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Open the Gift of Freedom

Open the Gift of Freedom

It cost God dearly to set His people free. But too many still live in self-imposed bondage, preferring the security of manmade regulations to the adventure of freedom. Trusting in the freedom God offers you and other people can be scary, but the alternative is even scarier - a life without joy.

Remember: Through Christ's work on the cross, God has already set you free.  Here's how you can open the gift of freedom God has given you:

Realize that there's more to faith than religion.  Understand that the Christian life isn't just about obeying rules, doing religious things, or being nice.  Know that it's meant to be a passionate adventure.

Embrace God's unconditional love.  Remember that absolutely nothing can change how much God loves you and other people.  No matter what mistakes you (or others) make, He will still love you (and them) more deeply than you ever could imagine.  He is your Father, and you are His child.

Trust in Christ's righteousness rather than your own.  Acknowledge that no imperfect human being in our fallen world could ever be righteous enough on his or her own to please a perfect God.  But remember that, because Christ died on the cross for your sins, His perfect righteousness covers you when you trust Him with your life (on earth, and for eternity).  Don't try to prove yourself to God through rules, regulations, and good works.  Instead, realize that God looks at you through the blood of His Son - the only thing powerful enough to wash away your sins.  If you're a Christian, God has turned His wrath away from you and transferred all Christ's goodness to your spiritual account.

Don't point fingers at others.  Understand that, no matter how much someone else may upset you, only God can truly judge that person.  Don't waste your time or energy judging other people.  Pray for them instead.

Get a clear picture of God.  Strive to understand what God is truly like so you can live accordingly.  Relax; He's not an ogre who wants to strike you down whenever you do something bad.  Although He is a righteous judge, He also understands human weakness and sin.  He is a God of love and mercy who will deal with you kindly and gently and give you the grace you need to grow.  Study the life of Christ - God incarnate - to better understand what God is like.

Trade perfection for forgiveness.  Realize that there is a better way to become holy than just trying harder.  Instead of obsessing about how you can live a good life, devote your efforts to loving Jesus as much as you can.  Know that no human can be perfect, and that trying to do so will only rob you of your freedom.  Understand that the key to holiness is deepening your relationship with God.  The more you spend time with God, the more His loving Spirit will transform you so you can grow to be more holy.

Trade legalism for joy.  Remember that religion's sole purpose isn't to make people good.  Know that simply being a moralist will cause you to miss the core of the Gospel message - that Christ has set you free.  Don't define yourself in terms of how good or bad you are.  Instead, define yourself by your relationship to Christ.  Celebrate what He has done for you!

Trade masks for authenticity.  Take off the masks that don't reveal your true self: the way other people perceive you, a self-image that's too proud or too negative, a persona designed to help you fit into a particular group. Stop pretending and decide to be honest with yourself and others about who you really are.  Realize that an authentic life is much more fulfilling than any life you try to design yourself.

Trade pedestals for truth.  Don't deify yourself or other people.  Read the stories of biblical heroes deeper to discover that they struggled with major flaws, serious sin, and embarrassing failures.  Don't chain yourself to false expectations by striving to emulate someone you think is perfect.  Know that you and all of the greatest saints who have ever lived have the same need of God's redemption.  Understand that all Christians have the same access to God.  Question and challenge prideful Christians who claim to have a special hotline to God.  Don't trust anyone who leads without accountability.  Have the courage to respectfully disagree with leaders who aren't truly following God.  When listening to a Bible teacher, be sure to check the text yourself before you accept what he or she says.  Ask to see the financial statements of churches and ministries you support.

Trade enemies for peace.  Realize that people may be wrong, sinful, confused, needy, and scared, but they still are not your enemies.  Whenever you encounter someone who offends you, know that demonizing them will rob you of your freedom.  Understand that you don't have to fix anyone or anything; that's God's job. Don't waste your time or energy being angry, critical, condemning, or manipulative. Don't try to make yourself feel better by pointing out how bad other people are. Realize that you don't always have to be right, and that, in fact, you (like everyone else) are sometimes wrong.  Understand that you don't have anything to prove or protect.  Decide to forgive, love, and encourage people while God sorts out who's right and who's wrong.

Trade fear for courage
.  Don't be afraid to speak the truth. Let the knowledge that people around you need Christ motivate you to be bold in sharing the Gospel with them.  Focus on blessing others instead of worrying about what they think of you. Be willing to offend people for the right reasons - so they can hear and respond to the lifesaving truth of the cross.

Trade escapism for reality.  Realize it's pointless to pretend that some things are fixed when they aren't.  Don't look for shortcuts or escape routes in life.  Rather than trying to avoid pain, seek to learn from it as God walks through it with you.  Face your pain head-on and it will start to lose its power over you.  Pray honestly about your struggles and ask God to give you the strength you need to deal with them.  Realize that God has a reason for allowing pain into your life, and that you can find God in the midst of your pain.  Know that pain leads to freedom because it makes it possible for you to grow.

Trade failure for victory
.  Understand that you do deserve God's good purpose for your life.  Don't be afraid of coming to the end of yourself, because God is there.  Let your shame and guilt drive you toward Christ, who will replace them with mercy and forgiveness.  Define yourself in terms of the great value that God has put on you.  Gratefully accept whatever blessings He deems appropriate to give you.  Leave the past in the past.  Live fully in the present and look forward to the future with hope.

Adapted from A Scandalous Freedom, copyright 2004 by Steve Brown.  Published by Howard Publishing Co., West Monroe, La.,

Steve Brown is the author of numerous books, including Born Free, When Being Good Isn't Good Enough, and When Your Rope Breaks.  He serves as professor of preaching at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida.  He previously served as a pastor for 25 years and now devotes much of his time to the radio broadcast Key Life.  Steve, who travels extensively to speak, lives in Florida with his wife, Anna.