Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Freedom in Christ

“Realise your identity in Christ; find growth, meaning and fulfilment as a Christian; become the person God wants you to be”. I was hooked in on these claims for Neil Anderson’s Freedom in Christ course, and attended along with others in our church about 11 years ago, longing to walk into my freedom. At that time I was very aware that I was neither growing as a Christian, or walking in freedom. However, I came out of the course under a heavier weight of condemnation than I had ever known, as I had not been able to claim my freedom in Christ.

Looking back now, I can see more clearly the reasons why I did not find my freedom through this course. At the time, my husband and I were bemused by the fact that the bulk of the course was preoccupied with a correct understanding of our identity in Christ, especially our self-perceptions, and that if we recited positive scriptural truths about ourselves this was the key to freedom. At the end of the course the participants were given a “Who I am in Christ” sheet with about 30 scripture verses referenced and summarised in bullet point form, and we were supposed to recite aloud these summaries daily for 40 days – eg “I am God’s child, I am God’s friend, I am the salt and light of the earth…” Even today, I would struggle to go through that list and say it aloud. For not only are these not the original bible verses,  the emphasis is all wrong. I do not read the Bible to find out what it tells me about me - I read the Bible to learn about God! To learn His ways, to learn His thoughts, to hear His voice speaking through His Word, to have my vision filled up with Christ. I read the Bible so that I can say to God “I praise You! I exalt You! I bow before Your throne and lift Your Name up high!” and wonder of wonders, it IS true that I am His child and He has seated me in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, but that is not my focus. As Elliot Miller says in his critique, comparing this to the teaching of the Apostle Paul in the New Testament, “Anderson is correct that being “in Christ” is the core theological foundation for discipleship and counseling. For Paul, however, this phrase does not so much speak about who we are as who we are in. Self-perception is not the key issue, but rather relationship. Anderson takes this truth and slants it so that it becomes a “biblical” form of self-esteem psychology.”

Biblical? or positive-thinking?

We also struggled to accept the teaching that our behaviour flows from our self-belief. According to Anderson, if we believe ourselves to be sinners, then we will sin; conversely we should instead believe ourselves to be saints who occasionally sin, and our behaviour will follow. By diminishing the problem of sin in this way, and failing to see the horror and pervasiveness of sin in its biblical context, the process of Christian sanctification is reduced to reprogramming our self-perceptions and is thus nullified. Instead, the bible teaches of the necessity to crucify the flesh (Col 3:5) and put on Christ, walking in the power of His Spirit (Rom 8:10-14).

The course concludes with a 4-6 hour freedom appointment going through the “Seven steps to freedom”, renouncing generational curses, strongholds, and forgiving others, repenting of pride and rebellion, at the end of which the participant is told they have found their freedom in Christ. For a more detailed critique of the problems with the seven steps to freedom, especially with regards to generational curses, see this article. This 7-step procedure has all the issues associated with saying the 'sinner's prayer' and assuming salvation is assured. As Tozer says, "I believe that a true 'sinner's prayer' will gush out of anyone who is truly seeking God and is tired of being enslaved to sin...The greatest reason I believe that God can be grieved with the current use of such tools as the “altar call” and “sinner’s prayer” is because they can take away the conviction of the Holy Spirit prematurely, before the Spirit has time to work repentance leading to salvation." And I would argue the same is true of going through a 7-step procedure to claim your freedom in Christ - this takes away from the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.

I have since found my freedom in Christ, but not through a 7-step course. My freedom in Christ has been won for me by the very real, very personal, dynamic and powerful work of the Holy Spirit in my life, as I have spent time walking with my God, and as He has revealed to me all that the finished work of Christ has accomplished on my behalf. It was just about a year ago when I stumbled over the edge of another cliff spiritually-speaking. From the depths of my pit as I cried out to God for help, a friend offered me the wisest counsel I have ever had: “What you need is a touch from your Heavenly Father, and He is both willing and able, because He loves you.” Now it takes confidence to say these words - to have a simple trust in our Father, and not resort to some kind of technique or 7-step programme - a confidence that comes from knowing Whom we have believed. And as I waited on Him, He came and He did touch me as He opened my eyes to see Truth in His Word! There is nothing that can ever substitute for a personal touch from Him, as He sovereignly chooses to deal with each one of us individually, in His own way, in His own time. There are no short-cuts. There is no “how to”. There is instead relationship: getting to know Him better through reading the Word, spending time in His presence, submitting to His will, wrestling when we don’t have understanding, listening to His voice and being led by His Spirit, seeking Him with all of our hearts, confident in the final outcome for we know that He has given us this most wonderful promise: 

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” 
(Jer 29:13)

Monday, 19 September 2011

The joy of wrestling with God

 “Jacob said, Please tell me your name. But he replied, Why do you ask my name? Then he blessed him there. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared. The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip.” 
Gen 32:29-31.

Wrestling by its very nature is painful. Wrestling with God is no less  so, even though we know it is for our own good that He arrests us, takes hold of us, and grapples us to the ground if need be. Jacob limped away from wrestling with God.  

Yet I am starting to see that there is a deep, profound joy in this wrestle.

For one thing, it is a joyful thing that God Himself would condescend to wrestle with His creatures at all! That He would recognise our weakness, and hold Himself back from wrestling us to the point of ruin, instead seeking our own good through it. For let me be clear, when I speak of wrestling with God I am not speaking of us raising our fists to heaven and angrily demanding an explanation from Him as to His ways. I am speaking of the wonder and awesomeness of His dealing with us intimately in order to break us to a point of submission to His Way.

Not only the fact that we can wrestle with God – but it is His sovereign act of will to engage with us.  “So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.” – Genesis 32:24. The Man came to Jacob. Is there anything more joyful than this? That God would choose to open our eyes that we might see more clearly, understand that little bit more of His ways which are so much higher than our ways, that we might know Him better, more deeply, see more of His Glory and give Him more praise as a result!

He gives us the strength to enable us to wrestle with Him. No mortal man is capable of wrestling with Almighty God in his own weakness – it is He who supplies the strength for us to do this, who gives us the very desire in our hearts to know more of Him, who gives us the desire to cling onto Him and not let go until we have received a blessing from Him…

Which is the source of more great joy – wrestling with God results in blessing! To struggle with Him, to have our eyes opened to more of our sin, to see more of His Holiness and Majesty, to acknowledge His sovereignty over every aspect of our lives, to bow our will to His – we cling to Him and dare not let go until we have received His blessing of this enlarged vision and a greater filling of His Spirit!

As I continue to wrestle with God, no matter how painful it may be, no matter how much I am limping, I count it pure joy that my God has not finished with me yet and would deign to reveal more of Himself to me, that I may see Him, the One my heart yearns for, more clearly - and that He would bless me in the very process! 

Friday, 9 September 2011

Free lunch?

There is no such thing as a free lunch. Discuss”. I was well prepared for this essay title in my A-level Economics exam.  I carefully assembled all the economic arguments dealing with the scarcity of resources and the opportunity costs associated with using those resources to conclude in agreement with this favourite saying of economists. I was very proud of myself when I received my A-grade.

I think I would like to go back and tear up my answer and start again, if it wasn’t for the fact that I am so relieved that I don’t have to study for exams anymore! I would draw a completely different conclusion today, now that I have met with my God, the Creator of the Universe.

For our loving Heavenly Father continually bestows upon us free gifts that we have not earned, cannot pay for and are unable to repay Him for – however much we may try.

The gift of life itself – the very fact that we are here, able to enjoy the beauty of His creation however marred it may be as a result of the Fall, for it displays the invisible qualities of His eternal power and divine nature.

Just think – every morning, He causes the sun to rise in the skies, sending its warmth and beauty into our world. He sends the rain to enable our crops to grow whether we acknowledge Him or not. To witness the beauty of a sunset as He paints the sky myriad colours takes away the breath of those who are His children and those who are not. We are blessed with hearing birds singing, crickets chirping, waves crashing onto the shore, to say nothing of the smells and tastes we enjoy.

Gifts, free gifts all of them, without cost.

But then there is a gift which is not without cost to the One who gave it. Will we ever understand the grief the giving of this gift caused in the heart of the Father? A gift which we cannot buy for we are up to our eyes in debt. Yet a gift which will cost us – our pride, for it is a gift which we can only graciously receive, humbly bowing our knees and accepting this free, glorious Gift.

The gift of His Son – John 3:16.

The acceptance of this gift is itself the result of another gift, the gift of faith – Ephesians 2:8

And the gift of His Son leads to so many other amazing gifts:

The gift of the Holy Spirit – Luke 11:13, Acts 2:38; 

The gifts of the Holy Spirit – 1 Cor 12:4; Hebrews 2:4

The gift of a new heart, a heart of flesh – Ezekiel 36:26

The gift of rest – Matthew 11:28

The gift of eternal life – Romans 6:23

The gift of grace – Ephesians 4:7

The gift of living water – John 4:10

The gift of righteousness – Romans 5:17

The gift of peace – John 14:27

The gift of daily bread – Matthew 6:11

The gift of fullness in Christ – Colossians 2:10

The gift of victory – 1 Corinthians 15:57

And I can’t begin to fathom the depth of meaning of this verse: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all— how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” – Romans 8:32

What an amazing God we serve, this Giver of Good Gifts. There is only one possible response:

Freely you have received, freely give – Matthew 10:8