A paradox is a statement that appears to contradict itself. There are quite a few of them in the Bible. We receive life by giving ours up. We’re treasures in God’s eyes, yet wretched creatures. We are free when we give God complete control of our lives. I used to believe that last one was about freedom from death when we accept Christ. That’s a big part of it, but it’s so much more than that. We also experience freedom during this life.
How can giving up control of our lives bring us freedom? Most non-believers point to the need to relinquish control of their lives to God as an excuse for not seeking Him. They want the freedom to live any way they want to live. Most think turning everything over to Him is a demand from a dictatorial God. To a certain degree I thought the same thing. I wanted the freedom to do whatever I felt like doing and I believed that God loved me no matter what. As I learned more about who God really is, I came to understand that giving Him control doesn’t mean I’m submitting my life to a dictator. It means I base my life choices on God’s commands for us, whether I understand it or not and no matter how difficult that may be at times. I strive to live each moment of my life the way my Creator says is best for me. I’m following the instruction manual from my manufacturer to insure I operate at optimum level!
“The important thing is obeying God’s commands. You all were bought at a great price, so do not become slaves of people.” 1 Corinthians 7:19, 23
The best illustration of how this played out in my life is my abuse of alcohol. Since my senior year in high school I have enjoyed drinking. The effects made me the kind of person I wished I was: social, extroverted, funny (or so I thought!), NOT SHY. If someone asked me to do something that didn’t involve drinking, I passed. I looked forward to the next opportunity to feel that buzz, which, more often than not, evolved into getting drunk. I wasn’t an alcoholic but I definitely abused it. Weekend pool time included an entire afternoon of drinking. I didn’t want to go out to eat with my husband unless it was a restaurant that served alcohol. Our favorite pastime was going to our favorite bar to dance and drink and I always overdid it. I couldn’t function in social settings so I drank, using alcohol to relax me. I usually ended up embarrassing myself. Generally, I didn’t touch alcohol during the week, but when the weekends rolled around, I anticipated the opportunities I would have to drink. If there weren’t any, I would drink something at some point anyway. As much as I looked forward to it, I often felt fear about going out. I hoped I could stop drinking before I got too drunk, but I seldom did. I wanted to find other activities to fill my time but nothing seemed much fun without alcohol. The fear, the embarrassment, not even the hangovers and days of depression were enough to make me stop.
What a life! I may have perceived myself to be free because I didn’t have the limits God wanted to put on my life, but I was held hostage by alcohol. I was unable to break free from it no matter how hard I tried.
“If people’s thinking is controlled by the sinful self, there is death. But if their thinking is controlled by the Spirit, there is life and peace. When people’s thinking is controlled by the sinful self, they are against God, because they refuse to obey God’s law….” Romans 8:6-8
I remember several periods of time when I would ask God to take the desire to drink away from me. But they weren’t really prayers – they were demands. I wanted God to give me what I wanted without doing the things He asked me to do. The Bible tells us that God doesn’t hear the prayers of those who deny Him. We don’t like to hear that. We’ve been told that we are all God’s children but that’s not true. I think what most people mean when they say that is that we are all created by God but being a member of His family is not an opt-out situation. We’re not in until we do something that forces God to kick us out or we decide to leave. We have to make the decision; we must accept Jesus and commit our lives to Him before we are one of His children. When I began asking God for help, I believed in Him but didn’t have a relationship with Him. So, I understand now that my prayers for rescue may have been falling on deaf ears.
In December, 2009, when I decided to live life God’s way, I did become one of His children. Here are the words I said to Him at the foot of my bed (I remember almost exactly what I said!): “I can’t live life without You anymore. My way isn’t working and the fear is destroying me. I will read the Bible and do what You tell me to do. I won’t pick and choose only the things I like or want in my life. I will accept them all.” That sounds like I gave up my freedom, yet it is the most freeing thing I have ever done. The Bible doesn’t expressly prohibit drinking alcohol but it does warn us about the negative impact it can have on our lives and warns us not to be drunk. I couldn’t drink without getting drunk, so I had to quit. But at that point, I was still depending on my own power to overcome it. The number of times I would drink did begin to decrease and each time I chose to drink, it became less attractive to me. I began to hear what the Holy Spirit was saying to me and take an honest look at alcohol’s impact. I was more sensitive to how it affected my family. I would walk into our favorite bar and wonder if any of the people there knew Jesus. I watched them drinking and prayed they would give God control of their lives before the alcohol took control. I saw the need to drink as something most of us use to fill some void in our lives and I was disappointed in myself for trusting alcohol more than I trusted God. I no longer liked the person I was when I was drinking because I was beginning to understand that God made me a certain way for His reasons and I was beginning to accept that.
Today the desire is gone. I can have one or two drinks and stop. I enjoy a lot of activities and don’t need alcohol to make them fun. I am free from it; alcohol no longer holds me captive. Alcohol wasn’t the only thing that held me captive: having a perfect body, shopping, a career, my emotions. Some I continue to work on but when I sense that they’re starting to get too much control over my life, I go right to God and see what He has to say about it by reading my Bible, praying and/or talking with other believers, “listening” for His direction. I’m a work in progress.
When we take our young children to the amusement park there are so many things they are drawn to. They would take off running if we allowed them to, trying to soak it all in, experience all the things the park offers: food, candy, rides, games, toys, “live” cartoon characters. But we ask them to take hold of our hand and listen to our instruction so they don’t run off and get lost, snatched by strangers or get hurt somehow. We would never think of turning them loose and letting them run free. We want them to listen to our instruction not because we want to dictate their every move. We do it so their day at the park can be as much fun as possible and not spoiled by some of the dangers lurking there that they are not aware of.
The world wants us to believe that giving ourselves to God is giving up our freedom. But it’s just the opposite: He has provided a way for us to avoid being a slave to worldly things. Without taking hold of God’s hand and allowing Him to lead us through life we are at the mercy of an unforgiving, unrelenting world waiting to hold us captive to the things we hope will make life better. The world is not in the business of freeing us from anything!
I don’t obey because I’m coerced to obey. I obey God because I love Him and know He wants what’s best for me. God knows there are many things in this world that are next to impossible to resist and He wants to help us avoid getting trapped by them. Giving Him control means basing our decisions and our behavior on His commands. Through His commands He helps us avoid dangers we cannot see.
I know from experience that a life free from God is not freedom. When we commit our lives to obeying Him, He will provide some very effective weapons to free us from the things that hold us captive: the Bible, the Holy Spirit, prayer, and other believers. Only when you obey God will you truly be free.