I'm not sure about you but Christian freedom isn't exactly a common term that comes up in church, unless maybe someone is discussing the abstaining-out-of-love-for-brethren-with-weaker-consciences issue in 1 Corinthians 8. Besides that, isn't it true that the general perception of Christianity doesn't align with the concept of freedom? Christians have got a whole set of rules to abide from, don't they? After all they don't do certain things on Sundays...and the list goes on. Case closed.
Today I studied Galatians 5 under Search the Scriptures and it was all about Christian freedom.
Take a look at the number of times Paul talks about freedom in Galatians, and the way in which he talks about it. I did, and I sat up. After all, what is this and why am I, as a Christian, not as aware of this as Paul seems to indicate I should be? To be honest, if you asked me to list the most precious things about being a Christian you would probably get peace, comfort, hope at the top of the list, but freedom might not come immediately to my mind.
Christian freedom is not just a by product, an insignificant freebie along the lines of a cup coaster or sticky notes that came with the rest of the package. (you know what I mean--the kind of stuff you wouldn't throw away, but which don't make you jump for joy either.)
According to Paul, it's something we should value and fight to preserve, in fact, something precious that Christ made possible for us--a trophy. Not a bunch of hideous sticky notes covered in even more hideous brand logos. I really detest those because they offend my aesthetic sense so severely and yet their usefulness forces me to use them, though I die a little each time.
Christian freedom has two aspects: freedom from the bondage of being judged on how well we keep the law, and freedom from the power of sin. And when we acknowledge one freedom without the other we get legalism or unrepentant sin.
This was a fascinating thought for me, a realization why we tend to veer too much towards one or the other. Do we even recognize what we have and see its value in the first place? Let alone understand the significance of its dual aspects? Our minds are so deeply ingrained in either mindset--self-love, pleasing ourselves; and the unspoken assumption that there is always something we have to DO to be good enough.
That has a greater impact on my spiritual life than I thought--in my struggle against sin, in my motivations for doing what is right, in my attitude towards other Christians who have different standards or opinions from me; in my understanding of just how significant the far-reaching implications Christ's death has for me.
Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage...For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.
Student life as a young Christian can be one of the most bewildering and challenging periods of your life.
There are so many new things--challenges, mostly--clamouring for your attention. Uncertainties, ambitions, all the enjoyments of life; and often, so many priorities you haven't quite sorted out for yourself, or at least in application, yet.
Add on top of this all these challenges in a spiritual aspect, and overwhelming would be a good summary.
(Of course, this has a point. Youth is the best time for facing challenges creatively and courageously, rising to meet them with energy, spirit, and hopefulness. Though to be frank I don't think most young people feel exactly brimming over with energy, spirit, and hopefulness. More like ceaselessly dog paddling just out of your depth, your toes grazing the pool bottom every now and then giving you a fleeting sense of stability; other times your whole head goes underwater and the chlorine stings the inside of your nose.)
At this point in life, whether it's angsty teenagers or young adults struggling to adapt to the label 'young adults,' life and maturity largely boils down to navigating that fine balance between our often conflicting desires to be independent, and to be dependent.
(At least, from my own personal experience; a lot of the stress I experience stems from managing priorities. Fellow young adults, please correct me if I'm generalizing.)
Whichever one applies most in your case. Maybe that means being emotionally and psychologically strong. Or financially independent. Or being able to handle all the stuff that life throws at you without feeling stressed or lost (read: impossible.) We look to adults/older Christians both as role models, as people who had successfully survived/navigated this period of life and more or less (at least comparatively) seem to have found their own feet and a measure of stability and strength--spiritual or otherwise. At the same time, we struggle how exactly to define our relationship to adults, wanting to not have to depend on them, yet simultaneously still needing some guidance and help in our goal to achieve the sense of stability and security we associate with them.
This explains why, though it certainly shows love and care for your child if you cover them with concern and pre-empt their every need, it also reaffirms your child's awareness of how dependent that makes them, and simultaneously reaffirms their desire to be independent. We want ultimately to be treated as equals, but we're still vulnerable enough to need some TLC now and then. If you keep that paradox in mind, you won't feel so confused or resentful why we respond sometimes in the ways we do, and you'll be more able to give us the help we need. And forgive us, when we react ungratefully or ungraciously or just plain incomprehensibly. Or realize that perhaps the ways you thought you were helping us might be backfiring, despite your good intentions.
Whether you're a parent trying to care for the spiritual life and wellbeing of your child, or a kind soul reaching out to students in your church/life, here are some ways that I've personally found encouraging and helpful in my own time as a student.
1. Care for their physical needs.
This may mean little care packs of study snacks, oranges to help ward off colds and flus, herbal soup to boost focus during those all-nighters, buying them their favourite coffee, providing a quiet place to study, or a ride back to save on travelling time. Be creative with the gifts and resources God has given you. As a student, dollars matter so much. Food is vastly important.
2. Communicate and pray faithfully for them. Keep track of the big challenges in their lives so you can support them during those critical times, whether it's finals or waiting for results to be out, or knowing when they're stuck in a nightmarish group project with horrible team members. Let them know you're available when they need to talk, and be sensitive to gage when they do need help. Text them short, simple encouragements that don't require lengthy answers in reply. I remember feeling almost a sense of dread having to muster up the time and energy to give a detailed update on myself, when it wasn't a good time. Is this just an introvert thing? I think not.
On communication: Communication is a two-way thing. It's unfortunate, but just because you want us to confide in you doesn't automatically mean we will be as effusive and appreciative as you might think we ought to be. We may have inhibitions about opening up to adults, or fears on how you might judge us, or simply not feel ready to make ourselves vulnerable. And we've probably all had bad experiences/memories of condescending adults. Children get the worst of this, I'm telling you. Have you heard the way some adults talk to kids? Even I cringe. The worst part about opening up to someone is when they leap to conclusions and assume that they know exactly what it is, and how we should resolve it, full of I-am-older-and-more-experienced-than-you-so-I-automatically-know-better. And we creep away even more confused, unsettled, wondering if we were arrogant to dare to think otherwise, and mentally vowing never to expose ourselves to this kind of situation again. As with any other relationships, don't come to communication and interaction with a sense of entitlement, which usually arises when our motivation is dutifulness rather than sincere love and respect. I'm guilty of it myself!
3. Help us by giving us the perspective we often are too near-sighted to see. This is one of the great benefits of being older--you have a much more mature and far-sighted perspective of decisions, priorities, and events. Without downplaying and dismissing the emotional and psychological significance of things which seem to be the end of the world to us, help us to see an alternative, that life doesn't have to go exactly as we think it has to, or other people tell us it has to, in order to live a happy and productive life that glorifies God.
Or, help us to have more balanced experience and perspective on life. Help remind us that life isn't all about grades, success, (add in word of choice) but that simple things like cooking your own food, playing with children, sweating it out over sports, laughing with friends, a bunch of flowers, beautiful music, and a walk outside remind us why we were created, and by Whom.
4. Take an interest in our friends, the people in our lives, what we feel is important.
5. Encourage us by affirming our growth, abilities, and gifts. Constantly being made aware of our limitations and shortcomings, we deal with insecurity, feeling incompetent, internal and external expectations for ourselves, criticism--ah, I won't go further, it sounds like a pity party; I've written on the pressures of growing older elsewhere.
Encouragement goes a long way. Especially at this time when we're still discovering who we are, or who we want to be. When we're struggling to do everything required of us and be more, be better than who we were yesterday.
Most of all, God bless you for your kindness in wanting to help us during this bewildering and challenging, if fulfilling time of life. I saw a quote once which I've been trying to live out since, and which I think aptly sums up much of the thoughts in this post: be who you needed when you were younger.
I remember flopping back and staring up at the impassive blankness of the ceiling, baffled.
Why is this so hard?
It had been a long while since I fell back into this particular habitual sin--so long, in fact, that I'd congratulated myself, felt that I'd successfully conquered it. And then, just when I was least expecting it, I fell.
Let he who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.
1 Corinthians 10:12.
Clenching my fists, an instinctive response, made me realize that I had done this too many times. This feeling--guilt, shame, self-reproach, and most of all a sense of confusion at my own foolishness--was too familiar. Every time I would knuckle my fingers under and tell myself, I'll try harder next time. I will be strong. I will be more prepared. I will--I will--
What completely baffled me was waking up to the realization that willpower was not the answer.
And that left me lost because, for so many things in life--so many challenges that I've faced, and overcome, in more or less messy ways--willpower and reason were the weapons I clung to.
We are so used to clenching our fists. Facing the chinup bar, cringing at the premonition of burning muscles, but willing myself to do it this time, I clench my fists. The moment before I walk into an exam, or on stage, I breathe deeper and knot my fingers over sweaty palms. Facing uncertainty in the future, hoping desperately for success, my fingers dig into my palms once again as I reason with myself.
I try. I try, hard.
In so many things in life, we push ourselves forward clutching reason and willpower tightly, propelling ourselves forward on our faith in our ability to try, try. And that is not a bad thing.
But when it comes to dealing with habitual sin we need something more than just reason and willpower.
We have to realize first of all that habitual sin is more than just one isolated act. It is a lifestyle. A state of being.
Which is why the Bible uses the metaphor of slavery to talk about our ongoing struggle with sin, the gory process of sanctification. You are born a slave, and identify yourself/are identified as a slave--not because of one or several acts of obedience, but because that is how you live your whole life, how you see yourself.
Sin is an enslaving power rather than an isolated action,
And that's why when dealing with habitual sin it's not enough to simply think I'll have more will-power next time, I'll try harder next time, the way that works with dieting or acing an exam. It is not enough.
Our lapses into sin, which are really our lapses in love, stem from our existing relationship with God, our current ongoing spiritual state. Each fall is more than one incident--it is another link in the existing chain of our slavery to sin. And when we look back, all those one-off decisions (oh, I lapsed this once; this will be the last time; I wasn't trying as hard as I could have) form a definite and damning pattern of repeated sin.
To confront habitual sin in our lives we have to re-examine our relationship with God. See the link between the state of our current spiritual life and our inability to keep away from that one besetting sin.
We need to relearn what grace means. To accept the harsh truth of our limitations, our inability to handle ourselves even with the help of reason and willpower--the two tools that enable us to accomplish so much elsewhere.
We need to pray for the Holy Spirit's help. Acknowledge our weakness, not just after we sin, but before--and ask for a strength that we can barely imagine right now, in our state of frailty.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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