Oh, the joy of waking up on Easter morning to a basket full of treats just for you. Your very own chocolate, marshmallow, and jellybean picnic! Yum!
And how much better when your mom and dad, instead of limiting you with rules and regulations on how much you can have this morning, today, our tomorrow, say “Go for it! You’re free to have as much as you want!”
Yes, this was our policy this year. Not because we thought it was an especially wise parenting choice, but because we did the limiting beforehand by only giving a small amount of candy in each basket. In our post-spring-break-traveling daze, we really just didn’t have the energy to enforce rationing.
Of course, we also didn’t have the energy to deal with the consequential sugar-highs, lows, and tummy aches, but at least we knew they were coming ;).
Unlike my experience last week in Vermont.
I was staying at my parents’ house and on the first morning I was there, I woke up and decided to make myself some coffee. At home we have a single-serving coffee-maker and I can’t even tell you the last time I made a “pot of coffee”. But I wanted my precious morning brew, so I gave it a try.
I like my coffee strong (I have nightmares about weak coffee), so I looked at the brewing suggestions on the package – and then added a few extra scoops. Caffeine and I have a love/hate relationship, but it was ‘vacation’ – I had no stressful plans and few responsibilities that day, so instead of limiting myself to half-caff, I gave myself the freedom to indulge!
But two cups and a couple of hours later, I felt like someone had thrown me on one of those amusement park teacup rides, locked me in, set it to high speed, and wouldn’t let it stop. I was dizzy, nauseous, irritable, and unable to focus. I was a mess and there was no way out. I felt completely trapped as I desperately waited (several hours) for the effects of my bad caffeine choice to wear off.
As I was preparing my heart and mind for Easter this year, I found a song that I have since kept on repeat. This verse in particular has been stuck in my head:
“Our Savior displayed on a criminal’s cross
And darkness rejoiced as though Heaven had lost
But then Jesus arose with our freedom in hand
That’s when death was arrested and my life began”*
I love the picture of Jesus rising in victory, defeating darkness and death, “with our freedom in hand”. Though our disobedience made us “by nature deserving of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3) and facing a spiritual death penalty (Romans 6:23), Jesus stepped in on our behalf to not only be “delivered over to death for our sins,” but to also be “raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:25). Because the tomb is empty, we are free.
Photo credit: Kevin Dow
But what does “free” really mean?
Most importantly, of course, it means we are free from the spiritual consequences of our sin. We no longer have to live in fear that God won’t accept us because of what we’ve done or ‘just hope’ that we’ll be ‘good enough’ to make it into heaven – Jesus took all of the punishment we deserve upon Himself and, by simply trusting in that, we are acquitted of all charges. We have been released from the prison of trying to ‘earn’ our way into a relationship with God or a spot in eternity with Him!
In Galatians 5:1, Paul says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” The Galatian believers had been led to believe that Christ’s death and resurrection were not enough to fully save them, and Paul was warning them that going back to an ‘earning’ mentality was like receiving your freedom and then willingly walking right back into prison.
Living a ‘free’ life means I am free to be myself. I am free to come to Jesus as I am – in all of my weakness and mess – and know that I am accepted by Him. I’m free from living under the weight of rules and regulations I can’t seem to measure up to. I’m free to throw off the facade that I somehow have it all together – or that I ever will.
But living a ‘free’ life also means I’m free from myself.
There’s a temptation to think: “Because I live in freedom, I can do whatever I want. A lot of those Christian ‘rules’ are outdated and unrealistic, anyway.” It’s tempting to think that freedom means throwing off the limits God has put in place – especially in those ‘gray areas’ where we don’t really know for sure what He has to say.
But just like last week’s caffeine overdose, I always find that the freedom to do whatever I want just leads me right back into a different prison – the prison of my self. This prison seems so relentlessly enticing and promises me lots of exciting, comforting, and fulfilling things. But as soon as I give in and walk in the door, I find myself trapped. Because by doing whatever I want, I have only become a slave to myself.
Our freedom from spiritual death was purchased when Jesus paid the price for it on the cross, but it’s the power of the resurrection living in us that gives us the hope of freedom from ourselves. Because the tomb is empty, I am no longer on an aimless search for things that will gratify my own desires and needs – I’m free to say “no” because of the “incomparably great power” God has given to me, which is “the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead” (Ephesians 1:19-20).
Because of Christ, I am free. I’m even free to enslave myself again. But I’m also free to not.
When the focus is on me I will be imprisoned either way – in the self-indulgence of following the rules for my own gain or the self-indulgence of discarding the rules for my own pleasure. But in Christ I’m free to shift the focus off of me and move it onto Him instead, because that’s the only way I’ll ever truly be free.
“Therefore…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
*North Point InsideOut, “Death Was Arrested”