A group of us were in a meeting with The Boss this morning and He was telling us some stories about an ancient insecure king named Saul. King Saul was dominated by fear of failure. On the day of Saul’s coronation he hid from view because he couldn’t bear the thought of disappointing people; the expectations on him were too much for him to bear! Saul was tall, handsome, and smart …a recipe for rampant insecurity! People had high hopes for such eye candy, and Saul saddled himself with the back breaking pressure of pandering to people’s capricious cravings.

King Saul experienced early success, but that only made him feel more insecure. The inevitability of letting people down was only increasing! And it seemed that Saul was doomed to fail, because his son had no inhibitions when it came to taking risks! Whereas Saul was cautious, his son was audacious! It was only a matter of time before Saul’s son put him in a precarious position wherein it would be impossible to please everyone and pull off success in his own strength. And sure enough, one day Saul’s son decided to attack the Philistines! He poked the bear! The sleeping giant was now wide awake! The Philistines mobilized 30,000 chariots, 6,000 cavalry, and as many foot soldiers as there are grains of sand on the seashore!! Saul’s forces scattered in terror! People were running off, hiding in caves, and holes, and in tombs, and cisterns! So in a panic, Saul engaged in FEAR-based religiosity. Saul “sought” the LORD as a means of management/control, and out of a sense of mere duty and superstition. There was no adventurous delight or coltish confidence (see Malachi 4:2), and there was no slow and joyful savoring of a substantive and intimate relationship with our Father in Heaven (see Isaiah 66:12).

Indeed – leaning on his own understanding, and having no resolute emphasis on joy (see 2 Corinthians 1:24-2:5), King Saul was doomed to fail! And it is precisely HERE …at the “doomed to fail” trailhead that we begin the hike of FREEDOM found in forgiveness! Because the fact is, we are all doomed to fail! We are all born in sin (i.e. we are all failures!). There is none righteous, not even a single solitary one of us. Even when we are doing relatively good things (like giving gifts to our children), that doesn’t change the fact that we are fundamentally evil (see Matthew 7:11). Even if we have been victims of suffering and trauma (like paralyzation or racism) we are nevertheless still left to deal with the deeper problem of our own depravity (see Exodus 16:8; 17:3; 32:7, 9-10; Matthew 9:2). Therefore, the most liberating and jubilant truth in the universe is that our sins are forgiven (see Matthew 9:2)! Receiving and relishing this forgiveness found in Christ alone is what sets us free! In Jesus’ parable about the dad with two prodigal sons, how is the younger son free to attend such an opulent and lavish party (being held in his honor) after having abused his father? BECAUSE HE IS FORGIVEN! How can the younger son audaciously accept being fully reinstated as a member of the family and fellow heir after having already wasted his portion of the inheritance!? BECAUSE HE IS FORGIVEN. How can the younger son resume the risky business of being a family member, attempting everyday to LOVE his older brother (see Luke 7:47) – when in fact the older brother claims that the mere presence (to say nothing of the party!) of his younger brother is the thing that makes him feel “unloved” and “not cared for!”

True freedom is NOT found in avoiding failure. Rather, true freedom is found in embracing forgiveness for the inescapable fact that we are failures! God loves sinners. And the freedom to reciprocate and reflect God’s love comes not from a sense of duty and justice, but rather it comes from having been forgiven much (see Luke 7:47) and forever marinating in the staggering mercy of God (see Matthew 9:13).

Ironically, the son of King Saul is one of the most FREE characters in all the ancient stories! King Saul’s son – Jonathan – is willing to take risks and boldly face all kinds of potential failure, because he believes that God really does love and enjoy him (even though he is of course deeply wicked and evil …see Jeremiah 17:9; 30:12). Jonathan does not engage in FEAR-based religiosity, but rather he practices JOY-based religion (see 1 Samuel 14:6-10; 29-30)! Jonathan is not only willing to put himself and others into insanely dangerous situations (…which of course will cause massive portions of the population to feel “unsafe” and “not cared for” …see 1 Samuel 13:3, 5-7; 14:6-15), but he is also willing to hazard the tumultuous waters of actually trying to love others (see 1 Samuel 18:-15), knowing that invariably there will come moments wherein his loved-ones certainly won’t “feel loved” by him (for example, when David flees for his life from Jonathan’s dad, and has to live like a caveman in the wilderness; but Jonathan feels compelled to physically stay and work with David’s oppressor in the palace [see 1 Samuel 22]).

Freedom of forgiveness is not a license to sin, BUT freedom of forgiveness is absolutely and unequivocally what dominates and defines our bold and confident efforts to participate and pour ourselves into the inescapable perils, confusions, blamings, failures, hurt-feelings, and complexities of life and relationships!