FREEDOM vs. Legalism

((from Bridget))


When I hear that word, two distinctly different images come to mind:

The first is from the 1970s classic, “Animal House,” with John Belushi in his toga, toilet paper hanging from every rafter, and a room embracing the lack of any direction, constraint, or restriction… FREEDOM!!!

The more “civilized” side of my psyche however refers to a reoccurring scene I have of me free falling from a high cliff– but there is no fear.  The image remains the same:  it is cloudy, my arms and legs are flailing, and the wind is beating against my back as I fall… I remain strangely at peace, knowing in my deepest core that I am safe and cared for.  I first had this image pierce my conscience on a walk with a dear friend years ago as we were chewing on this verse:

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
2 Corinthians 3:17

My family and I were in the preparatory stages for our first missionary assignment. We were spending a lot of time with the LORD (good place to be before a major life change, right?) and the LORD had specifically used Isaiah 61 in our calling to the mission field.

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.”
Isaiah 61:1

As a physician, I had spent years praying for the gift of healing and yet, in His divine providence, Jesus revealed His gift of tongues in this season instead.  To be completely transparent, I was confused and a little scared at first and so I began walking with this particular sister of mine to glean her knowledge and understanding of the gift of tongues.  As we would walk, talk, and continually seek Him in our midst, I found myself growing in Him and longing to know Him more and more.

Through the gift of tongues, it somehow confirmed to me that indeed I was “anointed” and that confirmation empowered me with an elated confidence to “go out, proclaim, and release.”  I felt adequately equipped to “preach the good news to the poor” and found the charge to “bind up the brokenhearted” and “proclaim release from darkness for the prisoners” uniquely crafted for my fearless and empathetic design.

It was this idea of freedom where we found ourselves dwelling that particular afternoon; specifically, we were dissecting “to proclaim freedom for the captives.” I wanted to know this verse accurately and fully embody it before my family’s Ugandan adventure.  As we walked and prayed through His Spirit, the verse out of 2 Corinthians was shared by my discerning sister and it was then that my free-falling image was first revealed.

Merriam-Webster defines freedom as: the quality or state of being free; the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action; unrestricted use.

Scripture confirms freedom as part of God’s original design in as early as Genesis chapter 2:

“By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”  Genesis 2:2-3

When God set aside the seventh day and rested, He never intended to impose a constricting rule upon His children.  God’s Sabbath was designed to provide true freedom so that our work would not become our end game and to allow for time to worship Him and fellowship with those around us.  

I love the depiction of freedom that the prophet Isaiah shares regarding God’s day of rest, Sabbath:

“If you watch your step on the Sabbath
    and don’t use my holy day for personal advantage,
If you treat the Sabbath as a day of joy,
    God’s holy day as a celebration,
If you honor it by refusing ‘business as usual,’
    making money, running here and there—
Then you’ll be free to enjoy God!”

What a powerful concept, don’t you think?

“Then you’ll be free to enjoy GOD!”

The hardest part of living here in Uganda has been to coexist with the many Christian believers who are trapped in the lie of legalism—the exact opposite of freedom—and to see just how suffocating that bondage can be!

Merriam-Webster defines legalism as the strict, literal, or excessive conformity to the law or to a religious or moral code.  I have found great clarification of these lofty terms through my study of Paul’s letter to the Romans.

“’There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God; All have turned away…

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather through the law we become conscious of sin.”

Legalism is the strict conformity to the law… keeping in line with every letter of the law, “minding your P’s and your Q’s” if you will.  The law’s righteousness, however, is unattainable. NO ONE will be found righteous by his/her observation of the law… NOT EVEN ONE.  The law only allows us to become more conscious of sin.  Think about that.

We know we have fallen short because of the law – which is the perfect measure of His Holiness that we can NEVER obtain on our own.

But friends, Romans does not leave us here, glory to God!  Paul has yet to share about the freedom for you and me because of Christ’s work on the cross:

“But now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known to which the Law and the Prophets testify.  This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.  There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified FREELY by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Romans 3: 21-24

Because of Jesus, we can live in FREEDOM, “the quality or state of being free; the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action.”  This resonates with my vision—that of me free falling, not bothered by the things of this world as they fly past me, as I rest in the safety and confidence of His redemption and security alone.

We must remember, however, that there is responsibility with this Christ-given freedom.  Paul goes on to warn each of us:

“’Everything is permissible’- but not everything is beneficial.  ‘Everything is permissible’- but not everything is constructive.  Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.”  1 Corinthians 10:23-24

In my freedom, because of Christ, I do not seek my highest gain.  Rather, because of His sacrificial gift of freedom, I chose to help others in their Christian growth.  It has been here, in my state of free-falling faith and acceptance where I finally embraced the meaning of that haunting verse out of Isaiah 61.

What was the LORD inviting me into with His directive to “proclaim freedom for the captives?”

He was inviting me to boldly come here to Uganda as His daughter, anointed and chosen by Her Father God.

He was inviting me to yes, indeed, “preach His good news to the poor.”  

He was reminding me that in my God given talents and abilities, I would have the opportunity to “bind up the brokenhearted” in spirit, soul, and flesh.  

But also, He was inviting me to live my life as an open invitation to those around me.

An invitation for all prisoners, each and every one of us held captive in the chains of legalism, to taste and see the goodness of God’s FREEDOM.

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:1-2

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