Truth and Freedom

John 8:31
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

The US National Debt is over $30.6 Trillion…and growing rapidly.

The average American owes over $90,000.

The average college student graduates with $27,000 in debt.

This kind of financial debt isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Without taking out a loan very few people would be able to buy a home. But debt can very easily become a vicious overlord, pressing us down into submission, fear and anxiety.

When the Bible talks about being a “slave” the term is “DOULOS” which means bond-servant. It most often refers to being in such overwhelming debt that you have no chance of getting out from under it. So (often out or grace and generosity) somebody will pay your debt off and, in exchange, you essentially become their full-time servant until your debt is paid off (which will likely never happen).

It is into this context that Jesus brilliantly re-defines the word DOULOS into a spiritual scenario. In a much bigger and deeper way the debt of sin is absolutely insurmountable — “The wages of sin is death” Rom 6:23 — This is our great slavery, our great doulos. We have dug a debt-pit and we keep on digging. It is the spiritual and eternal side of a shocking, humiliating and enslaving personal debt which has left us utterly bankrupt, without hope of getting above water.

Into this enslaving despair Jesus procured and proclaims the most ridiculous freedom. Get past the churchy cliche of “Jesus paid a debt he did owe” (which is utterly true) and realize the stunning truth of our debt and his gift.

Timothy Keller has explained it like this (I can’t remember where): Say you came home and your house-sitter told you that a bill came and she went ahead and paid it for you. How happy and thankful would you be? Well, it totally depends on the amount of the bill. Was it a “postage due” of 5 cents or was it your mortgage?

This is where we sit, and why it’s not “bad news” to talk about the depth of our sin-debt. The older I get the more I realize the extent of what Jesus has forgiven (once again, even the word “forgiven” is a debt-erasing term). So it’s not shamful and oppressive to consider the level of debt, but a springboard to praise, thanksgiving and responsive living. Jesus doesn’t rub it in and remind us of what he’s done. He doesn’t abusively turn to us and say “I forgave you of all that, and this is how you treat me?” Instead, he has taken our debt and fully paid it off…AND he has given us a full inheritance!

Paul tells us in Galatians 4:6-7 “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”

We aren’t simply debt-free. We are wealthy with righteousness beyond belief.

So what do I do about this? How does this translate into me knowing and living free?

Jesus tells us in John 8:31 — ABIDE in TRUTH.

Abide means to personally and perpetually be saturated with the TRUTH. (As opposed to sitting under the lies of the devil (John 8:44) who tell us how horrible, un-savable and un-lovable we are).

The Truth that I owed and insurmountable debt.
The Truth that Jesus became a bond-servant (Phil 2) for us, even to the point of the cross.
The Truth that when he was raised from the debt (paying our debt) he brought the keys to Death and Hades with him so that they can no longer has mastery over us! (Rev 1)
The Truth that we have been given the Righteousness of Christ (Phil 3).
The Truth that we are sons and daughters of the King with an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade (1 Peter 1)

To find FREEDOM means to know, believe, enjoy and live out these Truths. This is done through weekly gatherings with one another; through personal relationships where we speak TRUTH into one anothers’ lives; through authentic, saturating time with the Lord in The Word and Prayer. It’s utter saturation in the Gospel because we perpetually forget and fall back into listening to the devil’s lies.

All of this good news leads into a new life of being a loving-doulos — this time to Christ who loves us and has given himself for us.

As he became a servant for us, we are now servants of Him, and of one another. Not out of threatening obligation, but out of joy and love…

“But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20).

Pillar of Fire

At the Feast of Booths the people would gather around the temple treasury celebrating how the Lord guided (carried) Israel out of slavery in Egypt, through the Wilderness and into the Promised Land. Part of this celebration included 4 enormous 86-foot tall pillars with a massive fire on top, representing the “pillars of fire” (Exodus 13) that led God’s People. It was here, at this time, that Jesus proclaimed “I am the light of the world!” (John 8:12). He was not just being artistic and interesting. He was boldly proclaiming that HE was the same Lord that led the people out of Slavery and into Life. He was proclaiming His Divinity in a personal, practical and purposeful way. It was a shocking and world-altering proclamation!

What does that have to do with us?

Our whole lives are filled with Wilderness experiences. This side of heaven we have been brought from slavery to sin by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus…but we haven’t fully made it to the ultimate promised land yet. In this “in between time” Jesus, the pillar of fire, the Light, is the one going before us. Should be easy-peasy, right. Clearly not. We all get so easily distracted by other lights in this world, inviting us to follow them down other paths.

One of the strangest fish has to be the Angler Fish. This little guy lives super deep in the ocean where there is essentially NO light. In the Lord’s mind-boggling creativity this fish has a little lantern coming out of his forehead, dangling in front of his mouth. So when little fish see it, they are drawn to it like a moth to a flame…and into the awaiting mouth of the Angler.

In this dark world I look for lights…What do I do? Where do I go?

In this dark world I am ashamed of my own darkness…Why did I do that? Why did I say that?

When this happens, I have “light options” in front of me, one leading to life and the others leading to death.

I can turn to basic intuition (which the Lord certainly uses). But sometimes the Lord has a stranger faith-path.

When confronted with my own darkness, I can turn to religion and promise to do better and/or rationalize my behavior.

Or I can enter into the fire as the fire enters into me. There is not a magical prayer or secret combination of scripture passages. It is quite simply (yet often elusively) abiding with Jesus. He has entered the darkest of darknesses on the cross (even as it was dark over all the land from noon until 3 while he hung there) which means that he has also personally entered our personal darkness and our personal wilderness. His still, small voice speaks to us through the Spirit, His Word and His People to guide us, prod us, heal us and carry us home.
He is still the pillar of fire. And in the end…

Rev 21
22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.


Jesus Plus Nothing.
A strange little phrase more over-packed than my free carry-on bag.

At first glance this elementary phrase is Gospel 101. So let’s move on to some meat that challenges my head, heart and soul; solidifies my theology and behavior; gives hope to my eternity and power for my day-to-day.

LIKE the doctor that moves on from basic anatomy in order to do brain surgery.

LIKE the attorney that brushed past the constitution to run for office.

LIKE the football team that hurdles “block and tackle” practice to choreograph their end zone dance.

LIKE the couple that stops saying “I love you” to get to the deeper parts of marriage. (yikes)

You know what I am talking about. We’ve seen it. We’ve been frustrated by it. We’ve done it. It’s the Fundamentals. Over and over and over again. Then when you’ve done it over and over, then start over and do it again.

This is the Gospel. Yes, we absolutely need to study deep and broad. Do your word studies, read commentaries and get into sparked conversations. But always, always, always built upon the rock-solid, immovable, unchanging foundation of “Jesus Plus Nothing.”

Otherwise we will inevitably get lost in information instead of transformation; focused on theology rather than on Jesus; revert back to self instead love. Don’t believe me? Ask anybody who has been to seminary. Or anybody who has been in vocational ministry. I cannot begin to tell the nearly universal stories of myself and others that have lost the power and passion of ministry, and even with Jesus, because we’ve “moved on” from JPN.

So let’s remember

Jesus Plus Nothing

Ephesians 2:8-9
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Jesus is all we have. Jesus is all we need.

For all ages we have added a + and/or a – to this equation not just for salvation but for my everyday relationship with the Lord. Most of us may get on board with this being true for me to get into heaven. But not so much for how God actually sees me and loves me.

Jesus + ____

What dog-trick hoops do we set up in this blank? Specific rules of Baptism; specific (micro) theology points (side note, yes there are basic macro theology points we are called to believe as we are adopted into his family – see Romans 10:9).

Jesus – ____

What itemized and ranked sins might we insert here? It’s Jesus…as long as you DON’T…?

Instead of going on and on with these essentials, I want to move on to the main two points of JPN — that is gives us Infinitely Eternal Hope as well as Endlessly Practical Power

Infinitely Eternal Hope

When Jesus looks on you, what’s the look on his face?

I used this little counseling trick with teenagers. I’d show them different expressions and and ask them different “feeling” questions (how did you feel when…). Because sometimes words don’t suffice.

So what about you?

When you really mess up…When you are really generous…When you realize you haven’t even thought about God in over a week. Which of these represent how you “feel that God feels about you”?

No, God isn’t ambivalent about your heart and your behavior. But unlike humans, his love for you isn’t adjusted by your behavior. It if was, then Christ’s death wasn’t sufficient. That means that it’s “Christ Plus (my behavior)”. Nope. It’s not.

Put another way:

Unconditional Love doesn’t exist.
Quote me on that. But hear me out.

The Lord doesn’t love you unconditionally, because that would simply be unjust. Instead, and SO MUCH BETTER, the Lord’s love for you is CONDITIONED on Christ, who has satisfied the Law’s demands and was made a propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10 – In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.) This means that Jesus “appeased” God’s just wrath by paying that price for us.

And therefore…God’s love has met it’s needed conditions, and you are SET FREE. His love is NOT CONDITIONED on you in any way, at any time. Not what you’ve done or what you haven’t done.

It’s over.

It’s finished (I seem to remember Jesus explicitly saying that at some important time)

This Infinitely Endless Hope rests solely on Jesus and his Righteousness. I am safe, secure and wrapped up on the wings of my Father. This world will hiss and spit, but I am my Father’s and He is mine. Locked and secure.

Since the days of Paul the first critique of this is “Well, if it’s secure, then I can do whatever I want…live it up and enjoy myself because God won’t reject me.” Well, Yes. But, BY NO MEANS (Romans 7)

This security actually means an unimaginable and powerful freedom…not just “FREE FROM” but “FREE TO”…

Endlessly Practical Power

The Infinitely Endless Hope of JPN means that my days count more than ever. I don’t have to spend my days in any kind of worry or fear. Did I do this right? Did I do enough?

Instead I can realize that, since Jesus died, rose and was lifted up, I have now been given the Holy Spirit to abide in me and me in Him. And, get this, that will never ever ever change. I am so fully loved and knit together with Him that I am free to give and play, grieve and pray, serve and dance, rest and strive.

It is because of JPN that Paul wrote Philippians 4:13 to all the football teams to come “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” — He said that while in jail awaiting execution. He was FREE and POWERFUL because man has NOTHING on me; this world cannot take what God has locked up in his vault.

I need the Spirit to preach this into my heart everyday. I need Him to shove it past my insecurities, successes, fears and failures. I need to hear the perpetual and unending Truth from the Bridegroom “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” (SofS 6:3 – written to a married couple as a foreshadowing of Christ and His Bride, The Church, You, Me.)

There is too much more to say and almost all of you have already stopped reading. So if you are still here, sit on the words of this 200 yr old hymn.

Rock of Ages, Augustus M. Toplady

Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.