might be a Christian in twenty-first century America because they were raised in the faith, because they like the community, because they gravitate to moral absolutes, or because they need support in raising their kids. I think this is why large churches that offer lots of spiritual goods and services tend to be more successful in America. It’s probably also why those same churches struggle to recruit volunteers or get their members to give more than 3% of their income.

Jesus asked, “What will a person give in exchange for their life?” The obvious answer is, “Everything.” But for most American church goers, the gospel isn’t a matter of life and death. It’s good versus best and most people won’t make huge sacrifices to just feel a bit better about themselves or their futures.

Seeker spirituality might fill church buildings or even stadiums but it’s fatally flawed in the following way:

  • You can’t be a disciple of Christ without surrendering everything.
  • People only surrender everything for self preservation.
  • A “gospel” which doesn’t address perdition, can’t produce disciples.

So, we’re left with a dilemma. The traditional appeal to get saved no longer resonates with the modern mind. The modified offer of personal wholeness, while striking a chord with overwrought moderns, doesn’t produce Christians.

The gospel offers perennial salvation.

The answer to the dilemma I’ve presented can be found not in apologetic gymnastics or creative contextualization. It’s, of all places, right in the New Testament. Here it is:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Galatians 1:3-5 NIV

The Lord Jesus Christ gave himself for our sins to rescue us from something in the present!

No, you wouldn’t buy alien invasion insurance, but what if they had already invaded and had installed a governor in our brains. What if someone came around offering to remove the governor and in doing so, liberate everyone from external control? What if you ran into a group of people who were free in a way that nobody else was and they claimed to have undergone the procedure?

What would you do to get the real you back?

If Paul offered salvation to someone and they asked, “Saved from what?” he wouldn’t have just said, “an eternity in hell,” or whatever other revivalist threats we might think of. He would say, “From this present evil age.” He wouldn’t be the only one, either.

Look at the first-ever “altar call”:

 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

Acts 2:36-41 NIV (Emphasis mine)

Christ died to save us from the conforming, controlling, corrupting influence of the society into which we’ve been born. He wants to snatch the real us that he created from the pollution, dilution, and distortion imposed upon us by the flood of manipulation and intimidation that barrages us every minute of every hour of every day.

Remember how Paul cut all association between his apostleship and human influence back in verse 1? This is why! He preached a gospel of radical freedom which couldn’t be beholden to human authority or cultural conformity.

Stuck in the middle…at the start

Maybe you already think you’re free. You’re not.

We’re wired to obey authority and conform to our culture. Even if we defy one of these controlling influences we end up in the clutches of the other one. A teenager might defy her parents, but spiral into depression over perceived rejection on social media. Someone who struggles socially might gravitate towards the predefined hierarchy of the military or a career in law enforcement.

That probably doesn’t feel like much of a problem in a civil society, but slavery is still slavery no matter how familiar the chains or how tolerable the tasks.

I remember having a group of formerly religious people over to my house to watch The Experimenter, a movie about Dr. Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiments. After watching a depiction otherwise “good” people administer what they believed were lethal shocks to a stranger at the urging of a perceived authority, one young woman said, “I’d like to think I wouldn’t have done that, but I probably would.” I appreciated her honesty. We all think we’re free as long as we’re comfortable with society’s demands. As soon as those demands change, we discover how beholden we’ve been all along.

More recently, think about the power of cancel culture to force an apology from almost everyone. It’s hard for me to believe that so many people say things in the first place which completely defy their essential values. Or that their real opinions only come out in the face of social censure. Jesus according to the Gospel of Matthew declared that people say what’s in their heart. I tend to believe Christ over a whole procession of backpedaling celebrities.

No only is everyone influenced by authority and conformity, the two of them together conspire to control almost every aspect of our behavior. The law might say that you can’t leave the house naked, but it’s your culture that dictates which clothes you’ll put on. Authority and conformity form a social Scylla and Charybdis through which no one can pass to true freedom. It’s as the classic Demotivator observed, “When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other.”

At the same time, we must be free.

Bound to be free

Only a free person can be said to be authentic and only an authentic person can be truly moral. Moralistic rants on social media might make you feel like a justice warrior, but they say less about your real priorities than they do your cultural programming. Virtue signaling isn’t the same thing as being virtuous. Neither does a clean criminal record indicate a pure heart. I’ve seen ex-cons painstakingly toe the legal line while exploiting every kindness they could elicit. Authority atrophies character. Conformity counterfeits it. Only outside the reach of either can it truly develop or be expressed.

If we can’t get free but we must be free, what are we to do?

We need to be saved!

In the latter phrase of Galatians 1:3, Paul refers to Christ by this lengthier moniker, “Lord Jesus Christ.” This is the first explicit mention of his identity as God-king. The confession that “Jesus is Lord” was in one moment an oath of fealty and a declaration of independence. In its deference it defies cultural norms and political authority at the same time. The good confession in first century Rome made a person an outcast among majority believers in Yahweh by ascribing to a man that which first century Jews reserved for God. It simultaneously diverted the secular allegiance which the Romans required for Caesar, to a celestial deity.

Where could someone find the personal and spiritual fortitude to defy both Jewish and Roman society? It had to be through a conviction that Jesus Christ really had received “all authority in heaven and on earth.”

This might not sound like liberation. Just this week, I heard about someone who’d abandoned the faith because being “purchased by blood” just transferred ownership over us from sin to Christ. I don’t know this person and I’m sure they’re otherwise quite intelligent, but that line of reasoning is bafflingly naïve. Even if a society could scrub every vestige of hierarchical control, cultural conformity would expand into the vacuum. In essence every person would trade one governing authority for millions. Only an ultimate, ever-present authority could give individuals the wherewithal to defy the insidious totalitarian reign of public opinion.

Photo by Jeffrey Czum on Pexels.com

Even in a supposed free society most people want there to be some sort of authority to at least control their neighbors. Civilization depends on authority structures. Social experiments which attempt to do away with them inevitably create new ones.

We will be under authority and we must be free. How?

By willingly offering our allegiance to someone who commands that we live free.

But what would inspire someone to gladly give away their pretense of self determination? And what ruler having received such compliance would use it to make self determination mandatory? The answer to both questions can be found in the next phrase of Paul’s introduction, “who gave himself for our sins…” Christ has purchased our obligation with his blood, but he’s also bought our gratitude. At least that’s how Paul responded:

The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2:20b NIV

There’s no hint of begrudging drudgery in this declaration. Paul had entered love’s natural transaction with Christ: “He lovingly gave himself for me, so I will give myself to him.”

Beyond the heart’s inclination to love in return, Paul’s decision to give himself to Jesus made rational sense. Surely someone who willingly died for him wouldn’t betray him or mislead him.

Notice also that he gave himself for our sins. It doesn’t say that he gave himself for our strong backs. This wasn’t the purchase of free labor, but liberation from fruitless toil (aka “sin”). According to Romans 3:23, to sin is to fall short of the glory of God. Assuming that by “glory” Paul meant the image of God in which we were made, then Christ’s dying for our sins must be intended to restore that glory. His dying for our sins liberated us to become our truest selves.

We were purchased by the blood to serve in God’s household, but not as slaves. Rather we’ve been redeemed from all slavery to live as God’s children which is what we were created to be. Not only is slavery no longer our lot, it’s not even an option. How could those who’ve been redeemed by the blood of God’s Son ever think of themselves as bound to anything?

Trust Big Brother

Imagine you’ve been adopted as royalty (which you have). You are now the top dog and nobody gets to tell you what to do. You own everything and anything you might want is yours for the asking. How would you make decisions without external limits?

I think many (sadly) especially religious people recoil at the idea of complete freedom under Christ because they’re still clinging to the old social structures. We’re born into a world of crime and punishment. We know that while it might not produce authentic personal renewal, it at least keeps people contributing and on the rails. That’s enough for even most church leaders, but it’s not enough for God.

Did you know that you can build a church without a shred of real faith in God? It’s been done. An examination of the life of Joseph Smith or that of Charles Russell reveal utter charlatans founding world religions. How did they do it? They and their successors mastered earthly control structures. If you attend a Mormon ward this Sunday, you’ll notice a couple of things. First, everyone will be dressed the same – conformity. Second, you’ll notice that much is said about the authority of the church and its leaders, but almost nothing about God’s will – human authority. If after you get out of that meeting you bop over to a Kingdom Hall, you’ll notice everyone calling God by the same, unique-to-that-movement name, “Jehovah” – conformity. You’ll also notice that nobody in the room is a leader per se so much as a reader, of Watchtower publications – human authority. I’m sure there are many well-meaning Mormons and JW’s, but nothing positive about those groups necessarily glorifies God. Every single benevolent work or evangelistic activity can easily be attributed to ordinary social dynamics applied in a religious setting.

The lesson to evangelical churches, then, should be, “If you’re getting church done through authoritarian directives or group dynamics, you’re not doing the work of God.” It takes a certain special quality to trust that people will be transformed and God’s work will get done apart from social control. That quality is called, “faith.” Anything we do that doesn’t arise from it is sin. And nothing we do apart from it will ever please God.

In our own lives and in the lives of those around us, we must trust that those whom God has adopted have also received the Spirit of his Son. This means, they have the essence of his character and will express it in ways unique to each one. What is the essence of the Son? Complete trust in and love for the Father.

The same willing submission which we offer to Christ, he offered first to the Father.

Look again at Galatians 1:4, “who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father…” (emphasis mine).

Christ set us free from the broken control structures of this world by utterly defying them. Rather than leveraging his strengths to serve his ambition, he surrendered to ignominy and oblivion. Through it all, he remained free and unbowed before religious and political leaders. Having been vindicated, he confers his same brand of faith on everyone who accepts the benefits of his sacrifice. From that moment on, we are adopted and adopt his greatest desire – that to God, the Father would be glory both now and forever! (vs. 5)

My Pragma Ran Over My Dogma

Back when I was one of approximately four people going to heaven, I used to knock on doors to let others know. I didn’t really care that much if they accepted what I had to say; I just knew that in addition to conforming to every “command, example, and necessary inference”¹ in the Bible, I also had to warn others of their impending doom.

There was just one problem with doing all of that – it wasn’t possible.

I was newly married, had a part time job in the eeaarly mornings, was a full-time student, and spent at least two hours every day knocking doors. All of that was in addition to attending church services three plus times per week. After eighteen months at that pace, I played out. I reached a place where even the fear of hell wasn’t enough to get me off the couch.

I still remember when Uriah called. I took the cordless phone (this was the early nineties) out to the carport, rested my elbow on the washing machine and my ear on the receiver.

“Hey,” he said, “I was reading in Colossians and I got to 1:27 that says, ‘the mystery hidden for the ages is Christ in you.’ That’s it! That’s what it’s all about.”

“Man, I just don’t have the energy to think about that right now,” was my reply.

He responded, “This doesn’t take energy; it gives it! There’s something different about me now, I mean, I can’t drive by someone on the side of the road without stopping to help them.”

“That sounds great,” I dismissed. “Can we talk about this later?”

In a few days, my guilt compounded enough to pry me from the couch and into the seat of Uriah’s 1970-something Mercury Monarch. I still remember sitting in front of Applegate Apartments, paralyzed by dread.

“Man, I don’t think I can do this today,” I confided to my compatriot.

“I’m telling you, the answer is, ‘Christ in you,’” he responded.

I didn’t know what that meant, but there, trapped between hell on earth and hell in… hell, I decided to imagine that Jesus Christ himself did, in fact, inhabit my body. My willingness or ability no longer mattered. My limp hand rose to the door latch and dropped to pull it forward. My elbow swung outward and with it the creaky metal door. I half-fell to my feet, a disoriented newborn unsure of which way to place his first steps.

Just then, a long-haired man who looked as though he’d abused his body in nearly every way possible, came out of his apartment and hobbled toward us. He was probably in his early thirties but looked every sweaty swollen inch in his late forties. We accosted him with some sort of “are you saved” opener.

“I went to hell one time,” he blathered. “It was weird. It’s like all your stuff and your money and stuff…they’re not worth anything…”

He obviously wasn’t in any state to receive our rationalist take on conformity to the rules of the New Testament. Previously, that fact would have moved me on to a more coherent subject, but for some reason, I put my hand on his shoulder. I offered to pray with him. I felt a compassion for this lost cause that I hadn’t felt for others.

As we disengaged with that guy and moved around the apartment complex, our message changed from warnings about neglected New Testament requirements to invitations to a relationship with Jesus. The obligation that had been sapping my strength transformed into an invigorating indulgence in Christ himself.

At one point I remember turning to Uriah and saying, “You know what? Suddenly I don’t care if someone wants to worship God with a piano.”²

“Me neither!” he exclaimed.

When divine mandate failed to budge me out of the car, “Christ in you” put me to dancing in the street. Our relationship with God had been based on dogma gleaned from an ancient text – demanding, demoralizing, dead. Now, we’d sampled a hit of resurrection power. Our “pragma” (that which we learned through practical experience) had begun to run over our dogma.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that we were completely free that day. It was just the beginning of a long journey to the powerful, primitive faith that I now offer to anyone who’ll accept it.

Old dogmas die hard. We didn’t care whether someone wanted to worship with instruments, but we still knew that represented the one true church. We talked less about doctrine and more about Jesus, but then we’d always get back to doctrine. Our minds remained calcified in convictions long set in doctrinal forms, but a living seed had been planted in the dirt between the cracks. It would take time for living experience to displace the hardened legalism that surrounded it.

For now, we channeled our new-found passion into the same old tactics. Once a door opened (literally and figuratively) we set out to delegitimize our victims’ previous religious experience. We’d show them our well-worn proof texts which made abundantly clear that Baptists had been baptized for the wrong reason, and Methodists had been baptized in the wrong way. We argued that if their church had been wrong on something so foundational that it must be the wrong church. They needed to join us in the one true church. After being baptized in the right way and for the right reason, of course.

Not long after having found “Christ in me,” we went door knocking again in the low-income neighborhood around those apartments where it all began. A kindly older lady in a cracker box house invited us in for coffee and condemnation. While we were working on her, a man who looked to be about ten years younger than she came to the door. He was apparently a friend and she invited him in as well. She made introductions all around and then said, “Hey Larry, these guys are here to talk about the Bible. I know you’re into that kind of stuff. Why don’t you talk with them?”

He agreed out of the side of his eyes, and we redirected our barrage at him.

I’ll never forget the serenity on his face as we hammered his claim on salvation.

When we called him to account for his dereliction of duty to the book we regularly violated, Larry would calmly respond, “You guys can say whatever you want. I know that I belong to Jesus.”

We scoffed at his subjective certainty, but we were also shaken by it. He could not measure up to our dogma, but we couldn’t measure up to his faith.

Then there was Shannon, a big guy who lived alone in a messy duplex. As he and I talked, we started comparing notes to discover that our experiences were almost identical. The longer the conversation went on, the more we found ourselves finishing each other’s sentences. We had a kinship that I didn’t have with anyone at the one true church, but Shannon insisted on remaining Catholic. I tried to help him bring his dogma in line, but he just didn’t feel the need.

The rift between us stretched through the middle of my worldview. If my experience had been authentically from God and Shannon had the same experience, then none of the doctrinal stuff mattered to God. But that would invalidate my exclusive claim on God. On the other hand, if my doctrinal formulas were correct, Shannon must have been deluded. If he had been deluded, I had no basis for confidence in my experience either. Shannon and I parted ways, but the tension continued to pull on my paradigm.

Eventually, I would discover that the whole problem had nothing to do with the Bible, but with my assumptions about it. Those assumptions had been given to me as axiomatic truth by the group to which I gave credence. The assumptions and not the Bible were my dogma. But that dogma didn’t hunt (southern reference). I mean it didn’t work.

It didn’t work practically. The New Testament when turned into a law is both too amorphous to master and too rigid to serve. The man who baptized me into the Church of Christ once described the Christian life as trying to hold a ball under water. “You push it down here and it pops up over there.”

So, you’re saying that Christianity consists of spending time and effort on a completely futile and frustrating endeavor? Sign me up!!!

At what point does a person chuck the ball out of the pool and say, “This game is stupid!”?

In addition to failing practically, my dogma also failed predictively. Like Ptolemaic astronomy, it failed to predict reality. If all those assumptions were true, then God couldn’t accept even one person like Larry or Shannon and yet it seemed that he had.

Before you write me off as a crackpot using his own experience to determine objective truth, could we look together at a biblical example of someone whose pragma ran over his dogma?

Peter was praying on the roof and he had this vision of a great sheet filled with all kinds of critters being lowered down out of heaven.

Then a voice said, “Get up Peter. Kill something and eat it.”

Peter’s response typifies the Biblicist approach to religion, “Not so, Lord, for nothing unclean has ever touched my lips.”

To which the Lord, responded, “Don’t call anything impure which God has made clean.”

For some reason, Peter needed to hear things three times  before he got them, so this cycle was repeated two more times.

A cynical synopsis of this narrative from Acts 10 could read as follows: “Christ appears to Peter and commands him to violate Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14.”

As Gentile believers, we might not fully grasp the psychological turmoil into which this vision cast Peter. He whose name means “rock” had never wavered from his resolve to obey the Torah. Now, the Living Word expected him to violate the written word. I don’t know if I can even come up with a modern equivalent from New Testament practice. I suppose it would be like Jesus coming and telling us to replace the wine and bread on the Lord’s Supper table with Monster Energy drinks and churros. Even then, we Gentiles don’t grasp the importance of the food laws to the Jewish identity.

Speaking of Gentiles, Peter, directed by the Spirit, then went to the house of a Roman army officer named Cornelius to tell him the gospel. That, in and of itself, wasn’t scripturally wrong so much as it was a violation of traditional Jewish practice.

While Peter preached about Jesus, Cornelius with all of his friends and family began to speak in other languages and to prophesy by the power of the Holy Spirit. In response, Peter commanded that they all be baptized – that is, that they be visibly accepted into the covenant community.

That posed a problem. Peter allowed the uncircumcised Gentiles into the messianic community even though Genesis 17:9-12 declares that everyone, even foreigners, must be circumcised if they are going to belong to the Abrahamic covenant.

When Peter and his cohort returned to Jerusalem, they were called on the carpet for this action.

The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.” – Acts 11:1-3

In his defense, Peter recounted the whole story of how he had been called to go to Cornelius’ house to preach the gospel and how God’s pragma had run over his dogma:

“As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?” When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.” – Acts 11:15-18

It would seem from God’s dealing with Peter that he never meant for Scripture to hamper our interaction with him in a dynamic relationship. Christ could command Peter to violate the Torah and then the Holy Spirit could circumvent the covenant requirements he himself put into place.

But why would God do this?

Because no written code, even one given by God, could possibly apply to every circumstance or address every person. Scripture serves a purpose, but it’s very nature also makes it provisional.


  1. In my strain of the Church of Christ, we used these three phrases to establish New Testament authority.
  2. The Church of Christ is known for shunning the use of instruments in their public assemblies. Here’s an  article for more on the belief.

A Faith that Works – Chapter 2 Excerpt

A Faith That Works is an examination of the gospel as the tangible power of God to save. Many Christians would be hard pressed to articulate exactly in what way the gospel had affected them. The absence of demonstrable change has become so prevalent that we’ve actually found a biblical basis to explain it. This excerpt from what may or may not be chapter 2 of the book dismantles that basis to make way for the legitimate work of God.

I can think of no better evidence to support my case that the gospel of the western church has been rendered inert through mishandling than the prevalence of the belief that Paul meant to describe the normal Christian life in Romans 7. I can’t count the number of times a Christian has told me something like, “Yeah, we’re forgiven by grace but we’re still going to sin every day. I know I’m not as strong as Paul and he had things he couldn’t get over either. Just look at Romans 7.”

Really? Is that the best that the power of God can do? If faith in Christ left Paul “dead” and “wretched,” then what in the “H-E-double-hockey-sticks” did it do for him!?

Far from commiserating with faltering disciples, Paul wrote Romans 7 to depict the state of existence that the gospel saved him from. Through his attempts to conform to an external standard of righteousness, he became as “dead in transgressions and sins” as the pagan recipients of the Ephesian letter had been.

Compare the description from Ephesians 2:1-3 of their pre Christian state with his condition described in Romans 7:

● Paul and the Ephesians had both been dead in sin.
○ “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,” (Eph. 2:1)
○ “Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death.” (Rom. 7:9-10)

● Paul and the Ephesians had both been in bondage to evil desires.
○ “…in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts.” (Eph. 2:2-3a)
○ “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Romans 7:14-15)

● Paul and the Ephesians both had natures that were hostile to God.
○ “Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.” (Ephesians 2:3b)
○ “For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:18-19)

If we agree that Ephesians 2:1-3 describes the lost state and then say that Romans 7 describes the common Christian experience, then we imply that the gospel produces no significant practical results. If we’ve come to identify a Romans 7 experience as the result of the gospel, then it’s no wonder there’s so little difference between the lives of Christians and nonbelievers. No wonder so few churchgoers evangelize. No wonder so many kids raised in church leave the faith.

Free Dumb

Everyone offers it.  Few understand it.  Many think they have it but know they do not.  They talk of freedom but they are “free dumb.” Simply put, freedom is doing what you most want to do.  Everything else is a degree of slavery.  So, if I ask you, “What do you most want to do?” and you answer with anything other than what you are currently doing, then you are bound in some way.  If you believe yourself to be free, then you are free dumb.

I have found that Jesus Christ alone offers true freedom.  He has liberated me from regret, fear, and insecurity.  He has pulled me into his loving embrace and I want nothing more.  I want him like Paul did in Phil. 3:10-11.  He is my great treasure and my aspiration.  I have found limitless wonder, joy, and power as a willing subject in his perfect law-less reign.  Sadly, those who reject him often do so because they believe he wants to hamper their “freedom.”  They are free dumb.

Perhaps those who reject him think this way because of “believers” who are afraid to declare with Paul, “All things are lawful for me.”  Such adherents speak judgment and rules as they drag the chains of their misguided responsibilities.  All the while they are mute to the truth that sets us free.  They are free dumb.

A Little Peace

photo credit: http://leonsariah.com/is-tithing-biblical/

Why do Christian leaders tell people that they should tithe?  I don’t have the definitive answer but I do believe that I know something true about tithing.  Tithing is not for the generous but for the stingy.  Generous people need only hear of the need and they will meet it.  They do not need a minimum compulsory amount.  Church leaders feel the need to teach on tithing because they are leading a group of selfish people.  Take the selfishness one step further and tell the “givers” that God will return even more to them if they do tithe.

There was a time for tithing.  God assumed selfishness in the unredeemed people of Israel and made provision for it.  For those who have been implanted with the love of God, tithing has become obsolete.  The saddest aspect of tithing teaching is when we presume selfishness from the redeemed,  they begin to be selfish.

Here’s what Paul said about a general legalistic approach, which would include tithing.

The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.   Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers  of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.   We know that the law is good  if one uses it properly.  We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels,   the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious… (1 Timothy 1:5-9a)

You Can Keep It

In the wake of various rallies which have taken place over the weekend regarding religion and the free exercise thereof, a question springs to my mind: “Who Would Jesus Protest?” Before you throw that question out as irrelevant, remember that Jesus lived and ministered in a highly-charged political environment. Jesus interacted with several political entities especially at the end of his life. Consider the following reading from the Gospel of John:

Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”

“If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”

Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”

“But we have no right to execute anyone,” they objected. This took place to fulfill what Jesus had said about the kind of death he was going to die.

Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”  (John 28:28-37 NIV)

This discussion involves three parties.  Two of them believe in Yahweh – the “Jewish leaders” and Jesus.  Two of them struggle over political influence – the “Jewish leaders” and Pilate.  Just one both worshipped Yahweh and bowed out of the political wrangling, even though the outcome had bearing on his very survival.  His reason: “My kingdom is not of this world.  If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders.  But now my kingdom is from another place.”

What if those who today claim to serve Jesus Christ stood up and said, “You can keep it!  We don’t need your support and we don’t fear your opposition.  We will neither compromise our values nor fight over them.  You are free to take away our rights, our dignity, our livelihood, and our very lives.  You can keep it all because our kingdom is not of this world.  In the end we will be vindicated and victorious.  Just wait and see.”