Following Jesus is ALL about Freedom

Since my last blog post, several of you have asked me to expand on what the difference between being a “Christian” and “following Jesus”? Like I said, some may see this as semantics but there are several crucial differences.

First and foremost, it starts with correctly understanding the implications of the atonement. Mainstream evangelical theology of the atonement is decently sufficient; more so the penal substitution theory–but the reality is, God has only revealed a limited amount of information on how everything worked out. No matter what view you lean towards, it is still a theory.

Nevertheless, the idea of freedom emerges once you go deeper into the atonement. The Apostle Paul was an unashamed proponent of the new found freedom that a believer has through Jesus. Paul references this idea of freedom over a dozen times in his letters to the new believers–this new freedom was a BIG DEAL!

While growing up in the Christian faith, I was taught that this “freedom” was “spiritual freedom” from sin or a “freedom” that came with certain rules and restrictions. However, this by its own definition is a contradiction.

Freedom is not truly freedom unless it is independent of all conditions

Example: In light of Independence Day here in the States, we celebrate independence and freedom from England. Now, if after the Revolutionary War in 1776 we agreed to become a free nation but yet England wanted to impose and enforce a couple of their rules and regulations on us still, I would be the first to object in saying that that is not true freedom.

America as a nation is NOT in fact a free nation either. There are still laws and restrictions. Such as immigration, taxes, legal procedures, and a bunch of things you can and cannot do. Don’t let your mind become warped…America is not a free country.

True freedom is completely separate and independent from ALL rules and regulations. Somehow in the Christian religion they have been able to sell this idea of “freedom” with it not being complete freedom. I would argue that if it is not “complete freedom” it ceases to be freedom at all.

Jesus comes to bring complete freedom (spiritual, emotional and physical) to those who follow him. A true follower of Jesus does not need any laws, rules, conditions, or guilt in order to “keep them in line” or “on the right path”. Many Christians are under the illusion that they are living in freedom but all they have done is allowed people to control them, tell them what to do, dictate their emotions and appearance…while telling them they are free. Boggles my mind.

 A follower of Jesus has been filled with the Holy Spirit which is sufficient for EVERYTHING the person will need in this life.

This differs drastically from the mainstream Christian stance, where they believe that you need these extra things to keep the person on the right path. Such as the Bible, or man made conditions; don’t drink alcohol, don’t get a tattoo, don’t get divorced, don’t smoke, don’t dress or act a certain way, don’t listen to that type of music, don’t go to that club or bar, don’t hang out with those people, don’t cuss, blah blah blah…in order to live a righteous life.

All those can be good things, don’t get me wrong; but they will never substitute the all encompassing sufficiency of the Holy Spirit. Take away the Bible, take away all the rules, regulations, cultural expectation, all the “do’s and don’ts” and take away all the conditions and just give me the Holy Spirit; that will be more than enough to help me living a life that is pleasing to God.

Trust the Holy Spirit. 

A true believer does not need the Bible to tell them to be patient or to love or that they should tell others about the true freedom that is found in Jesus, because the Holy Spirit has already been or will empress these things upon them. The Holy Spirit will lead, guide, teach, empower, strengthen, comfort, encourage and mature a person much better than anything man has set up in Christianity. When following Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes first; before anything else.

In Regards to Freedom: Following Jesus is much more than freedom from sin; but it’s a freedom to love unconditionally. Unfortunately not many believers are able to grasp this.  What this truly means is that the believer has been freed from the bonds of hate, rage, anger, stress, worry.  In the lives of one who truly claims to follow Christ, love must govern their actions and thoughts, Love must prevail over all.  You can choose to do whatever with your freedom as…. there is no condemnation for those who are in Jesus Christ. (Extreme example: But if I were to murder someone I know Christ will forgive me and He will love me no less). However, the Holy Spirit calls us to love.

True freedom is only found in true love, therefore with your freedom, choose to love. 

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Why I am no longer a Christian.

I have been on a journey over the past several years.  This journey has been instrumental in shaping my theology and understanding of life.  As some of you know, I have endured many different struggles and hurts. I have been broken, betrayed, threatened and abandoned. I’ve had people lie to my face. I’ve been judged by the things that have happened in my life and the choices I’ve made–all by people who hide behind church walls and misinterpret scripture. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but I am no longer a Christian.

Before you jump down my throat, let me explain…

What is a Christian? According to the dictionary it’s:

A follower of Christianity or the religion of Christianity”

What is Christianity?

            Christianity: “A religion based on the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth”

I have to stop here; my problem is not with the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, but his teachings were not meant to be a religion.

Religion: “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.”

As someone who has been raised in the Christian Church and has even pastored for almost a decade in the Christian Church, I have to admit, Christianity is not what it’s all cracked up to be. 

Christianity has morphed into this “luke-warm, sour tasting, rancid milk” that has been left open in a hot house for a month. Trust me, you wouldn’t want to drink it, yet alone get close to it; the smell alone will make you gag. It’s not only gag-worthy but it’s aided in breeding maggots and poisonous bacteria.

People have added their own personal preferences to the Bible in order to control others.

Poorly educated people have been allowed to become influential Christian authors, who write books and get on TV to say things that the Bible really doesn’t say. All you have to do is go to the “Christian book-store” (not sure how a book-store can be Christian) and you’ll see Joel Olsteen, Joyce Meyer, Max Lucado and every author that has written a “Christian dating” book, claiming the Bible “says this”, “promises that” or “tells us to do this”…They are in it for the money. Sadly, the average Church attender won’t be able to tell the difference since they haven’t learned how to read the Bible appropriately either. (Don’t even get me started on “The Circle Maker”…talk about one of the worst ones yet.)

Christianity has been allowed to breed condemnation for people who wrestle with different struggles. Self-righteousness runs rampant. Judgment rains down upon those who choose to look, live and sin differently. It saddens me to say this, but the most racist people I have been around in my life have called themselves Christians. That’s saying something because I have been around several rough crowds of people but they held to the value of all people no matter what color of their skin of country they came from. The people who have lied to me the most and stabbed me in the back most often, have called themselves Christians. I thought there was suppose to be a difference between “Christians” and “non-Christians”? There really isn’t.  And God forbid someone chooses to follow another religion.

“Claiming to have ‘the truth’, is truth held in vain if your truth allows prejudice, racism and inhumane treatment of those who disagree with you”

For example, Christians have completely forgotten Genesis 17:20. I bring this up to prove this point: we like to pick and choose what we like from the Bible, and then we let those things, that we like, influence the formation of our religion—while having a total disregard for the important things in the Bible, that “we don’t like”.

Genesis 17:20 says “And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation.”

Yes, God blessed Ishmael and yes that Ishmael. Abraham had two sons. God, being a God who made a covenant with Abraham, kept his covenant to bless, multiply and make Abraham’s decedents a blessing to others (Gen 12:1-3). God promised to bless, multiply and make Ishmael into a great nation, just like Isaac. The only difference is found in the promise of Jesus’ coming through Isaac’s lineage.

Do I know exactly what that means? No, but what I do know is that a Christian’s understanding of Ishmael, is wrong due to the fact that they’ve ignored several important passages that could help them better understand how God has promised to protect Ishmael and his descendants (which are more commonly known as Muslims). Again, this is only one example.

Christianity is not a group of people who follow the teachings of Jesus. Christianity is a blend of Judaism, paganism, archaic eastern Arabic customs and culture that has been mixed in with fear, consumerism, rituals and morality.

Most practicing Christians wouldn’t be able to tell you when culture ends and their religion starts. Christianity does not mean adapting to “white north American” culture, yet how many times have we seen “what is acceptable in Christianity” being defined by “white culture”? Or subconsciously expected someone, who decides to become a Christian, to give up their culture and adopt “white culture”. Christianity, by all intentions has become white—and ethnocentric.

For example, let’s look at the concept of sin. In order for something to be “a sin”, it has to be independent of, and un-reliant on culture. Culture cannot define sin, for if it does, it no longer becomes sin but a cultural “faux pas” or “taboo”. For what constitutes as sin, cannot change. If sin is able to change, then that means that God changes the rules on his requirement for righteousness, but God does not change. For example, in Deuteronomy there is a clear command “Do not wear clothes of wool and linen mixed together”. Yet how many articles of clothes do we all own that are made of mixed materials? Or in Leviticus 19:26, the Israelites were told not to eat meat with blood still in it. To be honest I do like myself a nice rare stake every once in a while.

(By the way this verse is two verses away from where people get the “it’s a sin to get a tattoo” and its only 6 verses away from “When a foreigner comes to you in your land, do not mistreat them.” Perfect example on how we like to pick and choose).

I digress, so are those sins or not? My understanding was that these laws were given to God’s people in a specific context thousands of years ago. They weren’t given specifically to me. Does sin change then? Actually, no. Sin is not so much a “do this” and “don’t do that”. God has given an overarching command, which is to love and obey Him. Therefore, whatever He asks of you, or me, we must in love, obey–and it’s different for everyone.  Not loving and obeying God, is truly the definition of sin. The Bible contains examples of previous instructions that were given to people–not necessarily prescriptive for us to follow exactly today.

We have to understand sin in the context of God. The one character that governs all of God’s actions is love; and to that, it’s the highest form of love. God IS Agape. Therefore, a more appropriate understanding of sin is this:

Sin is any action that is done that lacks the perfect amount of  full agape love. In the end, it doesn’t matter how good of an act we do if it’s lacking love or obedience to God.

God expects love to emanate from all aspects and actions. Murder, hatred, selfishness etc…those are not loving.

The problem now, is that we have allowed our understanding of sin to be developed by culture and morality rather than God. This has led to self-righteousness (because the emphasis has been put on “don’t do this, don’t do that”. So a person who stares at the wall their whole life becomes “righteous” because they have never done anything wrong, or so they believe).

When considering sin, we should be asking instead,

“Does what I am about to do, say or think, demonstrate the Love that God has called me to emanate?”

Jesus gave clear instructions on how to follow him. These commands were not tied to any specific culture. There is no legalistic expectations, but unconditional love. Religiosity has no place in his teachings. Fear is replaced with trust in his sovereignty and perfect love. Hate is replaced with Love. Love for all, not just those that are like you, or those who like you. Christianity today, has strayed drastically from what Jesus taught, however His expectations for those who say they follow him remain the same. “Love as I have loved you”. Simple yet very challenging.

“Salvation is not found in the church nor in Christianity. Salvation can only be found in the person of Jesus Christ.”

I am no longer a Christian. I follow Jesus now. I am going to allow his love; Spirit and power, change me from the inside out. I seek to allow his love express itself through my brokenness. I gather with people who are broken and also follow Jesus; where we seek to love and change the world together, through His love. Some may call this semantics but for me this is life altering.