“OUR LIBERTY AND OUR RESPONSIBILITY” (PART 1)
Three weeks ago, (April 4 to be precise) marked the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination on a motel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee. About five years earlier (August 28, 1963) he stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. and delivered a speech that shook this country to its foundation. Some of the most memorable words from that speech were, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God, Almighty, we’re free at last!” His words were delivered within the context of the civil rights movement. King was speaking about social and political freedom for African-Americans or, as he repeatedly referred to them in his speech, Negros.
“Free at last!” was a quote from an old Negro spiritual. That song was inspired by the pain and injustice of human slavery, but it ultimately spoke about eternal freedom – not about the earthly freedom that slaves would enjoy when emancipated by their owners.
No, that old spiritual spoke of freedom in Christ and where that freedom would finally lead. Listen to the words of the last verse of the song and you’ll see what I mean.
Some one of these mornings, bright and fair – I thank God I’m free at last.
I’m going to meet King Jesus in the air – I thank God I’m free at last.
Now that’s freedom. Such freedom is complete and eternal. That’s what the words “Free at last!” originally meant. But Christ died to free us in the here and now too.
The Book of Romans (the doctrinal treatise of the NT) teaches that Christians are freed from slavery to Satan and to sin.
17 But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching (truth) to which you were com-mitted,
18 and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.
• It is in slavery to righteousness that the Christian finds his freedom.
• It is in commitment to the truth that the Christian finds his liberty.
• It is in abiding in God’s Word that the Christian’s liberty clothes itself in the Christian’s responsibility.
That is what this morning’s sermon – and next Sunday’s as well – is all about. They’re about the Christian’s freedom. That is, our liberty in Christ and our responsibility to Christ… and to the world around us, both to the saved and to the lost.
Last Sunday morning we looked at how people are ensnared by three specific heresies, all of which attempt to fulfill the human desire for meaning in life. They are…
(1) mysticism – the man-made religion of self-importance, (2) asceticism – the man-made religion of self-denial, (3) legalism – the man-made religion of self-effort.
*Colossians 2:8-10, 16-17, 23
8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.
9 For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form,
10 and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority;
16 Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day –
17 things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.
23 These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.
That’s pretty clear, is it not? Those of us who have been set free in Christ should not be struggling with mysticism (self-importance), ascetism (self-denial), or legalism (self-effort). Few Bible-believing Christians have a great deal of trouble with self-importance or self-denial. But many sincere believers do seem to struggle with legalism.
Therefore, for the rest of this morning as well as next Sunday I want us to consider the problem of legalism in the church, gain an understanding of how it hurts us, as well as our brothers and sisters in Christ, and learn how to deal with it. Let’s begin with one of the most well-known texts in all of Scripture on the issue of freedom in Christ. You will note that it is addressed to Christians and to Christians alone.
31 Jesus therefore was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine;
32 and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
33 They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s offspring, and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You shall become free’?”
34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.
35 “And the slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever.
36 “If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.”
As a Christian you are not only freed from slavery to sin, but you are also freed from sla-very to the religious rules of men. What exactly does that mean?
• Does freedom in Christ mean that I can do whatever I want whenever I want to do it? No, it doesn’t mean that at all! That’s not liberty, that’s license.
• Does freedom in Christ mean that I must adhere to the arbitrary standards set down by men who appear to be more pious than I am? No, it doesn’t mean that either! That’s not liberty, that’s legalism.
At first blush it may seem that I just contradicted myself. But I did not. Listen carefully, please. You and I are free in Christ and you and I are responsible to Christ. (repeat) Above all else, this is an issue of Christian maturity. We’re called to “grow up” in Him.
Important point – With regard to Christian liberty versus Christian responsibility, growing up in Christ means that you are to become spiritually mature enough so that you can discern both what you are free to do, and what you are responsible not to do.
How do you do that? It requires a working knowledge of scriptural principles that sadly, few professing Christians today seem to have. It requires Christian maturity.
• You must know God’s Word in order to do God’s will.
• You must understand the difference between the letter of the Law and the Spirit of the Law.
Clearly, there is a great tension between religious legalism and Christian liberty. Many Christians live their entire lives enmeshed in an ongoing struggle to deal with that tension. Is that where you find yourself this morning?
• Do you want to live the life of liberty that Christ died to provide for you? Sure you do!
• Do you want to live the life of responsibility that Christ requires of you? I hope you do!
Now we know that with any freedom comes responsibility, don’t we? For example, with the freedom to vote comes the responsibility to vote, and to do so knowledgeably. With the freedom to bear and raise children comes the responsibility to train them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
So with freedom in Christ comes the responsibility to live for Christ. And contrary to popular opinion, while following a man-made list of rules and regulations may be easy, but that certainly does not constitute living a Christian life. Following man-made rules is called legalism and no group was better at legalism than the first century Pharisees.
The Pharisees were self-righteous. And the Pharisees were religious hypocrites. They were the original fundamentalists. (John MacArthur defines the term “fundamentalist” as, “No fun, too much damn, and very little mental.”) They turned God’s essential commands into an
art form. Here’s an example. The OT required an annual fast. So the Pharisees fasted twice a week. (But wouldn’t they have been even more holy if they had fasted three times per week?)
Here’s another example. The Law required the Jews to refrain from work on the Sab-bath.
Remember that the Sabbath was given to the Jews as a gift from God whereby they might rest from their labors, just as God rested from His after He completed the work of creation. It was a sign peculiar to the nation of Israel.
(By the way, it is worth noting that while the early Christians certainly did do battle over the imposition of circumcision on the Gentiles who were coming into the church, they never imposed observation of the Sabbath [Saturday] on new Gentile believers.)
The following is a quote from the book The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah by the Jewish historian Alfred Edersheim. Regarding the carrying of a particular load on the Sabbath day he says…
“(The Pharisees) developed the prohibition into eight special ordinances, by first dividing ‘bearing of a burden’ into two separate acts – lifting it up and putting it down – and then arguing, that it might be lifted up or put down from two different places, from a public into a private into a public place. Again, a ‘burden’ meant, as the lowest standard of it, the weight of ‘a dried fig.’ But if ‘half a fig’ were carried at two different times – lifted or deposited from a private into a public place, or vice versa – were these two actions to be combined into one (would that) constitute the sin of Sabbath desecration? The standard measure for forbidden food was the size of an olive, just as that for carrying burdens was the weight of a fig. If a man had swallowed forbidden food of the size of half an olive, rejected it, and again eaten of the size of half an olive, he would be guilty because the palate had altogether tasted food the size of a whole olive.”
“This is insanity,” you say. No, this is what can happen when you allow traditions and religious rules of men to define and determine true godliness. This was what happened when love for the Law became love for keeping the Law. The Pharisees ended up denigrating God’s holy and perfect Law and turned it into a vehicle for self-exaltation. Listen to Jesus as He speaks to them…
15 And (Jesus) said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.”
Listen, what follows is religious hypocrisy and it is detestable in God’s sight.
1 Then some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem, saying,
2 “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.”
3 And (Jesus) answered and said to them, “And why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?
4 “For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’, and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him be put to death.’
5 “But you say, ‘Whoever shall say to his father or mother, “Anything of mine you might have been helped by has been given to God,”
6 he is not to honor his father or his mother.’ And thus you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition.
7 “You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you saying,
8 ‘This people honors Me (God the Father) with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.
9 ‘But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts (the traditions) of men.’”
Let’s be clear about our traditions. They are fine as long as they do not invalidate God’s truth or become required in order to validate someone’s spirituality. But what so often happens is that Christians who tend to be legalistic view other Christians with contempt if the latter fail to live up to their standards or traditions of the former. If you take this far enough you won’t even recognize true biblical Christianity when you see it. Is that too strong a statement? I don’t think it is.
The ultimate religious practitioners of legalism, the Pharisees themselves, accused Jesus of not being the One He said He was. Actually, it went even further than that. The reli-gious leaders actually accused Jesus of being demon-possessed!
46 “Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not
47 “He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.”
48 The Jews answered and said to Him, “Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan (a half-breed) and have a demon?”
49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me.”
Ascribing the work of God to Satan comes perilously close to the unforgivable sin de-scribed in Matthew 12. When the Pharisees said Jesus used the power of Satan to work His miracles, Jesus, whose power came from the Holy Spirit of God, said…
30 “He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters.
31 “Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven.”
The legalism of the Pharisees finally led to total (and fatal) spiritual blindness. Their arrogance made them see Jesus, their own long-awaited Messiah, as an evil man whom they tried to kill, and ultimately had put to death. Hypocrites? I guess! Today you and I must be willing to take a long hard look at ourselves when it comes to legalism and hypocrisy.
We must understand Scripture sufficiently to be able to differentiate between the actual commands of God and man-made traditions that we add to God’s Word. Truth itself depends on our ability to discern the difference.
Legalism (and the subsequent judgmentalism it breeds) can destroy relationships. It can even destroy churches. We see it whenever a denomination, a sect, a church, or an individual Christian establishes a conviction that is not specifically addressed in the Bible.
Please listen carefully. On matters not specifically addressed in Scripture, sincere Christians often come to different conclusions concerning right and wrong. (repeat)
And that’s okay. What’s not okay is that many Christians do not always respond to their differences with grace and Christian maturity.
Dr. Garry Friesen, Bible teacher and professor at Multnomah Bible College in Portland, Oregon, lists areas of difference he has observed among Christians around the world and even in different regions of the United States. Please understand that biblical principles can be applied to each, but not one of these things is specifically addressed in Scripture.
As I read the list I want you to think about five things. (1) Do you do them? (2) Do you not do them but know professing believers who do? (3) If you do do them, how do feel about your fellow Christians who don’t do them? (4) Conversely, if you don’t do them, how do you feel about your fellow Christians who do them? (5) Regardless of what you do or don’t do, how do you feel about a fellow believer who disagrees with you?
With that said, what about… (alphabetically)
Attending live theatre Mixed gender swimming
Attending movies Mowing your lawn on Sunday
Buying life or health insurance Playing guitars or drums in church
Buying lottery tickets Playing cards
Cooking with wine Playing pool
Dancing Purchasing cable or satellite television
Drinking wine or beer in moderation Putting your children in a public school
Drinking any alcohol at all Smoking (or chewing tabaco)
Eating in a restaurant that has a bar Using any Bible that isn’t the KJV
Fishing on Sunday Watching certain television shows
Gambling Women wearing make-up
Letting your children celebrate Halloween Women wearing pants to church
Listening to rock music Women wearing their hair too short
Men wearing their hair too long Women wearing two-piece swimsuits
Men wearing shorts to church Working for pay on Sundays
“Most of us react to such a list with laughter and incredulity,” says Dr. Friesen.
However, many of you will say there are things on that list you can do because they are obviously areas of Christian liberty.
But some of you will also say there are things on that list are obviously not permissible.
Well, here’s the hard reality. If you ask ten different Christians of various cultural back-grounds and various chronological ages and from various parts of the country to divide the list I just read into “permissible” and “non-permissible,” the result is that you will get ten different lists.
Why is that? It’s because the Bible was written for all times and all cultures. The Bible’s commands tend to be general. They don’t center on things like cigarettes, the difference between “PG13” and “R” rated movies, and life insurance. Rather, they center on things like (1) personal holiness, (2) separation from the world, (3) the good stewardship of per-sonal resources, (4) the love of the brethren, and (5) the love for the brethren.
Why does the Church of Jesus Christ have so much trouble with this? It is because many Christians have a hard time with the fact that the Bible leaves certain behaviors and acti-vities to our own individual consciences.
Look, we live in an extremely complex world with thousands and thousands of influences and choices vying for our attention, our commitment, and our resources. But we long for simplicity and security. We say, “If only God would tell us exactly what to do and when to do it, life would be so much easier.” Then we wouldn’t have to think or discern, we wouldn’t have to make difficult choices. We’d only have to consult THE LIST. Then we’d all know what was right, and what was wrong. But here’s a problem.
Christians who think that way usually limit their fellowship to other Christians who think the same way and whose LISTS are similar. Some Christians argue that this is how we achieve unity in the body of Christ. But such unity is superficial. It doesn’t establish and maintain Christian unity. In the end, it destroys Christian unity. Why? Because no two Christians operate off the same LIST.
Listen Christian, you don’t need a list. You need (1) personal holiness, (2) separation from the world, (3) the good stewardship of personal resources, (4) the love of the brethren, and (5) the love for the brethren.
The Bible teaches us that God’s plan for the universal church should manifest itself in unity through diversity. That is not political or social “happy-talk.” Think about it.
• Lighthouse Bible Church isn’t the only Christian church in Wisconsin, is it?
• Christian churches in Wisconsin aren’t the only churches in America, are they?
• Christian churches in America aren’t the only churches in the world, are they?
• Christian churches in the world of today aren’t the only churches that have ever been, are they?
Do you get the point? For nearly 2000 years God’s universal church has consisted of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. It’s been made up of men, women, and children with diverse personalities, nationalities, spiritual gifts, personal tastes, abilities, talents, and backgrounds. This is what God has always intended.
One of the well-known passages on spiritual gifts speaks directly to this.
*1 Corinthians 12:12-18
12 For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many are one body, so also is Christ.
13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
14 For the body is not one member, but many.
15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body.
16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body.
17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole (body) were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?
18 But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as he desired.
This teaches more than diversity of spiritual gifts within the body. Obviously, all Chris-tians of all the ages and backgrounds would be different. Jesus’ command to love one another covers more than this local assembly of believers. It spans the entire church from place to place and age to age. We are not required to agree with each other in every de-tail of Christian life. The issue is not unity of opinion. The issue is unity of relationship.
In that unity each one of us is inextricably linked to every Christian who is alive today, or who has ever lived, or who ever will.
5 Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus;
6 that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
7 Wherefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.
Finally, consider the two extremes. On one side is the Christian who proclaims that his freedom in Christ allows him to live just as he pleases. Consequently, he lives a life that is virtually indistinguishable from the world. He does what he wants when he wants and says that if his liberty offends other Christians, it’s their problem. But ask yourself this: What kind of a testimony is it when a professing Christian lives a life that looks exactly like that of an unbeliever?
Or consider the other extreme. On the other side is the Christian who goes beyond the limits of rationality to avoid any worldly influence whatsoever. He constantly bends over backwards not to violate the convictions or beliefs of anyone in anything – and his LIST continually gets longer and longer.
What happens when he bends so far that he can no longer move? How can he have a Christian testimony before the world when he is hiding from the world? Clearly, those are the two extremes. But every one of us finds ourselves leaning one way or the other.
We need to understand that there are things the Scriptures require of us. For example, we’re all required to love God. We’re all required to love each other. And we’re all required to tell others about the hope that is in us. Conversely, there are things the Scriptures condemn. Sexual activity outside of marriage is condemned. Lying is condemned. Stealing is condemned. Drunkeness is condemned. On all of these things (and many others) there can be no compromise! None!
But hear me well. When we treat our personal preferences and personal convictions as absolutes coming down out of heaven from God, we set the stage for the potential destruction of the very church we profess to love.
Johann-Peter read from Romans 14 this morning. Turn back there with me. I want us to close with a few basic principles you can take with you morning.
1 Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of pas-sing judgment on his opinions.
2 One man has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only.
3 Let not him who eats (whatever he wants) regard with contempt him who does not eat (whatever he wants), and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats (whatever he wants), for God has accepted him.
4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
Allow your fellow Christians to determine their own choices.
5 One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind.
In matters of personal freedom, you need to be convinced that your choices are right.
14 I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
You need to know the difference between God’s commands and your choices.
1 Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves.
You need to learn that your liberty is to be controlled by your love for the brethren.
This is not always easy, but it is what we are called to do. A word of caution as I close – this is all about freedom and responsibility in the living of our Christian lives. It has nothing to do with the fundamentals of the faith.
The fundamentals of the faith are not at issue here. Inerrancy of Scripture, the Holy Trinity, Christ’s deity, His virgin birth, His bodily resurrection, and His physical return in power and glory – these are never to be compromised!
Next Sunday we’ll look into just how to determine matters of liberty and responsibility. The Apostle Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth and his letters to the churches in Galatia and Rome will be our guide.
~ Pray ~
Pastor Jim Timms
Lighthouse Bible Church – Lake Geneva, Wisconsin – 262-949-1007 – www.lighthouselakegeneva.com