This is the story of my journey to freedom in Christ. One that I believe many may be able to identify with. My hope is that what has taken me many years to experience, and then articulate, will give a voice to the struggle of those who take the time to continue reading. What you are about to read in several minutes has taken me an unfinished lifetime to understand. I don’t mean to suggest that this must be everyone’s journey, or that mine is complete. It’s simply mine presently, which I share in order to encourage those who may be on a similar journey. So for what its worth, here it is.
Working But Not Free
My beginnings in the faith are not unlike most. I grew up going to church, and like most who do so, the moral fences that come with going to church kept me from many gross sins and provided me with acceptable social etiquette. These fences had very little to do with righteousness or a relationship with God the Father. This life was more about living up to the imposing standards of being Christian. Like many, I was working regularly to appease God without enough success to appease my guilty conscience. This made having a relationship with Him impossible. I would not call this work, legalism, but it was definitely not freedom in Christ. I believed that Jesus had died for my sins, had risen to life, and that faith in Him saved me in some sense. Yet, I also held concurrently the unchallenged belief that without significant work, God would not be pleased with me. As a result, living honestly before God kept me shrinking from Him in guilt while working earnestly to please Him. I was working but I was not free.
Free But Not Working
Living in that land most of my life however, ripened me for the grace of God when I came to understand it in a way that set me free. I identified with the sinfulness of humanity in Romans 1 – 3. Yet I came to revel in the righteousness of God that was apart from the works of the law. I heard very clearly a freedom from the struggle to please God in the propitiation of Jesus Christ. So I began to maintain as the Apostle said, “that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the Law.” It was at that moment that grace became amazing, because it free me from a guilty conscience. I heard Paul’s plea to stand firm in that freedom in the book of Galatians, and to not go back to a yoke of slavery that was the works of the law. That became my mantra. I taught it passionately and I lived it with equal passion.
This place was not without its struggles. All I had known was work to please God. I still continued to sin, and I often struggled with my conscience. However, I saw the struggle as a struggle to trust Jesus for forgiveness from all my sins. I saw it as the struggle to stand firm in the freedom in which He set me free. So I threw myself wholly into the grace of God, and I found that the only way to trust Him completely was to stop working. I was glad to maintain that my justification was apart from the works of the Law and that where sin increased, grace increased all the more. What a wonderful, amazing grace for the sinner. My life and message began to look and sound like freedom to sin. And so I did. I sinned.
Unlike what it may sound, I did not greedily satisfy my appetite for sin. I simply ceased striving against its powerful temptations. And what I came to discover, was the depths of God’s grace. I came to find Him faithful and just to forgive me from all my sin. I found that grace indeed abounded. I searched the scripture to find why this would be so. And what I found was utterly life transforming. I found the essence of the Gospel. I found the true nature of salvation in Christ. I found true repentance. I had turned, not from sin to Christ, but from myself to Christ. I had turned from my own efforts for righteousness to Jesus’ efforts for my righteousness. And I found His efforts were sufficient in which to rest.
Working in Freedom
The freedom I had stood firm in also set me free to read the bible without fear of difficult passages bringing me guilt, as they had previously done. I found I had the security to read the commands for virtuous living without immediately feeling the sting of defeat and guilt. While not initially aware of the transition, I had begun again to work. But now, I was working in freedom. Now I was working in response to the grace I had been given, and in the grace in which I had come to stand. I had the freedom to work without shrinking from God, through whom I would get the help to accomplish the work. In the words of the Hebrew writer, I was able to draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that I could find mercy and grace to help in my time of need. Now my work was in love and not in fear. My work had become worship, for in it was a freedom and secure affection, and not a need to appease an insatiably holy god.
I cannot stress enough the value of my time in the land of freedom without work. It was the place I learn to trust Christ with my relationship with the Father. It was the place I let go of confidence in myself and found confidence in Christ. It was the place I found saving grace. It is also the place we are most afraid of. It’s the place those who are working but not free warn us about. They warn us to be leery of those like me who would call us to that place. For them this dangerous place is where people go who want the freedom to indulge their inward desire to sin without conscience. But speaking as one who has been in that land of freedom, I was simply letting go of my efforts to stop sinning out of fear of punishment or consequences from God. I did indeed sin in that land of freedom, but not out of a ravenous desire to, but out of sheer exhaustion in fruitless efforts to stop sinning. It was the frightening land of rest. It was a land reached only by a leap of faith with only Jesus to catch me. And He did. It was the place I let go of the nails of effort in my own hands to trust completely those in His. And I found them sufficient. Sufficient to lead me into the land of working in freedom.
I cannot describe for you this new land in great detail. I have not been in it for very long. But I can tell you that in it my work to become what God has declared me to be has returned. It just has not returned with the guilt and fear that hamper worship and trust in Christ. Here, I strive again, but its by the mercies of God. Here, my striving seems but a reasonable act of worship. And so I do.
Oh, yes. Sweet rest. Those accusing voices continue but now I can be confident in my demand for the lies to, “Shut up!”
That old enemy, the accuser of the brethren, never stops.