“He forgives all my sins and heals my diseases. He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies. He fills my life with good things. My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!”
Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt ashamed. Guilty. Unworthy. Chained.
I know this feeling well, as I’m surrounded by a world filled with seemingly perfect people. Whether it’s the airbrushed model in an advertisement, the virtuous church member across the aisle, or the polished mother with a thriving blog and voluminous blowout, our culture presents insurmountable expectations for women to hurdle. What culture and society deems as “right” constantly changes, and by the time you’ve jammed yourself into a box of idealism, the standard has shifted. Imagine an acrobat striving to catch the high bar during a free-fall, failing every time, and you’ll capture the condition of the human heart. Sometimes your fingers brush the cool metal, and sometimes you can’t muster the courage to jump. Maybe you’re so paralyzed with the fear of failure that you haven’t even climbed up the platform, but remain on the ground frozen under the pressure of the fall.
This is not the life we were created for.
We were created to live under the privilege of our royal status as daughters of the King.
We were created to thrive in our natural gifting without measuring ourselves against a certain standard of creativity, beauty, value, or efficiency.
We were created to rejoice in our Father as He delights in us, His spotless and beautiful children.
In my devotional this morning, I discovered the perfect retaliation against culture’s ludicrous expectations. As Paul is discussing laws and regulations regarding clean and unclean food, he asks a simple, defiant question that applies to so much more than dietary restrictions:
“For why should my freedom be limited by what someone else thinks?”
Can you say “hallelujah?”
The first churches to form after Christ’s resurrection were struggling to balance cultural expectations with spiritual truths just as we are today. Today, pastors chase after culture so their church can stay relevant and trendy to high-maintenance millenials. Graphic designers create beautiful, Pinterest-worthy content to advertise Bible studies, sermon series, and worship events. Worship leaders have a definitive “look” based on the freshest lines at H&M and Pacsun. Keynote speakers walk the wobbly tightrope between building a fanbase and adhering to scripture, only to be persecuted when they go a step too far. The church today focuses so much on outward perfection that it can be easy to forget the purpose behind the polished printout. Following clothing trends is not a sin, agonizing over fonts and color schemes doesn’t lead baby believers astray, and having thousands of followers on social media doesn’t make you superficial. The risk of being culturally relevant is that endless striving and rebranding focuses less on faith, scripture, and grace and more on flashiness, tweeting, and screentime. When you look to Instagram or church attendance to validate you, you’re ignoring the simple freedom of running with Christ. You’re hovered over your computer when Jesus wants you to lay in the wildflowers. You’re agonizing over the perfect morning devotional shot when the Holy Spirit is calling you to be humbly genuine. You’re creating a Pinterest board of scriptures that you’ve never read with your own eyes in an actual Bible. Why do we succumb to the cultural pressure to compete and look a certain way when God designed us to thrive in our unique nature, barefoot and untamed? Why have we twisted Christian pillars to adhere to cultural norms?
Everyone’s interpretation of freedom is different, but the freedom available to you and I as believers is clearly defined. To understand and shape your freedom in Christ, I thought it best to focus on the three principles of salvation: sola scriptura, sola gratia, and sola fide.
Sola scriptura, or by scripture alone, forms the essential moral code for Christianity. We must not check ourselves against our neighbor, a textbook, or a government, we must check ourselves against the Word of God alone. It is the only rulebook that never changes, never becomes outdated, and never fails. Live by His Word, and you’ll find the life you were made for.
Sola gratia, or by grace alone, counters any argument concerning salvation or righteousness. We are righteous by the grace of God alone. Our value in the Kingdom of Heaven is not determined by our goodness, virtue, service, or church hours. Our value in the Kingdom of Heaven is defined solely by the voluntary death of a perfect and blameless King, who walked through the same devastation and disappointment that every human does, yet escaped triumphant against sin. You cannot make yourself any more or less worthy of God’s grace after accepting Christ as your savior. God is going to use you regardless of your track record or spiritual prowess.
Sola fide, or by faith alone, is the key to the prior pillars of Christianity. Your faith in Christ alone unlocks the key to God’s perfect, unending grace. Your faith in Christ alone opens your soul to the Holy Spirit, who uses scripture to lead you along the path of righteousness. Unless you believe that Christ is the Son of God, the divine and perfect King above all kings, you cannot walk in freedom. Faith is freedom. When you trust that God is who He says He is, every other truth in the Bible becomes your heart’s cry. With faith, you trust that your value is found in Christ. With faith, you trust that your sin has been washed away by the blood of Jesus. With faith, you trust that nothing in this life compares to the joy found in Jesus.
When you love God more than anything else, the shackles of society break. You cannot be bound by insecurity and comparison when your eyes are locked on Jesus.
“So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!”
Galatians 5:16, 22-23
There is no limit to the fruit you can bear through the Holy Spirit. There is no limit to the blessing that God can pour out in your life. There is no limit to the reach of Christ’s redemptive power. Whether you’ve failed to meet the expectations of man or the commandments of scripture, take heart in this: your freedom is unlimited in Christ. Don’t allow yourself to be influenced by unbiblical culture or unrealistic expectations. Spend time with the Lord daily, and discover what He has to say about living righteously. Abide in Christ, and you will bear fruit. Your worth is not determined by your own efforts, and that alone is freeing. Your worth and freedom are based solely on Christ’s sacrifice for you, and that is irreversible and unchangeable.
I love Jess Connolly’s monologue on Eve. Eve may have a nasty reputation for committing the first sin, but there was a time before the Fall. No one knows how long Eve ran wild around Eden before the serpent came along. In her work Wild and Free, Connolly defines the freedom that Eve experienced with God as living “in a very pure and wild state, secure in who she was and confident in her purpose… [her] identity and purpose are uncomplicated and unhindered by [her] own insecurity or need for acknowledgement.” In the Garden, Adam and Eve had ONE rule: don’t eat the fruit on this tree. God didn’t hand out a list of commandments until the Israelites got unruly in Exodus. Jesus came and streamlined those commandments into one rule: love God, and love others. Paul spent the majority of the New Testament sorting out cultural law from spiritual law. This reveals that God doesn’t desire for us to live under a set of laws and regulations, but to run wild and carefree under His banner of love. When you find yourself securely in God’s love, you’ll obey and please Him out of gratitude and worship, not out of obligation or social pressure.
“Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy”
1 Peter 2: 10
Friends, what’s more freeing than that?