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The Greatest Rescue Operation of All Time

As I write this, the United States government is weighing the possibility of using ground military forces to rescue the Yazidi people who are trapped on a mountain in Iraz, surrounded by the threat of extermination by the Islamic State, a terrorist group currently taking control of a growing number of towns in their region. Politicians and military strategists are debating whether this is the right thing to do or not from a variety of perspectives.

The situation at hand reminds me of another rescue mission planned before time began. God foresaw His people in the exile of sin and depravity and determined to send His Son to our rescue. Paul said it this way in his letter to the Galatians, “Jesus gave his life for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live.” (1:4 NLT)

The Bible says nothing of any uncertainty in the mind and will of God. There were no deliberations or weighing the pro’s and con’s or counting the potential collateral damage. God simply knew our plight, loved us in it, planned our rescue, and acted to secure our freedom at great cost to Himself – the cost of His very own dear Son Jesus.

You can debate all you’d like about the nuances of the existence and attributes of God, but at the end of the day, the great God of the universe has acted to extract you from this present evil world through a redemptive, grace-based relationship with His Son. He went to the cross, paid the price, and rose again to free any and all who will look and cling to Him. And His hand is outstretched still, offering rescue. The choice is yours. Remain comfortably numb in exile, or trust Him fully for ultimate freedom.

For Freedom Christ Set Us Free

Really Be FreeCaptivity does something to the human brain. Captivity trains us to act like captives. There have been instances of people having been kidnapped and held captive for long periods of time who, when faced with an opportunity to flee, actually choose to remain in captivity. In fact, that’s what we often do spiritually as well.

Paul wrote in Galatians 5:1, For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” You see, at one time, we had to sin. It was our nature. It was the principle of law at work in us. Sin was just our thing. But Jesus came into the picture and obliterated our slaveowners. He fulfilled the law and overcame death on our behalf to lead us into freedom. He broke the chains.

But we’re trained for captivity. So even after saying ‘yes’ to the freedom Jesus Christ offers to us, we still spend our lives trying to figure out how to live as free people. We love the idea of grace, but law is what we know. We believe that God loves us no matter what, but performance-based living has ironically been our comfort zone for far too long. So we stay in the cage. We still carry our broken chain and pretend it still fetters us to the unavoidable tragedy of being sinners.

But… for freedom Christ set us free. He invaded the very territory of humanity’s evil slaveowner and broke us out. And the only way we’ll ever escape the mentality of slavery is to keep our eyes fixed on Him, appreciate what He’s done for us, and follow His leadership to freedom. If you’re a Christian, soak in His matchless grace and squeeze the joy of your newfound freedom. Really. Be. Free.

Servanthood: A Birthmark of a Born Again Believer

Son and Slave“This letter is from Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus.” – Romans 1:1 (NLT)

What a way to start a letter! That’s how Paul opened his letter to the believers in Rome, and I think Paul had two meanings in mind when he identified Himself as a slave.

Paul lived in the days of the height of the Roman Empire. Rome would conquer a land and that land’s citizens would become slaves of the Emperor. That’s how Paul identified Himself… conquered! We become God’s children by adoption and we’re treated as children. God doesn’t see us the way a cruel slave-driver sees a slave – as mere property. No, He sees us as a son or daughter. But we should also understand about ourselves that we are conquered by the King. Our spirits should remain broken rather than defiant – submissive rather than rebellious.

There is another word we might apply to the kind of slavery Paul is talking about. In the days of Moses, a law was given that a man who was too poor to live could borrow money from someone wealthy to provide for his family, but he would become the slave of his creditor. To prevent tyranny, the law was modified to allow every slave freedom after seven years of service. But if a man loved his master and wanted to remain under his master’s care and provision, he could become a permanent slave by allowing his ear to be marked with an awl.

A birthmark of a true believer is the mark of ownership by Jesus! In other words, we are not only conquered, we are claimed.

I love, I love my Master, I will not go out free,
For He is my Redeemer; He paid the price for me.
I would not leave His service it is so sweet and blessed;
And in the weariest moments He gives the truest rest.

-Frances Havergal

Would you proudly wear the title “slave of Jesus?” That’s a birthmark of a truly born again believer in Jesus Christ. I’ve been conquered. I’ve been claimed – not by a tyrant but by a loving Father who purchased me into His own dear family through the death of His own dear Son Jesus. And while this humbles me, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Demolishing Strongholds

PrisonWe have an enemy, and he loves to hurt us because he loves to hurt anything or anyone that God loves. So he uses the most brief or subtle of experiences to create pockets of guilt, bitterness, and resentment. A single experience of abuse, one word of unfair criticism, or perhaps a lifetime of being manipulated by someone close to us can all create warped views of self, sin, and God in us. The pain of these experiences locks us in bondage and puts us in a stronghold.

If we don’t get to the root of the strongholds in our lives, we will be spiritually handicapped for the long haul. Ignoring the source of our destructive tendencies short-circuits our ability to overcome them. Thankfully, every believer has unrestricted access to all of the spiritual weapons necessary to establish lasting freedom in Christ.

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.

– 2 Corinthians 10:4 (NIV)

In Christ, we can submit every thought, healthy and unhealthy, to a new kingdom ethic as we enter into confession and conversation with God. There is freedom available for you as you learn to flourish in the intimacy of continual prayer and thrive in the arena of grace. Jesus died to free you, and He rose to empower you, and He is coming again in ultimate triumph over your enemy, so live in the light of that victory today!

photo credit: Thomas Hawk

How Can I Be Legalism Free?

I like rules, lines, and boundaries. I feel safer if I have clear parameters, which explains my love for graph paper. I like it when everything is nice and tidy. The problem is, life isn’t always nice and tidy. People around me don’t always play by my rules, and I’m the biggest boundary breaker of them all.

It would seem that the alternative to rules-based living would be no rules living, rebellion, and abandonment of moral restraint. But what if that isn’t the best alternative to legalistic living? Jesus’ greatest confrontations happened with legalists who not only lived by rigid sets of rules, but quickly judged others by those rules as well.

The New Testament message – the gospel – is one of liberation from legalism, but it isn’t an encouragement to rebellion either. It’s about being free to really live. But how? How can I really live a life free from legalism and still grow into the godly character that Jesus saved me to be?

Establish Some Foundational Principles

We can know certain things to be true, no matter what. They are unbreakable absolutes that cannot be compromised. For example…

  • God’s Word, the Bible (including the “Law”), is perfect, good, without any mixture of error, and therefore completely trustworthy as the basis for living life.
  • Holiness, complete maturity, and Christlikeness is God’s goal for every believer in Christ.
  • Legalism never gets us to that goal. (So let’s move on…)

Diagnose Thyself

My name is Brandon Cox, and I’m a legalist. At least I still struggle with the remnants of legalism in my life. I guess I’m a “recovering legalist” who still slips into the old frame of mind sometimes. In fact, I think we all tend toward legalism to varying degrees and the longer we’ve been believers, the more susceptible we are.

How can you tell if you’re a legalist? Here’s a quick checklist…

  1. I determine whether God likes me or not based on how well I’ve kept the rules.
  2. I might acknowledge I was saved by grace alone, but I think my effort has something to do with staying saved.
  3. I tend to pray less when I fear that God is probably mad at me about something.
  4. I think I’m disqualified from the Christian faith because I’ve messed up, in spite of the fact that I’m still alive and breathing.
  5. I tend to notice the “bad behavior” in others without giving thought to their past pain, poor upbringing, or unknown circumstances.
  6. When other sinners suffer for their choices, I hear a tiny voice saying “serves them right.”
  7. I’m more passionate about the rules I find easy to keep, and minimize the ones I personally struggle with.
  8. I’m all about being “in the Word” but sometimes fail to let the Word get into me.
  9. I love going to Bible study more than serving or witnessing because it “feeds me” and makes me feel more spiritually mature.
  10. I recognize that traditions are not necessarily biblical… unless they’re my traditions.

Thoroughly self-diagnosed yet? Let’s talk about the cure.

Heal Thyself

You need to know, up front, that you’ll never completely get over being a legalist. Since the garden of Eden, God has been all about grace. It explains why God made coats of animal skins to cover the shame of Adam and Eve. And since the garden of Eden, we’ve tried (with Satan’s help) to re-write the gospel to somehow include merit. As humans, we are rules addicts.

But we can break free. Jesus invites us to His freedom…

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.

~ Matthew 11:28-30 NLT

Paul developed a distinctive theology of freedom.

So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.

~ Galatians 5:1 NLT

Here are some steps to take…

  1. See your sin for what it is. It’s an offense to God to sin. No, you shouldn’t beat yourself up over past mistakes, but you also shouldn’t vindicate yourself on the basis that sin “isn’t a big deal.”
  2. See Jesus for whom He is. He’s your sacrifice. Nothing you’ve done could have prevent Him from going to the cross just for you. He’s the only perfect and righteous Savior.
  3. See the cross for what it is. The cross was where He died for your sins. In other words, your sins are paid for. Stop trying to pay the debt yourself. Every time you do, you ignore the cross and insult His sacrifice.
  4. Embrace grace. Revel in it. Bathe yourself in the idea of it. Roll around in the concept that you are free… free indeed!
  5. Embrace grace… more. Don’t stop thinking about it. Read about it. Read about how Jesus showed it. Understand that you’ll never totally understand it, but don’t stop trying.
  6. Show grace. In fact, mob people with it. Show it when you don’t feel like it, when it doesn’t make sense, and especially when it would feel better to do otherwise.

I recently joined the People of the Second Chance. No, it’s not a cult. It’s just this…

People of the Second Chance gives voice to a scandalous movement of radical grace in life and leadership. We challenge the common misconceptions about failure and success and stand with those who have hit rock bottom in their personal and professional lives. We are a community that is committed to stretch ourselves in the areas of relational forgiveness, personal transparency, and advocate for mercy over judgment.

We are not ashamed of our scars, wounds, or failures and leverage them as a source of strength and character development.

People of the Second Chance have experienced a second chance so we actively support social justice organizations and advocate for the vulnerable, forgotten, and left behind.

We are People of the Second Chance.

We extend grace in our relationships, workplaces, and in the world.

We refuse to be victims and are not defeated by our past. We courageously open ourselves to personal forgiveness.

We sacrificially give our time and resources to the work of renewal, restoration, and social justice.

You don’t have to join a movement, attend a Bible study, or wear a badge. Just embrace grace! Celebrate it and never look back. You can be legalism free. Jesus said so!

Also, if you’d like a nice downloadable pdf of this, check out the same post on the Grace Hills Church website.