SPIRITUAL MATTERS: The pursuit of freedom

Anxiety and depression seem to be skyrocketing in recent years. The number of people enslaved to drugs is at epidemic proportions.
Since I am in the people business, I wonder, “Why are so many people unhappy? Why are so many people in the grip of sadness and hopelessness?”
Having just celebrated Independence Day, I’ve been thinking about freedom. What is freedom? What is free will? For all our American emphasis on freedom, it seems that many of us are trapped in the same old ruts of negativity, hostility, and sadness.
I wish churches (including the one I pastor!) would communicate the good news about Jesus Christ better. You see, many people do not understand what the gospel is.
You might say, “Well, the gospel is to believe in Jesus and try to live a good life.” No, that is not the gospel. “Well, the gospel is that we should be kind and nice and loving to each other.”
No, that is not the gospel. The gospel is not about you; it’s about Jesus. The gospel is not about what you do; it’s about what Jesus has done.
The gospel is news. It is an announcement. It is a proclamation. Many people think the gospel is good advice. It’s not. It is news. And it’s good news.
The gospel is a public announcement of what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. It is something that happened in history. You can verify it. It is something that happened.
The gospel is that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to the apostles and many others (see 1 Corinthians 15).
Now the results of the gospel are astounding. When we believe the gospel and receive Christ into our lives, he forgives us and frees us. For example, he frees us the fear that we don’t measure up or that we’re not good enough. He frees us from our idolatry.
You say, “But we don’t have idols today. We aren’t superstitious like those ancient people.” Oh yes we do. As Pastor Tim Keller puts it, an idol is anything that you idolize, that you value, that you consider more important to you than God. An idol is something that you value so much that you tend to base your identity on it.
And what makes it tricky is that a good thing can be your idol, if you turn that good thing into an ultimate thing. You just have to have it. You find your identity and your reason for living in it.
Maybe it’s your beauty. Maybe it’s your big muscles. Maybe it’s your brains. Maybe it’s your kids and how they’re the best athletes or the best students. Maybe it’s your job and how you’re the most successful.
The crazy thing about idols is that they never satisfy. A young woman starts to make an idol out of her beauty. She is beautiful, and that’s good. Beauty is a gift from God.
But she takes that good thing –her beauty –and she makes it an ultimate thing. Her entire life revolves around her beauty. Her identity, her happiness, her success, is built upon her beauty. Her beauty has become her idol. She is fearful that she may lose her beauty, or that someone else is prettier.
Or you’re a businessman and you are climbing the corporate ladder. You’re making lots of money but you’re paying a price. You’re neglecting your family and your marriage is in trouble. Your health is even suffering.
And you think if you can just get to the next position, then life will be good. And when you get there, you find out that one of your peers was promoted even higher. And now you’re jealous.
Why didn’t you get that promotion? And the status and the reputation and the money that you thought would make all the difference still doesn’t satisfy. You’re frustrated and empty. And now, maybe you’re even thinking about having an affair to spruce up your life a bit.
The gospel says that idols never satisfy. Could it be that much of our unhappiness and bitterness and hopelessness is that we are pursuing freedom in all the wrong places. Come to Christ. Believe his good news. He can set you free.
The Rev. Greg Henneman is senior pastor of Clarkston Community Church

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