Consistent Inconsistency – Part 4 – Christian Liberty

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.

  1. Christian liberty is NOT the dictates of a pastor or an elder board. If a pastor is preaching or teaching principles for life as though they were solid doctrine, then you must beware. Teaching principles and practices as if they were the foundation stone of the apostles and prophets is the quickest road to legalism and a sure sign that you are attending a church governed by a dictator rather than a loving shepherd.
  2. Christian liberty is NOT the ability to demand other brothers and sisters agree with my stand on an issue that is NOT clearly defined in Scripture.

Two simple definitions as they pertain to Christian liberty –

  1. Legalism – Excessive adherence to the law that manifests itself by forcing others to obey what the Scriptures do not explicitly teach. Such a position is based on a worldview that is rules-centered rather than being Christ-centered.
  2. Liberalism – Excessive lifestyles that supposedly allow a Christian to live any way they wish to do so. This philosophy is defined and supported by a worldview that is man-centered rather than Christ-centered.

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 8:31-36Romans 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 19:14Romans 15:1-21 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 —

Should Christians Try to Win Morality Through Legislation?

In our current culture, especially as we are heading into the next election cycle, moral questions are being hotly debated and people are looking to to political leaders to solve these problems. For example, perhaps the two mostly controversial subjects are the definition of marriage and the issue of abortion. Everyday, we hear news reports of organizations petitioning political leaders for changes to these laws. Everyday, state governments pass, or attempt to pass, a law that will define marriage as either traditional, being between one man and one woman, or redefining it to include same sex couples. Abortion laws continued to be hotly contested as states pass laws that require women be informed of a baby’s development or the use of ultrasound to show them the child. Yet, efforts to extend personhood rights are being denied due to political machinations.

As we see cultural diversity, political correctness, pluralism, post-modern and secular humanism spread throughout, and erode, the culture, Christians rightly see the damage this does to the understanding of the word of God. Additionally, because these concepts demand that Christians capitulate their exclusivist position, which we are often unwilling to do, Christians are often seen as obstacles to unity within the culture. We recognize that the culture is moving to a point where Christianity could conceivably be seen as a threat. The further the culture takes this perception, the greater the possibility that one day Christianity could be outlawed. Therefore, Christians are rightly seeing a growing threat to the practice of our faith and, ultimately, the moral degradation of a country in rebellion to God.

So the question becomes, how does the Christian contend with this? Do we fight fire with fire, establishing political action committees, petitioning political leaders, fighting for more moral laws, putting Christians in political offices, and so forth? Or do we view the onslaught of the culture against Christianity as insurmountable and retreat into secluded enclaves where we can practice our faith in peace? Is there a balance between the two extremes? Is there a biblical answer to this? I believe there is and it may be what the vast majority of the church has ignored for some time.

In the 1960’s we saw one of the most public attacks on the Christian faith when a Supreme Court case determined that a wall existed between the Church and the State. From that day forward, political representations of anything remotely Christian were prohibited. In response to this governmental decree, Christians began fighting through politics and legislation, attempting to reclaim that lost ground. Since that time, we have seen the establishment of the “Moral Majority” and Christian lobbyist committees. Religious groups have examined candidates with fine tooth combs, ensuring they would support biblically based laws. Additionally, legal groups have formed, fighting for Christian values in Courtrooms around the country. And, at first, it seemed we had the right idea. Good, moral laws got passed. Conservative politicians sought the support of the evangelical right. But, it did not last long.

By the 1990’s we began to see political correctness and post-modernism redefining how the culture thought and acted. Slowly, incrementally, how we understood morality, the definitions of right and wrong had been changing in the culture. Now, the greatest moral taboo wasn’t doing what the Bible called sin, it was to tell anyone that what they believed was wrong. Truth was now relative, everyone’s perceptions were equally valued, whether they had a basis in fact or not. To tell someone that their sincerely held beliefs were wrong was tantamount to treason. And by the time we had reached the turn of the century, this system had permeated our entire culture. Now, laws that Christians had fought long and hard for were seen as unfair, immoral, and unconstitutional. After all, if someone’s beliefs on sexual lifestyles, their desire to have abortion on demand or their definition of marriage was as equally valid as anyone else’s, then these laws were depriving them of the freedoms guaranteed in our Constitution. The very fabric of the “Moral Majority” had begun to unravel.

Because of the almost viral like effect of political correctness and post-modernism, Christians have even found fighting within our own ranks. How many churches have we heard of today that actually support abortion or homosexual marriage? This is the key to understanding why Christianity is finding itself bullied into a corner today. See, while the church was busy fighting the political battles, secular humanism was establishing its very foundations. Those that sought to change the culture weren’t busying themselves with politics, yet. They were fighting for the hearts and minds of the culture. While we were protesting, they were proselytizing. In time, those whose hearts had been won to this way of thinking were growing up and taking their ideas into everything they do.

Christians, this is were we have failed. Our primary task, the one given to us by Christ Himself is to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15 NKJV), and to “…make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 28:19 NKJV). In other words, we are to be proselytizing to everyone we meet. See, somewhere along the way, maybe because we had become an affluent and prosperous nation, we forgot that we aren’t blessed by God because we are Americans. We are blessed because we have humbled ourselves before God, broken by our sins, repentant and trusting in the Savior, Jesus Christ. But we began to see our wealth, prosperity and power as evidence that God loved us. That somehow, we were deserving of it. Yet, when adversity began to rear its head, we did not look to ourselves, to see if we had lost our way. We just assumed we were on the right path and no one was going to take away God’s blessings without a fight! So we fought it on the world’s terms, trying to get OUR rights and OUR blessings back. Along the way, we forgot about those unregenerate and lost souls on their way to hell.

Like we were once, our country is populated with literally millions of sin bound souls, hearing only the call of their flesh. Post-modern humanist driven leaders exploited that. They preached a false gospel of unity, peace and self-gratification. Those souls that we were not evangelizing to greedily ate it up. In time, our children, fed well on a steady diet of tolerant pluralism looked at us and saw hypocrisy. Sure, we fought for conservatism and “morality,” but not everyone believed in what we did. In fact, we really didn’t believe in it ourselves. We worshipped our wealth and prosperity. We made out lives comfortable and pleasant. Yet, we ignored those around us that desperately need to hear the healing gospel. We left the work of preaching and teaching to the already over-worked preachers on Sunday morning. The hearts of the next generations belonged firmly to the world. For all our moral battle cries and politicizing, we had lost. Our culture is on a downhill slope and is picking up steam fast.

So what are we to do? Exactly what Christ called us to do, preach the gospel! This is the beauty of our faith! God’s word does not return void. Christians, brothers and sisters, hear this. If today, we will go forth and preach the word of God – that glorious gospel that teaches that we are wretched sinners deserving of damnation, yet, in His mercy Christ died for us, and that through repentance and faith we can receive forgiveness of sins – if we go out into our country and preach this word, souls will be saved. If we repent of our sin of trying to win this battle on our own, if we humble ourselves and pray over the lost and dying sinners walking the streets, if we raise our families to love and praise our Savior, souls will be saved! And as those souls are filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, they will be led to preach the same gospel! And, maybe, just maybe, we might actually see a real revival, not one of those charades that get scheduled on TBN every night.

Now, here is the interesting part. If a nation were to break out in genuine revival, if hearts were convicted of the sins our nation currently exalts, and if they were truly led of the Spirit, what happens? It begins to love the law of God and practice it without having to be forced through legislation!! See, all those laws and political machinations we are trying to win won’t need to have so much effort, because people will desire to obey God out of their sincere love and gratitude toward Him. I’m not advocating preaching the gospel just to get a better society, not one bit. I’m saying that if we actually love the Lord as we ought to and preach His gospel, because it is truly the best thing we have to offer (honestly, we are talking about the forgiveness of sins and eternal life here), then all the other things we keep fighting for will get won because God Himself will be fighting the battle.

Does this mean we surrender the political fight and never get involved? No. But this is where the balance must come into play. We are blessed to live in this country, so we must thank God by honoring our duties to care for and protect it. We must stand up against evil when it arises and vote in a manner that is consistent with biblical principles. But, at the forefront must always be the gospel! When we defend morality, it is not because “it is better for society,” it is because to allow the immoral to stand is to allow untold numbers of souls to believe sin is not sin and God will not judge it. We must proclaim sin to be sin and compassionately lead those who will hear us to the cross at Calvary to be forgiven. Always must this be the reason why we vote the way we do, and for no other reason.

Brothers and sisters, I have heard so many Christians speak vehemently over which candidates to vote for, which parties to back, and which laws to support. Yet, I hear so very little of that passion when it comes to speaking forth the truth of the gospel to the lost. Please, let us change that. Let’s end the notion we can win this world by worldly means. Let us, with one accord, proclaim the glorious gospel of our risen Savior for the salvation of souls and let us see what the Lord might do with our nation then.