Coloring within the Lines

Many people today long for “autonomous freedom” where they are accountable to only themselves. That is reflected in statements such as “I have to do what I feel is right,” or “No one has a right to tell me what I should believe or how I should live.” When that “no one” includes God, our thinking is leading us down a very dangerous road.

Suppose your four-year-old son (or grandson) likes to color and draw. Though there is room for much improvement, he is starting to grasp the goal of staying within the lines when he colors. However, some folks say, “No, no. Coloring within the lines is too restrictive. Children should be free to color wherever they want and draw their own lines.” Now, that may sound great, but there is a problem. A “free-hand” picture may exhibit some creativity, but it may be impossible to guess what your son intended to draw. A picture of an elephant which has been imperfectly colored has significant advantages over some lines that seem to be randomly scribbled on a piece of paper.

Friends, I believe the lines that have already been drawn, drawn for us by God, give life its definition. These lines are revealed to us through God’s Word, the Bible. The lines enable us to know the difference between right and wrong. They help us determine the meaning and purpose of life. Some argue we should ignore these lines because they restrict our freedom. I believe, however, that freedom without any lines is not a desirable freedom at all, but a false freedom which often leads to slavery.

Martin Luther hit the nail on the head when he said, “Christian liberty is not the freedom to do what we want, but the freedom to do what we ought.” Or we could say, Christian liberty is about being able to color within the lines. Until we experience God’s life changing power in our lives we are not really capable of doing that because we are still enslaved to a selfish, sinful nature. People often realize an addiction to alcohol or drugs is taking a heavy toll on their lives, but lack the ability to stay within the lines as they know they should. Most of us want to be faithful in our marriage, but sometimes sexual desires are so strong that we end up having an affair. Even though we may have wanted to stay within the lines, we could not. Almost everyone wants to be financially responsible, but a hunger to have as nice of things as others often pushes folks deeper into debt. We just cannot stay within the lines. As Jesus said in John 8:34, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.”

It is from this domination of our lives by sinful desires, that Jesus has come to set us free. Through Jesus’ death on the cross we find forgiveness for our sins and a new ability to obey God. Oh, people trusting in Jesus still do say and think things that are wrong. I know I frequently make wrong choices, yet by God’s grace, we can now make the right choices. We are now capable of coloring within the lines. Our goal is to make our life a beautiful reflection of God’s grace as we do that. The Bible tells us, “For you have been called to freedom–not freedom to satisfy your sinful nature, but freedom to serve one another in love.” (Galatians 5:13) May God help us find joy as we seek to color within His lines each day.
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Dan Erickson