There you are, Christian, free in Christ! You are saved, forgiven, set free from the Law and performance and works by the love and grace of God. Jesus' work alone is your claim to salvation, and you don't add any of your own works or merit to it. You have been set free by the Son, living in grace, the Law written on your heart, free of condemnation, your sins paid for and separated from you, adopted by God, His child for eternity, and no created thing can separate you from it! You are free indeed, and so grateful that you understand your liberty in Christ!
You know the Spirit keeps prompting you to witness to your boss, but you hesitate because of the cost it might bear. But, hey, God loves you, and you are free indeed! You know you should have led your family to the church's service last Sunday, but there's a game on and, well, you are free, indeed! You know all you have is His and you feel like you are being nudged by God to give a large, sacrificial amount to that missionary who spoke last Sunday (in addition to the sacrificial amount you are felt led to give to your local church family) . . . but you've lived a little "freely" this month and, well, you are free, indeed! You know God has called you to forgive that person that wounded you, but you don't feel quite like it yet. It's OK. You are free, indeed! You know you are self absorbed and mopey and complaining when you are called to be other-focused and in joy . . . but, hey, you are free! You know Hell is real, and around you people are dying and going there, and you really should take up your cross and follow Jesus and live for eternity . . . but the pleasures and comfort and acceptance of this world are so, well, pleasing . . . and, heck, you are free! Indeed.
You come out of the church service Sunday morning, proud you made the "sacrifice" and went. You gave $20 (you held a bunch back because you are going to breakfast after and that will cost probably $30 or more and, you know, God loves a cheerful giver!). You have sung wonderful songs about your freedom in Christ, heard a great sermon (good thing it only went 30 minutes!) about being free in Christ, and you stand on the steps with your painted on grin with everyone else feeling good about themselves about having done the church thing that morning.
As you stand and do the plastic mask talk you all look across the street at the "other" small church building there and shake your head. THOSE people are in church for hours! THOSE ladies don't wear dresses that go above the ankles! THOSE women wear bonnets! THOSE people only worship on Sundays and don't do anything else! THOSE people don't touch alcohol! THOSE people dress funny, and (indignation rises in your heart here!) because they are so legalistic and act so weird they really give Christians a bad name! You turn to your buddy and shake your head and say, "I'm so glad I'm not like them! I am so glad I'm not legalistic and I understand how free I am in Christ!" He nods and agrees, slaps you on the back, and heads off on his day as do you. After all. You are free, indeed!
I am not, in what I said above or am about to say, saying legalism is good—and in many cases it is very destructive and can be used to manipulate and teachers who use it for gain need to be corrected (and I am not talking about them in the words ahead, but about the sincere believer). I am not saying it is correct to add rules and regulations and works to our faith. Jesus alone saves us and makes us righteous and acceptable before God. We are, indeed, free in Christ. But, as I prepared for a teaching on faith I was giving last Sunday, I was really made reflective by Romans 14 and I encourage you to read to the end of this. I would love your thoughts.
In Romans 14 Paul is talking about how he doesn't believe some food is bad or unclean, but other brothers and sisters in the faith do. He talks about not leading them to stumble—to eat in doubt what they are not sure is OK. This is a HUGE difference from the Old Testament where it strikes me things were either right or wrong. Here, as post-Cross Christians, with the Law written on our hearts and the Spirit within us, the focus shifts from the outward to the inward, or heart, and we have this crazy situation where what might be right for one Christian is wrong for another! (At the end of the chapter he tells us the stunning reason why.)
Paul ends the admonition with this, from Romans 14:20-23, "Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin."
Wow! Did Paul try and teach people about their freedom in Christ? Yes. Simple read Galatians to see that. But for those not yet fully getting it he says don't make them sin by doing things they aren't sure are OK. In fact, and here is the amazing thing, what makes something sin, he says, is what is done not from faith! (And, if we read James 4:17, we see what we fail to do can be sin in addition to what we do, "So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin"). So, we have this reality that sin is, in some way, and in some cases, more defined by faith than the actual act or failure to act! Remember Hebrews 11 which tells us that without faith it is impossible to please Him.
In the scenario Paul is describing, as I understand it, a brother or sister eating all the foods ("free"), but in doubt about it and still doing it, is in sin, while the one abstaining, but in faith, might be wrong, but is not in sin! So, if that is true, here is the rub or key question for us "enlightened" ones who understand that we are "free in Christ" and are so glad we aren't legalists. If "they" are doing those things, but from a heart of sincere faith truly believing it is what God wants . . . and we are living "free" but continually avoiding the Spirit's leading and nudging and call, then while "they" might be technically wrong, and we are technically right, who is in faith and who is in sin? Therefore, who is most pleasing to God?
It is an interesting question. It is one I am just mulling over and shaping and not saying is completely correct. Feel free to share your thoughts with me on it. I'd love to hear from you. By the way, I had to reactive the feature on comments that requires you to enter some weird letters to verify you are a real person as I was starting to get a lot of SPAM comments. I'd love to hear from you, and thanks for reading.