Conformity and Freedom


Our world today has two complementary but seemingly contradictory influences.
These are the forces of conformity and the forces of freedom.
Or if you like, the forces of community
and the forces of individualism.

We are all influenced by these two things.
Whether we like it or not, our community imposes values upon us.
Our thoughts and opinions are not the result of our own thought,
but from the world around us.
But at the same time we are given enough freedom to do our own thing.
Our community allows us a deal of independence.
We have some freedom to be ourselves.

Throughout history these two forces have been warring against each other.
And many times the people who head these movements go too far in their ideas.

Communism developed out of the need to protect the interests of the working man.
But ended up impoverishing everyone within it and abusing individual freedom.
But rampant individualism has done the same
and has not respected the rights of the community.

Throughout the world, political foes have lined up against each other along these lines.
Political parties like the Australian Liberal party, the British Conservative Party or the American Republican party have emphasized the importance of personal freedom and individualism.
While the Australian and British Labor parties and the American Democratic party have emphasized the importance of looking after community needs and sacrificing some freedoms so that all may benefit.

In the midst of this, we have the church.
And the church has not been left out of this situation.
1In fact, the church has been acting on both sides, and has been guilty of many things throughout history by emphasizing one influence or the other.

But what are we to do as Christians?
How are we to break away from the conformity that a sinful world brings?
How are we to avoid the selfishness and anarchy that individualism brings?

Jesus says these words in Matthew 6.33

Seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness.

These words appear in a section titled in the NIV called “Do not worry”.
In this section, Jesus is telling his listeners that in comparison to serving God, food, drink and clothing have second priority.
In our modern world today, such an idea might sound appealing,
but in Palestine 2000 years ago, food, drink and clothing were the priorities of life.
And yet here is Jesus saying that serving and worshipping God is more important than the staples of life.

These words have as much to say to us in the 21st century in Australia, as they did in 1st century Palestine.

I’ve broken my talk up today into two main points.
The first is conformity to God’s word.
The second is titled Freedom in God’s word.

1. Conformity to God’s word.

Let’s move onto my first point then - conformity to God’s word.

How do we know what is truth?
How do we know how to live?
How should we live as a Christian man or woman?
The problem with our world today is that it has no idea.
In fact, beliefs and truths are continually changing.
So much so that philosophers had to commit intellectual suicide by saying that all truth is truth if the person believes it is true.
George Costanza from Seinfeld said it most eloquently when he said “It’s not a lie if you believe it”.

As Christians we believe that it is God who determines what is true and what is not.
It is God who reveals to us what is sin, what is not,
and what to believe and not believe.
Unfortunately, too many Christians have become confused as to the means by which God comminicates truth to us.
Some Christians believe that God uses our minds,
so whenever Christians get together and chew the philosophical fat,
God is there with them and truth comes out of a consensus decision.

Other Christians believe that God uses the traditions of the church as the means of communicating to us,
and has given us specially appointed leaders (Bishops, Priests and Popes) who can determine this truth over time.

Still other Christians wait on God to speak to them directly through feelings or dreams or visions, and try to discern God’s individual will for their lives.

But Paul says in 2 Timothy 3.16-17
“All Scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work”.
This is one of my favourite verses
- it says that scripture, the Bible, is the means by which God communicates to us what to believe, and how to live.
When Pauls says “thoroughly equip”, he is talking about the sufficiency of the Bible.
It’s all we need to live the Christian life.
It is the means by which the Spirit of God illuminates the truth to us, because the Bible was written by the Spirit.
If we want to know what to believe and how to live, we turn to scripture.
It is God’s means of thoroughly equipping us for living the complete Christian life.

Of course this doesn’t mean that God doesn’t use human intellect.
We’re all indebted to Christian scholars in ages past for systematizing and explaining scripture to us.
But human intellect should be used to find out what scripture is saying, rather than becoming an authority in itself.
The same can be said for Christian tradition
- the apostle’s creed,
the nicene creed,
the 1662 Anglican Prayer Book
and the Westminster Confession of faith are all examples of Christian traditions.
But again, they are not authoritative by themselves,
they are subject to the authority of Scripture.
And the same can also be said for God’s direct guidance.
The Bible is full of it.
Does it happen today?
Of course it does.
But should Christians demand that God speak directly, or expect that God will speak to them directly?
No, of course not.
If God chooses to communicate with you directly, that’s fine.
But if he chooses not to, that’s okay.
In the end, we are given the Bible to know what to believe and how to live.
Besides, even Satan can masquerade as an angel of light,
and we should test all experiences against scripture.

A friend of mine in Sydney is now an Anglican minister.
When he was younger, he was converted in a pentecostal church, and he sought God’s direct guidance.
One day, he heard a voice from nowhere, telling him what to do.
He was scared - was it God?
He checked the Bible.
What the voice said contradicted God’s word.
He knew it wasn’t God who was speaking to him.
He has never had any experiences like that since, yet he is doing some great work for God.

If we are to seek first God’s kingdom,
we are to have our lives and thinking moulded by the Bible.
This means that we hear God’s word and obey it
- we don’t simply hear it and don’t do anything about it.

But of course, what is the Bible on about?
What is at the heart of the Christian faith?
The heart of the Christian faith is Christ.
It is the message of the gospel.
If you are conforming to the Bible, you are conforming to the Gospel,
and you are being what Christ wants you to be.

And of course, it is the Gospel that brings us freedom.
The Bible isn’t a strait jacket.
Christ is not forcing you into mind-numbing servility.
The gospel sets us free.
And that is my 2nd point - freedom in God’s word.

2. Freedom in God’s word.

Freedom is one of those terms that is bandied about so much that no one really understands it.
What we have in the gospel is freedom, but it doesn’t mean anarchy.
When we become a Christian, we simply move from one slave master to another.
Rather than being slaves of sin, we become slaves of Christ.
But being a slave of Christ is freedom compared to being a slave to sin.

In Romans 6.23, Paul says that the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.
This simply means that death is the natural result of sin, while eternal life is the great and wonderful gift from God
- a gift that is not deserved.

Being a Christian means that we have been set free from the consequences of sin
- we are not heading towards hell and judgement,
but instead have the assured hope of eternal life.

It is this fact that drives us to do what we should be doing as Christians.
We should be living holy lives, not to get to heaven, but because we are going to heaven.
We should base our lives around the gospel.
We should make our life decisions based on that.
Some Christians, think that this can only mean being in full time ministry.
What rot!
It might mean that.
But it might mean that you work for the gospel in your place of employment.
It might mean taking an easier, lower paying job, in order to have more time serving in church.
It might mean not getting a mortgage that requires you to work 80 hour weeks.

But we need to be very careful that we do not fall into the trap of legalism.
One way the Bible gives us freedom is when it does not speak about certain issues.
We can be sure that if the Bible does not give us enough information on an issue, we can, in the wisdom that God gives us, make up our own minds.
Over the years Christians have been pushing some fairly wacky ideas.
Many Christians still believe that drinking alcohol is wrong,
despite the obvious contradictions this has with the Bible.
There are a multitude of others.

Think of it this way.
The Bible is the way in which God speaks to us about what to believe and how to live.
Let’s say that this is represented by a fence surrounding us.
Where are we to stand?
In the middle?
Will God be more pleased with us if we stood in the middle of these fences and did not walk around?
Of course not.
God is not like that.
So long as we stay within the bounds God has given us, God is pleased with us.

Believe and do what the bible tells you to believe and do.
Everything else is negotiable.

This is why it is so important to read the Bible and study it
- both as individuals and as a community.
If we stick by scripture, we are living the Christian life the way it is meant to be.
The reason why so many Christians get sidetracked is because
firstly they do not read or study the Bible well,
and secondly because they are not convinced of the sufficiency of scripture.
They are not convinced that the Bible is all you need for the man of God to be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
They disobey God,
they obscure the message of the gospel,
and they confuse the people of God
so that they are no longer relying upon God’s spirit-inspired word.


Well let me finish up.

How are we to live our lives?

As Christians we rebel against the world’s conformity
- because the world lives in rebellion against God and we acknowledge him as our king.
Instead, we conform to what God says we should do.
We listen to what he says to us in his word.

But our purpose is not to create anarchy.
It is not to destroy the world.
It is to live in the world and be witnesses of Christ to those we meet.
We live in obedience to God’s word and to God’s word only.
We accept the freedom we have in being slaves of Christ,
while at the same time rejecting anything apart from Christ that enslaves us.

Let me pray.

Heavenly Father
Thank you for the great gift of your word. Help us to reject the world’s teachings and ideas and instead focus solely upon your word as the only true guidebook for life. Give us wisdom to use our minds so that we can sort through what is good and what is bad in our world today. Give us unselfish hearts that love you and others, and take away the natural selfishness that we have in our lives. Above all things, use us in the proclamation of your gospel, so that through our imperfect witness, you may shine the light of salvation to those who do not know you.

From the Kerygmatic Department

© 2005 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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