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Questions about Biblical Freedom

Here is a quote from Tullian Tchividjian “Real slavery is living your life trying to gain favor; Real freedom is living your life because you already have favor.”

With this gospel reminder, I was also reminded of some really helpful questions people asked me after the sermon on 1 Corinthians 8,  that I wanted to address in a couple of blogs.

Question 1: Are you able to share your convictions with people without making it law for them or judging them for how they live?

The short answer is yes, but the two qualifications in the question are crucial.  1) We can’t be found judging other people’s convictions in areas of freedom and 2) we can’t make law what isn’t law.  We must make a distinction between sharing wisdom and insisting that others believe like we do.  When others ask you for advice, sharing your wisdom or how you came to your convictions is loving.  However we must check our hearts that in so doing we are not trying to make a law for them. Making law where there is no law crushes the soul, and distorts the gospel.

Question 2: What if you and your spouse have different convictions?

A general answer is the wife should seek to respect and support her husband’s leadership as long as it is not leading her into sin.  The husband should live with his wife in an understanding, showing honor to her through listening and leadership.

If the convictions that are creating tension really are areas of freedom, we must ask, “Why are we so upset that they are not taking on my convictions?  Why do I want this so badly? Is it love for them or comfort or control for me?”

The Bible doesn’t say that people have to have the same convictions in order to be at peace.  However if one spouse’s convictions are leading the other spouse to stumble, then, because of the closeness of the relationship, the husband should lead out in serving the spouse. That is, if he feels more freedom than she does then he should make sure she knows she is more important than his freedom to watch that game, or participate in a hobby.  However in a marriage, part of the husband’s unique role is to lead his wife spiritually. Part of that is having discussions about his convictions- not in a defensive way but helping her understand how you really believe this is drawing you closer to the Lord and helping you love others.  With great humility in both, one of two things will happen in this process.  1) you will find out as a husband that you have not been using your freedom as “unto the Lord” or 2) your wife will see that you are seeking Christ and love for others and that you are hearing her.  Then her role is to trust God in him.

Finally if the tension persists, then we must remember that sanctification is a community project. We must involve others in the discussion so that others can point out blind spots, counsel, and help us through the decisions.

In my marriage, we had a similar situation.  I like watching war movies and my wife can’t stand violence and cussing.  For her cussing is like nudity or sexual content is for me- it sticks in my mind and comes into the brain at the most random times. She would have nightmares with cuss words flooding her mind while she slept.  So what do I do?  When we are together I carefully study the content and find everything I can about the cussing and violence and sexual content so that we are not given to stumble in our faith while we watch a movie. That really limits what movies we watch together. But it has been a great way to show my love for her and for us to enjoy a movie or TV show with a clean conscience.

However the story continues in that Dana struggled so much with war/action movies that she couldn’t understand how I could watch them and still be following God.  After some heated discussions, I told her that these movies are not as important as she is and I stopped watching them for a season.  However, when the iron was cool, a week or so later, I initiated a conversation about how I watch a war movie to the glory of God (some of these things will be in the next post).  She had not fully thought about all of those things, and yet she still struggled to understand why I like them.  I told her that I would seek accountability from other men who we trust, and I asked them to speak into my life to make sure I wasn’t being blinded.  The compromise is that she now trusts me and with her knowledge, not in secrecy, I watch them periodically by myself or with friends.   She and I learned to develop convictions and live with one another in an understanding way. We grew as friends and we grew in thinking about Christ in the everyday, even as we watch TV.


The Privilege of Freedom

We make decisions all the time regarding what we do with our free time. From what sports to play, books to read, people to serve, house projects to tackle, errands to run, TV shows and movies to watch, and food to eat. The opportunities are seemingly endless and in Christ these are area of freedom.

John Calvin calls these areas of freedom “intermediate things.”

These are “Things that are neither good or bad in themselves, but indifferent, which God has put in our power, but in the use of which we ought to observe moderation, that there may be a difference between liberty and licentiousness.”

In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul addresses the church at Corinth about one of these areas of freedom, eating, and he gives us some guidelines for using our freedom to make much of God.  Although the church of Corinth is free to eat whatever food they wished, they were not free to eat meat sacrificed to an idol if that was tempting other brothers and sisters to go against their conscience. Even though it was over something simple like food, the freedom of some in the church of Corinth was leading others in the church to stumble in their faith.  Our lesson from Sunday’s sermon was: Walking with God is keeping others on our minds even in our freedom.  As followers of Jesus, we get the privilege to use our freedom to build up others even if it means refraining from something we are free to do.

Here are some quotes and helps from Sunday’s sermon:

As we seek to discern how to develop convictions and love our neighbor with our freedoms, it is great to think that we are not alone.  God has given us his Holy Spirit that we might enjoy Jesus, fight against sin, and grow in the knowledge of Jesus through His word.

“God knew that the effects of sin were so great it was not enough to forgive us, he also had to unzip us and get inside us by his Spirit.”- Paul Tripp

I love this quote. God in his love forgives and yet takes up residence in us also all because of Christ’s blood shed for sinners.  Grace is amazing.

Much of this is adapted from Jerry Bridges book, The Pursuit of Holiness

How to identify issues of freedom and develop Spirit-led convictions

  • If it is against the government (illegal) it is not an issue of weakness or freedom but disobedience. (ex. murder, cocaine, marijuana, etc.)
  • If it is against God’s standards it is not an issue of weakness or freedom but disobedience. (ex. sex outside of marriage, porn, getting drunk, etc.)
  • Developing our Spirit-led convictions. (From Jerry Bridges) Ask:
    1. Is this activity beneficial? (1 Cor 6:12- ie leading to love)
    2. Is it mastering me? (1 Cor 6:12- Can I or will I stop?)
    3. Does it hurt others? (1 Cor 8:13)
    4. Does it bring glory to God? (1 Cor. 10:31)
  • What if our convictions differ with other believers? (Principles from Romans 14 and quotes from Bridges)
    1. Principle: “We should not judge those whose convictions are different than ours.” (v1-4)
    2. Principle: “Whatever our convictions are they must be “to the Lord,” that is developed out of a sense of love for and obedience to him.”  (v5-8)
    3. Principle: “Whatever convictions we have developed as ‘to the Lord,’we must be true to them.” (v23)

Regarding Christian freedom here are some areas to think through:

Is your freedom helping or is it leading a brother or sister to stumble in their faith?

Areas to think through:  What you watch on TV or movies; Food you eat; Drinks you drink; What you wear, especially regarding modesty and loving our brothers in Christ more than the fashion of the day that reveals too much skin or is too tight for most guys.

Is your freedom mastering you or tempting you not to give glory to God?

Areas to think through: Same as above; also sports, music, work, other hobbies, etc.

Although we must form Spirit-led, prayerful convictions that are reevaluated regularly and carried out with faith. We must be careful not make our convictions law where they are areas of freedom.

Areas to think through:  What you eat, drink; restaurants you eat at; schooling for your kids- (homeschool, private, or public);  what you watch or don’t watch; what day you choose to worship on; how many kids you have or don’t have; whether you adopt or don’t adopt, etc.

I hope these things stir us to develop Spirit-led convictions that are not laid down as law for others but lived out in faith. I pray we also have such a love for our brothers and sisters in Christ that we will even sacrifice our freedoms for the building up of someone else.

Thankful for His gospel and For His glory

Being a Culture of Rescue and Redemption

As we seek to honor the sanctity of human life this weekend on the 38th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade decision, tomorrow’s message will be on “Being a Culture of Rescue and Redemption from 1 John 3:1.   The text calls the readers to stand amazed that His immeasurable love has rescued us from our helpless state and made us His children forever.  And if we are children, and we are, then we will fight against our sin, and we cannot be indifferent to living righteous lives of love.

God making us his children gives us insight into 1) God’s love for us and 2) how we are to love.

JI Packer’s famous quote from Knowing God helps us understand how important this image is for our relationship with God.

“If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, Find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child and having God as his father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life it means that he doesn’t understand Christianity well at all.” p201

The metaphor of God as our father and we as his children also helps us know how to love.

Paul says in Ephesians 5:1, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

Paul says we should imitate God as his beloved children.  We love like God our Father. We love like Christ our brother. We should strive to be who our Daddy is and do what our Daddy does, walking in the love our brother Jesus walked.  One way we can image forth God and walk in love is by caring for children.  In the sermon, we will explore one way we can image forth God and that is by sacrificially spending our lives for children, especially the unborn, the orphan, and the needy. May God open our eyes to His beautiful love for us, His children, and prepare our hearts for the outrageous love the justice and mercy of God calls us to.

Praying for joy and power to imitate him as beloved children

Knowing God through Adoption

As a precursor to the Adoption Open House tomorrow at church I turned this letter into a blog.  We look forward to being with many of you to discuss God’s heart for the orphan and how to join Him in caring for them.

In November of last year Dana and I were able to share our story of adoption with many potential donors of a wonderful adoption assistance organization called Show Hope.  In Nashville, TN, hundreds of people gathered to follow God’s call to His people, “to care for orphans and widows in their affliction” (James 1:27). These people are convinced, as am I, that for a Christian the question is not should we help the orphan, but how will we help the orphan.  So when we shared, I thanked the donors for being faithful and for being a part of making our adoption possible.  I thanked them personally because not only did they help us adopt our little girl Mercy, and now our little boy Justice, but they have helped me know God better.  God regularly teaches us spiritual lessons with physical pictures and the journey of adopting Mercy taught me more about how God adopted me into his family.  Here is an excerpt from my talk that highlights some of these lessons:

Adoption is redemption. And it is walking the road of redemption. One adoptive family said,

“… adoption is redemption. It’s costly, exhausting, expensive, and outrageous. Buying back lives costs so much. When God set out to redeem us, it killed Him.”

Think about a story of an adoption you have heard or maybe your journey with adopting a child. Allow that physical picture or story of adoption help you understand how the bible talks about your spiritual adoption.

  • We were fatherless and now adopted by a daddy who loves and pursues us (Romans 8:15).
    • (Or you could say we had an abusive father (the devil John 8 ) but we were taken out of that abusive home and placed into a home of peace, love and eternal security.)
  • I looked nothing like my heavenly father because of sin but because of his love and relentless pursuit of grace, I am his son (Hosea 2:13-20).
  • I now have a new identity. I am no longer an orphan but a child (John 14:18; 2 Cor. 5:17).
  • We were heirs of nothing. Now we are heirs of everything (Romans 8:17).
  • I am accepted not because of what I can do for God but because of what He has done for me (Romans 4:5).
  • When I couldn’t clean myself or fix my condition, He cleaned me up and gave me a new heritage (Psalm 103:10-12).
  • We have a father who sings over us with loud singing (Zech. 3:17)
  • Now as a new creation, as God’s son, whether I do good or bad, He looks at me and says I love you. He says, as your father I call you to turn from evil, for it will destroy you and others, and pull you off mission.  I tell you of the rewards of pursuing My ways- it will honor me as your daddy and give you joy like you have never known. However never forget whether you do good or bad you are my son and nothing will change that (Galatians 2:20-21, Hebrews 12:3-8, Romans 11:6).

However all of this love was costly.  Adoption is redemption. It cost the Son of God his life and it will cost us much as well.

We get asked about our adoption so often.  In our neighborhood in the inner city adoption is so foreign.  When they see my wife with a little African girl, you can almost read their minds, “Has she has been unfaithful?” When they see me with my daughter in public, I get the sense people don’t know whether to celebrate because she has a dad who loves her or call the cops because they think I stole someone’s child.  But when we talk with others about our adoption, it has been a great transition to our great God’s work in our life.

Many will say, “You are such great people for adoption.” I say, “No I just serve a great God who treated me with love that I didn’t deserve so I am freed to love others in life altering ways like this.  I am able to love the hurting, the broken, and bring them into my family because that is what God did for me.”

May we love because he first loved us… adopting us into His family.

Preparing to Serve

Whenever I get up to preach on a Sunday, I have to remind myself of the gospel and why I am doing what I am doing.  As I walk you through my process of preparation I pray that it serves as a grid through which you can prepare yourself for any opportunity to serve someone else.  It doesn’t have to take long, but if we are not intentional in reminding ourselves why and how we love others, we will fall prey to self-sufficient service (cf. 1 Peter 4:10-11) and have simply man-pleasing as our aim (cf. Colossians 3:22).  This will rob us of joy and God of glory.

As I prepare,

1. I rehearse the gospel. I keep a bank of Scriptures, quotes, or phrases that help me remember the gospel and its power over my life.

Here is one such quote I used on Sunday.

When we transfer trust from ourselves to Christ, we experience the abundant freedoms that come from not having to measure up. Tullian Tchividjian

With this quote I am reminding myself that Christ is my aim.  Another great resource ,other than the Bible, is “The Gospel Primer” by Milton Vincent.

2. I pray a promise and take it with me

Because Christ laid down his life for me, all the promises of Scripture are mine (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:20).

So I take a promise with me into the pulpit and pray to God my trust in his promises, asking him to work mightily for my good and his glory.

Last week I took Matthew 1:23.  Jesus is Immanuel, that is He is God with us. So I prayed, “God I love you for coming to be with me.  I believe you will never leave me and that your presence is enough. I ask that you would move mightily by your Spirit to work faith in your people.  (Other examples are Romans 8:32, Joshua 1:9, Psalm 23:4, 6; Romans 1:16)]

3. I ask myself centering questions

These questions function to remind me why I am doing what I am doing.

Questions such as:

  • Am I trusting the gospel’s power over my abilities?
  • Is the gospel present and central?
  • Is God’s glory the goal?
  • Am I seeking to serve rather than impress?
  • Am I trusting Christ to build his church?
  • Am I trusting the Spirit of God to change the people?
  • Are you seeking to display the fruit of the Spirit?
  • Are you preaching/serving with the end in view?   (With this question I mean “Where is my ultimate hope?” (cf. 1 Peter 1:13) and am I remembering that no matter what happens only God will see the entire effect of his Word.  We don’t get to see the entire mosaic that God is creating. We are one small part of his final creation.

I pray this helps us stay humble, stay centered on Jesus, and trusting in His ability over our own.  Let’s prepare well together as we lives of love for our joy and His glory.

Preparing for Sunday Morning

I hope everyone had a wonderful thanksgiving (check my previous post as one way to prepare for tomorrow). Here are the quotes from last week’s sermon.  I hope this provides us an opportunity to dwell on the gospel and prepare our hearts for tomorrow where we will be meditating on 1 Corinthians 3:18-4:5.

The gospel is not just something we need at conversion so we can spend the rest of our life obsessed with our performance.

Moralism says, “Our performance leads to rescue.” The gospel says, “Our rescue leads to our performance.”

The gospel tells us no amount of good work on our part can force God’s favor and no amount of bad work on our part can forfeit God’s favor.

– Tullian Tchividjian

Tomorrow we also begin the advent the season.

Loving his first coming and looking forward to his second coming with you

Remember Jesus Christ Over the Holidays

Remember Jesus Christ over the Holidays. I am so tempted personally to get selfish over the holidays. The time that is meant for thanksgiving to God, I make about me. I am tempted to want to serve less, think about my needs more, and to associate rest with gorging myself with food and TV.  I thank God for holidays. They are much needed for time with family and friends, naps, reading good books, playing games, watching sports or a movie or a myriad of other things we find enjoyable. But in all our leisure we can’t forget Jesus.  Signs that we have forgotten Jesus over the holidays is when we don’t serve others; we get angry easier at others because our plans aren’t working out (Holidays are notorious for anger associated with unexpressed yet unmet expectations); we begin to think more about getting than giving (Husbands help lead your family to think about how this holiday season can be more about giving than receiving). Other signs that we have forgotten Jesus is that we give ourselves license to sin- overeating, overspending, neglecting responsibility especially in the home;  we also forget to proclaim the gospel in our homes and to others we come in contact with (don’t forget to act like Jesus especially on Black Friday. Whew that day can be rough).  The sad thing is that I can make this list and more because I have done them all.  So I write not only to caution your heart but mine. What prompts this blog is the sad wandering of my own heart. Even as I try to finish my work-week, I am looking so forward to “the holidays” that I feel the gravitational pull to forget Jesus.

The great news of the gospel is that we aren’t left as orphans. Our heavenly Father has given us his Spirit promising that we can walk in joy-filled hope and obedience this holiday season.  “If God did not spare his Son but gave him over for us all, how will he not also in Him graciously give us all things” (Romans 8:32). His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,…” (2 Peter 1:3).  Therefore if he has given his Son for us he will give us everything we need not to forget Jesus.  If he can raise Christ from the dead, he can deliver on His promises to produce his fruit in our lives.

So friends take these days that God has given, whether you have several days off of work or none off, to remember Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 2:8).  Remember to show genuine concern for others, especially if you are spending time with family that you never see.  Pray for ways to get to the gospel and to express how God is at work in your life.  Remember to love those that are closest to you. We can get so relaxed that we become self-absorbed and forget to love, in word and deed, those we love most.  If you have holiday traditions, don’t give into the temptations of the devil to forget Jesus.  Express thanksgiving to God throughout the holidays, not just at the thanksgiving dinner table.  If you put up the Christmas tree (which we do every day after thanksgiving) don’t get mad at the Christmas lights which always seem to get tangled or go out or are too bunched in one part of the tree or get knotted up by the kids, etc.  (You can tell that is a potential point of tension for me).  Make it your mission to lead out in joy. Be on your guard and even if everyone around you is choosing to be sour, you can choose joy by the Spirit. Be thankful. And Remember Jesus Christ.  Make the most of these days because the days are evil and the evil one will try to cut you down with his fiery darts of self-pity, discouragement, materialism, or self-absorption.  I am praying that God rescues us from Christless rest and makes us mindful of mission over the holidays.  Have a great time over these next few days enjoying Jesus, lovingly pursuing others like he did you and me. He pursued us in our sinfulness all the way to the cross. So this holiday season Remember Jesus Christ.