I thought to myself, “Just like the Church: setting his own rules and then punishing others for breaking the rules he made up.” Jesus complained of the teachers of his day too, who were “teaching as doctrines commandments of men” (Mark 7:7). Elsewhere, he condemns them more forcefully: "what sorrow also awaits you experts in religious law! For you crush people with unbearable religious demands, and you never lift a finger to ease the burden” (Luke 11:46, NLT). Throughout his ministry, Jesus was constantly working to liberate people from restrictive rules designed by men.
Ironically, the most powerful institution that was birthed from his ministry, the Catholic Church, instituted what were likely far more demanding regulations and punishments for breaking those regulations than those Jesus had freed his own followers from. Still, church after church has followed suit. But if we Christians follow the teachings of our Master, which James calls the “law of liberty,” we’ll be set free into abundant life.
The most recent sibling crisis in our family took place a couple of weeks ago when my kids and I were on a bike ride. Big brother had to show off and go really fast and little sister had to keep up, while mom was trailing far behind, but impressed with her daughter’s speed on a bike with wheels so small. When we arrived, my daughter was in tears. Her brother is “too competitive,” “won’t ever slow down,” and “doesn’t care.” After a sympathetic “I know,” a pause, a “Let him do his own thing,” and another pause, I looked my daughter in the eyes and said, “Sweetie, I was left way back in the dust, and I’m not crying.” Needless to say, that didn’t satisfy her. ;)
The lesson here is that it’s not always the external force that punishes us. We punish ourselves, and this is the more damning of the two types. And even when it appears that the external force (like my son) is doing the punishing, in truth, it’s always an internal choice. Though she didn’t know it, my daughter could have let herself out of her brother’s time-out, but she accepted the punishment he inflicted, thereby making it internal.
All of this, of course, is more complex in adult life; however, this idea is the basic principle behind Jesus’ induction to “turn the other cheek.” He saying, “Don’t internalize an external punishment.”
We can also choose to play or to bypass the rules and modes of operandi of those in our midst. My daughter might have complained that her brother is “too competitive,” but what about her? Why not hang back with slow-going mom? ;)
So why do we have drama? Because we permit external forces to determine our way. Sometimes, we choose to give such power to external forces. Perhaps we surrender for the sake of societal order or for our own growth, as we trust in a teacher for our long-term benefit, even if short term moments may be amiss. Even a deeper impulse of growth may have been working within my daughter, who grows by trying to keep up with her brother.
Or we choose surrender for the sake of love, recognizing our own surrender will help another to grow. Often, we surrender because we’ve fallen in love and the external force is the one we love. Sometimes, we think we are in love and perhaps have become needlessly attached, so our choices to surrender can be quite complicated.
If we are unconsciously following the path others are telling us to take, we remain unnecessarily enslaved. The choice of independence is a key part of the kingdom of heaven, which Jesus noted to be “within” (Luke 17:21).
When we do surrender our freedom, the key for us is to determine whether we have done so by choice for a higher cause, or whether we have unconsciously relinquished the law of liberty given to us by Christ to an external authority. Ironic though it may be, we Christians are most likely to unconsciously relinquish our freedom to our church authorities. If we have, have we done so consciously, by choice, in the recognition that it is for our long-term growth, or have we done so unconsciously, thereby perhaps ironically undermining our own growth?
As we quietly still ourselves before the Lord (psalm 46:10), set our minds on things above (Col 3:2), listen to the whispers of the Holy Spirit, examine the scriptures for confirmation, review our discoveries with those we trust, and remain faithful to the law of love, we will find the law of liberty to become evident in our lives as well.