Commitment isn’t exactly “in” these days. Think about any time we sign up or buy anything online, and we get all suspicious when it demands we provide an email address. Why do they want my email? What am I committing to? Will they flood my inbox and then sell my precious email to millions of other websites who will also flood my inbox? This is why we all have that Yahoo email address that we never check, because it’s worth having to put in as a decoy. (For those who actually use Yahoo as your primary email, my apologies, but come on, really? You’re better than that).
Commitment. We’re all wary of it, and not just with online shopping. When you make a commitment to anything, your first thought may be that you’re limiting your options at the moment of decision. When you commit to one thing, you may miss out on all these other things. This is why young men across the country struggle to man up and commit to a woman, because, you know, there are SO MANY women out there that they might miss out on. So commitment constrains us, right? It takes away our freedom, our liberty, our choices? Well, except when it doesn’t.
A Transformational Perspective
In a sermon I heard years ago, Tim Keller preached out of Galatians on the freedom of making promises (see: commitments). It transformed my mindset, centered my thoughts on Jesus Christ, and has made a large impact on many areas of my life. There is an unexpected freedom in commitment, and it’s as countercultural, yet transformational, of a concept you’ll find out there.
In the sermon, Keller fleshed out how our promises actually free us from our own future uncertainties, doubts, and temptations to bail. We don’t have anywhere near the amount of control we think we do in our lives, but a promise enables us to control how we will respond to what life throws at us. We all know the classic “fight or flight” dilemma that humans face in any given situation, and a promise keeps us from taking flight when the feelings come and go. In a sense, making a commitment frees us from our future selves, and our word binds us to see things through that we would otherwise flee from. A Biblical word for promise is “covenant”, and a major Biblical theme is centered on God making covenants with his people, beginning with Abraham (Gen 15) and on through his descendants, fulfilling them all in the “new covenant” established by Jesus Christ. Committing to Jesus frees us from being swept up in contemporary, ever-shifting worldviews that over promise and under-deliver. For those in Christ, we’re told, he “who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6).
Our commitment to God then, through faith in Jesus Christ, is the means to which God sustains us through to the end, and God’s covenant with us in Christ protects us from bailing from faith in the moments of difficulty or doubt that inevitably come. Our promise frees us to persevere to the end, rather than rendering us held captive to the unknown, future circumstances. Keller quotes a woman named Hannah Arendt on the freedom of promises, saying “Without being bound to the fulfillment of our promises, we would never be able to keep our identities; we would be condemned to wander helplessly and without direction in the darkness of each person’s lonely heart, caught in its contradictions and equivocalities.”
This concept, that making commitments actually leads to greater freedom and not less, is transformative when truly understood, not to mention completely countercultural. The applications are endless, but let me quickly offer two:
Freedom in Marriage
On the wedding day, a man and a woman make vows (see: commitments) to one another to stick through thick and thin, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, until death do them part. If both people making the vows truly mean it, there is an unbelievable amount of freedom in that marriage to be transparent and honest, without fear that their marriage status will change with their own fleeting feelings and that of their spouse’s.
Every marriage the world has ever seen consists of two people who are imperfect, and where imperfection exists, struggle ensues. If we rely on feelings alone, then we’re in trouble. Most times in marriage, the love will sustain the vows, but sometimes the vows will sustain the love. Vows lead to true freedom, not restriction.
Freedom in the Church
Secondly, this applies to and transforms the way we view the local church. Making a commitment to join a church and become a member may seem restrictive at first glance, but what is it you are doing when you take that step? You are making a vow to carry out God’s mission in the world to make disciples as part of God’s answer for the world, the church.
And churches, like marriages, consist of imperfect people. Where imperfection exists, struggle ensues. Committing to a church then, and not just occasionally attending one, frees us from our future selves and spiritually wandering helplessly based upon our feelings, which often tell us to bail. However, it’s in the promise itself that gives us a grip over the fickle feelings that are as difficult to track as the direction of the wind. Most times our love for the church will sustain the covenant with her, but sometimes our covenant with her needs to sustain the love.
The examples can go on and on, but fortunately for all, this blog needs to end. Bottom line, be a person who makes commitments and keeps them. As the people of God, we are called to make gospel-centered covenants that free us from the constraints of feelings that come and go. Regardless of whatever the world is telling you today, there truly is an unexpected freedom in commitment.