Wednesday, March 20, 2013

So Glad I'm Not Like Them!

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.


  1. I think that the answer is both are in faith and in sin. Because all fall short and everyone does daily, even if our understanding of our freedom is more complete we still might fall into those sins of things we don't do, while those who are more legalistic are only doing so by their own understanding of faith. I think that if your desire is to follow and please Jesus, you will have your own convictions based upon your own experiences and atmosphere, therefore, no matter how black and white freedom can be, it won't be the same for everyone. I think Paul is trying to get it across that we shouldn't judge others based on their own beliefs, rather, secure in our own beliefs we can adjust our behavior to prevent them from stumbling, rather than starting an argument and causing division in the greater body of Christ.

    1. Hi Brendan! Awesome to hear from you! I would agree that both are in faith and in sin. And, we know that our faith is what is pleasing to God, as is our obedience. I think the thing that spoke into my heart so strongly as I read that passage and thought about it and faith was how often I hear "free" Christians condescendingly talk about legalists . . . and then blow off the leading of the Holy Spirit or the simple obedience to what they already know. Yet, many of the "legalists" while wrong on the technicality, are actually being more true to what they believe then the people bashing them are. I believe that, while God may wish they understood their freedom better, He sees their faith and how they are operating from it and smiles. I believe it is our heart that He is most concerned about, and sometimes we can, in our "freedom," forget that and judge the very outward actions we claim we are free of. Thanks so much for your thoughts, for reading, and for taking your time. Please give your bride our love, and tell everyone down there "hi!" We miss ya!

  2. Hi Erick! Great thoughts, as usual. Thank you for sharing them with us.

    I hope I am not off-topic here, but this makes me think of a recent conversation with a single man in his 50s who is a youth/music pastor at his small church and also preaches intermittently for a prison ministry. In other words, someone in teaching leadership who -- according to God's word -- is held to a higher standard of accountability (James 3:1). He told me that when he visits our hometown in Illinois, he usually stays with his ex-girlfriend (ex as of a year ago) and her two teenage daughters. When I said that seemed unwise -- not only because it might open the door for temptation but also because it presents a poor witness to both immature believers and the lost because of the "appearance of evil" (or, as NIV says in Ephesian 5:3 the "hint of sexual immorality") -- he became quite defensive. He said, “If people are thinking evil about us without talking to either one of us about the situation, then they are in the wrong.” I agreed with that, but he completely disagreed with me when I tried to apply Romans 14:13, 20-21 to the situation.

    This has really troubled me, and I have struggled to keep what might be judgmental thoughts on my part under submission to the Lord. Yet my respect for this person has diminished somewhat. What do you think? Am I way off base here? Am I being legalistic?

    1. Hi Amy! Thanks for reading and the comment and permission to post it. It definitely highlights another important aspect of the Romans passage, and I think you are right in your reactions to the situation. While I was emphasizing the importance of faith in our lives and how we can be in pleasing faith to God even if we aren't technically right in something (or the reverse---have great doctrine but be casual in our faith choices) the bulk of that passage addresses, I believe, exactly things like you are talking about. The man is right in that people shouldn't assume things about the relationship, but you are absolutely right in that he is setting forth an appearance that things might not be good and it could cause others to think that putting themselves in a similar place is OK because he does it. Even if he is strong enough to not be tempted, the appearance can very easily cause others to stumble or it could affect his witness. This isn't to say we are slaves to public opinion but the Bible is clear that our lives should be a witness. Once I had shared with the fellowship that I would have a beer once in a great while with my Dad and that I didn't think it was wrong (I forget the reason or context of why I shared it) and some time later someone say a person in our fellowship drunk and when they realized they were seen they said, "This is the beer Erick said I could have." We stopped having any after that because my liberty had caused a brother to stumble. I think you are right, but guard your heart as well. Don't let another's mistakes cause your heart to error. Again, thanks!

  3. I think we spend waaay too much time judging/criticising "Them" and not spending enough time examing ourselves!

    I'm posting anonymously because I'm don't understand the profile stuff below :(

  4. Hi "Anonymous"! Thanks for reading and commenting. I appreciate it. I agree. This doesn't mean we neglect discernment the Holy Spirit gives us, but we do need to be very careful not to let our religious forms fool us. We could easily be technically correct but not in a place of faith and someone else could be technically wrong (or not completely understanding their freedom) but in tremendous faith and faithfulness and be far more pleasing! Again, thanks!


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