By Isaac Parkinson
Jesus Campaign Director – Youth for Christ
This is the second part to my journey to freedom in Jesus. If you missed Part One I encourage you to read it first.
I have to admit, I wrestled with my previous article and the cliff-hanger that it ended with. But now I want to invite you into the revelation that changed my life forever: True freedom awaits at the other side of a laid down life.
I don’t mean 99%, I mean the whole lot, radically spilled out at the feet of Jesus as an offering – no matter the cost.
At the end of Part One, I wrote about my attempt to run to religion in order to heal my seared conscience, and how ineffective that was. We know that Jesus came in part to abolish the religious influences that keep people from the heart of God, and in me describing certain church experiences as ‘religious’ in a negative context, it can strike a nerve for some people. For the sake of this article, I will loosely define religion as thoughts and practises that we observe to please God in our own strength or based on our own merit. These practises miss the heart of God entirely, which is something I wish I knew earlier. God wants a relationship with us, so he can empower us to live like Him.
I want to invite you into the revelation that changed my life forever…
This is how I broke free from religiosity.
Back in 2017, one of my friends came home from a season of bible studies up in Queensland with Youth for Christ. When he came home he was so full of life, always sharing the good news of Jesus with people and selflessly loving others to the point where it angered me.
I was still battling addiction and was in bondage in so many areas – trying to hang on to my religion and prove myself to be holy. At this time I was also diagnosed with depression and PTSD from an accident I had years earlier.
One day I had the opportunity to ask this friend what had changed because he had been just like the rest of us growing up. He explained to me how the Gospel calls and empowers us by grace to live like Jesus, and that righteousness is our reality – holy and blameless. ‘Heresy!’ I remember thinking. I had fought so hard and battled so many fleshly desires to get to the point I was at - which was as a recognised Christian leader - and his perspective more or less threw all of my striving and works out as garbage. But my friend encouraged me to search the scriptures for what he was saying to see if it lined up. So I did.
Up until this moment in my life, I had the perspective that I was a miserable rotten sinner, desperately trying to grovel my way into God’s presence. Jesus died so I could go to heaven but in the meantime we have to live like hell, fighting ourselves and our desires. My works were my effort, in some kind of vague partnership with the Holy Spirit, but I was destined to fail.
This ‘destined to fail’ mindset was the same mindset that trapped me in the past, as I wrote about in part one. If I was going well God would be pleased with me, and if I was failing He would be disappointed in me. I had hope in the life I would live after death, but a hope for freedom in this life seemed distant.
I was regurgitating the words of others without studying Scripture for myself.
I spent most of the next week searching Scripture. For the first time I noticed that the ‘doomed to fall short’ mindset seemed far away from Jesus and the apostles. In fact I had read a few powerful scriptures that seemed to tell me the opposite (like 2 Corinthians 5:21; Colossians 3:3; Romans 6).
As I read I was noticing a chasm of difference between my belief system and Scripture – the Word started coming to life. I realised that either the bible was full of unrealistic standards that Christians can never expect to reach, or it was true - all of it - and all we had to do was live by faith according to the Spirit.
That Sunday, one week after setting out to prove my friend’s views wrong, the opposite was happening.
Galatians 2:20 It is no longer I who lives but Christ who lives in me…
As I read this I was frustrated. My experiences were saying one thing, but the bible was saying something else. ‘What am I supposed to do? This doesn’t make sense,’ I thought. ‘If the old me is dead, and Jesus lives in me, how come I am still depressed? How come I am battling addictions?’ This is when I read the passage that I finished my previous article with:
John 8:31-32 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Then the thought occurred to me. What if all of these things are true, and I just need to believe it?
I had a choice to make - ‘Will I disregard my belief system in order to align myself with Scripture?’ This is a tough decision to make for a non-believer, but what about when we find ourselves desperate for God but terribly misguided?
I remember yielding to God, essentially giving up. ‘You can have it God. You can take it. I’m tired of trying to live up to these standards. Whatever I have to give up, I’ll give up for you’. Surrender.
True freedom awaits at the other side of a laid down life.
And that’s when it happened.
In an instant, the reality of my righteousness hit me in a tangible way. I began to laugh and weep joyfully.
In that moment the heaviness was replaced with joy. My desire to soothe pain with alcohol left. My temptation to pornography disappeared. ‘I am free!’ I thought. I had been believing lies about myself and about Jesus. I had an overwhelming affection and thankfulness for Jesus that I hadn’t experienced before.
I just wanted to sit in His presence, learn from Him and study Scripture.
The following week my wife said to me, ‘You haven’t asked me to buy any nicotine spray… are you OK?’ She knew that usually I would be an emotional mess by this point. It seemed that I was so infatuated with Jesus that I hadn’t even realised my nicotine cravings had left.
Looking back, I realise that I wasn’t really in love with Jesus prior to this. I had committed myself to the system – the practises and the traditions of ‘church’ but I wasn’t really following Jesus, and I certainly wasn’t doing Christianity ‘by the book’. I hadn’t surrendered to God.
I was just trying to assimilate with the believers around me in my own strength and taking pride in the progress I was making. I was regurgitating the words of others without studying Scripture for myself. My actions were shaped by the standard of those around me rather than the life of Jesus. And worse yet, in my discernment, the majority of people around me were probably in the same boat – desperately trying with all their hearts to please God, unaware that Jesus had given them a brand new heart, empowered by the Spirit, appropriated by faith and surrender.
We can never earn the love of Jesus through dead works of religion. We can never be holy in our own right. All we can do is lay it all at his feet as an offering, deny [refuse; abstain from] ourselves and follow Jesus.
I can now worship freely, because I have no reason to be ashamed. I can approach Him confidently, because I know that it is the very righteousness of God that I have been given through Jesus. I don’t want wealth, acceptance, success, position, titles or anything else this world could offer because Jesus has become my portion and obsession.
Religiosity is not freeing.
Religiosity is a system of thoughts and practises that we observe in order to please God in our own strength or based on our own merit - conscious or not.
Religiosity is not freeing. We’ll never effectively rescue the lost with religion.
I was more content living a wild, erratic lifestyle than when I was yolked to religion. But life in the Spirit - where all of the crazy claims of Scripture become an accessible reality - is a totally different story! Instead of just believing that I will go to heaven someday, I now know that I am an ambassador of Christ, empowered to represent Him and live like Him. His grace empowers me to discern His voice. His Spirit empowers me to heal the sick. His love empowers me to selflessly love those around me as He would. Good news! The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.
How can we rescue the lost boys into a life of freedom in Jesus?
Most importantly, we need to experience the freedom of Jesus for ourselves. We can never give a love we have not received, nor a freedom we haven’t experienced. If you haven’t found freedom then I pray that you would have a sort of crisis like mine where you are able to rid yourself of religiosity – if that’s what it takes. Remember, particularly when considering our lost boys, that the world has more to offer people than religiosity does.
Secondly, Christians must all take individual responsibility for religiosity. That means ridding ourselves of it, regardless of its size. A good analogy for this is the brain. Every time we have a thought, many tiny neurons fire a signal in a uniquely networked manner which together manifests the thought. No single neuron manifests the entirety of the thought, but nonetheless it contributes. So it is with religiosity. You’ll be hard pressed to find one individual who embodies religiosity in its entirety, but it can be discerned more clearly in the way we meet together, worship together and fellowship together.
Religion doesn’t dwell in some vague ideological framework - it exists in the thoughts and actions of people. Its biggest symptoms are shame and bondage, masquerading in pseudo-moralism. We must keep a watchful eye over ourselves and ask ourselves questions like: ‘Am I being led by the Spirit? Am I experiencing freedom in my life? Am I trying to earn God’s favour in my own strength? Am I living in shame?’ May God help us continually with this.
Thirdly, we must continue to make everything about Jesus and equip others to do the same. We have to communicate the freedom and the purpose that the Gospel brings to people up front, particularly in evangelism. Young people today are more purpose-driven than previous generations, and until we provide them with a Gospel worth dying for, they won’t live for it either.
We have to communicate the freedom and the purpose that the Gospel brings
There is hope for the lost
My life is a testimony to how a seemingly lost case can be turned around. I've been found. And that's why I'm passionate about helping others discover the hope and freedom of Jesus.
It’s why I’m serving with Youth for Christ as Jesus Campaign Director – training and equipping young missionaries to go after the lost young people in our nation and introduce them to the life and liberty of knowing and living like Jesus.
My heart breaks for the thousands of young people who haven’t had the opportunity to experience the freedom and transformation that Jesus has given me.
The Jesus Campaign is not just about helping people understand the message of Jesus, but also equipping them on the mission of Jesus, to ‘make disciples of all nations…’ (Matthew 28). We are seeing young people share the Gospel with their friends for the first time, disciple their friends for the first time, and even run church gatherings in their schools for the first time.
I invite you to stand with me!
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