Summary: Being a Christian is not a negative thing, nothing but thou shalt nots; it is first of all a relationship with God, but marred by fear. So God gives us boundaries to receive as a gift, not a burden. That’s good news worth telling.
The instant some people hear anything about Christianity they begin to conjure up negatives. For too many being a Christian is defined by what they are not allowed to do. “I don’t drink and I don’t chew and I don’t go with girls who do.” For too much of the world, being a Christian is a joyless, dry, negative thing, for fuddy-duddies and straight-laced biddies and folks whose faces might crack is they were to dare a smile.
But being a Christian is nothing like that. Being a Christian is about living in fellowship with God and doing what fellowship calls for. Being a Christian is finding deep and authentic freedom and joy in a relationship with God.
This morning I have good news, great news. The good news is that God has come near. He draws us close to Himself, and then He offers us liberty and joy. I have wonderful news – that in Jesus Christ, the word made flesh, God has approached us and is offering us something life-giving, fulfilling, hope-bringing. Today I celebrate about what God is doing in Jesus Christ. He is drawing near to us, so that we may draw close to Him and may live free! Good news!
To do that, I am going to what may seem a strange place. It may seem odd that if I want to talk about God’s gift of freedom, I would go to Mt. Sinai, where the Ten Commandments were given. If I am to speak about God’s gift of freedom, why would I use a Scripture that speaks of commands and expectations? Why would I, if I want you to feel free, select a Scripture that says, over and over again, “Thou shalt not”. It sounds like it’s all negatives, all demands, no joy. But just wait. Let’s put it into context. Let’s see what God was doing at Mt. Sinai when He gave the Ten Commandments.
First, notice that the Lord’s deepest investment is not in commands, but it is in His people. His deepest concern is for us. He wants a direct, face-to-face encounter with us. God wants us to be in fellowship with Him.
Moses gathered the people, and said,
The LORD our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. Not with our ancestors did the LORD make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today. The LORD spoke with you face to face at the mountain, out of the fire. (At that time I was standing between the LORD and you to declare to you the words of the LORD; for you were afraid because of the fire and did not go up the mountain.)
The Lord spoke face to face. You see, God is profoundly invested in having a relationship with us. But our issue is that we are afraid. We are anxious. We do not go up to the mountain to encounter Him, because we are afraid. And so the Lord our God comes to us and reaches out to us. He goes out of His way to connect with us – not to punish us, not to threaten us, but to love us.
But I say again that our issue is that we are afraid and anxious. The more I read the Scriptures, the more I am persuaded that the heart of sin is fear and anxiety. I know it is customary to speak of pride as the core sin, and that has its place. But I believe, not only as I read the Bible but also as I read people, that the heart of sin is that fear and anxiety. We have not trusted the love and the care of God. And so we do create a legalistic religion. We invent a religious program that is so full of do’s and don’ts, thou shalts and thou shalt nots, that all the joy is squeezed out of it. All the spontaneity is destroyed. We take what is intended to be a relationship of love and joy, and we make it into a contract of legalities and lovelessness.
I know about this. I’ve been there. I remember as a teenager, getting into that smugly self-righteous mode. One night my parents wanted to play a card game that required four people – my mother, my father, my brother, and me. But I loftily announced that as a Christian I didn’t play cards, thank you very much. The fact is that I not only revealed my anxiety, but I also broke up everybody else’s fun at the same time. I had defined being a Christian as a list of the things I didn’t do. But I didn’t have a clue about a relationship with God.
The good news today is that instead of do’s and don’ts, instead of the shalts and the shalt nots, being a Christian is being in relationship with God. It is a face-to-face encounter with our creator. The most fundamental question I can ask you today is, “Do you know Him? Do you know the Lord, up close and personal?” I do not ask you whether you know Christian doctrine or whether you are a church member. I do not ask whether you keep certain rules or even whether you are baptized. After all, lots of folks who have been baptized are nothing more than wet sinners. And why? Because they have adopted a religion of demands and negativity rather than developing a relationship with the living Lord. So I ask again, “Do you know Him? Do you know the Lord? Before you talk about how you behave, do you talk to Him personally?”