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Archives for September, 2021

I was on a retreat a few weeks ago, out on a run…when I crested a hill and saw this sign saying “Free”…

I know this looks photoshopped but it isn’t…I stopped and took this picture. I thought to myself the people here on the lake must really love their freedom! After all, they live in the middle of no where, in rural Alabama…I began to surmise all sorts of things about them from their political ideology to their living in a remote location away from the hustle and bustle of town…I thought I had them figured out when I got a bit closer and saw the context of the sign…

It wasn’t about a political or social ideology…they were just giving stuff away! I literally laughed out loud! I laughed until I stopped to take this second picture. All of the thoughts I had were completely made up…the caricature I had created in my mind was completely fabricated…now, all of those things could have been absolutely true but the sign didn’t tell me that. Who knows.

Paul wrote these words in Galatians 5 to people who were falling into temptations of the flesh and attacking others who didn’t quite see things the same way,

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”

We have a choice to make every single day – to walk by the Spirit or walk by the flesh. The first brings freedom and the second brings death. When we choose to make up things about people we are firmly in the realm of the flesh. Since we have been set free by God let us that freedom in a way that truly blesses others. Let us use that freedom in a way that doesn’t assume anything about people…or at least if we are going to assume that it be positive assumptions of goodwill and charity.

One thing I suggest is that before you make a comment (either in person or online) think through what you are going to say and take note of which things are things you know for sure and which things are conjecture. Then make a distinction in what you are saying between the two. If you find conjecture, turn your declaratives into interrogatives. You will find the conversation will go much more smoothly in most cases because the other person isn’t being forced into a caricature but is free to have and express their view and be heard. Even if you disagree with them, we at least owe people that much.

Thank God we are free! Now let’s live like it.

Have it Your Way

If you want to understand the way our country views freedom, go to Burger King. For around forty years, Burger King’s official motto was “Have it Your Way.” Sure, you could technically order something right off the menu, but because Burger King wanted you to feel like like royalty (paper crown and all), they encouraged everyone to make whatever kind of crazy customizations their heart’s desired. You are the king (or queen), so you decide. Pickles in your ice cream? French fries on your burger? Coming right up!

I can’t know this for sure (at least, not without a heavily modified Delorean), but I bet Thomas Jefferson and the rest of our founding fathers would have loved Burger King. After all, they’re the ones who called “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” God-given, unalienable rights. And what is liberty or the pursuit of happiness if not the ability to order well-done fries with mayo and chicken nuggets on top (as gross as that may be)?

We don’t really have to guess what Jefferson meant by “liberty” (or freedom) when he wrote those words in the Declaration of Independence. In other writings, he defined it this way: “Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others.” 

Many of us view freedom from this perspective: the ability to wear the crown and decide what to do for ourselves, without any obstruction or coercion from others (“unobstructed action according to our will”). Freedom, so it goes, is the absence of a master. 

Not My Will But Yours Be Done

But as disciples of Jesus Christ, we need to understand that the Bible gives us a fundamentally different way of thinking about freedom. And more to the point—Biblical freedom is largely incompatible with the American version that’s enshrined in our founding documents. After all, we can already sense the tension when we consider that Jefferson’s version of freedom teaches us to live “according to our will,” but Jesus prays in the garden “not my will but yours be done.” 

Here’s the main point: Biblical freedom isn’t about the absence of a master, it’s about following the one and only master who truly cares for us. 

The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy, but Jesus comes to give us life to the full (John 10:10). While others lay a heavy burden on their followers, Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30). At the same time, Jesus is the Shepherd that we (his sheep) are to follow, and there is a burden that we bear as his followers. It’s that we follow a Good Shepherd with a light burden. So it’s not the absence of a master that determines a person’s freedom, it’s the kind of master they choose to follow.

After all, the assumption in the Bible is that everyone will have a master of some kind, so the possibility that we get to be our own master (as alluring as that sounds) just isn’t part of the Biblical equation. 

What Does the Bible Say About Our Masters?

In John 8:34, Jesus says “very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” In passages like Romans 6 and Galatians 4, Paul develops the idea that everyone is a slave to something, whether it’s a slavery to sin (which leads to death) or a slavery to God (which leads to righteousness). Absent from the Bible’s theology of freedom is any sort of option where the Christian is free to put the crown on their own head and be their own master. Sorry Burger King, but Christians can’t always “have it their way.”

So if everyone has a master, how can anyone be free? It doesn’t make sense if you bring the American view of freedom into the Christian faith, but it makes perfect sense of you let the Bible’s definition of faith reshape your thinking. Consider these words from 1 Peter 2:16, “Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.”

Disciples of Jesus are called to live as free people while simultaneously living as God’s slaves. How can you be free and a slave at the same time? Is that not a contradiction? Only when you consider freedom as the absence of a master. But in the Biblical framework, this passage makes perfect sense, because no one is free until they become a slave to God.

Jesus has set us free from slavery to sin, so that we can be free to willingly submit ourselves as slaves to God. When we become slaves to God, we experience the freedom that comes from following a master who laid down his life to give us eternal life. No other master has our best interest in mind, no other master formed us in the womb, no other master laid down his life for us. And the only way to become a slave to God is by being rescued from our slavery to sin by Jesus himself. As Jesus says in John 8:36, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

Concluding Thoughts

And this all means we need to rethink our view of freedom. Freedom is not the absence of a master, it’s choosing the right one: Jesus.

John Adams once said, “You will never know how much it has cost my generation to preserve your freedom. I hope you will make a good use of it.” The same can be said about the heavy price Jesus paid to purchase our freedom. Our freedom has been bought at the high price of God’s one and only son, who willingly died on the cross to set us from from our slavery to sin, so that we might be free to follow Christ as our Lord and Savior.

Let’s not throw away that freedom by trying to put the crown on our own head. 

Jean-Paul Sartre once said, “man is condemned to be free.”

Really? Are people really condemned to be free? Perhaps so. Or perhaps it depends on the person that people follow.

Jesus once said, “ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Jn 8:32, KJV). Although this quote from Jesus is often cited in legal contexts, such as an inscription on the walls of a courthouse, the freedom Jesus speaks of seems to be a blessing. 

Of course, freedom, as commonly understood in America, is highly valued as a God-given individual right of liberty. As the Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” So from an American perspective, every person is free to do as they please, to speak freely without any restrictions as to religion, politics, the press, and even the right to assemble. The only caveat is when the exercise of freedom by one person causes harm to another but other than that, freedom in America means individual autonomy to do as one pleases.

Many Christians also seem to assume that there is a certain kind of liberty in Christ. To speak of “freedom in Christ” as the apostle Paul does in Galatians 5 often seems understood as freedom from traditions and legalistic practices of the Christian faith.

But I wonder if people really understand what freedom is or what it means to be free.

The Source of Freedom

When Sartre spoke of people being condemned to be free, he did so as an atheist and believed that existence proceeds essence. In other words, people are created as physical beings but who they are is yet to be determined and must be decided by them. “Man,” according to Sarte, “is nothing else but that which he makes of himself.”1 Why so? Because there is not any God whose image people bear by virtue of their creation (divine nature) and with whom they are to have a relationship. So the essence of who people will become is entirely up to them. Such freedom is condemnation because even though people did not create themselves, they still possess the liberty to determine for themselves and bear the responsibility for this liberty.2

Well, I agree with Sartre insofar as if the way people conceive of freedom is their own liberty, as is the case of most Americans, then condemned they are. For Christians though, who take the Bible seriously, the story or narrative told within scripture compels us to think differently about freedom. That’s because the story that Christians are living, as it is told within scripture, begins with God and culminates in the kingdom of God.

Christians believe that all people are created equally in the image of God and so something of human nature or essence proceeds existence. Although it seems too much to make a claim of determinism and say that the entirety of human existence is decided by God before creation, bearing the divine image does make a claim about the purpose of life for people. When we turn to the story of creation in Genesis, we discover that bearing the divine image of God also comes with receiving dominion over the rest of creation. That is, God created people to serve as participants in his temple (the earth) by caring for the rest of creation in a benevolent manner, reflecting the image of God. 

As the story is told, there are two trees placed among the garden where Adam and Eve dwell. One is the tree of life, of which the man and woman are free to eat, and the other is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for which the couple is forbidden to eat from. Both trees are obviously symbolic of what is only God’s to give, which is life and the ability to discern good and evil or right and wrong.3 Unfortunately, Adam and Eve choose to eat from the forbidden tree which turns out to be catastrophic as human existence just devolves into a cosmic death characterized by evil.

Instead of living under the sovereign rule of God and allowing him to determine what is right and wrong, Adam and Eve wanted to make such determinations themselves. They chose independence from God instead of dependence upon God. As with all of humanity, Adam and Eve sought the independence to determine for themselves what is good and evil, and in some sense, freedom is what they got but it came with a price too. The independence sought by eating the forbidden tree didn’t actually result in knowing the difference between good and evil. That is because knowing what is good and evil belongs to God alone and is something that can never be fully achieved independent of God. Apart from God, humans choose evil and history bears witness to what that looks like.

The Gospel and Freedom, or Tryanny

Fortunately, God has never given up and left humanity to the fate of cosmic death. Instead, God has a redemptive plan of reconciliation and restoration that will be accomplished in the sending of his Son, Jesus the Messiah. This is the good news or gospel.

For Jesus, the gospel is the declaration that the kingdom of God has appeared, and with that comes a call to repentance and faith (Mk 1:14-15). Jesus is summoning people to live under the reign or rule of God once again because that is what a kingdom is — a king ruling over his servants. So with this invitational summons is the call to follow Jesus, which literally means to come behind Jesus and learn from him how to live as subjects of God’s kingdom.

People living under the kingdom reign of God is what Jesus understands freedom to be. In coming back to the words of Jesus about the truth setting us free, the context makes this clear. Following a dispute Jesus has with the Pharisees about his identity, Jesus says to his disciples, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:31-32, NRSV). Freedom is, for Jesus, to know the truth and that is only possible by continuing in his word. Note then that there is nothing in what Jesus says about freedom as individual autonomy to do as one determines for oneself. Rather, freedom is to live once again the life which God created people to live. 

True freedom then is living as participants in the kingdom of God as followers of King Jesus. Such participation is what it truly means to be free in Christ. This is is why in Galatians 5, where the apostle Paul speaks about freedom in Christ, he also speaks of living by the Spirit. What a contrast between the concept of freedom articulated in scripture and the concept of freedom held by most Americans.

Freedom, as it is understood in the western sense and as practiced in America, is individual autonomy. The American idea of freedom emerged from the Enlightenment, with its human-centric view that replaced God with reason as the source of knowledge. The goal of this western concept of freedom becomes the removal of any object that hinders the good(s) of human desire but in doing so it makes the idea of freedom itself the object of desire.4 In other words, the idea of freedom that most Americans hold to be true is actually just another form of tyranny itself, as it enslaves humanity to a desire that can never be fully reached.

The struggle with freedom as tyranny is played out daily among social media and the so-called culture wars. What is worse, is that many Christians are caught up in this struggle too (I too have found myself entangled in this struggle). Over the last year or so this struggle has become visible every time a Christian insists that their individual rights outweigh the well-being of others.5 Hence the protest of wearing masks in public and other social-distancing measures aimed to mitigate the threat of Covid-19.

If individual autonomy is the freedom that people seek, then the words of Sartre about people being condemned to freedom are very prophetic. And sadly so, I might add.

True Freedom: Submission to King Jesus

So here is my parting thought as a pastor writing to my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Our identity as Christians was originally given as sort of an insult because of our association with Jesus Christ. 

Not a problem, as we shall gladly wear the name Christ or be labeled a Christian. But let’s remember, and dare I suggest, recover what that means. 

As Christians who take the Bible seriously, the cross or crucifixion of Jesus Christ is very central to our faith. It’s not the only aspect central to our faith, as the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus matter too but there isn’t any resurrection and exaltation without the crucifixion first. So the cross of Jesus absolutely matters but as N.T. Wright so eloquently says, the cross matters “…so that God’s power and wisdom may work in us, through us, and out into the world that still regards Jesus’s crucifixion as weakness and folly. …so that we, having been put right, could become part of God’s plan to put his whole world right.”6

Believing that God is putting the world to right means abandoning the false notion of individual autonomy to do whatever one damm well pleases. Instead, to be made right by God is to live in submission to King Jesus as his followers and thereby participate in the kingdom of God. Found only in Christ, this righteousness is what true freedom entails and the world around us will never know of such freedom until they see a church that embodies such freedom.

May the church of Jesus Christ in America live by the Spirit in submission to her King as participants in the one and only kingdom of God! 


  1. Jean-Paul Sartre, “Man Is Condemned to be Free,” from the lecture Existentialism Is A Humanism, trans. Philip Mariet, 1946, 1948, available at (last accessed on Wednesday, September 15, 2021).
  2. Ibid.
  3. John H. Walton, The Lost World fo Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015, 124.
  4. Ron Highfield, God, Freedom, & Human Dignity: Embracing A God-Centered Identity in a Me-Centered Culture, Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2013, 103-104.
  5. Here Christians would do well to reread Philippians 2:1-13 in which Paul holds up the example of Jesus Christ giving up his rights and becoming an obedient slave even to the point of death.
  6. N.T. Wright, The Day The Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2016, 22.

K. Rex Butts serves as the lead minister/pastor with the Newark Church of Christ in Newark, DE. He holds a Doctor of Ministry in Contextual Theology from Northern Seminary in Lisle, IL and a Master of Divinity from Harding School of Theology in Memphis, TN. He is married to Laura and together they have three children.

This month I’d like to think about the various kinds of freedom we have. Having recently lost both my beloved mother and my husband of 47 years, the first devotion and poem pay homage to their freedom.

Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf.

~ Hebrews 6:17-20a

In Memoriam: A Saint Passes

Like a little bird breaking
From small confines
Into limitless light, shimmering sun;
Breathless, wings beating,
Blinded by light, impatient,
And then
the joy of
(waves of translucent luminance like foam on the
(and eternity stretching as far
as the untroubled sky)

A promise Jesus made, which is the hardest to understand, was His assurance in John 11:25. He was standing outside the tomb of His friend Lazarus, speaking to Martha who, though disappointed in Jesus’ delay, still had faith in Him. She’d accepted the fact of her brother’s death, and when Jesus assured her that Lazarus would rise again, she assumed He meant in the resurrection of the last day. “I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus responded. “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” Then Jesus confronted all her beliefs. He had just told Martha, in essence, that she herself would not die, and then He asked her, “Do you believe this?” We can’t fault Martha—we have trouble believing this ourselves! But Christians don’t face death the way others do.

For a Christian, it goes like this: you get really sick, or in an accident, and suddenly you go from intense pain into eternal life. Death? It’s just a passageway.

But for the soul which will not bend to God, the pain of illness or the trauma of injury is followed by a permanent condition we call death. It is eternal separation from God.

Jesus doesn’t want this for anyone. He wants eternal communion and fellowship with us, and gave His own life to achieve that end.


We live by faith, not by sight.

~ 2 Corinthians 5:7

This thin thin wire
Sways in generous bulging arcs
From breeze to breeze
Like a child’s jumprope
Or the rippling undulations
Of a lustrous serpent
Moving through thick waters.

We are suspended under
This snakerope
And we are pulled along
By it. There is no escape:
The mountain floor beneath us
Is frighteningly distant.
The trees are miniature layered fans
And its boulders a pebbled mosaic.

A ridge rises before us.
Our eyes tells us there is no
Way over it, and yet
The cable passes through a crevice.

This, then, is faith:
We know we must follow where the cable has
Gone, and let our hearts
Finish the ride,
Finish the ride.

Biblical faith is based not upon what we can predict in the future, but what we can read about in the past.

It’s a risky business, trusting God in this dangerous way.

It means turning over the control knobs of our life, the steering wheels of our directions, to an unseen Guide.

Only by trusting Jesus—someone who’s been the route before—can we have any confidence that we are doing the right thing, for we surely cannot be doing the “safe” thing if we are to follow an unseen God to the death. 


Dr. Latayne C. Scott is the recipient of Pepperdine University’s Distinguished Christian Service Award for “Creative Christian Writing,” and is Trinity Southwest University’s Author in Residence. Her newest book is Talking with Teens about Sexuality: Critical Conversations about Social Media, Gender Identity, Same-Sex Attraction, Pornography, Purity, Dating, Etc. with Dr. Beth Robinson (Bethany Books.) The author of over two dozen published books, including Passion, Power, Proxy, Release (TSU Press) in which these poems appear, she lives and writes in New Mexico. She maintains several informational  websites, including and

Wineskins might not seem like the place to reflect on legalism, but it is.  How so?  Grace-minded people can’t afford to ignore legalism, no matter how foolish it seems to be.  This topic is vital to the health of the church-universal because legalism does more harm to the name of Jesus, it turns people away at the door, it ruins the Great Commission, and it’s more than just bad PR.  Legalism creates more atheists than Darwinism. 

Legalism, as I see it, is an ideology that promotes prohibition, rules, regulations, and rituals to earn God’s favor, mercy, and forgiveness.  It’s a narrow-minded perspective that alienates itself from the mainstream as it embitters its adherents, and opposes those who seek authentic biblical liberation.   Legalism is more concerned about guilt than growth. It perpetuates abuse, it’s suspicious of the people who promote grace.  How could anyone be tempted into swallowing that line?  

It’s truly mysterious to many of us, why would Bible believing people who claim to follow Jesus ever embrace legalism?  Legalism rejects the freedom in Christ that liberates our heart and soul — legalism robs us of the joy of the Lord, it truly is soul-crushing.   It is even more bizarre when you consider that legalism is a system which buys into burden-bearing, believes In Hell more than it does Jesus, it operates mainly out of fear of punishment, and it lacks trust in love. 

So what is its great appeal, why would anyone continue to slave away under the bondage of legalism?  More to the point, is it possible to break free of that bondage, and if so, how? 

It’s a paradox, but people cling to the soul-draining chains of legalism.  Why?  Legalism is appealing because it requires less faith.  It’s harder to trust in a God you can’t see than the real results of your own work.  It’s the same seductive trap the serpent offers in the Garden of Eden, you can be like God if you know enough.   

Legalism offers what seems to be a great solution to the turmoil within our soul, i.e, it’s a way to process the fact that we fall short of our ideal without having to trust in anyone else to save us from ourselves.  Admittedly, we are weak, fallible people who stumble and fail miserably, but how do you reconcile that in your mind without doubting your salvation?  Legalism instills a false sense of victory over our sin, because we feel like as long as we follow the rules, we aren’t as bad as other people who aren’t loyal to the rules, and the harder we try to follow the rules, the more God will love us.  

Legalism feels virtuous, there is a lot of pride we gain — increasing our sense of self-righteousness, because we have a great sense of accomplishment when we follow a rule or practice a ritual as perfectly as possible. You know the sensation.  Think back to any Home Improvement project you’ve done, landscaping in your yard or any craft or art you have finished, you know the intoxicating feeling that accompanies a sense of accomplishment.  Legalism falsely offers the feeling of accomplishment when it comes to righteousness.  

Face it, it simply feels good to be right.  When you are the Champion of Truth, you feel invincible in your superiority and totally justified in any of your practices…. And you enjoy the self-satisfaction of knowing you are correct.  

Legalism is self-deceptive, it tricks you into thinking you can live a mistake-free life.  If you don’t make mistakes, you don’t have guilt, you don’t feel shame, and you ignore the problems that come with our sins.   And, it allows you to focus on the shortcomings of other people instead of your own imperfections.  It’s easier to be a fruit inspector than a laborer in the harvest.  

Another part of the appeal that’s often neglected in this conversation is the fact that many people are born into legalism.  When your faith heritage is guided by generations of legalism, it simply feels right, you can’t really see any other way to practice your faith.

Yes, there are a multitude of problems with legalism and yes people still willingly imprison themselves in the bondage of legalism. So how do we break out of the bondage of legalism or help others do so? 

We must take caution against our own dogmatism and reject the hateful, smug feelings of superiority by having overcome a toxic doctrine that has been around at least since Paul wrote to the church in Galatia.  We must honestly face our own disdain for those still trapped in legalism before we can authentically help them find their own freedom too.

Instead of pointing out all of the flaws of legalism or pointing out the benefits of grace, we start by ask probing questions instead of directly attacking their stance.  Pointing out how badly legalism is broken only makes its adherents defensive.  When walls go up, communication goes down.  

We must strike a balance.  I absolutely love Dallas Willard’s phrase, “Grace is opposed to earning, not effort.”  We can make grace into its own legalism, if we aren’t careful.  And, if we aren’t careful we can be just as dominating in our stances on grace.  In other words, we are just as repulsive as those we seek to correct at times.  If we aren’t careful we end up no better off than our KJV only one-cupper brethren and we are not far from thinking that “once saved always saved” or seeing Baptism as a work. 

We need to trust in people experiencing their own painful consequences and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Carried through to its fruition, legelism fails on its own merits.  Allow people some time and space to feel that, and then trust that the same God who redeemed you can touch their hearts as well.  

I personally came out of a “right-of-center ” mild legalism when I began to read wider, expose myself to alternative viewpoints, and when I sat at the feet of some great Seminary professors at Lincoln Christian Seminary where I was blessed to earn two Master’s degrees. My transformation from being judgmental and legalistic began as I allowed men like James Sennett, John Castelein, Chuck Sackett, Richard Knopp, and others at Lincoln to influence me.  They were loving, gentle, and simply persuaded me through their character and examples.  May God bless us all with the same ability to help others see their prison door is already open, and give them the courage to walk out into the light. 

In Romans 8:28-29 Paul revealed this truth: 

“A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.”

Once when Jesus sparred with the Jews (John 8) – likely a mix of Pharisees, publicans and others – he offended them by saying,

“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Vss. 31-32).

They blustered,

“We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” (Vs. 33).

Had these Jews forgotten the 400 years they spent enslaved in Egypt? Even at the time of this encounter with the Lord they were living under Roman domination. How could they think they were free?

Jesus went on to say,

“I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So, if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (34-36).

The Son of God is the answer to slavery!

But because these Jews were imprisoned by an ideology, which produced a pseudo-religion (Matthew 15:3-9), they rejected Jesus as the answer to anything. Their bondage was so complete that when the Truth personified stood before them, they wanted to kill him (Vs. 37). 

Their big claim was, “Abraham is our father!” (Vs. 39) We have the right heritage! We are the elite, approved group! Jesus shot down this mistaken belief – he told them:

“If you were Abraham’s children, then you would do the things Abraham did” (Vs. 39).

Solomon reminds us, “Even a child is known by his actions, by whether his conduct is pure and right” (Proverbs 20:11). How much more is that true of adults! These “free” and supremely righteous Jews (who had never been anyone’s slaves), were on the verge of killing God in the flesh. No, they were not children of Abraham; they were instead slaves of their own dogmas, ideas, and laws. They were not free.

In Romans 2:28-29 Paul addressed this issue of being “religious,” yet living totally outside God’s will:

“A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God.”

He wrote the Galatians in chapter 5, verse 1,                    

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

Paul repeated his admonition later in the same chapter:

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather serve one another humbly in love” (vs.13).

We are not free to do whatever we please. Real freedom is having the power to do what is right. God provides that power through the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:1-17), and it is by his power we put to death the works of the flesh.

So, if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (34-36). The pressure is off!  Enjoy your salvation!!

Jim Woodell

Reading this book was an extended experience of clarity for me and I think it will be for you as well. There are things we hear that we just aren’t so certain are true but don’t have the background or information to back it up. It isn’t that we are upset, we just need clarity in order to see reality.

Leonard Allen’s new book, “In the Great Stream” offers historical background into the influences of Churches of Christ that accomplish several very important things:

1 – The book positions us in the broader Christians/denominational spectrum in regard to our influences, philosophy, and theology. Many of us grew up hearing and believing that our roots circumvented all the man made denominations and impurities of doctrines and simply went back to the first century and brought it into our day. Dr. Allen does a fine job of demonstrating how that is not true. He maps out the various influences and how they shaped the Restoration Movement at large and churches of Christ in particular in the centuries leading up to our movement. These influences are denominational/religious (Anabaptists, Free Church, etc) they are philosophical (John Locke and Thomas Reid’s “common sense”, rationalism, empiricism, and modernism), and they are cultural. The point of all of this is to demonstrate that regardless of our claim, we already have philosophical underpinnings that tie us to broader Christendom. This should be acknowledge more readily as the evidence has been put on the table. He gives many examples of things I heard growing up quoted from people who pre-dated Campbell.

2 – The healthy place of tradition in the life of the church and the resulting acceptance of a connection to the “Great Tradition”. Allen makes the case that our a-historical claim and lack of connection to the denominational world has resulted in an unnecessary (and inaccurate) disconnect from broader Christendom that has been unhelpful for our movement as a whole. I was taught the opposite – that any connection with those things would be absolutely detrimental. He spends quite a bit of time talking about the value of tradition and the necessary place of creeds in Christianity and how we have rejected some things that could have been quite helpful to us over the years. Having a creed or a Rule of Faith can anchor us, especially as those things are derived directly from scripture. Tradition and connection with other Christian groups isn’t just something we should accept, it is something we should celebrate and appreciate for a very ironic reason. Rather than other groups and church tradition pulling us away from the truth, they can actually help anchor us more firmly in the truth of the Scriptures!

3 – The history of Churches of Christ in relation to the Holy Spirit. Chapter 6 explains the view on the Holy Spirit starting with Stone and the growth of early Churches of Christ in the South in the early 1800s and then the advent of Alexander Campbell and his hyper rational approach that won the day. From there Allen highlights major influences in the Restoration Movement and the varying views on the Spirit that will surprise many in Churches of Christ. Our history is varied and it is important we recognize that because it is one more reminder that the first century Church didn’t just carbon copy itself and drop into the early 1800s to be lived out consistently until this day. Once again, this reminds us of our varied history and doctrine and how that can help us get along with others who have views that don’t overlap with our particular piece of the Restoration puzzle.

All of this is written in such a kind and considerate tone. I cannot begin to say how much I appreciate that. Much more could be said about this book and all of it positive. I hope you will inform yourself by picking up a copy, reading it and passing it along or getting a copy for a friend. You will not regret it!

Freedom is a beautiful concept. There are so many things in this world that can enslave our thoughts and even our very soul. Exodus through Judges to the Exile and return in the prophets plus Ezra and Nehemiah we see how God is a God of liberation. We see the same thing in the New Testament in Jesus and the Kingdom Gospel. Jesus comes to deliver us from all who oppress us and release us from the power of sin and death along with the principalities and power who bind us up.

Freedom is a glorious thing.

Freedom can also be abused. We are “Free in Christ” not “Free from Christ.” Free in Christ is recognizing the liberation Jesus brings us to live a kingdom life. Free from Christ would mean free from his kingdom rule and reign and the expectations of life that kingdom.

I look forward to discussing these things further in how we find the biblical place of freedom without taking it to a place that is harmful to us – complete libertinism.

“The Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If
they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are
simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose.”

– CS Lewis

When Peter gave the great confession in Matthew 16:18 Jesus replied with only one of two times he mentions the word “church” – that upon the confession and truthfulness of Jesus’ Lordship that He would build His church.

What kind of church was/is Jesus building?

What kind of churches are being built today?

Are they the same thing?

First, church comes from the Greek word ekklesia, which is a group of assembled people. Of course, Jesus didn’t speak Greek. He spoke Aramaic. If He had used the Hebrew word it would have been Qahal which is also a reference to a group of people.

If you want to know what kind of church is being built you need to know what kind of people are being built. If you want to know what kind of people Jesus is building you look to Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit to transform us more and more into Christ’s likeness. The process where that transformation takes place is discipleship – learning the ways of Jesus to be identified with Jesus and be made more and more like Jesus with the Spirit’s help.

How have we traditionally defined “church”? I have lots of opinions on that but I will keep them to myself in this particular article. I will let you ponder that for yourself.

Have we identified church with the spiritual development and maturation of those who assemble? If not, why not? Why is it that some of the most “mature” among us are often not very Christ-like…have a faith that could be blown over by a gentle wind…because we defined church in a way that allowed that to happen. This person, like most of us, has had zero accountability in their life with little to no actual expectation to grow in their faith formation and spiritual character maturation to be “more like Jesus” rather than to “know like Jesus” (doctrine) which often meant “know like Paul”.

What gives us our identity as the gathered people of God is Jesus himself. What unites us even in the midst of our diverse opinions is the Holy Spirit. What keeps us moving in the same direction is our mission and marching orders in the Great Commission. And as we live into that mission the assembled people of God deepen in faith and maturity, together.

We need to spend more time considering what kind of disciples we are producing and the character and maturity of those disciples. If your church is composed of immature Christians who have been through thousands of Bible classes, shouldn’t we ask ourselves how that ever happened?

What kind of gospel have we accepted that results in the production of perpetually immature disciples?

Disciples are not adequately produced because you followed the pattern. Disciples need to be instructed in the ways of Jesus. They must be mentored…walked along side…not invited to hundreds of passive studies with zero follow through and no accountability.

What is more, mature disciples are reproducing disciples. If the disciples we are producing are not active and involved in what Jesus instructed then we aren’t doing our job. If we think our job is to get people to worship correctly on Sunday and that is what pleases God, then we aren’t doing our job.

We need to take a close look at the fruit of our labor. It needs to be inspected. Paul wrote this in 1 Cor 3:10-15,

10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.”

What will happen when our work is tested? What will be revealed? What will happen when the churches we started are tested? The disciples we made are tested? Will they be found lacking or will they be found mature in their faith? These are serious matters!