We are not free to do as we please. Boundaries, limits, standard requirements are a reality of everyday life. These are necessary evils for the sake of law, order and public safety.
Before 9-11, I could pick up people arriving at the local airport directly at their gate, embracing them moments after they stepped off the airplane. No more. Security checkpoints keep me at a distance. I’m lucky to be allowed near baggage claim.
When I visited the hospital during a friend’s cancer surgery, I was not free to barge into the operating room for a firsthand look at the procedure. I had to sit in the waiting room until someone emerged to share the outcome. To do otherwise would have meant risking eviction.
I can’t drive any way I want. On American roads, I’m required to “keep right.” Sure, it’s possible to ignore the road markings, be a non-conformist and drive left of center. It’s also potentially fatal. There are posted speed limits, too. I can drive faster and, regrettably, sometimes do. I don’t recommend it.
Boundaries are not crossed without penalties: tickets, lawyer fees and, occasionally, morgues.
Knowing the consequences of disobedience, most of us respect imposed limits as the rules of the game. So why do we normally law-abiding people live like outlaws before God, rejecting the notion that He has any right to set boundaries for our lives?
The answer, as I see it, is that we have no fear of the Lord. We give grudging respect to civil authorities, which are actually established by God, and conform as necessary. Biblical authority, on the other hand, has become meaningless – even to so-called Christians.
I had coffee with a young man the other night who is a poster child for this pervasive yet cancerous attitude. He’s a “nice guy,” educated, gainfully employed, decent looking, polite, a church-goer. He also is willfully disobedient to Scripture, by his own admission, and quite probably lost.
This guy dates my daughter.
He considers himself a Christian even though he is not willing to live by biblical truth, an historically contrary notion which he considers a small thing.
With his head, he agrees that the Bible is right, insists that he “respects” God and biblical values. With his heart, however, he refuses to respect the boundaries God has set for Christian living when they conflict with what he wants to do. Indeed, he rejects the notion that he has any obligation to do so.
The times in which we live are not unlike the book of Judges in which it is said, “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25)
We attend church, crack our Bibles now and then and mouth the occasional prayer. But none of that has any relationship to how we live or make decisions. We know where the boundaries are drawn, but persist in living outside the lines. This has been done before. Ezekiel 33:31 says: “My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. “
Hearing but not doing is hypocrisy.
“The Lord says: ‘These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.’” (Isaiah 29:13)
As I reminded the young man at coffee, Christians are not free to live as we choose. We live in committed relationship with a holy God who loves us and desires to make us holy. God has established standards, boundaries, limits for His children. These are for our good. If we love Him, we conform our lives to His wishes.
I liken the Christian life to a marathon race. I ran the Outer Banks Half-Marathon once. Training required a lot of personal discipline, self-denial, patient endurance. To be competitive, I did things I normally would not choose to do: changed the way I ate, ran at odd and inconvenient times and for longer distances than I ever imagined possible. I did this, not because I liked it, but because my goal was to run well and finish the race.
The race had an established course with a starting line and a finish line. On race day, I was required to run within clearly marked boundaries. I couldn’t make it up as I went along and veer into the finish line at the end. I would have been disqualified.
Similarly, Christians enter into a relationship with Christ and run the race He sets before us. Paul encouraged his fellow believers to have the disciplined commitment of soldiers and athletes who respect the boundaries imposed by their office:
“Anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.” (2 Timothy 2:5)