By Erik Guzman
I’ve done some stupid things in my short life on this planet. At the risk of incriminating myself, I’ll give you some examples.
Back in high school, on more than one occasion, I would grab a friend, get a couple bottles of Boone’s Farm and go driving around drinking. That’s bad enough, but just for the thrill of it, we would drive down winding roads on the edge of a river in the middle of the night…with our lights off. Another time, I took acid with some friends and went jet skiing. I’ll spare you the psycho-delic details, but it’s enough to say, we could have all died. Then, there was the car surfing, and the time I hooked up with my crazy coked-out roommate. Anyway, there are plenty more examples, but you get the idea. The point is that I’ve done some stupid stuff – I hope my parents don’t read this.
Now, the things I just mentioned all happened over 17 years ago before I became a Christian. That means that the statute of limitations has run out and these events are now part of my “testimony.” Now, I can safely share them knowing that God gets the glory for saving a dirt bag like me.
Even so, there are plenty of stupid things I’ve done as a Christian too. Trust me, if God rewarded us for our good behavior and punished us for the bad stuff, I would not have a successful ministry, a house, a wife and three kids. I’d be dead. I’m a firm believer in God’s grace, simply out of practical experience.
My mentor, Steve Brown, has a list of 10 stupid things Christians do to mess up their lives. He also has a CD album by that name and he wrote a book titled, A Scandalous Freedom, which is based on those same 10 stupid things. Here’s the list:
We think of God as either a child abuser, away on vacation, or Santa Claus instead of looking to Jesus to find out what God is really like.
We are obsessed with getting better instead of with God’s forgiveness.
We forget the gospel and sacrifice the joy that sets us free.
We wear masks instead of being authentic.
We put our leaders on pedestals and thereby demean ourselves.
We demonize our enemies instead of acknowledging their humanity.
We live in fear.
We avoid the reality of pain.
We define ourselves by our failures instead of God’s love.
We surrender the freedom for which Jesus has set us free.
For many Christians, that’s probably not the mental list we would have made for ourselves. We might have come up with a list more like this one:
Watching porn – if you’re a girl, insert watching “The Bachelor.”
Skipping church too many times.
Not reading your Bible regularly.
Not selling everything and giving it to the poor.
Being a Democrat – if you’re Glenn Beck.
Being a Republican – if you’re Jim Wallace.
Cussing, drinking, smoking, dancing, going to movies, etc.
Not praying enough.
Watching porn – if you’re a girl, insert shopping.
Am I right or am I right? The reason we thought up items on the second list is probably because of the second item on the first list – and perhaps a few others.
Here’s the point of Steve’s teaching on the CD album and in his book: Jesus has come to set us free and we mess up our lives by preferring our prisons.
We should probably define “freedom” at this point. Basically, free means free. We’re free to live according to God’s standards and we’re free to sin. It means that if we don’t do what God says, He will still love us; and if we do what God says, He won’t love us any more. That’s because our acceptability is based on faith in Jesus’ finished work, not on our goodness or lack thereof. If we dispute this, we drive a stake in the heart of the gospel.
Paul explains, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). He also adds, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). There are some who say that the freedom mentioned in that verse is freedom from sin. It certainly means that, but if it doesn’t also include the freedom to sin, then it’s not real freedom at all.
We may allow that we’re saved by grace, but think we keep our salvation by busting our butts. But that’s not what scripture such as the letter to the Galatians, tells us. It’s difficult to read specific passages like Galatians 3:1-3 and not get this.
Does all of that bother us? It should. God’s ways are not our ways. Does it make us want to go out and sin? If we’re Christians, it should not. Why? It’s because of the key to the message of freedom, which both Brown and I teach: The only people who get any better are those who know that if they don’t get any better, God will still love them anyway. Don’t like that answer? How’s trying really hard working out for you? If obsessing on getting better worked, we’d all be Mother Theresa.
It’s the goodness of God that leads to repentance (Romans 2:4). We love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). It’s God’s amazing unconditional love and the resulting freedom that compels us (2 Corinthians 5:14).
If we don’t start with freedom, we will screw up our lives! We will never achieve the obedience we so badly desire if we obsess on our goodness. Instead, we are called to obsess on His goodness toward us in order to be transformed into the image of the Beloved.
So now that I’m a Christian, I’m free to do all kinds of stupid things and God won’t love me any less. I might mess up my life or even kill myself, but I’m free. Does that make me want to drop acid and take a spin on a jet ski? Nope. My heart’s desire is to follow the One who loved me enough to set me free to go wherever I want. I don’t expect a reward or anything, just the joy of faithfulness and walking with God.
He set you free too! Now what? I say embrace the freedom and stop messing up your life.