Freed for Freedom!

by Dr. Ralph Blair

Freed for Freedom! is Ralph Blair’s 2010 keynote at the eastern and western Evangelicals Concerned connECtions at Kirkridge, on the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania, and at the Marriott City Center in Oakland, California.


“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free!” – Paul

A graffiti artist tags trash bins with a tag of trash of his own: “Become Your Dream.” Salon gushes: He’s “the most revered street artist.” And people who know they can’t afford to buy his stuff at Christie’s steep prices still think that they can afford to buy into his pop psych prescription for power.

“Become Your Dream.” He tells folks who deem they’re not their dream, to dream up a dreamy self out of the un-dreamy “self’ they wish to escape. “So: If see myself as third-rate, kind of bland, I, by myself can dream me into something first-rate and really rather grand?” You’re dreamin’, dude.

Now, I’m not dissing random firings along the neural network during sleep or loving intentions and visions for others’ good. I’m critiquing self-centered fantasy.

Besides, haven’t we all changed our minds about a daydream or two? What about that childhood dream to be a fireman or prayers to be “ex-gay”? Have you ever said: “If I knew then what I know now”? But you’re buying into what you “know” now just as you bought into what you “knew” then. Well, they say hindsight’s 20/20. But what do they know? Even 20/20 can’t see around the bend of a road not taken. Hey, 20/20 can’t even see the road. And have you ever heard that old adage: “Be careful what you pray for”?

Well, some wake up and move on. But many merely move to some other daydream they’ll later dream of escaping to yet another daydream they’ll dream of escaping later on. It’s really so much wiser to wish, as in a prayer to the wise and loving Father: “Not my will, but Thy will be done.”

A very common, but shortsighted, wish is for all others to be out on the limb of insight or opinion where we’ve now landed—and, usually as soon as we’ve landed. But, as soon as we think we ‘re free to leap to some other limb, we want all of them to leap to that limb—whether or not they’re free to do so. How reasonable is that? How loving is that? But our wish can be revealing. Maybe we, ourselves, weren’t so free to make that latest leap.

In daydreams and nightmares, we’re looking for escape from something to something. No matter that daydreams are in earnest, they’re escapist. No matter that they’re well intended, they’re ill informed. They’ll blindside the dreamer. And no matter how real nightmares seem, they, too, distort reality.

No daydream comes true. It can’t. It’s made up of dreamed-up, unmixed bag worlds for fleeing the mixed-up world we don’t like, but we’ve got and don’t “get.” Focused on our photo-shopped fakes, we’ll be the first to be faked out. Wishes can’t come to fruition; wishes are washouts. Our wishes, contrived from our fantasies with inadequate consideration for the wishes others contrive from their fantasies, are bound to clash with theirs. Putting into wishes only what we wish to get, and oblivious to or even opposing the wishes of others, is it any wonder our biased bubbles burst?

Still, as in a trance, we dream on, mesmerized by the power promises of dream-weavers, motivational speakers and neo-Gnostics pushing The Secret. Dreaming of being free from all we fear to be free for all we fantasize, our power trip is trapped in our head-trip. So, fixating on an alleged “fact” we but think we are, we can’t make it go away. Fixating on a fantasy we but think we need, we can’t make it go away, either. Stuck in obsessions inside our brain cells, we’ve turned them into prison cells of solitary self-centeredness.

Hallucinating head-trips to fantasylands of a fools’ paradise are sure to be round-trips back to the badlands of self as if we’ve never left. And, of course, we haven’t. We’re still stuck in our own sense of an un-dreamy “me,” holding ourselves hostage to an oh-so-dreamy fantasy “me.”

Our stories of our so-called “selves” drive our not wanting to be ourselves. And our dreams of others drive our desire to be what we think it’s like to be them. So, dreaming up what we think would be empowering scenarios, we go tripping through a fool’s tours de force of one fake freedom after another.

And they all turn into disappointment. But we’re slow learners. When this dream doesn’t do it, we think, “Maybe more of it will do it.” If yet more of it doesn’t do it, we think, “Maybe some other dream will do it.” If more of some other dream doesn’t do it, what do we do then?. Well, some folks—in bitter disappointment and even despair—rationalize their dashed dreams of deliverance by slipping on their sour grapes and tripping into trapdoors of cynicism. And, after all, isn’t cynicism synonymous with Postmodernism’s twin traps of elitist contempt and incoherent indifference to truth?

Well, before moving on to the only True Freedom there is, let’s look at some of the misleading dreams for freedom in the No-place lands tagged “Utopia.”

 

MONEY. Can you dream of the power trip of freedom in being born into a family worth $4 million? The guy who tried to blow up himself and a jet-load of Christmas Day travelers, came from such a family. The Menendez brothers dreamed of inheriting $90 million by murdering their parents. They wound up exhausting the estate’s mere $14 million to stay out of the prison that’s their “Big House” now. But what’s mere millions? Can you dream of being set for life, born in a family worth billions? Osama bin Laden was born to the freedom of such power. He left it all for terror and mass murder. The Leopold and Loeb family fortunes couldn’t save them from Nietzschean delusions of “the perfect crime.” Their sons murdered another boy whose family’s fortune couldn’t save him either. Being heir to Johnson & Johnson billions couldn’t save Casey. She concluded: “I have so much stuff. There’s nothing left to want.” So a pharmaceutical heiress died of diabetic neglect. Even a very big bag of money’s a mixed bag. The more money we get, the more disappointed we get, for dreams of more money promise more than more money affords. Power trips to money trip to mirage. Hey, ever hear of being wanted for only your money? Ever hear of lawsuits aimed only at deep pockets? Ever hear you can’t buy happiness—or character, patience, good sense and true love? Ever hear this: “You can’t take it with you”?

All the gold in the world won’t gratify greed, for greed is gullible. Wall Street schemers, welfare fraudsters, ambulance chasers, drug thugs, political pigs and gold-digging hunks and hooters are just a few of the greedy who don’t “get” it. They never do get what they need, for they keep on grabbing at fool’s gold.

The Bible sheds light on this. “Don’t wear yourself out getting rich.” (Prov 23:4) “Love of money is at the root of all kinds of evil.” (I Tim 6:10) And this evil isn’t only in muggings and embezzlement. It’s in neglect and abuse that, if not read about in the papers, can be read in our own hearts and lives.

FAME. Well, what about power ploys to freedom in fame and acclaim?

Jules Feiffer has written his memoir. Some are asking: “Who?” There’s fleeting fame for you! The New York Times book review says Feiffer “pursued fame with the relentlessness of Lady Gaga.” Now others are asking: “Who?” Not to worry: There’s already talk of “the next Lady Gaga.”

“Famous” is a heading in Feiffer’s book. We’re told he “did not wait for fame to find him. He sought it out … and when it came his way, he grabbed it with both hands.” But, as the reviewer wryly notes, fame made Feiffer but what he, himself, assailed: “a neurotic New Yorker who expected the world to curve to his politics, to his needs and wants.”

Lady Gaga says she’s “just trying to change the world one sequin at a time.” But at even two-at-a-time, sequins probably can’t change the world. She says she wants “to get everyone drunk on her fame.” This lady’s not the only one gagging on that dream. We all Salahi into stupors of our own.

No superstar sees self as the celebrity others see. From their insider point of view, they’re still anybodies who think they don’t measure up. They all fear that some other shoe will soon drop and smash their fame to smithereens.

I try to keep up with “what’s in.” So, I get updates from 365gay. The site sent me this teaser: “Want to know what Jujubee or some other celeb thinks of your relationship?” Not really. Besides, I doubt I’m on the radar of anyone who calls herself, “America’s next drag superstar.” By the way, notice her modifier, “next”? She counts on “next” to count her in. But “next” foretells, in her own turn, the inevitable rank of a has-been.

The editor went on name-dropping: “We here at 365gay have our offices at Logo, across Times Square from our parent company MTV. You know what that means? Celebrities come by. That got me to thinking: What if we asked these celebrities to advise readers on relationship and other issues?” Uh, let’s not and say we did.

Let’s turn to a wiser advisor: the successful Bible translator J. B. Phillips, in his autobiography, The Price of Success: “I was well aware of the dangers of sudden wealth and I took some severe measures to make sure that, although comfortable, I should never be rich. I was not nearly so aware of the dangers of success. The subtle corrosion of character, the unconscious changing of values and the secret monstrous growth of a vastly inflated idea of myself seeped slowly into me.” See, even our unsought fame assaults us.

But still, there’s that stigma of the unGoogleable! Perhaps a People cover would count. Yet, we’d be out when next week’s cover came out. Anyway, who was last week’s cover? Maybe if you won an Oscar or a Nobel Prize? How many winners can you name? What if you made Senator or President? How many can you name? I’m not thinking here of all the has-beens, also-rans and wannabes. But you’re not thinking of all the winners.

No. Just as in money dreams, fame fantasies fail us in more ways than one. There’s always an “in” crowd you can’t crash. Experience of the “in” crowd you do crash won’t match your fantasy of that crowd. And even becoming a public “insider” doesn’t remove the outsider you still feel inside your head.

But unable to view ourselves from any other brain’s point of view, we’re oblivious to how really unpopular is our own version of self. What a relief it should be to realize that nobody else has ever or will ever get even a glimpse of your “you.”

The Bible sheds light on the foolishness of seeking fame: “Pride precedes destruction; a self-centered spirit before a fall.” (Prov 16:18) Why do the power ploys of pride implode? The “proud” are pretenders. So, their posturing distracts them from unanticipated consequences of their charade, but it reinforces rather than distracts them from their unwanted sense of self.

When Jesus heard his disciples bickering about who’d rank ahead of whom, he said that, his followers would serve rather than try to outshine one another. (Lk 22:26) Do we serve others or do we lust for our paparazzi?


SEX. Once upon a time there was a fairy tale called “sexual liberation.’’ Sex got trashed in a celebration of “freedom.’’ The now-outdated mantras were foolishly beside the point even then: “Make love, not war,” “So many men, so little time.” And while homosexuality become better understood and more accepted, overall, the fairy tale didn’t end “happily ever after.” It led to epidemics of STDs, AIDS and abuse, while pushing polemics of porn, prostitution and promiscuity that reinforced an incest taboo that kills sex in ongoing relationship. Birth rates of kids without dads rose from between 3 and 23 percent in the 1950s to between 40 and 72 percent today (depending on race). Consequent poverty and crime rates rose. Sexual permissiveness crashed and burned in disillusionment, social catastrophe and early deaths.

Think you missed out? Think again, for superficial rules of so-called “safer sex” are said to be sufficient for coping with the aftershocks of this sophistry called “sexual liberation.” The baneful blindsiding continues.

Sexual orientation is fixed, just as is sexual attraction to particular people. Some brains read this person as sexy and others read that person as sexy. But we can’t make ourselves sexy in others’ eyes or in our own. We simply can’t escape our own sensed unsexiness, even after countless sex encounters, nose jobs, hair weaves, nips and tummy tucks. No one sees self as sexy because there’s no fascinating otherness in a sense of self. We may stare at others we find sexy, but they stare into their mirrors because they don’t find themselves sexy and they upset themselves over that. Just as we do when looking into our mirrors, they find lots not to like in their mirrors. So, don’t predict another’s sexual imprinting by spinning it out of your own. Don’t be crushed if you don’t have a crush on yourself. But, if you ever do become your own dreamboat, know you’re in a much bigger mess than you realize.

The Bible sheds light on sexuality. Human sexuality was created for the most intimate human companionship. And even under ancient expectations of gender inequity, polygamy could be calamitous. Recall Abraham, Sarah and Hagar. How, then, can our day’s expectations for partner parity withstand so-called “sophisticated” assaults from porn, promiscuity and polyamory?

Well, warning labels on dreams of freedom in money, fame and sex aren’t uncommon. But other dreams of freedom carry few, if any, warnings.
 

CAREER. Careers can be freeing. But those reared on “I’m-so-special” propaganda can have an overdeveloped sense of entitlement and an underdeveloped work ethic. Work is then endured as but a means to big bucks and lots of leisure. Such hope for everything winds up with nothing. It brings disgruntlement and depression—not to mention pink slips.

History-challenged folk are unprepared for work as drudge. Yet even for the more realistic, work doesn’t work without enough challenge or with too much challenge. What works at work is the right balance. That balance of challenge creates flow, a sense of freedom of full engagement, even fun.

But fulfilling work can monopolize life. Family and other responsibilities can then get pushed aside. Tim Keller, founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, was asked recently: After 20 years at Redeemer, “What do you see as your biggest failure?” He replied: “The one I got away with was overworking for about 10 years.” Keller adds that, but for God’s grace, he might well have lost the love of his family.

So the freedom that work offers us, even for service, can morph into a force against freedom. We can mimic in our own minds the lying signage at the gates of Nazi death camps: “Arbeit Macht Frei—“Work Makes You Free!” That lie lured victims to their deaths. And so can we.

The Bible sheds light on work. Ecclesiastes (9:10) advises our giving all-out effort to whatever we do. Solomon says it’s the only alternative to the utter inactivity of the dead. Paul improves on Solomon, telling Colossians to do whatever they do wholeheartedly, as though serving the Lord instead of a mere boss. (3:23-24) And the freedom of this most privileged calling can, indeed, get us up and on our way every day.

CIVIL LIBERTIES. Besides service, there’s the noble vision of liberty and justice for all. But liberty and justice for all are always under attack in this world. Today it’s from Marxist dictators, Islamist terrorists, anarchists, a divisive culture of resentment in religionists Left and Right, and even from nanny posses of political correctness and selectively privileged diversity.

Ideals of liberty and justice for all get lost in our fixations of serving only ourselves, refusing to stretch out to captives who don’t look, sound, behave, believe or think as we do. We split off into “me” over “you,” “us” against “them”: cool, geek, black, white, Latina/Latino, Democrat, Republican, Left, Right, LGBTQQXYZ or even into a Church of the Holy Ghost Fire- Baptized and Water-Dipped over against a Church of the Holy Ghost Fire-Baptized and Water-Dripped. Do we ever go out of our way even to try to understand, let alone to defend, rights of those who don’t see things as we do? Or do we go on, selfishly bearing false witness in nit-picking picketing for our vested interest over the needs of all concerned?

When EC shows kindness (including financial support) to Christian groups that aren’t yet on the gay page we’ve reached—groups that LGBT activists target in power ploys of revenge—some recipients respond with gratitude and request to hear our story. But it’s no deal-breaker if they sincerely don’t buy the same gay page we’re on. I say this after my trying—since my Inter-Varsity days in 1962—to help folks better understand the issues of homosexuality.

Now even if others think that our gay page disconnects us from Christ, that doesn’t mean it does. Our gay page is irrelevant to what connects us to Christ and to the most racially, ethnically, culturally, socially, politically, economically, educationally, theologically and sexually diverse family ever assembled on Earth—the Body of Christ. The one necessary connection among those who are in Christ is Christ, our one and only Savior from sin and death and our one and only sovereign Lord. The Gospel gets perverted when Christians who happen to be gay or who happen to be straight, force others to violate conscience rather than obey our calling to love all kindred in Christ as we are in Christ.

The Bible sheds light here. David saw that only fools say “No” to the God of whom Paul said: “All are aware of God, for he made it so.” (Ps 14:1; Rom 1:19) Even a Deist like Thomas Jefferson wrote that this is “self-evident.”

Augustine prayed: “You made us for Yourself, and we’re restless until we rest in You.” C. S. Lewis knew of a deep, God-given longing that belonging to this world can never satisfy. Chesterton and Muggeridge yearned to feel at home here, but they knew they couldn’t—having been made for another world. From Abraham and Bunyan through King and beyond, we pilgrims look for a city with foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God. (Heb 11:10) Trusting in God, we’re pressing on to the Promised Land, New Jerusalem, New Heavens and New Earth. (Rev 21) No “best life now”!

Yet we so easily bow to this world’s idols, ideologies, celebrities and even to dictators who bend our longing to their own ends: Lenin, “The Chosen One,” Stalin, “O, thou mighty one, who calls man to life,” Hitler, “The One” born to save civilization and, then there was Mao, the “god” of The Little Red Book. In the end, these atheistic monster gods had massacred millions upon millions of folk created in the very image of the true God.

Along with awareness of God, we’re morally aware. This is expressed in the many versions of a rule of reciprocity or “Golden Rule”: Treat others as you want to be treated; don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you. And recent Yale University studies of infants find “evidence … that humans do have a rudimentary moral sense from the very start of life.” (Paul Bloom)

In the 1st century A.D., in the one whose coming signaled that turning of all centuries, divisiveness as old as Eden began to be broken down and replaced with an understanding of love unknown before.

When Jesus was handed a scroll in his hometown synagogue, he unrolled it to Isaiah 61 and read it aloud: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, … he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, freedom to the oppressed.” Jesus explained: “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” The people liked that. But then he identified himself with their rejected prophets and reminded the congregation of what they wished to forget: that Elijah and Elisha were sent to bypass Israel in order to help the outsiders, the “dogs”: a widow of Sidon and a Syrian leper. At this, the congregation was outraged. They drove him out of the synagogue and tried to push him over a cliff to his death. (Lk 4) But he walked away. Political and priestly powers finally did kill him. Actually, he himself, laid down his life for them all.

After his resurrection, things changed in radical ways. Paul wrote: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28) Prideful discrimination long based in ethnic, class, gender and other constructions for escaping a sensed inferiority, began to crumble. This shocking shift included even the pair bond of “male and female”—a phrase Paul lifts from the text on Adam and Eve in Genesis 1:27, altering his “neither/nor” constructions. (cf., F. F. Bruce)

* * *

On this transition from defensive delusions of freedom to the great truth of God’s costly gift of freedom in Christ, there are no sharper words than Paul’s challenging of gentile Christians’ buying into ethnocentric promises of more power in a bloodied foreskin than in the blood of the flesh of God.

The false teachers were schmucks—Yiddish for foreskins, the focus of all the fuss. Claiming to be tradition’s defenders, with Bible verses for back up, they insisted: To be Christian, gentiles must become Jews and get rid of their foreskins. Their descendants insist: To be Christian, gays need to go straight and get rid of their gayness. Today, the focus is on the private parts of pansies and Peppermint Patties. But it’s the same old denial of sin’s deadliness and the same old dream of superficial salvation on our own.

So, we turn now to Paul’s warnings against buying into the foolish dreams of freedom in his day to arm us against foolish dreams of freedom in our day.

In his letter to Galatians, Paul puts it plainly: It’s for freedom that Christ has set us free! (5:1) A Pauline scholar says this is “almost unique within Paul’s letters in its passionate forcefulness, in its polarization of choices, and in its dismissal of those opposing him.” (James D. G. Dunn) No wonder! Paul’s Gospel is at odds with every paltry legalism that so quickly sends us down into deadly self-righteousness.

So, Paul says: Stand fast. Don’t let them enslave you all over again.

Then, he all but shouts his objection, interrupting himself to assert: Hey, look! I, Paul, tell you this: If you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be totally worthless to you! How more forcefully could he have put it?

In these circles, gentile genitalia were hot potatoes. How poorly legalists get God’s grace! In similar circles today, the hot potatoes are genitalia of gay men and lesbians. How poorly legalists get God’s grace and committed same-sex love. In Paul’s day, their focus was on penis tips. In our day, their focus is on two penises or two vaginas in but one bed. Strange how the Good News that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, gets lost in obsessions over sex organs. Instead of gratitude for God’s generous grace to all, there’s a graceless gabfest over the genitalia of a few.

Jews said that, for Christians, no run-of-the-mill penis would do. Each must have a penis redo. Yet gentiles, as did Jews, saw their own as all they’d ever known. Heterosexuals say that a Christian couple must be one penis and one vagina and that no Christian couple may be two penises or two vaginas. Yet the same-sex couple, no less than the straights, knows love to be love. Of course, neither gentiles nor gays put themselves into these binds. That “ministry” is left to self-centered religious busybodies.

Paul counters all this nonsense in no uncertain terms. He sees that the demand that gentile Christians put an end to the end of a penis so that they might complete the End for which Christ’s finished work on the cross was accomplished, amounts to claiming that Christ need not have bothered to die such a tragic, but ineffectual, death. Paul’s point applied to us is this: If life in Christ demands our bringing to an end that sexual bit in the brain we were born and reared with, so that we might complete the End for which Christ’s finished work on the cross was accomplished, we, too, are claiming that Christ need not have bothered to die such a tragic, but ineffectual, death.

Perhaps the Resurrection should have been postponed until circumcisions had been endured and sexless lives muddled through. That way, the Easter declaration that the debt of sin had been paid could have been based in something so very much more powerful than the blood of the Son of God.

Well, there’d be ethical implications of circumcision: Everyone who lets himself be circumcised is obligated to obey the entire law. They’d lose more than their bloody foreskins; they’d lose their blood-bought freedom in Christ. They’d be trapped in the grinding routines of rituals and regulations—the breaking of any one of which would break them all. Instead of liberty, there’d be endless liability. As a Pauline scholar explains it: “What was being demanded of them was not simply a matter of a single act of circumcision, but a whole way of life, a complete assimilation and absorption of any distinctively Gentile identity.” (James D. G. Dunn)

Today, what’s demanded isn’t about a mere sex act, but a total denial of the only sexual intimacy a person can know: committed companionship with a spouse of appropriate gender. In those days, they demanded that gentiles have genitals clipped. Today they demand that gay people have sexual intimacy cancelled. It was simple, though painful, to have a penis clipped. But you’d get over it. Is it simple to cancel intimacy with a cherished life companion? Do you get over that so easily?

Paul argues that, to attempt compliance with law is to attract the curse of law. You who’re trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ. You have fallen away from grace.

Paul’s so distressed over legalists’ damnable demands that he indulges in some hyperbolic polemic. And it’s on point. He says: Even considering circumcision, they’re estranged from Christ. They’re playing with fire.

Moreover, in law, Paul can top them all: “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.” But, he’d crossed out all such credentials in view of Christ’s cross: “Whatever was to my profit in all these things, I now consider loss for the sake of Christ … not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ.” (Phil 3:7,9)

Paul “wholly relativize[s] the traditional circumcision/noncircumcision distinction between Jews and Gentiles.” (Dunn) In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value whatsoever.

Hey, hold on a minute: Hadn’t God told Abraham, “father of many nations(goyim), that circumcision was to be a non-negotiable, everlasting sign of God’s covenant, even for gentiles connected to Abraham, though not of his own offspring? (Gen 17) Yes!

But, no. Paul is adamant: The only thing of value is faith energized through love. “The only thing?” This sounded as watered down then as such can sound today. But a few purported proof-texts preachers pick at to pick at us can’t hold a candle to the bright light of God’s call to faith and love—through God’s prophets, in Jesus, himself, and through his apostles.

You were running so well. Who cut in on you (to cut on you)? Paul’s non-kosher image and double entendre are deliberate: Track was trayf since races were run in the nude by goyim with their uncut genitals flying for all to see.

Says Paul: Their preaching does not come from the One who calls you.

He repeats his judgment that pushing circumcision is no minor matter. The issue is huge, for but a bit of yeast works its way into everything.

Paul began this letter by calling legalism an alien gospel that’s no good news at all. (Gal 1:6-7) So, he tells these Christians, whoever is throwing you into such confusion will pay the penalty of divine judgment.

He sarcastically suggests that the circumcisers castrate themselves. If a snip’s worth so much, go for the whole shebang! Geld your lilies! Crude, but it fits. Cutting the gentiles out unless they get cut up, rapes their freedom in Christ. Paul may be thinking of the castration rites that qualified devotees of Cybele but disqualified Jews (Deut 23:1). Just so, any cultic circumcision of gentile Christians disqualified their faith. Ironically antigay moralists mimic Paul’s mocking when they, in straight-face, preach at us. But why don’t they go all the way and cut themselves out of any and all marital bliss!?

Paul says: You were called to be free. Freedom’s not a perk of life in Christ; freedom’s the purpose of life in Christ. “The liberating work of Christ becomes the condition on which all else depends.” (Charles Cousar)

Paul warns of both legalism and libertinism, for both pervert Christian freedom: Don’t misuse your freedom to go in the ways of this world.

Paul’s term for this world’s ways is sarx—the Greek word for “flesh.” Unfortunately, when we hear “flesh,” we hear only “sex.” But Paul means buying into all of this world’s opposition to God’s priorities. And he gives some examples of this world’s ways: envy, debauchery, discord, rage, sex abuse and sins of supposed “spirituality.” He denounces all “works of the flesh” as he denounced all “works of the law.’” Both try to live in self-righteous deadness.

Just any old freedom isn’t any good, for the perverted human race is prone to sarx. Paul warns that even freedom in Christ can be twisted to indulge in sarx. Instead of rationalizing our Christian freedom, Paul encourages us to use this freedom to serve one another in love. And we’ve been freed to Jo just that.

Christian freedom isn’t for indulging ourselves. It’s for loving God and neighbor. And, with cleansed hearts and with minds that know we’re loved immeasurably in Christ’s measuring up for us all, we really can afford to love freely.

Says Paul. All the law is summed in: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” He cites only the horizontal dimension, for, if we don’t love those who bear God’s image, how can we say we love the One whose image they bear?

Sin isn’t a matter of what these sinners accuse those sinners of doing. Sin is what we all need to admit: our self-centered hostility or indifference to God and to the real welfare of each other. And this sin kills in more ways than one. Our Savior died to save us from sin and death. So, let’s take our own sin seriously. Let’s take God’s grace in Christ seriously. And let’s not think that a penis tip is the crucial point or a clitoris is the crux of the matter. The crux is Christ’s cross. The crucial point, “from before the foundation of the world,” (Eph 1:4) is this: God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not counting our sins against us. (II Cor 5:19) This is what’s what.

And this what’s what comes before now what. Christian faith is not just another plug for the rule of reciprocity. As Flannery O’Connor put it in her blunt, no-nonsense way: “It’s not a matter of Do Unto Others. That can be found in any ethical culture series. It is the fact of the Word made flesh.” And this is the fact of John 3:16.

And so now, the wow-what lifestyle of gratitude for this Gospel’s what’s what includes cherishing each other, rejoicing with the rejoicing, mourning with mourners, befriending the friendless, sharing with the needy, looking to others’ interests as well as to your own, keeping no score of wrongs, refusing to revenge, blessing oppressors, and, to the degree it depends on us, living at peace with all. (Rom 12; I Cor 13; Phil 2) These are but samples of the lifestyle of gratitude—but you get the gist.

Early Christians took seriously all those lovingly plural personal pronouns in the Lord’s Prayer. Our Father, give us our daily bread … forgive us our debts … as we forgive our debtors. Lead us … free us. And none of these is the “Royal We,” right? Notice, too: it’s Thy name (or authority), Thy will, Thy kingdom—not our authority, our will, our kingdom, much less my or mine. Gospel lifestyle is we-centered, not we-centered. That’s because it’s not isolation. It’s our life together in Christ. If you ask, “But where am I in all this?”, the answer is: with Christ and his kin. In Christ we belong.

Is EC about belonging to Christ and to his Good News or is EC just another LGBT ghetto of postured pride?

Let’s face it. All our undiscerning discontent over frivolous feelings of inferiority and all our feeble-minded dreams of freedom are pathetically petty power ploys of egoistic self-deception that don’t begin to deal with what’s wrong. Our discontent must go deeper, discerning a clueless whining and disdaining our lies and alibis of self-sufficiency. Self-seeking dreams and power ploys of history have never freed anyone from the hell of self-obsession and they never will. Only in the loving self-sacrifice of the crucified Christ and in his resurrection can we be freed from sin’s self-centered death for freedom in God, who, in Paul’s words, will one day “be all in all.” (I Cor 15:28)

Our long-experienced but so easily abused “longing to be acknowledged,” as Lewis put it, “to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and … the heart of things” will be met in this love of God who will be our “all in all.”

There really are more things in heaven and earth than Horatio or any of us can dream up. And in the age to come—not in our dreams, but in Cod—every true longing will be fulfilled. At the Wedding Supper of the Lamb—whatever this metaphor of Mystery may mean—all of us together, sisters and brothers, will be Christ’s Bride and He will be our Husband. (Rev 19)

John Newton, the sea-captain author of “Amazing Grace,” wrote other hymns, as well. In one of them, he calls Jesus, “my Husband.” Some men and women can’t bring themselves to sing that line? Well, how do they manage an image of marriage to a Lamb? And how do they handle the seemingly “polygamous” or “incestuous” metaphors? They need to look up higher and get ready for joy unspeakable and full of glory. For one day, both women and men, sisters and brothers together, “from every tribe, tongue and nation,” will be the Bride at the Wedding Supper of the Lamb of God.

Finally fully freed from all our anxiously sinful self-centered estrangement, finally knowing how deeply we’ve always been loved, we’ll no longer try to boast in ourselves, but we’ll joy in the One who, in view of the joy set before him, endured the cross that we, his joy, might share in him, the bliss of God’s Eternal Being, Truth and Love. (Heb 12:2) At last we’ll know ourselves as we are: Christ’s cherished Bride. We’ll at last know Christ as He is: our cherished Husband. And, you know what? We’ll be at Home!

 

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