In the movie Pirates of the Caribbean Captain Jack Sparrow tells William Turner, “All that matters in life is this. What a man can do and what a man can’t do.” I’m afraid that too often this is our idea of Christianity. All that matters is what we can do and what we can’t do. When this is our mindset we reduce Christianity to a list of do’s and don’ts. This is in contrast to what the Bible teaches.
“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” Galatians 5:1 (NKJV)
The Galatians had been slaves to sin before Paul came and told them about Jesus. They had received Christ and were freed from their slavery to sin. After Paul left Galatia a group of folks called Judaizers came in and tried to tell the Galatians that if they really wanted to be saved they had to follow the Jewish Laws. Paul wrote his letter to them in part to tell them to reject this legalism. He told them that Christ had freed them to be free, not to be slaves. Being a slave to legalism is just as much slavery as being a slave to sin is.
The truth is the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the Good News of freedom. We are freed from slavery to our sinful nature, and we are free from slavery to legalistic rules. While we have freedom in Christ, it is not an unlimited freedom.
“as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God.” 1 Peter 2:16 (NKJV)
Since the freedom we have in Christ is not a license to do whatever we want and it has some boundaries it tends to be complicated at times. Because it can be complicated we tend to go to one extreme or the other.
Liberalism | | Legalism
On one extreme is liberalism that says that since we are under grace we can do anything we want to do. Liberalism basically turns grace into a license to sin. The problem with this is that the Bible says that grace most definitely is not a license to sin.
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” Romans 6:1-2 (NKJV)
Judaizers accused Paul of teaching that grace encouraged one to live sinful lives after they were saved. Paul started this part of his letter to the Romans with a rhetorical question. In Romans 5:20 Paul taught that the greater the sin in a person’s life the more grace abounded to saved them. Now his question is, “Does this mean that once we are saved we should continue to live in sin so that this grace will abound even more?” The answer is an emphatic “Certainly not!” Liberty is not liberalism.
Then there is legalism that reduces Christianity to a list of do’s and don’ts. Legalism makes all sorts of rules and then determines whether or not someone is a good Christian by how well they follow these rules. Again there is a problem with this.
“Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations– ‘Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,’ which all concern things which perish with the using–according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.” Colossians 2:20-23 (NKJV)
Having a list of rules to live by looks really spiritual, they give the appearance of strong devotion, discipline and a desire to live for Jesus. But they are useless in changing us on the inside. Our goal as Christians is to be transformed so that we can be like Christ. It is not to conform to a bunch of rules that someone gives us. Legalism is not the Gospel.
If we don’t want to be caught in liberalism, and we don’t want to be caught in legalism what do we do? We live in the liberty that Jesus gives us by following some principles for Christian liberty.
The Ten Commandments are the foundation of moral absolutes. They provide a list, etched in stone, of unchangeable rules of right and wrong. If God calls something sin, it is always sin and therefore, always wrong. If we are given a specific command in Scripture, it is always right for us to obey.There are also commands in the New Testament.
Flee fornication (1 Cor 6:18)
Flee from idolatry (1 Cor 10:14)
Flee the love of material things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness (1 Tim 6:10-11)
Flee youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, . . . (2 Tim 2:22).
However, every decision in life is not determined by a decisive command or, thou shalt not. Fortunately, there are clear principles in Scripture that can guide us not only in determining right and wrong, but also discerning between what is merely acceptable and what is God’s best.
If you believe the Bible is true you accept that certain things are always wrong and there are some things that are always right. Everything else falls into the area of Christian Liberty.
(wrong) | — LIBERTY — | (right)
How can we know for sure what we should do when there is not a literal command in the Bible? If the Bible does not command us to do something, and it there is no, “Thou shalt not…” it is a matter of Christian liberty. For the rest of the week I’m going to give some principles for Christian liberty that should help us exercise our liberty in a way that brings glory to Jesus Christ.