HT: The Reformation Resurgence
HT: The Reformation Resurgence
One of the principles in evangelical churches that is often taught is that of “Christian liberty.” This is a wonderful doctrine that should be known throughout the hearts and minds of all true believers.
It is unfortunate that the average church member will not find a middle ground in this area, nor will many pastors or elders. The usual suspects for why this is the case are 1) legalism, or 2) liberalism. Let me explain and then give a few examples.
The road of Christian liberty often splits. The first road is often considered the HIGH road, and it is walked by well meaning believers. They believe they have the right to define what Christian liberty. However, this is not where they stop. They also believe that they have the right and the God-given responsibility to determine what is right AND what is not right for other believers.
The second road too often leads down a path that leads to the attitude, “Don’t judge me. I can do anything I want to in Christ.” This path invariably will lead to liberalism and destroys the testimony of Jesus Christ.
As you read these thoughts, consider what DOES NOT define Christian liberty.
Two simple definitions as they pertain to Christian liberty –
Both of these positions are wrong. I want to give a few examples after sharing this excellent excerpt from www.GotQuestions.org.
“Question: “Christian liberty – what does the Bible say?”
Answer: Christian liberty is found in the Bible in several concepts. For example, liberty for the Christian can mean that he or she has been freed from the penalty of sin by faith in Jesus Christ (John 8:31-36; Romans 6:23). Also, Christian liberty can refer to being freed from the power of sin in one’s life by daily faith in Jesus Christ as Lord of one’s character and conduct (Romans 6:5-6,14). In addition, Christian liberty can mean that Christians are freed from the Jewish Law of Moses in that the Law only “exposes” sin in one’s life but cannot “forgive” sin (Romans 3:20-22).
Finally, Christian liberty can mean that Christians are freed in respect to such activity that is not expressly forbidden in the Bible. Therefore one can feel free to engage in such activity as long as it doesn’t “stumble” or “offend” another Christian (Romans 14:12-16). Most of these activities revolve around social “do’s” and “don’ts, such as whether or not to wear certain kinds of clothes, make-up, jewelry, tattoos, piercings, and/or practicing certain things, such as smoking, social drinking, recreational gambling, dancing, or viewing movies or videos. As the passage in Romans 14 says, these things may not be strictly prohibited by God’s Word, but they can be bad for one’s spiritual growth or Christian testimony and can cause other Christians to stumble.
Furthermore, Christians who tend to vigorously promote such liberties can sometimes fall into a loose lifestyle of undisciplined living, while, on the other hand, Christians who tend to vigorously limit such liberties can sometimes fall into a legalistic lifestyle of being defined by what they are “against.” So, it is wise to seek God in prayer and His Word to determine whether or not a particular activity is actually forbidden in Scripture. If it is, it should be avoided. If it is not forbidden, then we should seek to determine how the activity reflects on our reputation as Christians and whether it will help us or hinder us in representing Jesus to unbelievers around us, whether it edifies them or not.
The ultimate goal for the Christian should be to glorify God, edify fellow believers, and have a good reputation before unbelievers (Psalm 19:14; Romans 15:1-2; 1 Peter 2:11-12). “For you brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13). (emphasis mine)”
Here is the reality of life as a true believer. It is NOT easy being a Christian for the world clamors for our attention. The world demands that we look like them in every way, but they do not do this because they love God and His commands.
The world demands our undivided loyalty because they HATE Jesus Christ. When the world sees a true believer, it is like a massive thorn that has been jabbed under a person’s fingernail. The life of a true believer is called to bring conviction to the ungodly. We do not speak of being arrogant or haughty toward those who do not believe for we have nothing of which we can boast.
However, we have been chosen, by the Most High, with our calling being to be predestinated and conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. Simply put, the world should be seeing Jesus Christ in us. He is the hope of glory.
Now, let us consider a few examples –
Ultimately, Christian liberty is the understanding that my liberty starts and stops with what is clearly defined in Scripture. If there is an explicit command for us to obey, we must obey. If there is an explicit principle for life, then we are called to follow the principle. If the principle governs the motives of our heart, but not our methods, then we are free in Christ to follow the choices before us.
However, that freedom stops at the end of your nose and mine. Christian liberty is not free to assault the choices other believers make. If you make a decision that does not affect me or cause me to stumble, then enjoy the freedoms you have in Christ.
We may look at some of these areas later in the series, but for now I will use a personal illustration. I do not partake regularly of any kind of alcohol, but I have in the past. We have used it to flavor meat while it was cooking. I have swallowed a lot of cough medicines that have alcohol as an ingredient. I do NOT believe that I am forever condemned for having done so.
On the other hand, I have NEVER been drunk or lost self-control for what I have taken has been in moderation. For this, I am thankful to the Lord. It does not make me a spiritual person for having not been drunk versus a brother or sister who has succumbed to drunkenness. If we are in Christ, we are BOTH forgiven.
If I invite a brother and his family to dine with our family and I know one of their family members have struggled with alcohol in the past, my Christian duty and responsibility will refrain from offering it to that person. My Christian liberty does NOT allow me to be a stumbling block to him or her while we are fellowshipping together. I am free to follow the dictates of the Holy Spirit in my life AS LONG as it does not cause another to fall into sin.
As I have stated previously, when I was growing up in various churches, we heard all manner of “sermons” about long hair on men, pants on women, the dangers of Christian contemporary music, going to movies, or drinking alcohol – just to name a few. While these messages may have been well meaning, they only served to bind brothers and sisters to a defined set of standards that were man-made, and not ones established by Scripture. More often than not, such “sermons” are the result of too little time studying the Word to understand what it means in its own context, but are the result of using Scripture to prove a point being made. Scriptures were either misquoted or misunderstood in order to put other believers under a bondage that nobody can obey.
While the areas of Christian liberty are myriad, here is another example. Many denominations demand women wear their hair up, or that men have to wear suit and tie to church in order to be of service, or that families have to uphold the same standards as the pastor and his family in their normal weekly lives.
When we served in Liberia, West Africa, we saw the futility of many Christians who felt as though they were bound to what they had been taught – by the western missionary from a western society trying to force a western perspective on people for whom Christ died.
Too many times, I have seen African churches singing western songs (most had no clue what the words meant) while sitting in a western style church setting and feeling inferior to others attending because they did not have the money to wear western style clothing.
Missionaries may mean well, but if the focus is on making those in foreign countries to look, smell, talk, and act just like us in church, then we have failed miserably in directing, teaching, and discipling those precious brothers and sisters to focus on Christ, and to focus on Him ALONE.
In the west, legalism has driven many from the protection of fellowships across this land and into the arms of those who demand liberalism be what defines the church. If you were to ask many who have gone to Bible college, what they remember about college life, many would have no hesitation to share all about the rules that they learned. They can probably remember the demerits they earned for breaking man-made rules, but few would probably begin by telling you how much closer they grew to Christ. What a sad commentary!
Pastors and teachers, we are called to be an example to the believers. We are called to be shepherds of the flock and protect those for whom Christ died. We are not called, nor do we have the right or the responsibility, to be dictators. We have no business setting standards or principles for life that are not found in the pages of Scripture.
Do NOT place yokes or chains of bondage on those who are in Christ. Romans 8:1 is clear, “Therefore, there is now NO condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Let us conclude with this –
What is the chief end of man?
The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. This is where Christian liberty MUST begin AND end.
More thoughts to come —
Kevin DeYoung writes this excellent post on “The Scandal of the Semi-Churched.” Every true believer should read and prayerfully consider these strong words of exhortation and edification.
The Scandal of the Semi-Churched
This is one of those posts I’ve wanted to write for awhile, but I wasn’t sure how to say what I think needs to be said. The danger of legalism and false guilt is very real. But so is the danger of disobedience and self-deception.
I want to talk about church members who attend their home church with great irregularity. These aren’t unchurched folks, or de-churched, or under-churched. They are semi-churched. They show up some of the time, but not every week. They are on again/off again, in and out, here on Sunday and gone for two. That’s the scandal of the semi-churched. In fact, Thom Rainer argues that the number one reason for the decline in church attendance is that church members don’t go to church as often as they used to.
We’ve had Christmas and Easter Christians for probably as long as we’ve had Christmas and Easter. Some people will always be intermittent with their church attendance. I’m not talking about nominal Christians who wander into church once or twice a year. I’m talking about people who went through the trouble of joining a church, like their church, have no particular beef with the church, and still only darken its doors once or twice a month. If there are churches with membership rolls much larger than their average Sunday attendance, they have either under-shepherds derelict in their duties, members faithless in theirs, or both.
I know we are the church and don’t go to church (blah, blah, blah), but being persnickety about our language doesn’t change the exhortation of Hebrews 10:25. We should not neglect to meet together, as some are in the habit of doing. Gathering every Lord’s Day with our church family is one of the pillars of mature Christianity.
So ask yourself a few questions.
1. Have you established church going as an inviolable habit in your family? You know how you wake up in the morning and think “maybe I’ll go on a run today” or “maybe I’ll make french toast this morning”? That’s not what church attendance should be like. It shouldn’t be an “if the mood feels right” proposition. I will always be thankful that my parents treated church attendance (morning and evening) as an immovable pattern. It wasn’t up for discussion. It wasn’t based on extenuating circumstances. It was never a maybe. We went to church. That’s what we did. That made the decision every Sunday a simple one, because their was no real decision. Except for desperate illness, we were going to show up. Giving your family the same kind of habit is a gift they won’t appreciate now, but will usually thank you for later.
2. Do you plan ahead on Saturday so you can make church a priority on Sunday? We are all busy people, so it can be hard to get to church, especially with a house full of kids. We will never make the most of our Sundays unless we prepare for them on Saturday. That likely means finishing homework, getting to bed on time, and foregoing some football. If church is an afterthought, you won’t think of it until after it’s too late.
3. Do you order your travel plans so as to minimize being gone from your church on Sunday? I don’t want to be legalistic with this question. I’ve traveled on Sunday before (though I try to avoid it). I take vacation and study leave and miss 8 or 9 Sundays at URC per year. I understand we live in a mobile culture. I understand people want to visit their kids and grandkids on the weekend (and boy am I thankful when ours come and visit). Gone are the days when people would be in town 50-52 weeks a year. Travel is too easy. Our families are too dispersed. But listen, this doesn’t mean we can’t make a real effort to be around on Sunday. You might want to take Friday off to go visit the kids so you can be back on Saturday night. You might want to think twice about investing in a second home that will draw you away from your church a dozen weekends every year. You might want to re-evaluate your assumption that Friday evening through Sunday evening are yours to do whatever you want wherever you want. It’s almost impossible to grow in love for your church and minister effectively in your church if you are regularly not there.
4. Are you willing to make sacrifices to gather with God’s people for worship every Sunday? “But you don’t expect me to cancel my plans for Saturday night, do you? I can’t possibly rearrange my work schedule. This job requires me to work every Sunday–I’d have to get a new job if I wanted to be regular at church. Sundays are my day to rewind. I won’t get all the yard work done if I go to church every week. My kids won’t be able to play soccer if we don’t go to Sunday games. If my homework is going to be done by Sunday, I won’t be able to chill out Friday night and all day Saturday. Surely God wouldn’t want me to sacrifice too much just so I can show up at church!” Not exactly the way of the cross, is it?
5. Have you considered that you may not be a Christian? Who knows how many people God saves “as through fire” (1 Cor. 3:15). Does going to church every week make you a Christian? Absolutely not. Does missing church 35 Sundays a year make you a non-Christian? It does beg the question. God’s people love to be with God’s people. They love to sing praises. They love to feast at the Table. They love to be fed from the Scriptures. Infrequent church attendance–I mean not going anywhere at all–is a sign of immaturity at best and unbelief at worst. For whenever God calls people out of darkness he calls them into the church. If the Sunday worship service is the community of the redeemed, what does your weekly pattern suggest to God about where you truly belong?
The tragedy is often that the “one-hundred-per-cent god” is introduced into the life of the sensitive by the comparatively insensitive, who literally cannot imagine the harm they are doing. What is the way out? The words of Christ, “Learn of Me,” provide the best clue. Some of our modern enthusiastic Christians of the hearty type tend to regard Christianity as a performance. But it still is, as it was originally, a way of living, and in no sense a performance acted for the benefit of the surrounding world. To “learn” implies growth; implies the making and correcting of mistakes; implies a steady upward progress toward an ideal. The “perfection” to which Christ commands men to progress is this ideal.
The modern high-pressure Christian of certain circles would like to impose perfection of one hundred per cent as a set of rules to be immediately enforced, instead of as a shining ideal to be faithfully pursued…Such a distortion of Christian truth could not possibly originate from the One who said His “yoke was easy” and His “burden light,” nor by His follower St. Paul, who declared after many years’ experience that he “pressed toward the mark, not as though he had already attained or were already perfect.”
“Your god is too Small”
For another thing, let us not expect too much from our own hearts here below. At our best we shall find in ourselves daily cause for humiliation, and discover that we are needy debtors to mercy and grace every hour. The more light we have, the more we shall see our own imperfection. Sinners we were when we began, sinners we shall find ourselves as we go on; renewed, pardoned, justified—yet sinners to the very last. Our absolute perfection is yet to come, and the expectation of it is one reason why we should long for heaven.
– J.C. Ryle
1816 – 1900
Galatians 5:13-15 (NASB)—13 For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
If we are saved, do we live like we used to? That is silly. If we are to be children of God, we should live as children of God, and obey those things our Father commands us to do. And we should love our brothers and sisters as ourselves. This is the point Paul is making in this passage.
Here is the seventeenth installment of this series going verse-by-verse through what Dr. Lawson calls “Paul’s Most Explosive Letter.” You can listen by left-clicking this link.
Galatians 5:7-12—7 You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? 8 This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you. 9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough. 10 I have confidence in you in the Lord that you will adopt no other view; but the one who is disturbing you will bear his judgment, whoever he is. 11 But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished. 12 I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves.
The believers in Galatia had begun well. But along came the Judaizers, leading them away from the truth of the gospel. Their faith, which was at first strong, had been diluted by false teachers. Like many today. They begin with faith, but then they get caught up in false doctrines (like the heretical prosperity “gospel”), and are turned away from the truth. Much like these believers, who were turned from the truth by those who would add circumcision to the cross of Christ, much like many add baptism to the cross of Christ.
Here is the sixteenth installment of this series going verse-by-verse through what Dr. Lawson calls “Paul’s Most Explosive Letter.” You can listen by left-clicking this link.
Galatians 5:1-6 (NASB)—1 It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. 2 Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. 3 And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. 4 You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. 5 For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.
Is the “social gospel” the most important thing for the church? Is feeding the hungry and housing the homeless what Jesus came to do? Is Rick Warren’s unbiblical yoking of himself with Muslim groups true Christianity? The biblical answer to that question is resoundingly, emphatically, and absolutely, “NO!!!!”
Satan would like us to think that slavery in this country was done away with after the Civil War. Nothing could be farther from the truth. We are all slaves–we either serve Christ, or we serve Satan. Today, we will hear what the apostle Paul says about who is the one that is truly free.
Here is the fifteenth installment of this series going verse-by-verse through what Dr. Lawson calls “Paul’s Most Explosive Letter.” You can listen by left-clicking this link.
Galatians 4:21-4:31 (NASB)—21 Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, (AB)one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. 23 But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. 24 This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. 25 Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother. 27 For it is written, Rejoice barren woman who does not bear; break forth and shout, you who are not in labor; for more numerous are the children of the desolate than of the one who has a husband. 28 And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also. 30 But what does the Scripture say? Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be an heir with the son of the freewoman. 31 So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman.
Question: What is the one thing that separates true followers of Christ from those trapped in false religions?
Answer: The fact that the one who has put his faith in Christ as their Savior and Lord have been set free from the Law of sin and death (Romans 8:2) because the law could not make us free because of the weakness of our flesh (Romans 8:3), and they place NO FAITH in their own works, which can never make one righteous. For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law (Galatians 3:21).
Yet the one who is trapped in a false religion will still go through their life counting up all their “good deeds” and all their “bad deeds,” thinking that all the while God is smiling upon their enterprise–yet He is pleading from Heaven, “This is My Beloved Son–Hear HIM!!”
Here is the fourteenth installment of this series going verse-by-verse through what Dr. Lawson calls “Paul’s Most Explosive Letter.” You can listen by left-clicking this link.