I flip through pages, thousands of them, all tissue thin with an ink everlasting. They tell the stories, this Holy Book of books; these living, breathing words unfolding the hearts of saints and sinners, words that mark the law of Moses and the ministry of Jesus, this text I’ve been told over and again is a guidebook for living. I want to crawl up inside it, find all the answers, plug in the right formula to make this life compute.
Life does come with an instruction manual, we hear. It’s the Bible. All you ever need to know about life is in this book. Obey and you’ll be free.
And maybe if you’re like me, you thumb through the commandments and the Wisdom books, you taste the desperation of David and the plight of the Israelites, and linger a while on the words of Jesus. And maybe if you’re like me, you think you’ll never really get a grip on it all. You’ll never be able to balance the theology of grace with the groanings of your heart and the weakness of the flesh, with the kind of obedience that God requires.
You know you’ll never measure up.
My spirit folds up on itself way down deep when I think about obedience, when I flip through a thousand pages of instructions and feel so small you could squash me between the pages while the words echo, ricocheting off the corners of my carefully constructed religion.
Obey and you’ll be free.
I was born stained and tainted, branded by a sin nature like a scarlet letter tattoo. My lips are Eve’s lips, stained with blood from the battle, sticky with the forbidden fruit of Eden. Obedience is a long shot for a girl like me; a girl whose heart wrestles hard with doubt some days; a girl who holds her tongue between her teeth so she doesn’t make more trouble for herself; a girl whose willful heart is often stronger than her resolve.
Sins are erected like prison bars around me, iron rods that keep me captive: doubt and fear, worry and anger, pride and selfishness, laziness and greed. If obedience is the way to freedom, these bars make the journey look impossible. If obedience is the way to freedom, I may never be free.
But I keep thumbing those tissue pages with the ink everlasting. I keep wrestling my grip on the prison bars until my spirit quiets with the words of Paul, someone experienced with captivity.
So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? –Romans 7:21-24
I remember that we are free from the bondage of sin, but also from the bondage of law. I remember that this instruction manual in my hands is first and foremost a story of my rescue.
The prison bars dissolve before this very truth: Obedience will never take me to the heart of God. The heart of God is the only path to obedience.
The familiar words of my Pastor, Jon Courson, sink in to a new place today and water thirsty seeds: The law says, ‘Responsibility!’ Love says, ‘Just respond to Me.’
Just respond to Me.
There are thousands of pages in this book in my hands, of ideas and commands; stories and jewels of wisdom and life. One for every prison bar, one for each and every time I need to be rescued.
Who will rescue me from this body of death, Paul asks.
Like my crumpled spirit, Paul’s heart cries out for rescue.
Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? -Romans 7:24
I’ve had it backwards all along. Obey and you’ll be free puts the ball in my court, puts the onus on my strength, puts humanity in charge of grace and justice. Obey and you’ll be free takes the whole saving work of Jesus on the cross right out of the picture.
Respond to Me.
Be free and then you’ll obey.
All the seeking for the right equation and now it is clear. I’ve had the variables all wrong. My obedience will not rescue me. It cannot rescue me. I can only reach the heart of God by responding to Him, not working for Him or being fearful of Him. Faithful obedience cannot exist apart from heart-felt response, or it’s nothing more than the legalism that Christ overcame.
Who will rescue me from this body of death?
The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.
With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new spirit is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.” –Romans 7:25-8:2
Respond to Me, He says.
Join the conversation on Mondays in July as the writers of Living the Story explore the facets of living FREE from the lens of our own experiences. Was it a moment of guidance or direction, a season of love, a time of healing or rebirth when you experienced true freedom? We want to hear about your encounters too.
Mark your calendar! On July 29, we welcome Heather Kopp, author of Sober Mercies: How Love Caught Up With a Christian Drunk, as our guest writer with an opportunity to win her new book.