The other night we watched Easy Rider. Even though the film has been out for 41 years, it was the first time any of us had seen it. As we watched, Jan and I were both struck by the idea of freedom, although in slightly different ways.
Jan saw the characters as people looking for freedom. Wyatt (Peter Fonda) and Billy (Dennis Hopper) traveled across America free to do whatever they wished. The folks at the commune wanted to be free to live off the land as they saw fit. George (Jack Nicholson) saw traveling with Wyatt and Billy as a chance for freedom. What Jan said is that while they were looking for freedom, or thought that they were free, all of them were bound by something. I think that's true. All of the characters were bound, by drugs, prostitution, prejudice, the weather, or the actions of others. That's true in real life as well. People are bound by any number of things. As Jan said, everyone who is outside of Christ is bound by sin. Only in Jesus do we have freedom.
That brings me to my thoughts as we watched the film. There was a section where George talks about freedom:
"They're scared of what you represent to them....
What you represent to them is freedom....
But talking about and being it, that's two different things.
Don't tell anybody that they're not free, because they'll get busy killing and maiming to prove to you that they are. They're going to talk to you and talk to you about individual freedom. But, they see a free individual, it's going to scare them. Well, it don't make them running scared. It makes them dangerous."
There are a lot of churches that loudly proclaim grace and freedom. "By grace are you saved" is a common theme. Some put grace in their name. They will tell you that they are all about grace and freedom. If you take a closer look, however, you will notice that the folks in those churches are like the characters in Easy Rider. They are bound. Bound by the expectations of others, by their pursuit of the American Dream. Bound by rules handed down from the pastor or group of leaders. Bound by a system of theology or a tradition of worship. Bound by guilt or prejudice. Just don't tell them that they are not free or let them see an individual who is living free in God's grace. That's when they become dangerous.
People who try to truly live in freedom are looked upon as "backsliders." They are "lawless" and "they need to get right with God." They are removed from leadership roles, or expelled from institutions. People who live in freedom are ostracized. Some are even branded as "heretics," and are denounced in writing or on blogs. Christians are scared of grace and of the freedom that we have because of grace. It's nothing new. Paul was accused of promoting lawlessness because he preached grace.
I think we are scared of freedom because freedom is a dangerous thing. It causes us to rely completely on the Holy Spirit to guide us, rather than a law handed down from an authority figure. If we live in freedom we have to think, and we have to be willing to make mistakes and then own up to those mistakes. We even have to be willing to sin. Yes, I said that we even have to be willing to sin. Face it, we are going to sin. Instead of trying to hide it and pretend we don't, we should own up to it. We shouldn't live our lives constantly looking around for some sin to jump out from the shadows and attack us. We shouldn't go through our day worrying about avoiding sin. We should flee temptation when it presents itself, but we shouldn't be anxious about it.
We are called to live in freedom. Christ has fulfilled the law, and it is for freedom that he has set us free. Learn from Jesus. Let his Spirit fill you and teach you. As you grow more and more in the grace of God through Jesus, and let Christ live through you, the more you'll be able to live in grace, and the more you will be truly free.
You might be scary to some. But, that's a good thing.
From my opportunity to teach in our gathering this morning:
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