“We are living a life of shadows, of echoes, of fake distant whispers of what once made is real.” – The Giver
Some of us are familiar with this word. It is defined as, “an imagined world or society in which people lead wretched, dehumanized, fearful lives.” Dystopia appears in many of our literature and movies – The Hunger Games, The Giver, The Maze Runner, 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Divergent (to give some examples).
This world is usually characterized by rules in order to prevent something or to keep something out. The people live in fear. The key trait of Dystopia is fear. Fear to live outside the rules, and fear to do anything that might break the norm.
We may look at stories like these, and immediately think our government is leading to that or our culture is heading that way.
However, I want to ask you another question…
Are our churches heading this direction? As Christians, we all agree that the world goes further away from God. But, are we as well? Are we moving away from freedom to dystopia?
The Jewish Dystopia
There is an interesting verse in John 9. It is the story of Jesus healing the man who was born blind. Once healed, the religious leaders call him in for questioning. How was this man healed? Who healed him? Was this man truly blind to begin with? The interrogation of the religious leaders could have landed them jobs with the FBI. They didn’t leave a stone unturned. Then after a while, they call in the man’s parents. His parents quickly try to escape the questioning saying this man id their son, but being an adult, he could answer. Then the reason for their answer strikes me each time I read it –
“His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who had announced that anyone saying Jesus was the Messiah would be expelled from the synagogue.” – John 9:22
Fear gripped their heart. They did not want to be excommunicated. The religious leaders ran the show in this day. Sure, the Romans had power. But, the religious leaders struck more fear in the people than the Romans. Going against them meant they could become an outcast. The religious leaders controlled how people viewed God, lived their life, and went about their daily routines. In essence, they were living in what could be characterized as a dystopia.
Even Jesus acknowledged this control in Matthew 23:13. He explained the religious leaders wouldn’t walk down God’s path while at the same time not allowing other people to enter as well. They had control, and they did not want to give it up. Their envy of Jesus lead them to kill him (Matthew 27:18).
New Thoughts, New Way, New Covenant
Why were they envious of Jesus? It was more than just his popularity. Jesus brought something to the table which threatened the dystopia of the religious leaders – a new way.
Throughout the Gospels, we see the religious leaders always questioning why Jesus was doing something or what authority he had to say something. Jesus does reply in one particular instance in Mark 2:22. He says new wine calls for new wineskin. This passage is all about how we need a new heart in order to fully understand the new way Jesus brings. This new way is established and sealed by the blood oath of Jesus’ sacrifice to bring about a new covenant (Luke 22:20).
Jesus brings a new way to relate to the Father, a new relationship with man through the indwelling of the Spirit, and a new way to live that is not based in fear of laws and regulations. Instead, the death and resurrection of Jesus brings a freedom and a new life (II Corinthians 5:17). We no longer live to a law, but under the grace of Jesus. Why do you think many of the epistles start with grace and peace from the Father to us? It is because this is how we live.
In Christ we find new thoughts, a new way established in a new covenant to bring about a new life.
However, to many Christians that freedom does not last long. We ask God to forgive us our sins, bring Jesus into our life, and are baptized. But, what tends to happen? Our expected freedom seems to turn into a tangle of demands, standards, and images we need to uphold. We are told to what church we must belong to, what theological position we must hold, what translations are bad and which ones are good, what music to listen to, which worldly things to avoid, and how to keep ourselves from being corrupted by the world.
In all of this, our view of what makes a good Christian is measured by keeping rules. All of us do not want to be seen as a “bad Christian.” In order to do that, we create lists in our minds. What have we done when we do that?
In essence, we have exchanged the freedom of God’s grace for an idol. That idol is our image. Our worship is out of fear. Our relationship is one sucked dry of boldness before God. We worship an image of a good Christian rather than the Creator of our new heart (Romans 1:21-23).
This exchange was happening in the church of Galatia. Paul’s heart broke for these people, and the Spirit prompted him to write Galatians. In Galatians 1:6-7, Paul is astounded how the people exchanged the Gospel for a list of rules. See, a group of teachers came in saying, “Since being saved, to please God you must do these certain things.” When the church began to do that, it traded Christ’s grace for the law; which means they treated Christ’s sacrifice as meaningless (Galatians 2:21).
Is there anything wrong with standards? No. Is there anything wrong with a personal code of ethics? No. However, the problem lies in when our “goodness” before God is questioned, because of our adherence or lack of adherence to certain standards.
Have our churches and ourselves exchanged the freedom found in the grace of God for a dystopian Christian life?
Then, what is Christ’s freedom?
First, it is being made alive from the death of our sins into the life of Christ by his grace (Ephesians 2:1-9). It is in this grace we are blessed with every spiritual blessing from the Father – the sealing of the Spirit, the inheritance of Christ, our living hope, the gifts of the Spirit, bold access to the throne of grace among many, many things (Ephesians 1; 1 Peter 1:3; I Corinthians 12:1-11; Hebrews 4:15-16).
Think about it. We now have the Spirit of Truth inside of us leading us into all truth. As we pursue the Spirit, we will be changed into the image of Christ, because then the fruit of the Spirit will begin to grow. Christ’s freedom is found in loving others and allowing grace to teach us to put away worthless things in order to follow God.
We are new creations called to live a new life. In this new life, we have an indwelling divine in ourselves – the Holy Spirit. He guides, comforts, and works in us and through us. We no longer please God out of adherence to the Mosaic law. It is because of our relationship of faith which pleases God.
This relationship brings so much freedom. This is what we are exchanging.
Bringing The Light
One of my favorite dystopian movies is The Giver. The people have eradicated all memories and keep a barrier so the memories do not reenter their community. They understand the human nature brings so much evil. When people choose, they choose wrong. Love can turn ugly at any moment. So, they exchanged the memories of being human for a dystopian existence.
I want you to watch the final speech of the movie – Watch Here
“We are living a life of shadows, of echoes, of fake distant whispers of what once made is real.”
We are living a life of shadows. We look at the love of God, and we recoil at how it can turn into a Christianity that is “unbiblical.” But, isn’t it the love of God which sent Jesus, which held Jesus to the cross, which brought the resurrection three days later, and which bought your salvation and new life?
We are living a life of faint whispers of what once made us real. God’s love whispers throughout our churches, our worship, and our quiet times. Yet, we would rather stick to our rules to make sure we are “good Christians.” This only develops into a Christian dystopia.
Jesus calls us out in Revelation 2:1-7. He sees our hard works, our keeping false teachers away, and everything else we do. But, we have exchanged our love and Christ’s love for a world like one found in The Giver.
We must go back. We must read Scripture again, and see what it truly says. God loves us. He wants a relationship with us. He wants us to believe in Jesus, live in a faith-based relationship with him, and enjoy all that he has given us.
What makes us real? The work of Jesus through the Holy Spirit in our life. Yet, we keep it all bottled up for the sake of an image we worship instead of the Creator. We need to let that out. Remember who Jesus is. Remember his love for us. Remember what he has done and given to us.
Until our daily life is a worship song in the Spirit to the Father because of Jesus, we will remain in a dystopia of our own making. Let’s remember his love and spread those memories far and wide. He is the light, and in him is no darkness, no prison, and no slavery. A slave is loved based on his performance, but a son or daughter is loved always unconditionally.
Let’s not give into another form of slavery, but break the chains of our dystopia by bringing to light who Jesus is, what he has done, what he has given to us, and the beautiful relationship of faith and grace with Jesus through the Spirit.