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Godís Freeing Love

by Greg Howell

The street was filled with revelers, loud shouts, and blaring trumpets as the world clock ticked down toward the new year of 2014. From all corners of the boulevard people were jostling and moving forward. Just being there, in the crowd and walking on the street where usually only cars could go, was exciting, and the anticipation of a new year pulled us along with everyone else.

I looked around for my wife in the crowd. Even though we had been pulled apart, we could still see each other, and the mild fear that grips you in such a large throng of people was calmed once again as she reached for my hand. Suddenly a loud pop blasted off right next to us, and in an instant we were showered with confetti and paper streamers that someone had shot from a small cannon. To put it mildly, New Year’s in a large city can be one string of surprises after another.

And then I saw the police standing in a cordon around a large group. They were standing guard, it seemed, keeping the surrounding crowds from molesting a smaller group behind them, a group who looked angry and were waving placards. And using a megaphone.

The crowd within a crowd was standing behind metal fences, and the police officers were stationed every 10 feet or so along the perimeter. The crowd formed a little island in a sea of people, and their placards acted like great street signs attempting to point the crowd in a different direction. But as I looked up at the signs, suddenly my heart dropped. The people holding these signs weren’t political protesters or activists. They were fellow Christians, practicing their right to “free speech” in the middle of the revelers on New Year’s Eve.

“Warning: God Hates Idolaters, Liars, Catholics, Anabaptists, Liberals, Satanists, Cowards, False Teachers, Hindus, and Buddhists. HELL AWAITS YOU!”

“Repent or Perish!”

“America, you need to BLESS GOD! Stop Abortion; Halt Islam!”

The Christians themselves were decked out in large sweatshirts with even more slogans and Bible verses plastered on them, and one fellow with a huge beard was wearing military gear, camouflage, and a flak jacket.

The intended effect, I’m sure, was to get the crowd’s attention and to make them change their lives and accept Jesus as their Savior. But I didn’t get the impression that anyone who was reading the signs or listening to the guy with the megaphone had a very positive impression of the group. In fact, most of them were just pointing, laughing, and going on their merry New Year’s way.
These Christians were sincere. They wouldn’t have stood in the middle of the street, late at night in the cold, if they didn’t believe what they were preaching. But is this what Jesus called us as Christians to do when He set us “free” from the power of sin? Paul had something interesting to say about how we need practice this “freedom in Christ” in his letter to the Christians in Rome. “You, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself?” “You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: ‘God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you’ ”
(Romans 2:21, 23, 24, NIV).1

Were these Christians in danger of creating the exact scenario that Paul described? Was God’s name being mocked and laughed at among the crowds of “gentiles” because of these believers own un-Christlike actions? As I stood there watching them, I definitely think it was.

In our last article we saw that the freedom we have in Jesus binds us to Him in a unique and special way through the “law of love” (the Ten Commandments). This law of love frees us from sin’s penalties and a broken life, but it compels us to see the world and others as God sees them, as recipients of God’s love. In the middle of everything that was going on, the Christians had taken a stand to call out the sins of those around them, but when “freedom in Christ” simply becomes an excuse to judge and criticize others, it loses its power to draw others to that same Jesus. Later on in his Roman letter Paul says this about these types of Christians. “For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. . . . Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Romans 10:2-4, NIV).

The end, or the culmination, of the law is Jesus, plain and simple. If our “freedom” as Christians leads us to act in ways different than Jesus acted while He was here on earth, then we are creating our own version of “righteousness,” which isn’t what we are supposed to do. We’re supposed to take all our plans, our actions, and our living to Jesus and compare it to Him. Would Jesus stand in the street in military gear telling other people that God hates them? I doubt it.
Even when the sin was apparent to all, Jesus looked for a way to help the sinner, not condemn them. He looked at the woman caught in adultery and said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more” (John 8:11, NKJV).2 If we are going to truly live our “freedom in Christ,” then we are going to also be free from the attitude that exalts in judging and condemning the failings of those around us. Just like Jesus before us, we will try our best to seek out and communicate God’s freeing love to everyone, because that’s what someone who has been set free from something is most excited to talk about!

1 Texts credited to NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
2 Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Greg Howell is a pastor in Washington and with his wife has coauthored a teen devotional titled Fusion. He prefers to spend his time snowboarding, behind a camera, or running around like a crazy person chasing his four kids.

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