God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is not interested in controlling you.

I made this comment in passing in a post a couple of weeks ago and in the comments Greg said I ought to talk a little more about this.

Religion, for lack of a better word, is about control.

Religion imagines a God (or gods) who is all about trying to manipulate and control people through rules, rewards, and punishments. It also imagines a God (or gods) who can be controlled by our beliefs, words, and actions.

For example: God is mad that you haven’t kept his rules and he wants to torture you to death. But if you say you believe that Jesus really exists then you can control God and make him stop punishing you: now that’s the old time religion!

In contrast to this dysfunctional life of two beings (God and you) trying to manipulate and control each other, Jesus presents the good news of himself, his Father, and their Spirit.

These three are perfectly free to be and do anythying they want to do and in that freedom they are always  choosing (eternally, without beginning or end) to live in faithful, covenant commitment to each other with mutual love and acceptance. And, in Jesus, they have chosen to live forever in faithful, convenant commitment to humanity.

Jesus illustrates this freedom in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32.)

In the parable the Father never seeks to control his kids. When the prodigal wants to rebel, run away, and waste his inheritance, the Father lets him. He lets him learn about who he really is (his Father’s child) the hard away. And when the older son wants to rebel and refuse to join in the family celebration the Father lets him. He lets him learn about who he really is (his Father’s child) the hard way.

That’s the good news Jesus brings to us about our Father in heaven. He’s not out to control us. His goal was to adopt us as his children and he has accomplished this goal in Jesus (Eph. 1:5). And now he loves us through the Holy Spirit and invites us to believe the truth that we are his children in Jesus and to freely – of our own choice – join in the family celebration.

~ Jonathan Stepp

3 comments so far

  1. Ted Johnston on

    Hi Jonathan,

    Your post reminded me of the dilemma translators faced in translating Romans 8:6 and 8:9. These read in the NIV:

    6 The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind *controlled* by the Spirit is life and peace;

    9 You, however, are *controlled* not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.

    In the NAS95 (more literal translation) these verses omit the word “congrolled,” reading:

    6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace,

    9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.

    Adding the word “controlled” in the NIV leaves an unfortunate impression in some minds that the ideal in Christian behavior is a sort of mindless control by the Spirit. Rather, what Paul is advocating is a willing giving of ourselves to active participation in the way (thinking/acting) of the Spirit – Christ in us. Thus what he advocates is *willing* submission and dependency.

    I like your analogy here about the relationship between the prodigal son and his father. There was active, loving concern on the part of the father, but no exercising of coercive power. And then the son “comes to himself” – and willingly returns to the father.

    I would add only one thing to your helpful comments – and that has to do with our relationship as guardians to minor (underage) children. There is an appropriate “control” that parents and other guardians of children must exercise for the protection of young ones who have not reached a level of physical, emotional and mental maturity (and thus independence) where they may appropriately be entrusted with adult-like freedom to choose.

    Said more succinctly (and in the negative), I would gladly use force to stop my four year old granddaughter from running in front of a moving vehicle if she did not immediately obey my spoken command to “stop!” I do, however, want her to learn to trust me and willingly and thus freely, embrace the way I model and otherwise teach her to go.

    And so it is with God and his human children.

  2. Pastor Jonathan on

    Thanks, Ted, I appreciate your insights on Romans 8 – and the thoughts about how a loving Father does place limits on what we can do. Well said!

  3. Boyd Merriman on

    Wow, does this make you wanna shout or what??


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