The Secret to Spiritual Freedom

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Every morning, I wake up before my wife, daughter, and son. I love spending this quiet time with God – reading his word and praying to him. This time of communion with God is one to which I look forward every day. There’s another part of this time, however, that I love.

The interruption.

My two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Ruby, wakes up every morning roughly an hour into this time. At this point, I’m usually praying. She will quietly walk up to me and gently interrupt my prayer with the same whisper:

Daddy? I want pancakes.

She, like her daddy, is a creature of habit.

And every morning, while I am reading or praying, she quietly eats her pancakes.

One of my habits – as she knows – is reading. Usually, after my time with God has finished, I read a little from some book. Just a few days ago, my book was laying out on the table, and as I got up to attend to her baby brother, Easton, she climbed onto my chair and grabbed my pen.
And she colored in my book.

As I walked back into the dining room, I saw her “pretending to be daddy,” pen-in-hand and “reading” the book.

When she heard me coming in, she quickly dropped the pen.

I walked over, noticed the scribbles in the book, and asked, “Ruby, did you color in daddy’s book?”

“No,” she replied.

“I just want you to tell me the truth,” I said.

“I didn’t do it.”
We went back and forth for about two minutes until eventually, through choked back tears, she admitted what she did.

I picked her up and squeezed her (I hate seeing her cry) and told her that I loved her very much and that I liked it when she told me the truth.

She pulled away from the hug and looked at me and said, “You’re not mad?”

“Well, I wish you wouldn’t have colored in my book, but I like that you told me the truth.”

Her eyes lit up, and she said, “Thank you, Daddy!”

I had an opportunity at that moment to express frustration at her coloring in my book, or disappointment in her lying to me at first; but for some reason, I chose to give her mercy.

It’s important to note that I have not even come close to figuring this out. Far too often, I wish I could rewind the clock and show my kids mercy – or patience – rather than frustration and impatience.

I do know, however, that it is far better to give mercy to my children than to show my frustration with them. I know this because when I show them mercy, while still letting them know how I wish they’d behave, it frees them to act in a way that they know will make their mother and me happy simply because they want to. (Disclaimer: I know this is not a perfect plan, my children are human.)
When I reflect on why I should show mercy, I can’t help but think about where mercy comes from: God.

This past weekend, Perrysburg Campus Pastor Tom Martin spoke on the topic of mercy.

His main point was, When I realize that God is merciful, I discover that I am free.

He pointed us to a person in the New Testament, Paul, to illustrate this principle.

Paul’s former name was Saul. He grew up in a Jewish family and trained under one of the most famous Rabbis, Gamaliel. He was a Pharisee, meaning he was very well educated in the law and passionate about upholding it.

Paul was present during the killing of Stephen – the first Christian martyr. In the book of Acts, Luke records Paul as having “agreed completely with the killing of Stephen” (Acts 8:1). After this killing, Paul was going from house to house, “dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison” (Acts 8:3). He was so zealous about squashing this Christian movement, that he “requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them — both men and women — back to Jerusalem in chains” (Acts 9:2).

Simply put, Paul wasn’t a good guy. He was an angry, bloodthirsty, merciless creature.

Then, God showed him an overwhelming amount of mercy. Though Paul was spending his days terrorizing Christians, God saved him from his sins and called him to a life teaching the Gospel.

He called Paul to a new life, one in which he would become – arguably – the most prolific Christian pastor in human history.

Imagine, though, what it would’ve been like to be Paul. His past was nothing to be proud of; in fact, it was in opposition to his life’s mission.

Imagine watching many people come to know Jesus, all-the-while knowing that just a few years before this, you would have killed them for the very same act.

Paul is a perfect case study in God’s mercy.

In his letter to the church at Philippi, he wrote,

13No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. (Philippians 3:13-14)

In this text, we find our principles for freedom.

Notice what he writes in verse 13: “I focus on this one thing …”

What is the one thing?

“Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead.”

If anyone in the history of the world wanted to (needed to) forget his past, it was Paul.

As Tom said, when we realize God is merciful, we discover we are truly free.

Paul, who understood God’s mercy on his life, had to forget the past. He knew that God – through Christ – had forgiven him.

As Tom said, he had to drop his past. He had to leave it behind. The threats, the arrests, the terrorizing, the killing, all of it had to be left behind.

He then had to replace those negative memories with what lies ahead. He had to focus on the heavenly prize: Jesus.

No matter your past, Jesus offers an unending amount of mercy. He is calling us to drop the sins of our past and no longer allow them to weigh us down and replace the weight of those sins with the freedom of knowing what lies ahead: Jesus.

Finally, we have to move forward.

We know that we can leave our past behind us. Because of God’s mercy, we do not have to carry that weight anymore. God has also given us a mission, and even if we drop the past and replace it, it will still be around to haunt us if we don’t move forward.

This was the call on Paul’s life.

This is the call on all of our lives.

We have all desperately needed God’s mercy, and he has generously given it to us. Now, we need to drop, replace, and move forward.


Why is God’s mercy sometimes so hard to understand?


Why do you think so many of us struggle to live in the truth that God has given them mercy?


You have been given mercy, so now it’s time to move forward. Part of that is showing mercy to others. To whom can you show mercy to today?



Heavenly Father, thank you for your gift of mercy. I know that it is an endless gift, one that you continue to give to me. Help me to live in that freedom daily. Help me to drop my past, replace it, and move forward. I ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

This post was written by Andy Rectenwald. Andy is the Director of the LivingItOut Bible Study. He has a passion for bringing the Bible to life for people, for Christian Apologetics, and for the Cleveland Indians. He is married with two young children. You can follow him on twitter @andyrectenwald.

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