I was at the gym this morning (because I’m healthy like that) and was watching the movie “Catch Me If You Can,” playing in the treadmill room. The movie, based on real events, stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Frank Abagnale Jr., a famous con artist from the 1960s. As a teenager, Abagnale wrote millions of dollars in fake checks and led the FBI on a global manhunt, posing as (among other things) a Pan American pilot.
He gets caught, eventually. And in a surprising twist, Frank is enlisted to work in the FBI’s check fraud division for a reduced sentence.
But his old life crime and suspense keeps calling. One weekend he just can’t resist. He dons his old pilot’s garb, creates a fake ID, and heads to the airport to pick up where his old impersonating, fraudulent self left off.
His boss and, incidentally, the man who captured him, Carl Hanratty (played by Tom Hanks) finds him at the airport. Abagnale is determined to get away, and picks up his pace in the terminal. Hanratty catches up and tells him that despite what it appears, he’s not going to arrest him. He’s going to let Frank leave: “I’m not even going to stop you, because I know you’ll be back on Monday.”
“How do you know I’ll be back?” Frank wonders.
“Because,” says Hanratty, “nobody’s chasing you.”
Nobody’s chasing you. A lot of us keep running from God because we feel like we’re in trouble. We think the authorities are out to get us. And to be sure, they might be, if we have also engaged in check fraud. Or run an illegal puppy mill. Or loosened the tops of salt containers at Denny’s.
But God is not chasing us. He might be chasing us to enjoy our company, but he’s not chasing us to get us in trouble. By the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, he bought us our freedom. He worked out a deal with the authorities. We can go wherever we want to go, be whatever we want to be, do whatever we want to do.
The Bible talks about this. In Galatians 5 Paul writes that “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” To be free is to not fear punishment for our crimes. That punishment has been paid in Christ. Of course, there is a “but,” here. (Darn those buts.) Paul continues: “You were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.” In other words, you’re free to get on the plane. But don’t get on the plane. Why not? Because there are better ways to spend our time than in sinful self-promotion and fraudulent lifestyles. There are people to serve and a world to save.
Sure you can exaggerate to your boss about how hard you worked on the project. But don't get on the plane.
Of course you are free to lie to the government about how much money you made last year. But don't get on the plane.
Yes, you can eat that extra brownie or visit that website or say those angry words to your kids. God's not chasing you anymore. But don't get on the plane.
Sure enough, Frank doesn’t get on the plane. Why not? Because he realizes there’s no thrill in avoiding capture if you’re not being chased. (How many of us run from God because we enjoy being chased?) And also, because when he tastes the freedom that Hanratty worked so hard to buy him, he knows it’s worth more than a life of crime. He wasn’t released from prison to return to check fraud. He was given his freedom to help protect society from other bad guys like him.
So too was I. Jesus paid an awful debt so I could get the divine authorities off my tail. And now that I’ve been freed from prison, hell, death and sin, I don’t want to get on the plane. My freedom was bought at too high of a price to prance around the globe like a silly pretend airline pilot. Sure I still sin, pretend, steal and lie. But God’s not on my tail. He took care of that in Christ. And now I’m free to be anyone I choose to be. With that freedom, I choose to be the obedient servant Jesus called me to be.
What will you do with your freedom? Will you get on the plane? Or will you get back to the work of godliness and service that brings true and lasting joy?