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Calling: Liberty & Limitation

Because it rejects all proper boundaries and limitations, the modern world suffers from constant confusion and anxiety. There is an over-emphasis on the self, exhortation to look inward, to find self-fulfillment, and literally selfishness. This is the exact opposite of the biblical prescription.

 

What Is Truth?

It is clear that we are living in a day of abject confusion. The transgender movement is unable to answer the fundamental question of what makes a person a man or a woman. With regard to abortion, many (even conservatives) grapple with the question of when and how the thing in the womb becomes a real human person. In politics, the size, scope, and authority of the state are ill-defined and inconsistent.
 
Even within the church, dwindling numbers of church membership—not to mention a generally anemic understanding of the reason and significance of church membership—and now the question “what is a pastor?” identify the impact that this confused age has had. Much of this confusion stems from the roots of radical individualism. This notion that each individual is the master of their fate and maker of their own isolated reality is implied in such platitudes as telling children that they can “be whatever they want to be.” It also arises from movements such as radical feminism, which mercilessly questions and criticizes all traditional gender roles and stereotypes.
 
Christians and conservatives often meet this deconstruction with a doubling down on tradition, yet without any rationale besides something like, “that’s just the way it’s always been.” The result is a progression toward the ever more radical whims dreamed up in the hearts of sinful man and a “conservatism” that cannot do much of anything to stop it. All the while, our culture is unable to answer what marriage is, what we should teach our kids, what a nation is, why don’t men get pregnant, what a woman is, and underneath it all, what is truth.
 

The Temptation

While every one of these issues requires its own treatment, it is incumbent upon Christians to fix in our minds certain biblical principles which will help us to think through more effectively and minister within our collapsing culture. It bears repeating that the temptation to react to this upheaval by boxing individuals into rigid and unyielding roles must be resisted.
 
It is quite natural amid an age of confusion to clamor for such a simple, superimposed standard. Indeed, in and of itself, this is good and healthy—God made us to crave structure and order, not the chaos and lawlessness of the devil. However, in our zeal to restore order and normativity, we can go beyond the bounds of Scripture, insisting upon mere tradition and treating the doctrines of men as binding law. Carried out to the extreme, the result of this fanaticism—be it perpetuated by Christians or secularists—is totalitarianism, where each individual is assigned their role by the church, the state, or some other entity employed and wielded by man. Consequently, the liberty that has become the birthright of Americans, thanks to the fruit of the law and gospel of liberty, is surrendered, and man is once again enslaved to the strong.
 

Biblical Liberty

God has blessed His people with liberty. In the immediate sense, this is liberty from sin and liberty to obey Christ. It is also liberty from guilt and liberty to a cleansed conscience, producing the capacity for godly self-governance and self-control. Thus, it is by the working of the gospel, as it bears its good fruit, that man is given not only a message of liberty but also the ability to live according to the principle of liberty. “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13). This spiritual and personal reality in Christians has real-world consequences when applied and worked out in our lives. It eventually produces the fruit of a culture of liberty that propagates the virtue necessary to sustain liberty.
 
God, having therefore called us to freedom, has granted us a wide variety of ways to fulfill our chief end of glorifying Him. Christians must affirm this liberty even in light of a culture that proclaims extreme licentiousness and the transgression of all boundaries. While we understand that such a rebellion is wildly antithetical to Scripture and that God places definite limits around His creatures, we must not—out of a desire to correct our free-falling culture—lose our commitment to biblical liberty in pursuing our calling.
 
God has not created using a stencil, or on a factory line to ensure uniformity but has created with great diversity. This manifests within the church community: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are a variety of activities, but the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7). The diversity of gifts with which God blesses all of His creatures is a means to His own glory, bestowed upon individuals for the good of others. Christians must not squelch these gifts into rigid categories and unyielding roles; God is supremely glorified in communities that afford individuals the liberty to pursue their God-given gifts and flourish in them.
 
However, where there is nothing but unbounded liberty, confusion arises, and this is where Christians today find themselves. As creatures of God, there are necessarily limitations on what man can pursue. This is where Christians must achieve the balance between liberty and limitation and be able to apply this to our own lives while speaking structure into this convoluted world. Among the chief principles to be kept in mind in achieving this balance are those of office and obligation.
 

Obligation

One of the great safeguards against unbridled and irresponsible liberty is the reality of obligation, which is sadly missing even in the thinking of many Christians. This is a natural limitation to liberty imposed by God Himself. The way that God imposes this is through the natural duties of office, which apply in some measure to all people. This idea is also helpful for Christians seeking to discern their calling and assist those lost in this world of confusion. Every person born into this world is born with obligations.
 
The very first obligation of all individuals is as image bearers of God. “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13); “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8). All people, simply by virtue of their existence as image bearers of God, are obligated to honor, worship, and obey God. This necessarily limits the pursuits of man—all that is opposed to God’s law, subversive to His honor, and done in service to idols is outside of man’s legal liberty.
 
There is a second office into which all individuals are born, and that is the office of a child. This, too, comes with certain obligations imposed by God which limit liberty: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12); “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1); “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord” (Colossians 3:20). All people are born with an obligation to honor, respect, submit to and obey their parents (provided of course that their parents have not forfeited their authority through abuse or abandonment).
 
Additionally, the obligations of children do not end when they have reached adulthood. Jesus made this clear when He rebuked the Pharisees, who used tradition to circumnavigate God’s command that children care for aging parents (Mark 7:9-13). The apostle Paul later writes, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8).
 
So while God affords His creatures great liberty to live and develop their gifts to His glory, there are immediate limitations placed on that liberty which ought to direct us on how to glorify God. Children are not free to choose their own way, do whatever they please, or pursue whatever endeavor they imagine in subversion to their parents’ authority properly exercised. And as children grow older, they are required to be mindful of their parents and do all they can to care for them when they can no longer care for themselves as the situation arises.
 

Limitations On Male & Female

Another natural limitation to liberty which for ages has been taken for granted yet no longer can be, is that of sex. In designing human beings as either male or female, God has thus placed limitations on the scope of possibilities for each person. A man cannot bear children; he cannot be a mother. That can never be his call. Likewise, women are not and cannot be fathers—the roles of father and mother are not those of interchangeable and gender-neutral “co-parents.” This natural limitation ought to clue parents on how to raise their kids. In the vast majority of cases, sons will grow up to be husbands and fathers, and daughters will grow up to be wives and mothers (without this being the case, the human race would slowly die out).
 
Given this reality, it should not be controversial to say that parents ought to raise their sons so that they are equipped to be husbands and fathers and their daughters to be prepared for wifehood and motherhood. Boys should generally be raised with an emphasis on leading and loving sacrificially, putting others before themselves, and how to protect, provide, intercede for, and defend those around them. Girls should be raised with a greater focus on using their gifts to provide help and support, nurture, and learn to cultivate a respectful spirit. They ought to learn from Christ’s example the beauty of submission just as boys must learn from Him the beauty of service.
 
While this does not imply that all people must get married to reach their full potential (again, there is great diversity in calling, and God does indeed call people to singleness), these qualities prepare everyone for service in the kingdom. A man does not have to be a husband to be obligated to live out sacrificial love, and a woman need not be a wife to serve as a helper in the kingdom of God. While we could continue to discuss the limitations added to individuals by taking on the offices of husband and wife, parent, employee, shepherd, ruler, and so on, the overarching principle is found here: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:32).
 
These words of Jesus come in the midst of His Sermon on the Mount and address man’s sinful anxieties over earthly things. Specifically, Jesus mentions the most basic needs of every individual: food and clothing. If it is a sign of “little faith” to be anxious about those necessities, it follows that the multiplicity of anxieties experienced in the informationally overloaded and boundless modern west is likewise an indication of faithlessness.
 

Selfishness and The Biblical Prescription

Part of what causes anxiety in this age of confusion is the constant quest for individuals to discover their “authentic selves,” to do what feels right, to live for themselves, to experience life on their terms, and other such pithy slogans. All of these pursuits, however, tie into the biblical doctrine of calling. And the answer from Jesus to those experiencing anxiety and worry over discovering their calling is the same He gave to those worried about life’s basic necessities: seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Because it rejects all proper boundaries and limitations, the modern world suffers from constant confusion and anxiety. There is an over-emphasis on the self, exhortation to look inward, to find self-fulfillment, and literally selfishness. This is the exact opposite of the biblical prescription.
 
To seek the kingdom and its righteousness is to be chiefly outward focusing. It is to sacrifice the self for the good of others, the way Christ did (Philippians 2:3-11). It is to give oneself entirely to the task of making disciples, proclaiming Christ, and investing in the lives of others so that they may be brought to maturity in Christ (Colossians 1:28-29). It is to love others to the point of literally dying for them (John 13:34-35, 15:12-13). And all of this is done inside the proper boundaries within which God has providentially placed His people.
 
Christians must not abide by the world’s program of self-discovery, of being whatever one feels or desires himself to be, of being radically free to pursue whatever one conceives. We must discern the roles, offices, obligations, and opportunities God has designated for us and, from there, prayerfully seek how we can best work for His kingdom, always emphasizing the good of others before our own.
 
This manner of living provides excellent stability and contentment. A self-seeking life is destined for confusion and unsteadiness because we are constantly changing our tastes, desires, goals, habits, drive, and so on. Yet if we are seeking a kingdom whose mission does not change, based on commands which do not change, for the glory of a God who does not change, then—while we will never experience perfect equilibrium in this fallen world—our lives will generally be relatively stable. And from here, we can minister to this lost and confused world because our focus, steadiness, and confidence will be attractive as it genuinely mirrors our unchanging Savior and shows forth a fundamentally different way of life than what the world has to offer. We will be able to articulate a clear vision based on a true word, to live according to true, creational boundaries, yet with a significant amount of liberty within these boundaries.
 
We do not seek rigid uniformity but rather a vast, beautiful mosaic in which each unique piece is precisely set in its place to create the full, God-glorifying picture. This is what the world of confusion must see lived out in the church and what we must pursue as individuals and families.
 
Luke Griffo is an elder and member of leadership at Redeemer Church of South Hills in West Mifflin, PA.  Click here for more RCSH Blog posts. 
 
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One Response to “Calling: Liberty & Limitation”

  1. Curt Day says:

    There seems to be an object that is not the size of an elephant but it is still noticeably resides in the room of this subject: The Church’s message to society. In fact, it would be better to describe that object as the Church’s messages to society.

    I am using the plural for the word ‘message’ because we in the Church need to distinguish what we would say about Transgenderism in our evangelism to society along with what we should teach those in the Church from what we can support in terms of what we can accept as existing in society. After all, we make such a distinction when talking about religion in America. When speaking from either an evangelical or Church teaching context, we rightfully say that there is only one way to approach the Father and that is through faith in Christ. But we say something else regarding what we accept in society because of our belief in religious freedom.

    So why not employ such an approach when it comes to LGBT issues like transgenderism? Why not speak against it in our evangelism and in our teaching in the Church but support its existence in society? Perhaps we don’t do that because of what has led society to allegedly embrace “radical individualism”: extreme authoritarianism.

    We Christians may have difficulty seeing extreme authoritarianism in our nation’s past because we have not had to suffer from tyrannical dictators as leaders. But that extreme authoritarianism can be employed in other ways. And if we have trouble seeing when our nation has embraced radical authoritarianism, we only need to ask those who have been marginalized in our nation’s history as to the reality of its existence. And one of those groups that have been heavily marginalized in the past are the Transgendered.

    While, for many of us, our understanding of Transgenderism ends with Genesis 1:27, we should note that that pronouncement was made about God’s creation prior to the Fall, not after. And it’s not that God is for transgenderism now; it is that there are a variety of causes for transgenderism that can include what fallen nature is saying to each person, changes in the environment such as the presence of hormones in our water supply, as well as social and family history issues. Though none of that excuses transgenderism, we must distinguish understanding the variety of reasons why some lean toward transgenderism while other don’t. And perhaps in seeking to understand why those who identify as being other than cisgendered, we might also gain some insight into understanding ourselves in other areas of life.

    Finally, we cannot afford to make the same mistake regarding gender identity and biological sex that the LGBT community makes. We cannot afford to conflate the two together. While the former is psychological, the latter is biological. And so we must realize that there are other factors that influence the gender with which we identity than just our biological sex at birth.

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