Since we believe that Christ died, his love compels us to live our lives for him.
People claim that Christianity takes away our freedom.
Are we really “free” anyways?
Christianity gives us the freedom to give our lives away.
We are all controlled by something. What do you want to be controlled by?
As most of you know, we are engaged in a sermon series based on Tim Keller’s latest book called “The Reason for God.” Keller is the pastor of another Redeemer Presbyterian Church, located in the heart of Manhattan in New York City. During his many years as pastor of the church, he has encountered many people who have raised just about every question imaginable in regards to Christianity. This book is his attempt to answer these questions as well as helping Christians understand more clearly what they believe. If you don’t have a copy, I highly recommend picking one up and reading it for yourself.
The past few weeks, Pastor Charlie has taken us through the questions of “Can Christianity honestly claim to be the only true religion?” and “How could a good and all-powerful God allow suffering?” Today we are going to explore the question “Is Christianity a straitjacket?”.
Does Christianity restrict our freedom? Tim Keller has talked to a lot of people who think so. The area of Manhattan that Keller ministers to is filled with young professionals who are skeptical towards Christianity. Keller begins this chapter by writing about people who had raised this question to him. He tells of one such person named Chloe who complained that “a ‘one-Truth-fits-all’ approach is just too confining. The Christians I know don’t seem to have the freedom to think for themselves. I believe each individual must determine truth for him- or herself.” Chloe represents a large majority of our current culture.
What exactly is this freedom that people think is restricted by Christianity? We live in a society that values personal freedom. As a culture, we don’t like to have restrictions placed on us. In a sense, we don’t like to be told what to do. We want to think our own thoughts. We want to do our own things. We want to have our own beliefs. If you are like me, you don’t like to hear “you can’t do that.”
Since my wife and I have family in different parts of the country, we often travel to see them. My wife can attest that when I get out on the open road, I don’t like to have restrictions placed on me. I don’t like speed limits or slow cars in the left hand passing lane. I like to be free out on the open road. Unfortunately, this desire for freedom led to a suspended license when I was in college. I was caught speeding twice within two months of each other, and because I was under 21, my license was suspended for 3 months. Instead of rolling up to campus in my car, I was rolling up to campus on my bike, or worse, the city bus. Not following the restrictions of the speed limit lead to even great restrictions of a suspended license. I would venture to say that I am not alone in my distaste for restrictions.
Not only do we not like to have restrictions on what we can do, but we also doesn’t like to be told what to believe. We like to come up with our own standards. We like to figure things out for ourselves and come to our own conclusions. What we believe is our own business and we shouldn’t try to push our beliefs on others. Pushing your opinion on others takes away a person’s individuality. Persuading someone else to believe what you do takes away their freedom.
To notice how important individuality is in our culture, just look at the clothes that we wear, especially students. Wearing the same shirt or dress as someone else is almost considered a sin. Many students like to use the clothes that they wear to be different or to go against the grain.
So if our culture values personal freedom and individuality so much, does Christianity take that away? You could say that it does. You could definitely say that Christianity tells its followers what they ought to believe. In order to become a Christian, you have to believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that he died on the cross and resurrected on the third day. If you don’t believe that, you are not a Christian.
Not only does Christianity tell its believers what they should believe, it also tells its followers what it should and shouldn’t do. When we read the Bible, there are all sorts of rules and regulations. The 10 Commandments are just 10 among a ton of other things that Christians should and should not do. In that sense, Christianity is restrictive. You can’t believe whatever you want to and you can’t do whatever you want. Christianity is pretty strict about that.
Our passage for this morning seems to support that. Take a look at verse 14. In the New International Version, it says that “the love of Christ compels us.” In many other English versions of the Bible, the Greek word that is translated as “compel” is translated as “control.” These versions say that “the love of Christ controls us.” Is Christianity a religion that controls the people who believe in it? Do people who become Christians have their individuality taken from them?
These are tough questions with not-so-easy answers. To answer these questions, one of the things that you can look at is how Christianity is handled in different cultures around the world. If every Christian around the world seems to be exactly the same, then you could say that Christianity is controlling and restrictive. You could say that it takes each person and puts them into a mold so that they lose their individuality. But this is actually not the case. In fact, Christianity is actually fairly unique among all of the major religions in the world because Christianity adapts extremely well to very different cultures.
I have been to East Africa twice, once in college, and once with Stephanie about a year ago. Christianity is thriving in East Africa, but it doesn’t look exactly the same as it does here in the US. The liturgy is different, the songs are different, the language is different. There is typically dancing. Stephanie and I went to a service in Tanzania where it lasted about 3 hours and they actually had a marriage during the middle of the service. If you go to South America or to China or to Europe, you would find differences as well. The major beliefs of Christianity remain the same all over the world, but Christianity looks different in different culture
Even though Christianity is adaptable to various cultures, that doesn’t mean that a person who is Christian is necessarily free. In fact, I would agree with the people who say that Christianity is restrictive. Let’s take a closer look at the passage for this morning. In 2 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul is writing to the church in the city of Corinth. This is one of the many churches that Paul helped to start on one of his missionary journeys around the Roman Empire. Paul loved the churches that he planted. He loved them very deeply and he wanted to see them succeed. When they ran into problems or start believing things that were not true, he was typically heartbroken for these churches. The Corinthian church was no exception.
As we said earlier, Paul writes in verse 14 that he and other Christians are compelled by the love of Christ. This word that the NIV translates as “compel” has a very rich deep meaning that can’t be fully expressed in one English word. It has the sense of compelling someone to do something or controlling something or surrounding something to keep it in check. Paul is saying here that the love of Christ surrounds us and keeps us. It compels us to do things. The love of Christ controls our actions, if we believe in him.
So if Paul is saying that he is controlled by the love of Christ--if the love of Christ surrounds him and directs his actions--then that means that Paul does not control his own actions. That doesn’t sound freeing at all, now does it? That actually sounds pretty restrictive if you ask me. So why does Paul say this? Why does Paul say that he is controlled by the love of Christ?
The second part of verse 14 says that we are “controlled by the love of Christ because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.” So we are controlled by the love of Christ because Christ died for everybody and as a result, everybody died? So, he died, then we died, so now we’re controlled by his love. I’ll have to admit that the fist dozen times that I read over that verse, I didn’t quite get it. Little did I realize that all I had to do was to keep reading. Paul clears up what he is saying here in verse 15.
In verse 15, Paul just takes what he just said and puts it another way. “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” So what Paul is saying here is that Christ died for everyone so that everyone could live their lives for Christ. When Paul says that we died in verse 14, he means that when we believe in Jesus, we die to ourselves. No longer do we live our lives selfishly, thinking only of ourselves. Instead, we live our lives for Christ and for others. That is what Paul means. When we believe in Christ, the part of us that is concerned only with ourselves dies. We are now freed to live our lives controlled by Christ.
So, because Christ showed his love for us and died for us, we can die to ourselves and live our lives for God. That is freeing. The love of Christ is not restricitive at all. It actually gives us the freedom to abandon ourselves. The love of Christ gives us the freedom to give our lives away. Not having to hold on to things is very freeing, especially when we know that the things we try to hold on to won’t last. This reminds me of the classic quote from Jim Elliott a missionary to Ecuador who, along with several others, was killed by the people that they were trying to reach with the gospel. Before he was killed, he wrote in his journal “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."
We are free to give our lives away because we know that our lives are secure. In a very real sense, we don’t need to worry about protecting our lives. They are secure. They are hidden away in Christ. If we believe in Jesus, we know what the final outcome of our lives is going to be. As Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians 5:10, “Christ died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.” Whether we live or we die, we know that we will always be with Christ. Because Christ died for us, we know that when we die, we will be with him. If we know that no matter what happens we will always be with him, we are given the ability and the freedom to be bold for God.
So does Christianity place restrictions on us? Does it take away our freedom? Does it take away our individuality? If you call being controlled by the love of Christ restrictive, then yes, it does. But you need to ask yourself is, do you want to live a life in which you feel like you have personal freedom, or do you want to live a life that you know is so secure that you can actually give it away?
Let’s be honest. When we live your life secure in Christ, we are not free to do whatever we please. Followers of Christ are called to be obedient to Christ. Christ calls us to be set apart from the world and led by the Holy Spirit. We aren’t allowed to do many of the things that the world deems as acceptable. We aren’t allowed to do whatever we want to do. Sometimes Christ actually calls us to give up things that get in the way of our relationship with him, and that is tough.
However, the obedience that Christ calls us to as his followers is not an oppressive obedience. In Matthew 11: 29-30, Jesus says “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Our obedience to Christ sets us free to love without hindrance. It gives us freedom to seek after the lost with abandon. It gives us the freedom to live our lives in the way that we were created: giving glory and honor to God.
There is nothing like being controlled by the love of Christ because nothing sets us free like the love of Christ. But what does a life that is controlled by the love of Christ look like? What does it look like to live a life that is so secure in Christ that we can actually give it away? It means that we can do hard things for Christ and have confidence when we are doing them. It means that we can actually bring Jesus into a conversation with a co-worker who is not a believer. It means that we can have the courage stand up in high school for what know is right instead of following the crowd because we won’t care if people reject us or make fun of us. Instead of using our money for buying the things that we want, we can use our money to buy things for people that they need. Living a life controlled by the love of Christ rearranges our priorities. It takes the focus off of ourselves and it places the focus where it belongs, on Christ. It allows us to shed our selfish tendencies, and look out for the good of others.
The only way that it is possible for you and for me to shed our selfish tendencies and have the courage to give our lives away is because he did it first. Christ didn’t have to do what he did. He didn’t have to leave heaven and come down to earth and die for us. God could have required that we pay the penalty for our sins. He could have let all of us suffer what we deserved because of what we have done. But he loved us too much for that to happen. So he willingly came to earth and died a death that he didn’t deserve so that those who did deserve it could live. Now, we don’t have to live our lives trying to make up for our sins. Now we can live a selfless life, living for God and controlled by the love of Christ, because he died a selfless death for us.
So what can we say to the people who can’t believe in Christianity because it takes away our freedom. You can say to them, “In the end, what will your personal freedom benefit you? Can your personal freedom or your individuality save you?” In the grand scheme of things, where does it get you? We know that there is something much greater. In the end, what really matters is the love of Christ, and we should be thrilled to death to be controlled by such a love as his.