Before I forget, let me retroactively wish all of you reading this a Happy Independence Day!
Hopefully, you had the opportunity to blow things up (or at least watch things being blown up) in honor of our freedom here in America. We often take that freedom for granted -- especially freedom of religion -- and tend to forget the value of things that we take for granted. So, for instance, because there often seems to us no clear and present cost to being a Christian, we will often think of it (at least in point of practice) as nothing all that valuable, compared to all of those parts of our lives that we felt that we’ve fought for and earned. And then, when we finally do run up against tangible costs to being a Christian (such as being pushed out of our comfort zones, or being commanded to respond to the world in ways that we’d rather not, or simply being grumped at by those who don’t understand why we believe what we believe), we often become offended instead of becoming galvanized.
It’s just an odd truism that Christianity is at its best when it comes under fire -- when we’re reminded that we were never supposed to feel all that comfortable in this place. So when it all comes so easily and painlessly to us, instead of rising to the massive challenges when they come because we expected them, we tend to duck and dodge the small challenges when they come because we kind of expected to avoid them. Thus, while our brothers and sisters (and our spiritual ancestors) have experienced persecution for their commitment to meet together in the name of Christ, we will sometimes complain when a service goes too long. Or while others have shared their faith though they knew that the penalty could be death, we can find it too distressing to share our faith because we’re afraid that our friends may simply not agree with us. Spiritual “entitlement” can make us spiritually soft.
Of course, the opposite can also be true. In the church in Pergamum -- nestled in the middle of the very seat of Roman power and worship in Asia Minor -- the constant persecution and pressure from those around them had made Christians weaken in other ways. They had begun to believe that, like the church in Corinth or like so many of our own churches today, the best way to reach their culture was to emulate it. They embraced the sins of those around them, feeling safe, secure, and soft in the knowledge that God had already forgiven their sins... and even so far as to suggest that sin isn’t really all that bad, since every time that God forgives us for sin, He shows His grace all the more.
One of the hardest things in the world to achieve is a healthy balance -- including the balance between comfort in God’s grace and motivation to act for His Kingdom, or the balance between loving all sinners and despising all sin... beginning with our own. The churches of Ephesus and Pergamum both forgot that. How are you and I doing with that today?
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free,” Paul tells us in Galatians 5:1 -- set free from sin and bondage, and set free to live like we were created by God to live. So how can you and I live today like we really value that for what it’s worth, and for what it cost?