Remember the old song about signs everywhere telling us what to do. In case you don’t, here are some of the lyrics. (The Five Man Electrical Band)
Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?
Now, hey you, mister, can’t you read?
You’ve got to have a shirt and tie to get a seat
You can’t even watch, no you can’t eat
You ain’t supposed to be here
The sign said you got to have a membership card to get inside
And the sign said, “Everybody welcome. Come in, kneel down and pray”
But when they passed around the plate at the end of it all
I didn’t have a penny to pay
So I got me a pen and a paper and I made up my own little sign
I said, “Thank you, Lord, for thinkin’ ’bout me. I’m alive and doin’ fine”
We might also write down the same thing for religion. Everywhere we look we see another rule, ceremony, code, law and maybe even a secret handshake tell us what and how to believe within the Christian faith.
Keep this in mind. A passage from Romans 10:4 ‘For Christ is the end of the law, with the result that there is righteousness for everyone who believes.’
This means that anything and everything the law was meant to do in bringing humanity into right relationship with God has been culminated and fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus. According to the Apostle Paul anything but Christ being the way to our righteousness is ANOTHER gospel, one that isn’t true. He wrote this to the church in Galatia where people were insisting that ‘real’ followers of Jesus ‘had to’ be circumcised.
So I got to thinking one day that ‘religion’ of any stripe is too heavy a burden to bear. And within Christianity, according to some estimates, there are 33,000 Christian ‘organizations’ around the world plus many thousands of other religious sects and cults with lists of dogmas, doctrines, rule and regulations too numerous to list.
Now some folks need all those burdens, and boundaries to feel safe. In truth there are people who are willing to give up their freedom for a sense of security. And not in any good way do some people stay in an abusive relationship to be safer from harm that may occur by ‘breaking free’.
It may be why some people join very fundamental religious groups in order to have life that is defined for them in order that they don’t have to make their own decisions.
Maybe, just maybe, it’s why Adam and Eve became nervous in the Garden just living in love with their creator, making decisions from their place of communion with God. Freedom and love can be so risky.
In the Old Testament of the Bible, within the first five books, there are 613 laws and commandments on how to live with God and one another. They were, due to the immaturity of the chosen people at the time, necessary. In the New Testament Jesus announces that there are basically two commandments: to love God with all your self and to love your neighbor as yourself. He further says that all the laws and the sayings of the prophets are summed up in those two commands. Paul wrote that the entire law is fulfilled in keeping one command, LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF. (Galatians 5:14) See also Romans 13: 9. And let us not think that this command to love neighbor as self is a walk in the park.
To love God fully means placing our trust in Christ, nothing more and nothing less and loving neighbor is a process of maturation in Christ to the point where we are willing to give up our lives even for the people, close to us, who annoy us most.
But and read this carefully: love comes from freedom, not rules. We are ‘freed’ to love. Here’s an illustration I heard once upon a time. If I bring home flowers to my wife and she is so surprised and asks me why and I respond by saying it is the rule of the Bible to show love. I can tell you this. It’s not going to be pretty.
So let’s take a look at what freedom is. Jesus came saying to the people who wanted to follow him, ‘If you hold to my teaching your are really my disciples and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.’ (See John 8) Jesus is telling us that whatever we need to know about life in the Kingdom of God, right here and now is known simply by trusting him for everything. That’s why he says later, that is the way, truth and life (all meaning the same thing) and that no one is really able to come to the Father (live in the Father’s loving kingdom) except by trusting in Christ to be and show us the way there. And the commandments of Jesus, as John writes, in 1John are not burdensome. They are simply the truth of life in the Kingdom. But not even those commandments are the way to life. Jesus is. And trusting in Jesus is the best that we can do and life will follow.
And Jesus is not like some fuhrer setting up a system that kills. That’s a thief who steals life. Jesus gives life abundantly and if we don’t experience the abundance and joy then it could just mean that we are carrying too heavy a load.
If we look at Matthew 11 we find Jesus saying to the crowds, and I write from the Message Paraphrase; 28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” MSG
Now there’s a relationship of love that leads to a joyful responsible life. Jesus invites us to step into a life where we ‘want’ to do God’s will, not where we ‘have to’. “In the will of God, the kingdom of God there is no need for do’s and don’ts, no need for tables of commandments, tablets of law. In this kingdom everything will be regulated by inner rebirth and inward inspiration under the rule of Christ’s spirit.” (Ebehard Arnold wrote in 1935)
When Jesus spoke to Nicodemus (John 3) about a new birth he said, ‘The wind blows where it will- that how it is with the spirit’. The spirit of the living God moves here and there directing as God wills for each life, no two lives the same. And so when one person discerns the will of God in a particular way, another maybe differently understands the workings of God. That’s how it is with Freedom born of a relationship of love and inspiration.
When in the early New Testament churches leaders made rules and regulations for other’s conduct Paul wrote that they didn’t need to submit to the rules of an old way of life where folks were saying, ‘don’t eat this’, ‘don’t touch that’, ‘observe days of Sabbath’. (See Galatians 2:16-23) I like how the MESSAGE puts it, ‘don’t tolerate people who want to run your life.’
And there are a plethora of religions and people who want to do just that. I recall as a teenager, of the Christian slogans was ‘I don’t drink, dance or chew or go out with girls that do.’ Well, I pretty much broke all of those rules.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the good news of freedom. The gospel has no moral code that defines our relationship to Christ. Because we are God’s new creation in the new Adam we live solely out of love and union with God, governed only by the word of Christ dwelling in us and constrained only by his love for us. When churches or other human tell us how or what to believe or live we respond that have no other King but Jesus. When our own flesh desires, or commands our obedience we say again that we have no other King but Jesus. Because remember we can be just as enslaved to sin and its wages of death as to some other cruel master.