Friday, 19 September 2014
Not Something But Someone
What are you and I looking for when we open our Bibles? Here are some possible answers:
- I open my Bible out of habit, a good habit–and look to complete the next assignment on my reading program.
- I open my Bible because I have a question–and look for an answer.
- I open my Bible because I have a problem–and look for a solution.
- I open my Bible because I have a need–and look for something to fill that need.
I’ve opened my Bible for all of those reasons–and others. I’ve looked for duty’s sake, for an answer, a solution, or simply something to fill the empty spot. These aren’t bad things, they just aren’t the main thing. Biblical principles for living aren’t the main thing. Even doctrine–precious, true doctrines like justification by faith–aren’t the main thing.
The main thing is a person. Seeing Jesus is the red hot center of all reading, studying, understanding, and applying my Bible. Let me show you what I mean with an imaginary page from my journal.
Pick a morning, any morning…
I wake up with a groan. One eye checks the alarm clock. Why do I feel so lousy?
Oh yeah. I finished off the Dove bars last night. Be honest, an inner voice nags, you started AND finished them. Right. I want to spank myself, but instead make a mental note to start a 7-day detox. And join a gym.
Before my feet hit the floor I remember the other baggage from yesterday — the fight with my husband, forgetting my best friend’s birthday, parking the kids in front of the TV so I could finish that project for work. My life is definitely out of control. Each failure prompts more resolutions to make it right and not mess up again.
I’m locked in the prison of my conscience. Again.
Looking for Freedom
As I become aware of the chains, I get hungry for freedom. Where am I going to find it? I search my Bible software for the word “freedom” and Galatians 5:1 comes up:
For freedom Christ has set us free.
Stand firm therefore,
and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Freedom. What great news! That’s what I think at first, too. But freedom itself isn’t necessarily good news. I don’t always know what to do with freedom, that is, if my memory of every summer vacation since childhood is correct.
No, the good news isn’t freedom, it’s Christ. Christ has set us free! Keep reading. Notice how many times in the next five verses he is mentioned or alluded to — he is our advantage (v. 2), he is the one we don’t want to be severed from (v. 4), he is the one we are “in” (v. 6), faith in him is what counts (v. 6).
He is the one who freed us from justifying ourselves through all our rule-keeping, God’s rules or ones we’ve made up for ourselves. He freed us by justifying us through his death on the cross. We can’t add to what he’s done. We can’t pay one red cent. In fact his cross offends us by saying, “put your wallet away.”
Jesus not only freed me, he wants me to stay free. I recognize this morning that I’m tempted to pay God back right now. The detox diet and gym membership may not be bad things in themselves, but right now they’re my pitiful efforts at self-justification, to punish myself and then prove that I’m not so bad after all. They’re actually a substitute for Christ.
Choosing them means choosing to cut myself off from him. Staying free involves turning to him again and continuing to live in the freedom he obtained for me at the cross.
Now that I’m standing firm in my freedom again, what should I do? Live free. Yet, even in that I’m not alone. Jesus is the one who calls me (v. 8, 13). He’s with me as I seek to live free, too.
I do believe a new journal entry is called for:
Christ My Liberator
(I stop rattling my chains and devising my self-atonement plan.)
Who’s there? (I squint in the darkness of my dungeon.)
What are you doing in there?
I turn my head. There he stands, framed in the open door of my prison, grinning.
I dynamited this door open years ago. Come out. You’re with me now.
I step out of my cell into his brilliant Presence. Blinking in the sunlight, I hardly know what to do with myself. Freedom feels scary. It feels, well, free. What now?
Come on. You’re with me. We’ve got some people to love.