Christian Freedom (or why can’t I do _____?)

“So, if the son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” – John 8:36

What is freedom? The dictionary defines it somewhere along the lines of being able to act, speak or think without any external restrictions. Or, quite simply, being able to do whatever you want without anyone stopping you. And that sounds like a correct definition. That’s what we mean when we use the word freedom. Is it not?

The bible tells us, “If the son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” and that sparks a question in my mind. Why is it written like this? What does the phrase “free indeed” mean? Is there some hidden meaning behind those words? Does it mean that when we think we are free, we are not really free unless the Son sets us free?

We’ll get into the meaning of “free indeed” later. However, for now, let’s assume that there is a special kind of freedom that only the Son, Jesus, can give us. So, if a person is a christian, if he really follows Christ, he must be “really free”. Correct? Well, it seems that’s what the bible is telling us.

It was one fine evening in an ICPF cell group when I was asked the question, “Is going to movies wrong?” The boy who asked the question was the youngest among us on that day. I can’t conjure up the exact chain of events that led to this question, but I can imagine the general state of his mind because it is common. Someone must have told him that going to movies is wrong. Maybe his parents had restricted him to go watch a certain movie with his friends.

Is going to movies wrong? Should a christian listen to secular music? These, and many more questions plague the minds of young Christians in schools and colleges. Having grown up in a traditional christian environment, there’s always some people who say that these things are wrong. “A christian shouldn’t watch movies.” “A christian shouldn’t listen to secular music.” “A christian shouldn’t go to parties” They can be parents, seniors or even pastors. And whoever they are, most of the times, they are very vocal about their beliefs.

“If the son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” “If you are a christian, you can’t ….” Is there a contradiction? It certainly seems like it. The bible seems to be promising a freedom, a special freedom, a greater freedom, a higher freedom to those whom the Son, Jesus, sets free. Yet, it seems that those who are given this freedom, those who call themselves christian, are actually less free that those who surround them. Less free, than the world.

How can it be? How can the divine freedom be less than what the world offers? Let us understand the meaning of that freedom that Christ gives us. It is indeed a greater freedom. But maybe it can better be described as “true freedom”. The freedom that Son gives, is the freedom to live. He liberates us from the yoke and slavery of sin. By destroying the hold of sin in our lives he makes us free to become what we were meant to be. The image of living God. When the Son sets you free, you are indeed free. Because he gives you a freedom that destroying the death marches on to resurrection. Marches on, to an everlasting life.

The freedom of the world is not freedom. It’s a deception. Because, for a moment, it may seem like that a worldly person is free to do whatever he wants, but the things that he does, will come to haunt him in future. For the devil is cunning and allures man and women with many enticements. It may seem like all is going well, until the man, to his horror, finds that he is trapped in a maze of madness that the devil has been laying all along his way. When he thought he was free, and entered a door by practicing his freedom, soon after, when he wanted to get out, he found the door locked. Addictions, heartbreak, depression, despair, restlessness and sleepless nights await him. The fires of hell, the black, lightless, infernal fires of hell await him. Unless, the Son sets him free.

So, Is going to movies wrong? Certainly not. Can a christian go to watch movies? Of course. Well then, why do parents, seniors or christian leaders restrict the youngsters from such activities? Because, one, they are right in many cases. Many movies of our generation aren’t worth a watch. They only corrupt the mind. However, there’s a second reason. It’s that they are worried. Worried that their children will fall on a wrong road. That bad company of friends will turn them bad as well. But why, I wonder, do the parents never think that the good in my child, will rub off on those around him and maybe one day, might even save them? Does not the bible say, “Greater is He in me, than the one in the world.”?

But, there’s yet another aspect of this christian freedom that is as mystical as the way of the wind. Maybe the best metaphor to describe it, is gravity. It is the weakest of all four fundamental forces of physics, yet strong enough to bind the cosmos. Like gravity, whomever the Son sets free, that person feels a gentle draw of gravity towards him. An attraction that in inexplicable and inescapable. It is because of this pull, that even though I have freedom to listen to any music that I want, I listen mostly “Christian Music” as commonly defined. Because, in there, I find a better song than the one that the world sings.

So, what are we to do in these matters? It seems to me that any external restraint or discipline will work only till a certain age and till a certain level. Beyond that, either the youngster will learn self-restraint or he/she will give in to the pull of the world. But before that time comes, a youth must understand the words of Paul: “You say: I am allowed to do anything – but not everything is good for you. And even though, I am allowed to do anything, I must not become a slave to anything.” – 1 Cor 6:12

Lazarus! Come forth!

Those of us who have been Christians for a significant amount of time are familiar with the story of Lazarus. It’s a story that is widely known. Many sermons are preached from this story. It shows Jesus’ humanity as well as his authority. It’s a story of triumph over death. A story of love. A story of life.

Let me reiterate the story quickly. In Bethany, a man named Lazarus, brother of Martha and Mary, was sick. Jesus’ relation to this family isn’t mentioned in the gospels. But the family had known Jesus and Jesus knew them. John says, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus”. So, the relation was dear and deeper. When Lazarus got sick, the sisters sent for Jesus urgently. The sisters knew that if Jesus comes, Lazarus won’t die. They knew and believed. And Jesus loved them.

When the message did reach Jesus, he stayed where he was for 2 more days. After 2 days, Jesus declared to his disciples that Lazarus was dead and they should head towards Judea so that he can “awaken” him. When Jesus arrived near Bethany, he found that Lazarus was buried for four days. Jesus met Martha and Mary. He wept. And then, he raised Lazarus back to life.

All study of scripture is the study of God. It is the study of his nature. It is the observation of his love. By studying scripture, we come closer to him. So, when we study this story, we must also apply the same principle. The part of Martha and Mary in this story is merely human. What I mean to say is, if caught in a similar situation, our actions would not be too dissimilar from those of Martha and Mary. But all actions of Jesus are extraordinary.

First of all, when Jesus receives the news that Lazarus is sick, he delays. Why? When Jesus received the news, he was about a day’s journey from Bethany. When he reached Bethany, Lazarus was buried for 4 days. Jesus delayed only 2 days. Maths tells me that Lazarus was dead 1 day before the messengers reached Jesus. Jesus knew this. And saw no reason to hasten. But this was for God’s glory, that he would raise Lazarus after 4 days, when there was no doubt regarding his death.

Second, when he finally arrived to Bethany, after meeting Martha and Mary, he wept. If he was going to raise Lazarus, why did he weep? Why wouldn’t he weep? He was touched by the grief of Mary and the people who came with her. The words of Mary, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” struck his tender heart. He was distraught and could no longer keep his composure. He wept.

It is not surprising that he wept. But it is surprising that we ask such a question. Why do we think that his tears were rendered ineffectual by the impending resurrection? Can it be that we are too easily intoxicated by power that we forget our humanity? Maybe we are. But he is not so weak to let his power harden his heart or to let his heart be deafened to the cries of his children.

Though Lazarus was dead, he was not completely lost. Life, was looking for him. “Where have you laid him?” he inquired. And though grave was sealed, he told them to roll away the stone. In the grave, lay Lazarus. Silent. Slayed by Death, the last enemy. In the grave, lay Lazarus. Loved by Jesus. Loved, though beyond the grave. As the crowd was looking, Jesus shouted in a great voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” That thundering voice shook the pillars of the underworld. For which death had consumed, God had called. A grave was opened. A requisition was made. The belly of death was torn asunder. Lazarus was reclaimed. Dead, he went into the grave. Alive, he came out!

The same voice that called Lazarus back to life speaks even today. The one who defeated death is alive even today. He is eager to give life to those who will receive him. He declares, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live even if he dies, and the one who lives and believes in me will never die.”

Slaps, Maths and Making the World Better

Today, I was commuting to office via BRTS. As usual, the bus was crowded, especially near the door. I don’t know why but there seems to be some type of strange force at work in the BRTS because people to gather right next to the door even if the rest of the bus is empty. As the bus came near the stand, the people were queuing up to leave because the bus was nearing their destination. And as I was watching people struggle to reach near the door, there seemed to be some sort of quarrel between the two that were standing right next to the door. The guy who was standing right next to the door, was just standing there. He was yet waiting for his destination, yet he had the brilliant idea of standing next to the door and getting in the way of people coming in and leaving.

As I watched, the person behind him suggested that he should go into the back of the bus if he wasn’t going to leave the bus on the next stand. The guy replied, “I will.” And then stood right there for about 10 seconds ignoring what the other person suggested. Which angered the guy standing right behind him, and he pushed him aside and tried to take the first spot right near the door. And as Newton’s third law of motion states, “When one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction to that of the first body.” And in about 30 seconds, they were exchanging slaps and pulling each others cloths. One guy’s shirt got ripped off. And even though, one of the guy’s destination had already come and the bus had come to a standstill, he wasn’t leaving. In fact, he continued and when people pushed him out of the bus, he was still trying to get in to continue the fight. Fortunately, the driver quickly started the bus, leaving him on the bus stand with a rag of a shirt.

In the following moments I was thinking about the incident. About how it could’ve been avoided. In this case, there was no right or wrong, both guys were at fault. But still, things didn’t get out of hand until one of the guys slapped the other one. That’s when the whole situation went south. And at that moment, I remembered what Jesus said, “If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also.” The situation would’ve been very different if one of the guy had exercised this simple statement. In fact, the fight would’ve never gotten started if there was a real christian among them. If I was one of them, what would I have done? In this simple situation, the answers are very simple. However, in a situation where it’s not in our power to hold or contain evil, what would we do? In a situation where we are being wronged, and we have no power to stop it, what would be the correct response?

Due to our fallen nature, we are easily provoked. And in our anger, we do irrational things. We do things that are completely against what bible teaches. And sometimes we just ignore it saying that it’s unrealistic. I mean, “If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also” Seriously? That would make me look like a fool! Well, maybe it will. And there can be many arguments and counter-arguments about the practicality of the stated instruction. However, I’d like to present one simple argument that proves it’s practicality.

But before the argument, comes the assumptions. The assumption of this argument is, “The end goal is the betterment of the world”. Let’s look at the argument.

  • At the beginning of the world, the amount of evil done in the world is 0.
  • At a point in time when you are wronged, the amount of evil things done in the world is e.
  • If you react to evil by doing something evil then after the act, the total amount of the evil done in the world would be e + 1. (1 is you!)
  • Now, suppose if we take two points in time, suppose the beginning of 2013 and 2014, and note down the total amount of evil done up until that time, and call it e(2013) and e(2014)
  • Now if we want to find out the amount of evil done in 2013, it would be (delta)e = e(2014) – e(2013)
  • Here, (delta)e represents the total amount of evil done in 2013 year.
  • Now, the 2013 would be an ideal year if there is no evil done in 2013. Consequently, (delta)e would be 0.
  • So, to improve the world, we need to reduce the value of (delta)e. If it reaches zero, we’ll be living in a heaven on earth.
  • Is it possible for (delta)e for a whole year to reach zero? Possible? Yes. Likely? No. So, the only option for us Christians is to reduce the amount of (delta)e as much as possible and make it as close to 0 as possible. How, for one, by not doing evil ourselves and by sharing the gospel to other people so they too can get out of the cycle of evil.

A few observations in the scenario above:

  1. e(2013) is certainly not zero. What it means is, something bad has already happened to many people for which other people are responsible. Someone has already slapped the victim. (Note here that I’m using slap as a metaphor for evil things done. I’m aware that there are certain kinds of slaps that are necessary and even well deserved. I’m not talking about that kinds of slaps) Now the victim can either slap back or turn the other cheek.
  2. In scenario A, a person slaps back. Then the original slapper slaps back. And the slapping cycle continues ad infinitum.
  3. In scenario B, if a person turns the other cheek, there might be another slap coming. And the one after that, and after that and after that… but somewhere it will stop. It will certainly stop. The cycle of evil stops. (Not to mention, the armies of heaven will be gunning for the slapper! And soon he’ll turn from one of them to one of us! More power to Christians in making the world better!)

There it is. A practical, (no-nonsense) mathematical proof of Jesus’ simple statement. Practicality is subjective to the end goal. And if your end goal is betterment of the world by sharing the gospel, then who says it isn’t practical? Anyone?

A Life of Worship

Many-a-times I have asked myself this question. What does it mean to worship. I did a quick lookup in a dictionary and in it, to describe what is worship, words like love, admiration and devotion are used. All of these can are very interesting. If you have read my previous posts, you might know my semantic analysis of the different aspects of the subject matter and describing it’s inner working. However, I feel as if I were to do the same to this topic, I wouldn’t be doing justice to it. Such a discussion seems distant from the heart of the matter of worship to me. It would be like saying “I’m having a chemical reaction with you” when you meant, “I love you”. So, in this essay, I would like to talk about things I have learned about worship and going to write down my thoughts as they come to me. I’m not going to review and structure it as I’ve done for my previous posts. There will be no editing, to state the politically correct position. So, there you have it, straight from the horse’s mouth.

In the first paragraph I mentioned three different aspects of worship. However all of them are interconnected. All of us understand that all too well. So, I’d rather not go into how they are interconnected. Breaking it down in logical steps, to me, seems illogical. But before I begin this, the first question I’d like to ask is, worship who?

1 Corinthians 10:31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (ESV)

In regards of this article, I’m talking about worshiping God. Now, in the verse that I just quoted, it is said whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. For most part of this article, I’d be dealing with this verse and what it means.

How can we worship God in “whatever we do”? First and foremost, we should obey his commandments. He is not glorified when we sin. Sining is not an act of worship. We do not need to talk about it further.

So what exactly does Paul mean by “whatever we do”? I think he means exactly that. That raises the question, how? How can I do my job for the glory of God? How can I program for the glory of God? The only way I can think of is this: whatever you do, do it for God. I mean, whatever you do, do it as if God had come down to tell you what exactly is it that you need to do(in fact, that did happen). And after you have finished your task he is going to come and evaluate your work. Do it like that. If I were to give my example, I’d say, God has told me to create a website for a certain business and he’s going to check it once I’m done. So, when I’m working on the website, I’m not thinking about the money but I’m thinking about what’s the best way to create this website. I’d like to give my best work to God. So, once you become a christian, you don’t work for your boss, but you work for God. I think that’s what Paul meant.

Another aspect of worship is how we use the gifts God has given to us. God has wired each of us differently. Each of us to play a different task in the church and in this world. For that, he has given us certain talents. These are his gifts to us. If a friend gives you a gift, for example, a table-clock, what would you do with it. Would you throw it away? Or would you put it on your table and use it. If you throw it away right before your friend’s eyes, what will it do for your relationship with him? (God is always watching what you do with the gifts he has given to you). If you keep the table clock on your table and the next time your friend comes and sees you using that table clock as it should be used, he will be delighted. However, if you are using the clock as a paper weight, he will be somewhat offended. In the same way, the gifts that God has given you are to be used in the right way. When we use it the way that they are meant to be used, he is pleased. It’s an act of worship. However if you waste it, you are hurting the relationship between him and you. So, using these gifts in a proper way is also an act of worship.

So when you begin to work with such a mindset, you will start doing your best at everything you do, because you are no longer working for a company or a person but God himself. So, your work quality will improve dramatically. I’ve seen this happen in my life. However, because your work quality improves, sooner or later you will get a promotion or at least a raise. That’s where I think a dangerous trap lie. To keep yourself safe from this trap, you need to cultivate a certain kind of attitude. Let me describe all the possible attitudes with regards of an action or activity.

There are basically 4 kinds of people regards to an activity or action

  1. People who don’t like to do it and don’t do it
  2. People who like to do it but don’t do it
  3. People who don’t like to do it but do it
  4. People who like to do it and do it.

Without getting into the details about the other 3 kinds of people, let me tell you which kind we want to be. We want to be the last one. Those who worship God because they love to do it. They enjoy it. Now, for the purpose of this discussion I must shed some light on the motives of the kind of person that do things that they don’t like. The third kind.

These people do things for the reward of doing these things. Most commonly, for money. These people loathe their jobs but just because in the end it gives them something that they like/need, they do it. Now, I’m not going to make any judgment of if it is right or wrong. It’s not my place to say it. However, the point I’m making here is that getting material blessings should not be our motive for worshiping God.

Now, back to my point of enjoying worship. There is nothing wrong in enjoying worship. In fact, when you praise a youngster for getting good marks in his/her examination, you also feel a feint spark of happiness if not more. Somebody has said that without praise or worship, joy can not be complete. So, then isn’t enjoying worship the same as praising God for our enjoyment? No. In fact, I’d say such a thing is not even possible. It is more plausible to praise yourself for enjoyment than praising God for enjoyment. However, it’s besides the point. The main question I’m getting at is this: Why do we need to be the fourth kind of people and what’s wrong with the third kind?

The third kind of people, people who praise God for material blessings, for one will be disappointed. And second, their praise is not worship at all. It’s mere flattery. It is not only wrong but in fact, it’s the worst kind of heresy. Thinking you can fool God. There is a difference between flattery and worship.

Now, that we’ve seen one major pitfall, I’d like to give my thoughts a new direction. What is the outcome of this life of worship?

Matthew 12:30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. (ESV)

I think that human thoughts and imagination have the greatest potential for fragmentation. I find my thoughts scattered all around. If I were to ask write down every single thought I’ve had in my life, it will be a cohesive volume. However, when I ask myself the question that out of that massive volume, what percentage would be about and for Jesus? I’m not proud to say it, but, very little. That needs to change. A few days ago, I came across a quote…

“Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

I agree with that. So, if we really want to live a life of worship, it doesn’t start with actions. It must start with our thoughts. Because, an action can have any number of different motives. However, when our thoughts are not scattered, but gathered in Jesus, and our motives realigned for the glory of God, only then it is possible to do everything for the glory of God. And, only that life can be called, “A life of worship”.