We were enjoying a crackling, merry driftwood fire on the beach when a woman, with a purposeful mien and a set to her jaw, strode up and announced,
“I’m sure that you don’t mean to break the law, but it’s illegal to burn driftwood on the beach.”
Silence (which I’m sure is the general reaction to this woman whenever she enters a room). The Norwegian Artist looked her straight in the eye and politely said,
“Well thank you for that information.” He then picked up another log and added it to the blaze.
Later, we confirmed what we already knew, that it is not illegal to burn driftwood fires on the beach, but for that moment, and in that woman’s eyes, we were lawbreakers, bad, evil people not because we were burning driftwood, but because we were breaking a law.
A Nation of Laws
My country, the U.S., describes itself as a nation of laws, as if this is something to be proud of. If you replace the word “laws” with “rules,” “regulations,” “loopholes,” and “requirements,” and if you acknowledge that totalitarian regimes pride themselves on their number of laws as well, this statement suddenly doesn’t sound so patriotic and free. Frequently, if you ask someone if they are a good person, they answer along the lines of,
“Well, I’m not perfect, but I buckle my seat belt, and I don’t speed, and I pay my taxes. I drove once after I had a glass of wine, but my blood alcohol was below the legal limit, so that’s okay,” as if adherence to the law — regardless of its absurdity or relevancy — is what defines our goodness, or badness.
Freedom in Christ: Where, Exactly, Is It?
As Christians, we like to talk about our “freedom in Christ,” but I have met very, very few Christians who live as if they were truly free. In addition to saluting the flag, standing when the judge enters the room (is there some reason that he is not obliged to stand up for us?), and putting 8 quarters in the parking meter, too many people define their goodness, and their Christianity, by a blend of civil laws, patriotic feelings and religious obligations, none of which necessarily have to do with God’s laws.
Which, incidentally, can be summed up in two commandments, one of which is in the Top 10, and the other which isn’t:
1) Love the Lord God with your heart, soul, and mind
2) Love your neighbor as yourself.
These remarkably open-ended edicts leave us a lot of freedom for application, but the first thing we do with that freedom is limit it, because,
“If you don’t give people parameters and guidelines, then there will be anarchy.”
God’s Standards — Not Men’s
The problem is, when anyone other than God sets up the parameters and guidelines, you wind up with a lifestyle, or a religion, or a nation, of laws — some of which are based upon truth and logic (agreeing to drive on one side of the yellow line comes to mind), but many of which make lawbreakers out of law abiding citizens (not buying health insurance because 1) you can’t afford it and 2) it’s ridiculously overpriced, say).
We are Christians not because we follow God’s laws, but — as we become closer to Christ and rely upon His strength — we follow God’s laws because we are Christians. This is freedom in Christ: to rest in His acceptance and love as opposed to trying to earn it.
Isaiah 29:13 gives us food for thought:
” The Lord says: ‘These people come near to me with their mouths and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.'”
Freedom: Seek It, Value It, Protect It
Men, operating outside of God and when there are no limitations placed upon them, make rules — civil and religious — because they seek power and control over others. What results for the populace under them — civil or religious — is not freedom, but bondage.
Within the civic arena, citizens must remain aware, awake, and vocal, because freedom is a right that must constantly be protected. Only in a land of just laws, overseen by just men, does it truly exist.
In our spiritual lives, we have the freedom that we will never achieve in the worldly realm, but most of us don’t realize it. The gift sits, unopened or partially unwrapped on the table, while we perform whatever ablutions the human leaders of our spiritual lives dictate.
“Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery,” Paul tells us in Galatians 5:1.
In the world of men, we must constantly fight for our freedom. In the Kingdom of God, we already have it.
Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes, where I address Contempo Christianity on Wednesdays. You can also find me at BeliefNet’s Commonsense Christianity, where I post three times weekly. Recent posts there include
Nasty, Biting — Unintentional — Things We Say (Has anyone ever said that you look fat today? Or, worse, have you said that to someone yourself? Words hurt as much as they heal; let’s strive for the latter.)
High Anxiety: Conquer Your Fear (We will never run out of things to worry about; what we can change is how we deal with worrying.)
God, the Dentist (Many of us fear the dentist. Just as many are afraid of God. But a good dentist is gentle, understanding, patient, skillful, and wise — all of which are attributes of our very, very Good God.)
When People Lie to Us (They do, all the time, and not just politicians. We live in a culture of deceit and manipulation, and rather than despair, we need to be aware.)