Freedom I can believe in – part 3 (1/3)

Choices!

We need to make choices every day. Social science estimates that every adult makes about 35,000 remotely conscious choices per day. Perhaps the number is a bit extreme, who knows? Yet, we all know that every day we are bombarded with choices that we need to make. It’s probably safe to say that many of those choices happen (semi)automatically, meaning that we have a predisposition to choose certain things, whether it is our daily routine, food preferences, the way we use our free time for leisure activities and more. I mean, just think about it. You go to the supermarket just to buy bread and how many options do you have. It’s perhaps dangerous to send the husband to do a little grocery shopping, because he might buy the wrong product…I am just kidding…But you get the picture. There is so much to choose. When you are young, you really think the world is at your feet. But then you grow older and you have to make choices. Which school to choose. Which life partner. Which job or career. Where to live. And for the Christian that wants to please God, there is even an ‘extra layer’ that can potentially cause distress. It’s called to live ‘in the will of God’. What is it? What not? We don’t want to miss out on God’s plan for our lives, right?

I guess life is a bit complex. Occasionally, life throws a situation at us that is ‘new’ and all of a sudden, we need to make a choice and we’re not sure what to do or how to continue. In the midst of this avalanche of choices, we experience life and we live by our choices. Some choices play out well and bring great satisfaction, whereas other choices may have led to pain and frustration.

Of all choices in the world, there is a very big one for Christians. And that choice needs to be consciously made every single day. It cannot be left by chance. Paul writes about it in Romans chapter 8 verse 1 when he says this:

“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who DO NOT WALK according to the flesh (sin nature), but according to the Spirit.”

Why is there no condemnation for those who believe? Because Jesus Christ has actually delivered them! Deliver is a very powerful word. The original word in Greek is SOZO and it means several things such as to save, heal, make whole, preserve, deliver and keep safe and sound.

Jesus saved us! That’s why there is no more condemnation. And on top of that He has given us His Spirit to now live out a radical different life. It’s the life through the Spirit and it is here contrasted with the life in the flesh. We have the choice every day of our lives to NOT live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

That’s why it is so important first of all to understand that we are really set free. Our salvation is not just about eternal security, although Heaven obviously will be one day our home. Salvation, SOZO, means much more than that.

I sometimes wonder why salvation has been reduced often to praying a prayer or just hoping for the best till we are in Heaven while we still need to endure life and yet live it with the same fears, frustrations, disappointments and hurts. If it is true that the biblical understanding of SOZO also involves this life, I am wondering why so many people can only see their eternal security and the fact that they are not going to hell but rather to Heaven as the main goal of Christianity. Even ‘unbelievers’ if I may call them this way, believe that their beloved ones are ‘in a better place’ or ‘Rest in Peace’, whatever that means to them. I guess it is really true that God has put eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11) meaning that people in general, religious or not, have some sort of concept that this life ‘ain’t it’ whatever that may be. Perhaps it’s reincarnation or karma. Maybe it is heaven after all. And still, if people want to live for all eternity, don’t you wonder why? Why to live in all eternity with a God that most of them don’t even know? I remember that I had those questions. Why does God even love me? All I used to see in me was that I was all but loving Him. But hey, if He wanted me, so be it.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Of course, Heaven is our future home and full salvation, including the bodily resurrection of our body (glorification), is awaiting all true believers. Never ever doubt that. That’s why Paul in Romans 8 can speak with confidence about the whole process from justification (being made right with God) till glorification (actually being forever with God and fully saved, restored, delivered etc.).

Verses 28-30 couldn’t say that more clearly:

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who LOVE God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined TO BE CONFORMED TO THE IMAGE OF HIS SON, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified, and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”

Isn’t that awesome? God really has got our backs and will see us through from the beginning till the end!

But please make this very important observation here! What is the purpose of this whole process? Just getting to Heaven one day (glorification)? Partly true. But it isn’t the full picture…

He predestined us to be conformed to the IMAGE OF HIS SON.

That was God’s plan all along! Restoration of the image of God in you and me. That was the original plan anyway when God created people. They reflected God’s image. What is that image? Simply put, the image is relational. It is grounded first of all in God’s nature and God’s image is reflected in all humanity. The image of God in us obviously has been stained, distorted and damaged by sin. This happened when Adam and Eve succumbed to sin and died in their spirit. What died? Their intimate relationship with God! Sin-consciousness, self-consciousness, self-preservation, self-centredness and blame-shifting were introduced and all of these severely damaged the Image. Jesus came to restore that. The Image of God is rooted and grounded in love, because God IS love. The image is rather what IS, not what one can do or possess. It’s totally relational. Jesus came to restore the way back to the Father. To reconnect sinful human beings back to the Father means to restore that relational image.

Now we know that Jesus did that by dealing with the distortion of that image. “Self” took the place of God and ever since people were ruled by ‘the flesh’. The flesh basically summarizes our self-centred, self-focused, self-conscious tendency, which is characterized by need. Adam and Eve became in need of love and life because they lost the Image they were originally created in.

The remedy for self-centredness is selflessness. The cure for sin-consciousness is son-consciousness. The healing for self-preservation is self-denial. Newsflash! Jesus did that all of that!

Jesus had never, ever committed one single sin in His life living on earth as a man. This way He really met God’s standard of holy living as expressed in His Holy Law. Because He was righteous, sin did not have any dominion over Him. Yet, Jesus died nonetheless on the cross. Why? He did that so that all our sins would be put on Him and, in the process, God cursed sin in the flesh. He didn’t curse His Son, He cursed SIN in the flesh (Romans 8:3). That’s a big difference.

If God is really into restoration of the image of God in us, which He is, what is the outcome of that all?

It’s the original relationship with Him as it was in the Garden before sin! God takes us back into the place where we are really set free from sin. That’s what we talked about in Romans 5, 6 and 7 and it culminates in Romans 8 with a New Life.

How does that New Life look like? That is what Paul is talking about in Romans 8. For the careful reader of Romans, it becomes immediately clear that the New Life is a supernatural life in the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit is God in us that enables us to live the New Life made possible by the finished work of Jesus Christ. It shouldn’t surprise us that God’s enemy will do everything possible to confuse, blind and distort as much as possible about the Holy Spirit, because he knows that when people understand that revelation – that they are truly free to now live a new life in the power of the Holy Spirit – his kingdom of darkness is in great trouble. That’s not an understatement at all.

So how does the New Life in the power of the Holy Spirit even look like? I’d like to explore four characteristics in the next blogs that will give us more understanding about that new life.