A Staff Devotion by Scott Hoffman, Donor Ministries Regional Manager for The Cove
This week we celebrate the 4th of July! We’ll have picnics, we’ll hear and sing the wonderful old patriotic tunes, we will probably even sing some of those songs in church this coming Sunday.
We Americans have a lot to celebrate, don’t we?
We have built a society that has given an unprecedented measure of freedom to each of its citizens. I can do whatever I want as long as I do not interfere with your pursuit of whatever it is that you want to do. And in this land of plenty, there is a veritable supermarket of desirable things to do….and you and I have become little more than the consumers of all these things…and we are FREE to enjoy them to our hearts content!
Our problem, with regard to FREEDOM, is that we don’t even know what true freedom is.
The teenager can hardly wait for the freedom that comes with adulthood. The older person longs to be a young again. The poor would love the freedom of the rich, but the rich remember what it’s like to be free of the worry that has accompanied their growing fortunes. They long for the simpler life and a good night’s sleep once again. That great theologian, Bruce Springsteen wrote some lyrics that went something like this: “Poor man wants to be rich, rich man wants to be king, king won’t be free until he owns everything.”
How we look at freedom depends on where we stand…and that concept is what makes freedom so hard…so very hard to define.
The New Testament is never confused about the real meaning of freedom, however.
The biblical view is that freedom, genuine personal freedom, consists in knowing that we are the children of God and then living joyfully out of that knowledge regardless of any external constraints.
Let’s consider, as our backdrop for this understanding, the story of the prodigal son. The younger of the two boys wanted to be totally free. He was tired of being told what to do….when he could come and go, and with whom! He wanted to get away where no one could give him orders anymore. He wanted to be FREE! You know what happened. The boy went off and he was totally free…or at least he thought he was.
Then everything changed! This young man who had wanted total freedom, wanted so badly he could taste it, wanted it so badly he was willing to hurt everyone in his path just to get it, decided that it was not freedom he wanted after all. What he really wanted was to return home to be a slave! There are all kinds of false religions that cater to that sort of personality and are built upon that exact psychology. That’s where cults and false religions go to find all their converts. That’s the point the prodigal was at….that’s what he was willing to have happen in his life.
That’s not what his loving father had in mind however!
Would that be freedom?
Certainly not, Paul would shout out loud! Paul said that it is foolish to return to slavery once you have been set free in the Son.
That was the essence of the passage from Galatians 3: 23-26. That’s the essence of the point that Jesus made in this wonderful old parable!
“No way!” says the merciful father, “you will never be a slave, but you will never be a child again either. You have to be an adult now. It’s time to grow up.”
So he calls for a ring and puts it on his finger. It was the ancient symbol of adulthood and authority. Then he called everybody together and said, “THIS IS MY SON! HE WAS LOST AND NOW HE’S FOUND. HE WAS DEAD AND NOW HE’S ALIVE!”
For this “boy-now-become-man,” it was time to learn to live with a new kind of freedom….the responsible freedom of Sonship!
Having real freedom does not mean having complete freedom!
Let me repeat that, because it is vitally important to understanding biblical freedom: Having real freedom does not mean having complete freedom! It means living freely within whatever situation life happens to find us in. It means accepting the limitations of our lives and not feeling hampered by them. It isn’t necessarily the freedom to come and go as we please, but rather the freedom God gives us to be at peace wherever we are!
Consider the prodigal for a moment…let us speculate about his life after his homecoming party. Here’s what his new freedom was like. He rose early in the morning, before daybreak. After breakfast, he went to the fields to supervise the work of his father’s servants. During the heat of the day, the sweat ran down his face, and his clothes stuck to his body. He came in in the late afternoons dirty and grimy, scorched by the sun and burned by the wind. And yet….and yet, he was free!
He was no longer the prisoner of his passions or of his circumstances.
He was home…and glad to be there!
When he came in from working all day, he was thankful to have a place he called home. He craved the simple food of his farming family. He cherished the conversation at the family dinner table and the approving stroke of his father’s affirmation as he passed by. He loved to stroll in the moonlight and to think about the journey that had been his life. He remembered his escape to the far off country, the fickleness of his friends, the feeling of desperation, the sense of destitution when the money ran out. He was indeed thankful to be home and glad, for the first time in his life that he was truly free.
Do you see it? Real freedom, our freedom in Christ, is NOT the freedom to do anything we choose to do. It isn’t even the freedom to remake the world and everyone in it the way that we would like them to be. It isn’t the freedom to insure that the Supreme Court makes all the right decisions and that our President is someone who we are proud to have represent us.
Real freedom is the freedom of forgiveness and restitution, the freedom of acceptance and renewal, the freedom to be who God made us to be in joy and in peace and in love.
Real freedom is the freedom Paul spoke about in Galatians, not to be slaves to sin anymore, because that only produces lives of anxiety and jealousy and desperation.
Real freedom is the freedom to be sons and daughters of God, so that we can experience the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Real freedom is NOT the freedom to do nothing either, regardless of where we are in our lives! It is not the freedom to be anybody or anything we want.
Real freedom is the ability to be content with WHO we are as human beings and to give thanks to the Lord for all the human situations that we find ourselves in, knowing that God loves us and accepts us and is at work within us, preparing us, all the while, for our eternal destiny in Jesus!
Anything else is not freedom at all, but merely the illusion of freedom.
The way the prodigal son was made to be his father’s son and not his slave, this is what we, too, were made for! And when we finally discover that and integrate it into our self-understanding and into our way of relating to the world, we will experience the joy and excitement that the prodigal son must have felt when he strolled in the moonlight and realized just how good it all was after all!
God does not want us to be His slaves. He truly wants us to be His sons and daughters.
That is why He sent His Son…to give us that freedom for all time!
Thank you Father! Thank you Jesus! Thank you Holy Spirit!