Living In God’s Freedom Kingdom
Over the next few times that I teach I’m going to do a little mini-series I'm calling, "Living In God’s Freedom Kingdom.” We're going to look at some of the things that bind us and keep us from really becoming all that God wants us to be and hinders us from living in the freedom that He provides.
Today I want to talk to you about "Don't Give Away Your Freedom". The hallmark of being a Christian is freedom. Jesus said, "You will know the truth and the truth will set you free." John 8:32 (NASB) The Bible says "If the Son sets you free you shall be free indeed." John 8:36 (NIV.) The Bible says, "Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom." 2 Cor. 3:17 (NIV.)
Have you noticed that some Christians, after they become believers, lose their spark? Why is that? Why is it that some people start with great joy and great enthusiasm -- they're just so fresh and full of vitality -- but after a while they lose their joy? Why is that?
I believe that it is because they allow some traps to steal their freedom. These traps steal the freedom they have in Christ. Even though we are still free in Christ we no longer live like it or act like it.
We're going to look today at the book of Galatians. The book of Galatians is about freedom. Paul wrote it. The whole theme of the book of Galatians is "Don't let anybody steal your freedom." That's what it's about. Paul was hopping mad. Paul started the church at Galatia and after he left a group of people called Judaizers came in. The Judaizers were a group of people who said you can be a Christian, but if you want to be a Christian you've got to keep all the rules and regulations that we set up. These were all of the Jewish laws.
And Paul got mad. He was upset! The book of Galatians is full of strong emotions. Paul warns us in Galatians 5:1 (NIV), "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again." And in Galatians 1:7 (NIV) he says, "Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the Gospel of Christ."
Paul, in the book of Galatians, mentions that there are three subtle traps that cause us to lose our joy in the Christian life. The fact is, they're still around today.
1. In chapter 3 Paul warns us to BEWARE OF BECOMING A PERFECTIONIST. It will rob your freedom. It will rob your joy.
What is a perfectionist? A perfectionist is believing or trying to please God by being perfect. Definition: Thinking that I must be perfect in order to please God.
Galatians 3:3 (NLT) says, "You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain perfection by human effort?" Paul says, “You guys have been conned. You've been duped. Somebody has misled you. They've tried to sell you some swamp land in Florida. They give you the idea that you become a Christian by grace through faith but then you live the Christian life by works, and you've got to be perfect in order for God to like you.” Don’t get me wrong here, as Christians we should do “acts of love” but that has nothing to do with God’s acceptance of you. The good stuff that we do because we are Christians has no bearing on how God feels about you, He loves you regardless. Paul says, “You have been conned. Beware of becoming a perfectionist.”
A lot of people grew up with parents who were impossible to please. If you got C's, they told you to get B's. If you got B's, they told you to get A's. If you A's, they said the teachers were too easy. No matter what you did, you felt like you were just not doing good enough. They said, “You're just not making the grade.”
A lot of people, when they become Christians, they transfer that role of the parent over to God and all of a sudden, they're serving an unpleasable God. For the perfectionist God is always saying, "Can't you measure up? Shape up! Get with it!" No matter how much you serve the Lord, it's never good enough.
Paul says that will steal your joy. That's perfectionism. It's feeling like everything's got to be just right. They imagine God as some big nag in the sky. Nagging doesn't work at home. It doesn't work at church. It doesn't work for God. God is not a nag.
The favorite phrases of a perfectionist are "I should... I must... I ought to..." You never can relax because you always feel like you've got to keep pushing and striving to be better and better. Perfectionism is based on fear of God rather than on the love of God. It is a good thing to strive to be better but don’t believe for one second that God withholds His love for you based on how good you are.
What is the result of perfectionism? Perfectionism destroys your peace. What happens is, your relationship to God becomes a burden rather than a blessing. The Christian life becomes frustrating rather than fulfilling. You feel like, "I never can measure up!"
Paul says that is foolish. "You foolish Galatians!" I'll never be able to measure up to God. He's perfect. I'm not. You're not. It's foolish to try to measure up to God.
So what's the solution? We find it in what God told Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV) "My grace [circle "grace"] is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." We must remember this one thing: God loves you unconditionally. He loves you on your good days. He loves you on your bad days. He loves you when you have a quiet time with Him. He loves you when you don't have a quiet time with Him. He loves you when you blow it. His love is not based on your behavior. It's unconditional. You can't earn it. He loves you even when you don't feel very lovely.
Paul says forget the trap of perfectionism. It will ruin your joy. Hebrews 12:2 tells us to keep our eyes on Jesus who is the perfector of our faith. It's His job. Even in our weaknesses God uses us. God uses even the weaknesses in your life for good. He turns them around and brings good out of them.
What's the point I'm trying to make? Christian living is based on grace, not guilt. Ephesians 2:8,9 (NIV) tells us, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” If you feel guilty, you're missing the point. You're missing the point of Christian living. In Romans 8:1 (NLT) we see, “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” We do not have to be perfect, His grace makes us perfect!
So, Paul is teaching in chapter 3, “Beware of the danger -- the trap -- of being a perfectionist.”
In the next chapter -- chapter 4 -- he mentions another subtle trap that robs us of our joy as Christians.
2. BEWARE OF BECOMING A LEGALIST. A perfectionist is somebody who's trying to please God by being perfect. A legalist -- definition: Measuring my Christian maturity by the number of rules that I keep. Many people think God sits up in heaven with a great big scale. On one side He measures all your bad works and on the other side He measures all your good works. And if your good works outbalance your bad works, then you make the grade and He likes you. But if your bad works outweigh your good works, you're an immature Christian and you're never going to make it, so forget it!
The Bible says to beware of being a legalist. We love to have ‘dos’ and ‘don'ts’. We love to make little lists of ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’. We all have our little no-no group. But have you noticed one of the problems of making lists of ‘dos’ and ‘don'ts’, is that my list doesn't usually match your list. I don't drink, smoke, cuss, chew or hang around girls that do. I don't do anything! I’m a Goody-Two-Shoes! One group says, “We don't believe in wearing makeup”. Another group says, “It's ok to wear makeup but you can't dance”. Another group says, “It's ok to dance but you can't smoke”. Another one says, “You can smoke but you can't go to movies”. The Church that I grew up in said that Christians can’t do any of these things!
Everybody's got their little lists of rules and regulations, and they become tied down.
Paul says in Galatians 4:9 (TLV), “But now you have come to know God—or rather you have come to be known by God. So how can you turn back again to those weak and worthless principles? Do you want to be enslaved to them all over again?” Paul is saying you have forfeited your freedom. When you became a Christian, He set you free. Jesus said, “I came to set people free”. But after becoming a Christian now you're going back to those rules and regulations and rituals that tied you down in the first place. You can't work your way to heaven. You can't work your way to stay saved. Why would anybody want to do that? That’s the trap of legalism.
Romans 10:3-4 (TLB) says, “For they don’t understand that Christ has died to make them right with God. Instead they are trying to make themselves good enough to gain God’s favor by keeping the Jewish laws and customs, but that is not God’s way of salvation. They don’t understand that Christ gives to those who trust in him everything they are trying to get by keeping his laws. He ends all of that.” Circle that last phrase -- "He ends all of that." Circle the word "trying" and "trust" because the Christian life is not guilt, it's grace and the Christian life is not trying it's trusting!
In Jesus' day it was a very legalistic, rigid society. No society was more controlled. You think the Middle-East today is legalistic. In New Testament Palestine there were rules and the spiritual policemen of that day were called Pharisees. They went around with clipboards checking on everybody. They were continually questioning people, asking questions, asking people where they stood. They were very legalistic. They had thousands of rules, thousands of regulations. They kept score on everybody. They were very judgmental, critical and intolerant.
Jesus went to those Pharisees and said, "You guys are phonies! You make up rules that even you yourselves can't keep. That's not what God wants." God wants relationships not rules. That's what counts in the Christian life. He says beware of legalism.
One of my favorite stories is in Luke 13:10 and following. It talks about how one time on the Sabbath day, a woman who had been crippled for 18 years came to Jesus and He healed her. The religious establishment got very uptight about that. They said, “Why couldn't you heal her on Monday? or Thursday? Any day but the Sabbath. You're not supposed to work on the Sabbath”.
Why of all days did Jesus chose the Sabbath to heal a lady? Because He wanted to make a point. What was the point? People are more important than policies. Relationships are more important than rules.
That wasn't the last time that Jesus went around a man-made rule. He had said Himself that the Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath. He attacked all of these ‘dos’ and ‘don'ts’. Jesus destroyed legalism. He fought it. He hated it.
Legalism is still around today. People love to make rules and lists to measure their maturity. I saw a tract several years ago and it said things like: "Jesus says `Don't!'" Well isn't that a positive message? That's really good news, isn't it? "Jesus says `Don't!' The God of Do's and Don'ts..." You open it up and on the inside there is a list of forty things that you shouldn't do, and there's scripture references for most of them. Don't have long hair. Don't wear gold or pearls. Jesus says, “Don't believe those who teach anything not found in the King James Version”. Jesus says, “Don't tell jokes or act the clown or use puppets to explain the word of God”. Don't say "no" when you're asked for money. Jesus says, “Don't save and collect goods or money for greed and old age”. Jesus says, “Don't join the armed forces to defend the country”. Jesus says, “Don't use unions to sell or ask for a wage increase”. Jesus says, “Don't forget you're saved by works after conversion”.
Well isn't that "great"? That’s not the Gospel, that is called legalism!
Paul wrote the book of Galatians to say, “Don't become a perfectionist and don't become a legalist where rules and regulations make up your Christian life”.
Remember the bumper sticker: I’m not perfect, I’m just forgiven! Isn't that the truth?
What is the result of legalism? Galatians 4 tells us. This is the inevitable; you can count on it, the consequence of legalism. Whenever you find legalism in your life you're going to find this result. In Galatians 4:15 (NIRV) Paul asks, "What has happened to all your joy?" If you want something to kill your life, concentrate on rules rather than on your relationship to the Lord. Legalists are seldom happy. They're critical. They're always looking for what's wrong. They’re a killjoy. The law was never meant to bring life. That’s a big theme in Romans and Hebrews. The law was meant to bring death so Jesus could bring salvation. It never was meant to keep us saved or make us saved. He says, "What happened to your joy?" You lose your joy if you focus on rules.
If you want to do what's right look at Galatians 5:14 (NIV), “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said this a few times in Scripture. Somebody came to Him one day and asked “What is the most important Law to follow?” Jesus said, "Simple. If you want to summarize all of God’s Laws, here it is: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. That's it." Love God with all your heart. Love your neighbor as yourself.
The Christian life is based on relationships not rules. It's my relationship to God. Do I love God? It's my relationship to other people. Do I love other people? If I love God and I love other people, I've got it! We try to make it so hard. We try to make it so complicated. It is so simple. Love God. Love people. That sums it all up! I know a lot of people who keep a lot of laws and they don't love God and they don't love other people. They are unloving and are held captive by their own rules. They can’t enjoy God’s freedom.
So, are there not any rules for life? Of course there are rules. Galatians 5:13 (NLT) says “For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.” It's not talking about license. It's talking about liberty. God’s grace is not a license to sin! Love has it's rules, but he's saying beware of becoming a legalist just like you need to beware of becoming a perfectionist.
There's one other trap that will rob the joy and rob the freedom from your Christian life. That's in the next chapter of Galatians -- chapter 5.
3. BEWARE OF BECOMING A CONFORMIST.
What is a conformist? Our definition for this study: A conformist is living to please others rather than God. The primary concern of a conformist is, “What will other people think? How do I look? How do I look to other Christians? How do I look to everybody else?” I forget about God. I'm trying to impress you by the way that I act.
The Bible says that is a trap. Proverbs 29:25 (HCSB) says, "The fear of man is a snare." That means when I start worrying more about what other people think than what God thinks, I'm in trouble. I start worrying about the opinions of others and I let that begin to manipulate me and conform me. I worry more about conforming to other people than I do about conforming to the image of Christ.
There's a little misbelief behind conformity that we need to expose. It's the misbelief that I must have the approval of everybody in order to be happy. A lot of people subconsciously believe that. I've got to be liked and approved of by everybody in order to be happy. We act in different ways with different people. You're never going to please everybody. Even God can't do that. Only a fool would try to do what God can't do. The moment you get Crowd A pleased, Crowd B gets upset with you. Then you please Crowd B and Crowd A gets upset with you. One minute you're a hero, the next minute you're a zero. Fame and applause and public opinion is very fleeting. You just can't base your life on the opinions of other people. Conformity, like perfectionism and legalism, will rob the joy and freedom out of your life if you let it.
Galatians 5:7-9 (NIV) says, "You were running a good race. Who cut in on your and kept you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough." He says, you were running a race and somebody cut in on you.
Do you remember back in the1984 Olympics, the women’s 3000 meter race? It was a very anticipated face-off. Mary Decker vs Zola Budd. The final race was going great, Mary was in the lead and Zola was right behind her. There was only two laps to go when Zola cut in on Mary, they tripped up and they both lost.
Paul says the same thing can happen in your Christian life if you don't watch out! You can get tripped up. You lose your freedom and you lose your joy. You lose the excitement of the Christian life. Paul says that to these Galatians. He says, "What's happened to you guys? You were making such good progress. You were winning the race. You were going great. What happened?" They started looking at other people rather than looking to the Lord. You start looking around at what everybody else thought and you begin to conform and you got your eyes off the Lord. You start worrying about "How do I look to other people?"
I love being around new Christians. New believers couldn't care less what other people think. They are just so happy and so excited about being believers. They're praying and thanking God. They have a great attitude. They don't care what other people think. They only want to please the Lord.
But I've seen it happen over and over again. Eventually they start looking around. They start noticing how older Christians act, how older Christians respond, how older Christians pray, how older Christians talk, the phrases that they use. Eventually they start picking up those phrases and they start praying like older believers -- the same tone, the same phrases. They pick up Christian clichés. They start talking like older Christians. We have Christian clichés in our lives I think need to be interpreted. People say, "It was glorious!" That means "I had fun." "I was grieved in my spirit." That means "That really made me mad!" "It was a real blessing" means "It was enjoyable." You have to translate all these clichés. We talk this language called Christian-ese.
What happens is you conform and lose the spark. You lose the freshness and the joy of being a baby believer. I love new Christians. If you say, "Jesus is coming!" they don't say, "Pre, post-, or mid" -- they just look up! Maybe He's coming right now! We all should have this expectation!
Paul is saying that the moment you start worrying about impressing other Christians, you begin to lose your joy, you begin to lose your freedom. If perfectionism doesn't get you -- trying to be perfect -- then legalism will get you -- measuring your maturity by the rules and regulations that you keep (I avoid "these" things; therefore I must be a good Christian). If that doesn't get you, then conformity gets you, and you start worrying about what other people think and how you look to every other Christian rather than what the Lord says.
What's the cause of conformity? Simple. Comparing. When we begin comparing ourselves to others, we get in trouble. 2 Corinthians 10:12 (NIV) Paul says, "We do not dare classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. While they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves they are not wise." God says it is dumb to compare yourself to other believers. It's just foolish to do that. Each of us is different.
Remember what we just read in Galatians, "A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough." What is he saying there? Conformity, like yeast, spreads quickly. It's infectious. It takes over. It can affect your life, the family, an entire church. Everybody gets in the same mind set and it spreads and spreads.
What is the solution? Be yourself. Stop comparing yourself to other people and be yourself. When I entered the ministry, I tried to imitate all my role models. I wanted to teach like Chuck Smith. I wanted to evangelize like Billy Graham. I wanted to pray like Reinhard Bonnke or Robert Kayanja. I tried to be everybody else. I tried to imitate.
Everybody's got different gifts. If you're a believer, you have a spiritual gift. You have a talent, an ability that God gave you. Maybe you don't even know what it is but you were given it the moment you became a believer. Now part of your Christian life is to discover it, to develop it, and use it to bless other people.
The Bible says we all need each other. The hand can't say to the foot, "I don't need you." And the foot can't say to the ear, "I don't need you." And the ear can't say to the eye, "I don't need you." In the body of Christ, we need each other. I need you and you need me. We need each other. When I don't use my gift, then you get robbed. When you don't use your gift, I get robbed. We all need each other in the body of Christ.
The problem is we're so busy conforming to each other that we miss the point.
The solution is to be yourself. Galatians 6:4 (NIV) says, "Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself without comparing themselves to someone else." When you get to heaven someday, God is not going to say to you "Why weren't you more like Billy Graham?" He's not going to say, "Why weren't you more like Moses?" or "Why weren't you more like..." pick your favorite Christian hero. He's not going to say that. When I get to heaven, God's not going to say, "Steve, why weren't you more like Chuck Smith?"
He's going to say, "Steve, why weren't you more like Steve Merryman? That's who I made you to be."
God made you to be you. All of the circumstances in your life, even the bad things, don't you think He knew about them? Of course He did. Even those difficult times early in life and the problems you're going through now, He had a hand in it. He's making you unique for a purpose. If you don't be you, who's going to be you? You are not one in a million; you're one in seven billion. There's nobody in the world like you. If you don't be you, who's going to be you? The problem is we spend so much of our time trying to be like others and we give up so much of ourselves, our uniqueness, our individuality by trying to be like other people. That's the trap of conformity and that causes us to lose our joy and our freedom.
I've given up trying to fake it. What you see is what you get. I'm not trying to be somebody I'm not. I've been teaching for about 30 years now. I still get nervous every time. Sometimes it scares me to death as I think about my own inadequacies. Yet I find in my own weakness God blesses other people. God wants to take your greatest weakness and turn it into a strength.
Some people say that I'm a good teacher. It's because I'm scared to death all the time! I can't tell you how hard it is to know that maybe I did good the last time but soon I've got try again. The key is learning to rest in who God has made you to be and to let Him use you in the way that He created you for.
Here at Reunion, what we're trying to do is build a community that is based on grace, not guilt. It's based on trusting, not trying. It's built on relationships, not rules. Our church is a family. You are invited to be imperfect along with the rest of us! We're not perfect. No church is perfect. But I think we're headed in the right direction.
"If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed!" John 8:36 (NIV). Don't let anybody steal that from you. 2 Cor. 3:17 (NIV), "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." Jesus can't live in a perfectionist, legalist, conforming society or body or life. Galatians 5:6 (NIV), "The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love." See how simple the Christian life is? The only thing that counts is NOT how many people we can pack into a room. The only thing that counts is NOT how many times I've read through the Bible or how many Sunday’s I attended church in a row. "The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love."
Call To Prayer:
I want to ask you a personal question, Have you lost the joy in your Christian life? Have you lost that original spark? Do you remember how much fun it was when you first became a believer, the enthusiasm you had? Has that spark been doused? Have you gotten into a rut? A routine instead of a relationship? Have you got the spiritual blahs? Have you lost your first love for the Lord?
My guess is that you've probably fallen into one of these three traps. I think they are the three most common emotional hang ups of believers.
Maybe you've fallen into perfectionism, thinking that you've got to be perfect to please God. How frustrating and failure bound that idea is -- depending on human effort. When you do that it gets tiring very fast. You get worn out. There are a lot of tired Christians. My advice would be to relax. If you've got a heavy burden, it's not from the Lord. Jesus said, "My yoke is easy and my burden is light." You're carrying something God never intended for you to carry. How do you spell relief? G-R-A-C-E. That's God's power to do what's right. That's God giving you what you need, not what you deserve. Confess that perfectionism to Him and ask Him to cleanse you of it.
Maybe you've lapsed into legalism -- measuring your maturity by the rules and regulations you keep. That's why you've lost your joy. Jesus didn't die so you might keep rules, He died that you might have a relationship with Him. He just wants to know you. You just need to fall in love with Jesus all over again. He wants you to serve Him out of love, not out of fear, not out of duty.
Maybe you became cramped by conformity and began to pay more attention to what other people thought and said and you began to lose your focus on the Lord. As a result you began to lose your uniqueness. God wants you to be you, not somebody else. He will use you -- both your strengths and your weaknesses.
Maybe you've never taken that first step of faith, committing your life to Christ. If not, you can do it today. He put you here for a purpose. What do you need to be set free from? Jesus said in His very first sermon, "I came to set at liberty those who are captive." I came to set people free. That's His purpose. Wherever there is genuine Christianity, you find freedom.
What do you need to be set free from today? Maybe worries about tomorrow. Maybe some painful memories from the past, a harmful habit, fear, guilt, resentment. Maybe you need to be set free from anger, loneliness. Let Jesus set you free. Open up your heart to Him. In your heart say, "Jesus, come into my life. Make Yourself real to me." Say that in your heart. "I commit myself to You this morning. Take all of me. Make me the person You want me to be."
Maybe you're already a Christian. You say, "I've experienced that freedom but I've allowed myself to fall back into one of these traps. I've been thinking I've had to be perfect to please God and as a result I've felt far away from God. I've been living by guilt not by grace. I've been trying too much and not trusting enough. I haven't been relaxing in the Lord." Maybe you've fallen into the trap of legalism and you need to say, "Lord, help me to focus on relationship and not on rules." What counts is faith expressed in love. Maybe you've been cramped by conformity and you've been put in a box and you've been told to act a certain way, and you've swallowed it hook, line and sinker. You've bought the package and you've lost your joy. Say, "Lord, refresh my life this morning."
Father, I want to thank You for Your word. I thank You that it
applies to our lives in relevant and practical ways. Help us to
see Your Bible not as a book of dusty old history and historical
facts but as principles for life. Help us to see that it points the
way to You and what really counts is loving You and loving
Lord help those of us who might be struggling with the trap of
Conformity. We are comparing ourselves with others to see if
we measure-up. We are trying to fit into a box that was not
made for us. Help us to discover who You made us to be. Help
us to discover the gifts and talents that You gave to us and show
us how You want us to use them in Your Kingdom.
Lord, maybe some of are struggling with the trap of
Perfectionism. Help us to remember that we don’t have to be
perfect to please You. Help us to trust in Your Grace. Your
yoke is easy and Your burden is light.
Lord, maybe some of us have fallen into the trap of Legalism.
We are taking pride in how many rules and regulations we can
keep. We see this a way to measure how mature of a Christian
we are. Lord, please remove this thinking from our lives. Help
us to follow after what You are asking of us and to not be
concerned if someone else is following You in the same way.
Let us be concerned with our relationship with You and not with
the rules that we can keep. Help us to fall in love with You
Help us to walk in Your freedom, Lord. In Jesus' name. Amen.