Freedom in Christ through God’s grace – the original liberalism?

The thought of this blog post title entered into my mind this morning in the form of a question during a conversation with the Holy Spirit.

As I have been studying and leading my people through Paul’s letter to the believers at Colossae, I have been coming more and more face-to-face with the freedom from human rules, traditions and human-made culture and societal norms that comes with the freedom we have in Christ from those things.

I took time to look up the definitions of both conservative and liberal.  A conservative individual is one “who is averse to change and holds to traditional values and attitudes, typically in politics.”  A liberal is one who is “open to new behavior and opinions and willing to discard traditional values.”

Paul says to the Colossian believers that through Christ we are no longer under the authority of a human-made set of rules and regulations, even those entrenched in a religious system.  “Do not handle!  Do not taste!  Do not touch!”  Followers of Christ are no longer under the authority of a system of religious rules, regulations and requirements.  

This sounds to me like it falls into the camp of the definition of “liberal.”

Think about what Jesus did.  When he made his entrance upon the earth, the system of what was appropriate behavior in all types of situations was well established.  The religious teachers for many years had forged the religious rules which the people were expected to follow and by which people’s obedience to God was judged.

Jesus went against many of these well-established and long-held requirements.  He healed a man’s hand on the Sabbath.  He picked grain on the Sabbath.  He ate with sinners, in the sinners’ houses no less!  And the list could go on and on.

This sounds to me like it falls into the camp of the definition of “liberal.”

I believe that the true reason they had him killed was not blasphemy; that was just the vehicle by which they were able to carry it out.  No, the true reason they had Jesus killed was because he was challenging many years of “traditional” and “long-held” standards of what it meant to truly obey God.  Jesus was upsetting the established order of things, the status quo.  

This sounds to me like it falls into the camp of the definition of “liberal.”

And because of that, they needed to deal with him.

In our country, a judge who gives a lenient sentence to a convicted criminal is oft-times labeled a liberal judge.  A conservative judge would be one who issues a strong sentence to make sure the criminal learns his/her lesson.  What about Jesus in John 8:1-11?  The woman was caught in adultery, but Jesus did not condemn her nor did he punish her; he showed mercy.  Jesus, the original liberal judge?  Hmmm.

This sounds to me like it falls into the camp of the definition of “liberal.”

In my experience, those of a more conservative/fundamental nature theologically are typically more apt to maintain a list of rules and regulations to which people must adhere and by which people’s level of spiritual maturity is judged.  Many of these rules are even, in some way, supported by the use of Scriptural principle.  

For instance, the type of attire that is truly acceptable at a worship gathering.  The reasoning, which I have heard, is that it is important to dress up for worship because you want to present your best to God.  Therefore, in this setting, coming to worship in anything less than “Sunday dress” is frowned upon and judged as wrong.

When challenged, this value is defended by different Scriptural principles concerning our offering and sacrifice to God among others.  The problem with this is that God doesn’t look on our “wrapping;” He looks upon our heart.  This value has focused totally on the wrong thing because God doesn’t care about it, but when this value is in place, look out if you violate it.

Once again from my experience, being conservative is more concerned about adherence to a system of rules and regulations than about the heart, the reason and motivation behind why something is done.  In many places, Paul talks about this very thing.

Freedom in Christ through God’s grace means that what is truly important is the motivation and reasoning, not the action itself.  This leads certain people to do something that others might think wrong. (think consumption of alcohol, in moderation, as an example here)  

Many know the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23a; how many know the rest of verse 23?  Paul says that “against these things,” (the fruit of the Spirit), “there is no law.”  That means that the expressions of these fruits (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, etc.) cannot be regulated by a system or rules, regulations and requirements, but, rather, people are free to express them in the ways the Spirit leads them to do so.

Once again from my experience, American conservative culture has been either married to or made synonymous with Christianity and God.  From this relationship, norms from the conservative culture have made inroads into churches and been used to establish what is and isn’t appropriate and proper “godly” behavior.

When this reality is questioned, the questioner is deemed “liberal” and shamed, sometimes even having the genuineness of his/her faith called into question because a true person of faith wouldn’t question or challenge these things. 

Well, if the example of Jesus were to be followed, it is actually the person questioning who is more mirroring the actions of Jesus than the one who just accepts.

Freedom in Christ through God’s grace puts the focus where it truly should be – the heart.  And when that heart is displayed in action, it can often go against and even challenge established and traditional values.  Instead of railing against it, this should lead us into a deeper discussion about what it means to be free in Christ and how the relationship we have with God is expressed.

 

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