By Grant Marshall
In our western world, in fact the whole world, we are brought up to believe that in a free democratic society we can change things and create choices. Life coaching, motivational classes, hypnosis and positive thought are the promoted methods to help us along our fearful and unsatisfied ways. Failure to achieve the things we desire, whether through need or want produces an unfortunate self-destructive streak among self-seeking students. Pressure of course comes from many directions and for some of us, especially among the wealthy and the successful often see failure as not an option. Drug abuse, bankruptcy and homelessness, for instance, not only affect the poor. The reality of checking ones disposed nature is overlooked in the main. In education, for example, those responsible for helping us to pursue the right course have no idea about what is good for us. Many are pushed into careers they will never succeed in hence the high fallout rates of university students. In my case, education at no time encouraged me to pursue the things I was good at. Instead, I was given a curriculum that concentrated on the things I was not particularly bright in, leaving me to wander through several career paths and ultimately failing to pursue the course I could really excel at. There is a saying that you can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear, and it is equally true that you can’t make a racehorse from a donkey. To make a choice means generally that something must be left behind. Even the sayings of Jesus give us options, leaving us in a position where we have to choose something – His way or another, the way of the world or the kingdom, born again or the grave digger’s life. The road walked with Him is a narrow one and entry into it is preceded with a fork in its path. Education in the social construct trains us to make choices. Those choices in every area of life should be easy if we adhere to the social path. For example, good education grades open up career choices. These open up areas of success, which in turn open up other choices and options for increased success. The outcome is a foregone conclusion if one follows the choice path. However, when we fall into difficulty in making this seemingly simple task, the media companies which are under control of greater media disseminators, create merchandising campaigns to convince us that what is on offer is the best; Choose the best, it’s better for you! As an example: If we walk into a supermarket and are presented with a shelf of three different kinds of baked beans, we are duped into believing we have a choice of brands. In fact, if there are twenty types of baked beans on the market, we see straight away that we have indeed just been given a restricted choice of only three. It must therefore be clear to us that ultimately the matter of choice is not only restricted but relative. In other words, if we always shop at the same store that’s all we will ever see. Laws direct us into choice; you can’t do that if you don’t have this, for example. The laws we make are governed by more laws. We even have laws on how to fight wars and laws that tell us our human rights. The lives we lead are governed by parameters that set us limitations. Through education we are taught to think like everyone else, thus our career paths often end up the same as someone else’s. We plan our lives according to the choices we make, according to the choices we have available. We even sit exams to make sure we have learned what the establishment has been teaching us. Then we are judged by our grades and accordingly find status in society. In this sense, we have no real freedom but only the freedom to choose what is on offer. But what happens when the education of citizens is incorrect and indeed if the law is incorrect? What rights do we have in a democracy to address and change laws? Well, we can go to our MPs who take our concerns to government, who by law have to hear what we have to say but not necessarily to do anything about it. When governments don’t do what the people want, the people will become uneasy and protests abound. Protests, however, are allowed because it makes us feel as if we have a say or have some power. We are watched and listened to but never seen or heard. Our banners and voices are carried off into the wind, helped along by the media who supposedly report the news chosen through publication limitations. Each culture has a different form of protest, and some are allowed to protest according to their own rules of law, whilst others are not allowed to protest at all. What would a culture look like if true freedom were allowed? The danger, of course, in such a society is that there would be absolute chaos. Freedom of thought, speech, and religion can only go so far without it affecting the freedom of others. Thoughts, beliefs and religion have always created conflict. The Bible clearly reveals that a time is coming when the world will be under a single unifying and universal power. This power aims to unite – nations, religion, economy and education. It aims to abolish unemployment and establish education on a gigantic level. It aims to bring peace among nations and tolerance in our diversity. The Bible also speaks of a time when believers will enter this period. Clearly, this paralleled moment will bring choice to all humanity. Nevertheless, this moment will not bring peace but division. The words of Jesus declare that peace among the whole of humanity is not His main concern. Simply believing or following, will bring division among believers and families. Our choice in making the supreme move to follow Jesus is not an easy one, and He knows that. We also should realise this. The road is but narrow and not all will be able to walk it, even with all the will in the world. As believers what governs our choice comes through God’s guiding grace. Without it, we are truly lost. We cannot possibly hope to make the journey on that road under our own steam. The mechanism God uses to drive us is the knowledge and belief or trust in Him. Romans 9 tells us that religion covers us in a veil of misunderstanding. The Torah teachers were responsible for propagating the ignorance of righteousness by spreading legalism when righteousness only comes through trusting and confessing in Christ Jesus. He is The Way; to Him we look, for Him we do, and with Him we walk. The message of Christ needs looking at closely because through its misunderstanding and aberrant propagation, we fail miserably in trying to fulfil the commission given to us all. His message of returning to the path, brings us to the crossroads of choice — this/our world or His. Some might see the choice presented as an impossible one to make but the secret in making it, comes through the understanding that your life has been bought and paid for at a great price, and that it does not belong to you any longer. However, the matter is not as clear as it may seem. Freedom in Christ and through His purchase comes with choice too – a costly one. He gives the choice to follow Him or to live our own life. Matthew 16:24-26 Amplified Bible (AMP) Discipleship Is Costly 24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to follow Me [as My disciple], he must deny himself [set aside selfish interests], and take up his cross [expressing a willingness to endure whatever may come] and follow Me [believing in Me, conforming to My example in living and, if need be, suffering or perhaps dying because of faith in Me]. 25 For whoever wishes to save his life [in this world] will [eventually] lose it [through death], but whoever loses his life [in this world] for My sake will find it [that is, life with Me for all eternity]. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world [wealth, fame, success], but forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? who loves his life in this world will lose it and he who loses his life for my sake will gain life, and life more abundantly. What Christ says to us is that the extraction of the old man from the womb of this present life should be made lightly. Choosing such a life demands dedication and commitment to the end goal — to the end. Making it to that point gives us complete salvation. Any other course, diversion or failure, will not secure us such a future. The criteria in making the journey come with a whole series of paradoxes. Modern Christianity especially, has a familiarity with God – a presumptuous friendship with the King of heaven. It believes it can do all things when it is not able to. It is only through the sanctioning of grace working in us at divine moments that we do such great things. Even in these moments of divine dispensation, we are limited. Discipline and discipleship are the processes in which we come to the knowledge of God and begin to understand the ways of the Master. But what if there truly was a way in which people could detach themselves from the arteries of governments and the social construct, and live simpler stress-free lives? The way, of course, is written in a very ancient book. It’s called the Bible, and it sets out a list of regulations in which a society can live according to the original design, statutes and laws of its maker. Believe it or not, people did actually observe it at one point – in fact, at several points in history, but the nature of man being what it is — rebellious and self-seeking, decided that he wanted to do his own thing and that he could do it without the help of God. That is the Biblical narrative; the struggle of people made holy to live separate lives with the creator. Within its narrative is the underlying struggle of the choices we all have to make. In Matthew’s passage, Jesus presents us with another choice, and this fundamentally is a secret and a real nugget. Matthew 22:15-22 New International Version (NIV) Paying the Imperial Tax to Caesar 15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?” 18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” 21 “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” This message alludes to us the possibility of making the choice of which system we choose to live in. The people under the Imperial system of Rome, paid taxes to it. The emperor’s face gave value to the coin and a reasonable amount of freedom in using it. Nevertheless, fundamentally, the coin did not belong to the people and neither does it belong to us today. If we live under the system of Rome, then we must obey the laws of its governance and pay the collector of its coin. Jesus calls us to look closely at our choices and presents to us His own imperial choice. The question for us today, at this present time in the family of our faith is “Do we have enough trust in God to walk a new but ancient path that leads to a brighter, healthier freedom filled destiny”? It won’t be easy. Jesus never said it would, but it certainly would be eventful. Grant Marshall.