“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31
On this Independence Day, I’ve been reflecting on one of the great paradoxes of the Christian faith: the belief that independence is achieved through dependence on God.
When I was in middle and high school, Christianity didn’t seem very freeing. Instead, when I attended church I heard a litany of rules. Don’t gossip. Don’t be jealous of others. Don’t have sex. Don’t drink. Obey your parents. Forgive everyone, even your mortal enemies – and who doesn’t have a few of those in middle school? Many of my non-Christian friends didn’t seem to have the burden of trying to follow a bunch of religious rules, and I was sometimes jealous of their freedom.
As I matured, just as I gained a new appreciation for the rules and boundaries my parents created to keep me safe, I gradually started to see following Jesus’ way as less about a bunch of arbitrary rules and more about surrendering to God’s best for us. I began to feel pretty good about my growing dependence on God, thinking that I had mastered commands like forgiveness because I accepted apologies easily and didn’t hold grudges. Man, was I wrong!
In my late 20s I was rocked to the core by a major breakup. I was surprised, hurt, and humiliated by the way in which my former boyfriend broke up with me. I nursed my resentment and fed my ego with thoughts of his wrongdoing and my victimhood. My moral superiority was my only comfort, or so I thought, until one night when I was struck by the idea I should forgive him. Forgive the person who hurt me more than anyone else had in my entire life? I knew it must be the Holy Spirit introducing the thought into my mind because I certainly didn’t think it myself. I rebelled against the idea. Cried angry tears over it. Read the 450+ page Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand to try to conceive of the possibility of forgiveness. I read Romans 12 over and over again. I finally admitted that I might be suffering because I was “heaping burning coals” on my own head by not forgiving him and moving on. I finally made the decision to call my ex and tell him I had forgiven him (or was working on it – it’s certainly not a linear process). It was a truly awkward phone conversation, but I said what I needed to say. Almost immediately, I felt a sense of peace. I breathed more deeply than I had for weeks, and for once I didn’t cry myself to sleep. It wasn’t just forgiveness that was the revelation, it was experiencing acutely the freedom from my own self-destructive sin and bitterness that could be gained by submitting to God’s will.
The concept of gaining freedom through dependence on God was hard and confusing for people in Jesus’ time, too. In John 8:31-34, John recounts, “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ They answered him, ‘We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, “You will become free”?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.’”
Jesus was trying to tell them what I’m still learning. We’re all slaves to something. We might be a slave to our own desires, to the pressures of our culture, to the expectations of our family, to a grudge we're clinging to, or to an addiction. It’s our choice whether we’ll choose to be a slave to the world’s dysfunctional standards or whether we’ll lay down our illusion of independence and become dependent on God. As for me, I will keep celebrating dependence on God. What about you? What choice will you make?
Thanks for reading!