The Four Fundamental Freedoms
Now that we have reviewed the Bible’s freedom verses, as well as Jesus’ sayings and actions, we can look back and find the Four Fundamental Freedoms of the Christian Faith:
1. Freedom from sin’s control
2. Freedom from the ill effects of each other’s sins
3. Freedom from fear of breaking the law
4. Freedom from man-made religious rules
Most theologically conservative Christians (those who hold to traditional beliefs) understand the concept of freedom from sin’s control. It means that the Holy Spirit enables us to obey God rather than obey our sinful desires. Where Christians often falter is in the application of being free from the law, and understandably so. At first glance, being free from the law appears to mean that we no longer have to obey the law and are free to do what we want. Of course, this interpretation is contrary to the rest of the Bible, and it is especially contrary to the concept of being free from sin, since the definition of sin is “breaking God’s law.” Thanks to this apparent contradiction, many Christians ignore the concept of being free from the law and focus only on the concept of being free from sin. They then use “freedom from sin” as a reason to enforce man-made Christian rules.
The proper approach for Christians is to fully enjoy both freedom from sin and freedom from fear of the law. How does this look in everyday life? Since we are guided by the Holy Spirit and not governed by sin (Freedom #1), we do our best to avoid breaking the laws of the Bible. When we obey biblical law, we free others from the harmful impact of our sins (Freedom #2), as Jesus implied when discussing The Greatest Commandment. But since we no longer have to fear breaking the law (Freedom #3), thanks to the grace we have received through Christ, we are free from having to follow man-made rules designed to keep us from breaking it (Freedom #4).
The Freedom Defeaters
If most of us Bible-believing Christians are familiar with stories of Jesus’ opposition to man-made religious rules, why do we continue to embrace these rules rather than enjoy our freedom in Christ? There’s no single answer to that question, but I’m about to share with you four reasons why Bible-believers deny themselves and others the freedom that God intended for us. I call them the Freedom Defeaters.
Sin-preventionisms are man-made religious rules designed to keep people from sinning. A sin-preventionism results from turning something that is not a sin into a sin in order to prevent a sin. Their enforcers claim that these man-made religious rules are from God, and they claim that anyone disobeying these rules sins against God.
The Pharisees’ law requiring the washing of hands before eating was a sin-preventionism. It was designed to keep people from breaking the law that disallowed the eating of unclean foods. Their Sabbath day laws limiting how far a person could walk or how much a person could carry (“It is the Sabbath, and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet,” said the Jews in John 5:10) were also sin-preventionisms. They were designed to keep people from breaking the Sabbath day commandment.
As I stated earlier, Jesus had no regard for the sin-preventionisms of the Pharisees. He broke them in plain view of everyone and criticized the Pharisees for “teaching as doctrines the precepts of men [Matthew 15:9].” Jesus’ opposition to sin-preventionisms conflicts with the attitudes of most Bible-believing Christians today. We believe that any act that might somehow lead to sin is forbidden. If drinking a drop of alcohol might somehow lead a person to become a drunk, it is forbidden for everyone. If listening to a certain song might somehow lead as person to think an evil thought, it is forbidden for everyone.
To most of us, sin-preventionisms make sense. Sinning is bad; therefore, we conclude that anything that might lead to sin is bad. I would have to agree with this way of thinking, if it weren’t for Jesus’ opposition to it. His teachings and examples show us that God thinks differently than we do, because, unlike many Christians, God hates sin-preventionisms.
Why does God oppose sin-preventionisms?
One reason is that they don’t prevent sin. We assume that we know exactly which acts and thoughts will lead us to sin when, in reality, only God understands such things perfectly. We Christians commit sins every day, even when we obey sin-preventionisms. Not only do we commit sins like arrogance and judgmentalism, for which there are no sin-preventionisms, but some of us commit sins of sex, violence, and greed, despite having followed the sin-preventionisms as instructed. The Pharisees are biblical proof that perfect obedience to sin-preventionisms fails to prevent sinful behavior and sinful hearts.
The other reason God hates sin-preventionisms is that He wants us to be free from the fear of sinning and from pointless suffering(as we discussed previously), so we need not imprison ourselves by adding rules to God’s rules to prevent sin.
Why does God want us to be free?
Because He loves us! That’s why.
How amazing is it that God loves us so much that He hates to see us weighed down with an overabundance of oppressive rules? Why do we still think, even if it is in the back of our minds, that God is happy when we are unhappy, that God likes to see us suffer out of our fear of sinning, or that He wants us to suffer to prove our worth? It is the other religions of the world which oppress their people with pointless man-made rules. Christianity is so much better than that!
God is indeed a loving Father who wants His children to be happy. No good father cares about himself more than he cares about his children. Likewise, God created the law not out of His selfishness, but out of His selflessness. When He made the rules, He made them to protect His children from harming one another or from ruining themselves. He did not make the rules so that His children would suffer to please Him. Isn’t this purpose of the law what we should expect from a God who made a personal sacrificed on the cross so that His children may have eternal life? God’s nature is consistent! In everything He does, He places our well-being ahead of His!
A measurable sin is the breaking of any law that can be measured or the crossing of any boundary that is not to be crossed. Unlike sin-preventionisms, which are unbiblical, the Bible contains some measurable sins. For example, the sin of stealing is measurable. We can measure the quantity that has been stolen, and we can count how many times the sin occurred. We can, in most cases, draw a boundary that, if crossed, transforms a person from being a law-abiding citizen into a law-breaking thief. In other words, you either steal or you don’t steal. There is no grey area (in reality, there are some grey areas, like borrowing and forgetting to return).
Almost every world religion has measurable sins, and every country has laws in which the crossing of certain boundaries is forbidden. What makes Christianity so special, however, is that its laws tend to be immeasurable. They address the intentions of our hearts. The first occurrence of an immeasurable law in the Bible is the 10th Commandment, “You shall not covet…” The Bible later shows that God also hates such immeasurable sins as arrogance, jealousy, hatred, and gluttony. With these sins, it is impossible to set a sin boundary. For example, we can’t count how many arrogances and jealousies we commit in a day.
Immeasurable biblical sins tend to frustrate us, because many of us desire to be perfect before God in our deeds and want to have the ability to identify our sins and then eliminate them, a goal that’s more easily accomplished when our sins have well-defined boundaries. However, God didn’t make it that easy. He is most concerned with the intentions of our hearts, from which all sorts of evil originate. But rather than focus on the difficult task of overcoming these sins of the heart, we focus on the much easier task of eliminating man-made sins that have clear-cut boundaries.
Just as Jesus’ opponents, the Pharisees, were guilty of creating sin-preventionisms, they were also guilty of dwelling on measurable sins while ignoring the sins of the heart. Jesus said to the Pharisees in Matthew 23:23, “…you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faithfulness….”
These weightier matters of which Jesus spoke are hard to measure. The Pharisees excelled at performing measurable duties like tithing and fasting, but they failed miserably at obeying these weightier immeasurable matters of the law. How similar are we to the Pharisees in this regard? Isn’t it a lot easier for us to follow a bunch of rules than it is to change our behavior and attitudes? We can just put our minds and souls on cruise-control and follow the same old routine, while having cold hearts toward others, as the Pharisees did.
God has a given us great freedom in this life that many people find hard to accept. Other religions of the world heap loads of strict, pointless rules upon the shoulders of their members. These rules often make little sense, but most people feel that the more they restrict their activities, the more pleasing they are to their gods. They have to avoid enjoyment as a way of punishing themselves for their sins, so their gods will lessen the severity of their impending judgment. They don’t have a savior to bear that punishment for them as we have in Jesus Christ.
Thanks to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, in which He bore God’s wrath for our sins, we don’t have to make pointless sacrifices to please or appease God. To be justified in His sight, we only have to repent (through Christ) of our sins. Any sacrifices we make to please God don’t count, because they are overshadowed and nullified by Jesus’ perfect sacrifice. If we make the sacrifice of abstaining from something good, we are no more pleasing to God than if we enjoy it.
Unfortunately, the chains that bind the believers of other religions have found their way into conservative Protestant Christianity. Even though we Protestants claim not to believe in penance as Roman Catholics do, we often find ourselves practicing our own form of penance: not one where we have to inflict punishment upon ourselves to appease God, but a penance in which we deny ourselves a non-sinful pleasure or make up a new rule in order to please Him. It’s as though the Roman Catholics give themselves spankings, while we Protestants make ourselves go to bed without dinner. We don’t have to go without anything to please God. That’s not to say that we can’t replace a pleasure in our lives with an activity that serves Him. For example, we can spend less time watching sports and more time helping those in need. But for us to give up watching sports, just for the sake of giving it up, is of no value to God.
It’s sad to see people who have a great love for God try to please Him by creating more restrictions for themselves, and thus, place heavier shackles on their souls. They simply have the unbiblical idea that the more rules they follow, the happier God is. They fail to realize that they can do nothing to further please Him, because Christ did it all for them on the cross. What’s even worse is when those in ministry promote man-made religious rules, so that their followers are robbed of the freedoms that God intended for them out of His love. In addition to that, non-Christians see us pointlessly denying ourselves good things, so they refuse to give Christianity a chance, because they want to avoid such self-imposed suffering.
Wearing the Christian Uniform
Imagine an army that neither defends nor helps anyone, an army in which each soldier does nothing but recruit other members; and once they succeed in bringing in a recruit, they dress him in an army uniform and make him a full-time recruiter, too. I can’t help but liken some forms of Evangelical Christianity (which focuses primarily on recruiting new Christians) to an army consisting only of recruiters. I fully support bringing people into the flock. I am not opposed to evangelism. It’s the uniform that new recruits are told to wear that concerns me.
Many Evangelicals believe that once a person becomes a Christian, they have to look like a Christian—they have to wear the Christian uniform; and since the new recruit is born again, that is, starting a new life in Christ, his or her new life must result in a new lifestyle. While repenting of sins and having a changed heart are biblical requirements for a new believer, many new believers are forced to go beyond that and follow new rules and routines not required by the Bible. It’s as though their entire daily existence must change as evidence of their new life in Christ—they must look different than the rest of the world.
As I have opposed man-made Christian rules over the years by demonstrating that they are unbiblical, numerous conservative Protestants have opposed my view by arguing, “Christians are supposed to be set apart. If we don’t follow these rules, we will look just like the rest of the world.” Their argument, however, couldn’t be more incorrect. Plenty of biblical rules will set us apart from everyone else if we obey them. These rules are not pointless restrictions, like the man-made rules. Rather, they are intended by God to ensure that we love Him and love our fellow human beings. When we follow pointless man-made religious rules, that’s when we look like the rest of the world’s religions who do the same.
The belief that we need to wear the Christian uniform is not only a common modern-day misconception among God’s people, it was a common misconception during Jesus’ time, too. In Matthew 23:27-28, Jesus exposed the Pharisees by saying, “You are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so, you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly, you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” While this verse does not detail exactly what it was the Pharisees were doing, it’s clear that they were following man-made rules and practices that made them appear righteous to others. Meanwhile, they failed live the life God required. Like some of today’s Christians, they might have argued, “If we don’t follow these (man-made) rules, we will look just like the rest of the world.” But God wasn’t concerned about whether or not they looked righteous to outsiders. He was concerned about whether or not they actually were righteous on the inside.
When we let the Freedom Defeaters control our lives and the lives of others, we create a barrier between God and His children. Like many Christians, I used to think to myself, “The only reason I’m a Christian is so I don’t go to hell. If it weren’t for that, I wouldn’t adhere to all of these unbearable rules.” In those days, I loved God because I was afraid of what would happen if I didn’t. And that’s not true love.
Today, now that I know how God puts our needs ahead of His, I love God because I love what He’s all about. I’m a Christian because I think Christianity is the most beautiful religion in the world. I don’t live a biblical lifestyle out of a selfish fear of where I’ll spend eternity; I live it out of a desire for a loving relationship with God and others, and to make life better for everyone involved.