As most of us know, when we ask Jesus to come into our hearts (the salvation experience), we are instantly made new creatures in the eyes of God. In essence, Jesus puts His seal of approval on us, and we are made right and holy before God. Before we come to grips with the sacrifice of Christ, we are nothing more than condemned individuals destined for an eternity apart from God. We have the assurance that when Jesus came into our lives, He made us free from future judgment. To break it down in non-spiritual terms, it’s a makeover of sorts—and yes, it is extreme.
This particular kind of freedom (the freedom from the punishment for our sin) is the beginning of faith. It’s the jumping off point. Without freedom from sin through the blood of Christ there is no faith journey. This is where a relationship with Christ begins. Submitting yourself to what Christ did on the cross is the bravest decision an individual can make. Because without Christ, it’s futile to even try to get out of our cages. But for me, even though I knew Jesus had freed me from my sin, my misunderstanding of freedom in Christ restrained me from truly experiencing Jesus. I think this is true for many people of faith. However, if we truly want to experience Jesus to the fullest and live extraordinarily, we must pursue complete freedom.
After we begin following Jesus, most of us join churches, begin reading faith-based books and devotionals, start pursuing Christian relationships and invest ourselves into the “Christian” way of life. We pick up many “Christian” practices, beliefs and ideals along the way. Our understanding of scripture, evangelism and Jesus is shaped. Over time, we become quite dependent upon our theology, doctrine, good deeds and overall love of all things churchy. Our church life usually begins to influence our politics, the people we hang out with, the way we handle family crisis, our view of sexuality and relationships, the jobs we choose to explore, our opinions about our sin and so much more. Sometimes these influences are built around the truth of the Gospel, but often they are not. Instead, our behavior is influenced by humanity’s opinions and comprehension of truth. These opinions often become the beginning framework for our future cages. In effort to remain free, we read more books, go to different churches and pursue more Christian relationships. This way of life becomes a vicious cycle that eats away at our faith and paralyzes our ability to keep focused on the journey.
Consequently, many Christians end up lost in a great deal of spiritual confusion. Some of us run away from our faith, but most of us stay in hopes of one day coming to an understanding. We become confused about petty issues like whether it’s right or wrong to smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol or kiss, touch—make out— on a first date. We spend precious time debating such issues. Heck, we write books on these topics. Even more frustrating than our indecisiveness about the right and wrong of basic human behavior is the sad fact that our cages inhibit our ability to share our faith. In some instances our ability to be a witness is limited by the rules we’ve been subject to all our lives. Past mistakes like divorce, drug addiction, unmarried sex and the like become foundations for our guilt-ridden futures.
Too often we end up living caged lives for Jesus—and that’s not really living.
A 22-year-old African American woman named Ruthie once told me that she was having a difficult time being sexually intimate with her new husband. I’m not sure why, but this bothered me, so being somewhat blunt; I asked her about it. She told me that as a child her mother had always taught her the importance of purity. “I can still hear momma telling me not to let a man touch me,” said Ruthie. “Well, now it’s stuck with me. It’s very difficult for me to just let go and be free with the man I love and am married to. I feel guilty about trying to be sexy for him.”
I know a little about what Ruthie’s feeling. I grew up in a church that harped on purity as the “end all, be all” truth, but instead of being worried about my motives or my heart condition, I lived among Christian individuals who were constantly watching to see if I was going to screw up. In some instances, they hoped I would. So, instead of learning the proper way to respect a woman, my heart’s goal was to never get caught. Which was a cage I had to be freed from—a cage that has caused me much pain and fear.
Some Christian men have blamed their struggle with homosexuality on the heavy-handed rhetoric of the church. A friend of mine from my college days said he felt his struggle with same-sex attraction began because the church was so adamant about men not being intimate with women. “Don’t touch girls, don’t sit too close, you better look the other way when a woman walks by—I remember it all,” said my friend, on a phone conversation with him last year. “I didn’t want to struggle, but if you take women completely out of a young man’s life and replace it with pre-pubescent boys taking showers together after a ballgame—some Christian guys are going to have problems. At least, I did.” He went on to explain that he feels he would have been able to be free from his cage much sooner had gay issues not been such a taboo topic among family, friends and the church. His cage wasn’t so much the concept of being gay, as it was his inability to discuss his “struggle” openly.
But certainly cages aren’t always constructed out of deep-rooted issues. Some are simply based on false data. But, whether it’s a person’s co-dependency upon another person or substance or an individual’s unhealthy relationship with his/her family or someone’s insecurities with image and sexuality, everyone’s cages are different. Christians often talk about freedom with such passion, yet so many of us have no concept of what it means to be truly free.
Many times we are controlled and manipulated by doctrine. The only remedy for poor doctrine is to hold on for dear life to truth. We are intoxicated by the passions, disasters and influence of culture instead of standing firm on the Gospel’s principle, integrity and peace. We are overcome with the power to judge and be separate instead of humbly ignoring what exists to our right and left and keeping our hearts, minds and actions on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
We settle for living within the restricted quarters of our own personal cages rather than forging ahead in freedom and confidence. Christians must stop building cages around themselves and around others. Freedom must be set free if we want to see, feel and experience the Spirit of a living God move in our lives.[Matthew Paul Turner is the author of The Christian Culture Survival Guide and The Coffeehouse Gospel. You can e-mail Matthew at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
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