The Both/And Balance of Freedom, Part 2
…walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him:
bearing fruit in every good work
and increasing in the knowledge of God.
Colossians 1:10 ESV
God could have chosen the opposite. He had that freedom from the start.
This week’s post wraps up our two-part series on The Both/And Balance of Freedom here at His Own Heart. In Part 1, we weighed some solid evidence suggesting that – while Christ-followers serve an omnipotent God Who oversees the “big-picture” destinies of each of His children – this same omnipotent God also sprinkles unfathomable joy along the day-to-day paths of those same children as they move with Him in faith toward those destinies.
In other words, we have a Father Who can and will and does choose to indulge us. He has that freedom.
As a follow-up to Part 1, let’s now reverse the subject and direct object of the previous sentence and convert it from a statement to a question like so:
As children of God, do – or can or will – we choose to indulge our Father? We have that freedom.
Now, I realize the likelihood that for some reading this post, the question I just posed raises more questions than answers. I’ll lay some of more popular possibilities on the table from the get-go to clear the proverbial air just a bit:
- Should we realistically seek to indulge God in the living out of our lives?
- If grace is free, wouldn’t indulging God be like a works thing?
- And wouldn’t doing so expose a person as legalistic?
- So is it even scriptural to see God as Someone Who is to be indulged?
Absolutely valid questions, all of these. And valid answers can be reached through a two-step process: logically, one would need to zero in on exactly what it means to indulge another person; then one would need to consider that definition from a standpoint of Scripture. Hang with me for a moment and I’ll show you what I mean.
Cambridge Dictionary defines the verb [to] indulge someone this way: to allow another person to have something enjoyable or pleasing, especially more than is good or convenient for you. Antonyms, or opposites, for the word include to ignore, to neglect (see (https://www.powerthesaurus.org/indulge/antonyms).
For the purposes of this post let me suggest to you that we substitute God’s Namefor the generic clauseanother person and use two adverbs to set a time parameter. Our working definition would then read: to allow God to have something [eternally]enjoyable or pleasing, especially more than is [temporally]good or convenient for you. (The antonyms to ignore or to neglect still apply.)
Now let’s test this definition against the authority of Scripture to determine the validity of our statement.
Arguably, Jesus Christ is theMain Artery that runs through the Old and New Testaments. There is simply no disputing that fact: we see time and again from Genesis to Revelation that man made the mess and Jesus did the rest. But another vein that pulsates its way through both Testaments is the theme of mankind bringing pure and holy pleasure to his or her Creator God. The following list of passages is far from exhaustive, but it makes the theme clearly visible. We please God when we choose to:
- Model His holiness (Deuteronomy 20:26);
- Display unselfish intentions (1 Kings 3:10-14);
- Walk in His ways (Psalm 37:23);
- Show reverence for Him and place our hope in His love (Psalm 147:10-11);
- Repent and turn from our sins (Ezekiel 33:11);
- Present our bodies as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1);
- Teach His Word in truth (1 Thessalonians 2:3-4);
- Pray for our governing authorities (1 Timothy 2:1-3);
- Support family members in need (1 Timothy 5:4);
- Share with others (Hebrews 13:16);
- Keep His commandments (1 John 3:22).
We see from passages like these, then, that not only is it scriptural that we seek to indulge God in day-to-day aspects of living, but that He also notices and takes pleasure when we do. The Apostle Paul further confirms this idea on several occasions. Including these:
- So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him (2 Corinthians 5:9);
- Walk as children of light . . . and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord (Ephesians 5:8-10);
- Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more (1 Thessalonians 4:1).
Fine, you may be thinking, but what about the legalism deal? Ah, legalism: the “L-word” that has turned Western culture on its ear; the proverbial thorn-in-the-side of a good many Christians and the perceived get-out-of-jail-free card for a good many more. As simply and lovingly as I know how to say so, the notions of acting sincerelyand acting legalistically reside on totally opposite ends of the spectrum of life and are not as difficult to identify as we may think.
Back up and have a look at the abbreviated list of passages above. Any efforts I make to genuinely, willfully, deliberately carry out any of the things listed there – those efforts make God smile. They please Him. They’re sincere. But when those efforts are born of a sense of begrudging obligation, with hostility of the heart, or even for the sake of being admired or approved by others or by God Himself, make no mistake: they don’t please Him. They’re not sincere. They’re pathetic attempts to humor or patronize Him.
They’re works that don’t work. They’re a waste of my time. And they rob me of God’s deepest desire for my life. Theologically speaking, they define the differencebetween and static and dynamic aspects of a person’s relationships with God. Author Luke Humphrey explains the static element of the equation well:
Our union with Christ is static. Union does not ebb and flow; it does not waver; it does not increase or decrease; it is consistent. And praise God for this fixed element! We don’t need to lose our assurance as children of God every time we sin. We can look back to our union with Christ and repent, rather than question if we are actually saved or not.
The second element of the equation – which Humphrey deems “our communion with Christ” – is dynamic. In other words, it has the ability to increase or decrease based upon our choice of motives and actions. “If you [sincerely] seek to please God — to find your joy in what he delights in — then your communion with God will be rich,” says Humphrey. If, one the other hand, I choose to indulge God with an ulterior motive of pleasing my ego or trying to advance my position with Him, then my communion or true relationship with God is stunted and remains stagnant.
The basic union of the relationship, in other words, remains; but it stays where it is. It never flourishes into the deep, abiding joy of communion. It’s like the flatness of a one-dimensional view versus the depth of a three-dimensional view of a beautiful tapestry. A few days ago in fact, I caught a bird’s – or maybe a dog’s – eye-view of this theory in action.
Henry, our Miniature Pinscher, loves chocolate. Henry also loves the fact that I have a tendency to drop food on the floor because, in his world, I’m intentionally dropping said food specifically for him. It makes his rump a little broader but brightens his day, so normally we go with it. Last week, though, I dropped a mini-sized chocolate chip cookie. Since chocolate is toxic to dogs and I couldn’t find the cookie anywhere and Henry is quick on the draw in these situations, a bit of a frenzy ensued. So I’m basically standing on my head searching the floor for this cookie when a wet nose nudges my arm. I turned impatiently from my task…just in time to see Henry lay the cookie – all of it – beside my hand.
He could have chosen to do the opposite. He had that freedom, so to speak.
Talk about indulged…I felt it. And I was so pleased with Henry that after a shower of hugs, nuzzles and Thank-You-Jesuses, I picked the chocolate out of the cookie and treated Henry to a chipless taste. And yes, I know that as humans we have some abilities that dogs don’t have, but stick with me here for a second here as we make a loose comparison. Look at Henry’s action in terms of our definition that toindulge is to allow [God]to have something[eternally]enjoyable or pleasing, especially more than is [temporally]good or convenient for you.
Certainly, Henry could have eaten the cookie in its entirety and gotten what appeared to him a lot of good out of it for the moment. But because of whatever divine intervention caused him to release the cookie to me, he’s healthier for doing so and I will never, ever forget the pleasure of seeing him release it without my prompting him.
Imagine the pleasure or the indulgence our God must feel when we as humans voluntarily choose to drop the cookie – the sin that would bring us what we consider temporal good – into His hands for His eternal pleasure. Granted, Henry’s behavior surprised me and we never catch our all-knowing Father off-guard, but don’t you know He just beams when we hand our praise, honor and obedience to Him as a child hands his or her mother a freshly-picked dandelion for no apparent reason?
God actually set the example for us to follow in one well-known verse of Scripture. He spelled it out clearly in John 3:16. Think about it. He loved us so much – so much – that He allowed someone else (you and me)to have something [eternally]enjoyable or pleasing (our reconciliation with Him), especially more than was [temporally]good or convenient for Him (separation of Himself from His Son).
No matter how many lenses we use to look at our salvation story, there’s no spin we can give it to imply that the Son – Jesus Christ – saw the prospect of His incarnation, life or death on earth as a convenience to Himself. Or that His Father saw the situation as a convenience either. Yet this temporal inconvenience for the Godhead – a 30+ year separation while Christ lived, suffered and died as a man among His people – set the stage for His resurrection and His defeat of death. Through those actions, you and I received access to the life-altering, mind-boggling, tomb-shattering, eternal convenience of life everlasting.
Even as I write this post, words like convenience and indulgence sound so small, so inadequate when it comes to the unending mercies and freedom we receive from Jesus’ journey from throne to manger to cross to tomb – oh glory! – to resurrection. His choice to walk the path that led to my undeserved forgiveness was far more to my own good than to His. That He chose to shape our destinies by sacrificing Himself is without dispute, but – like it or not – the bottom line is this: in the process of choosing to shape our destinies omnipotently, He also chose to indulge us mightily.
But He could have chosen the opposite. He had that freedom. But He didn’t choose the opposite.
Because when God sets an example, He sets an example. The question for us, then, is straightforward.
Do we willingly look to indulge Him along our day-to-day journeys, loving Him as He loves us? Or do we choose the opposite? We have that freedom, but can we afford to use it?
– Copyright 2018 Carole Anne Hallyburton. All rights reserved.