CHRISTIAN LIBERTY PART 8

CLARIFYING SOME COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT FREEDOM

PART VI

Earlier, I asked the question, What do we do with a freedom that isn’t edifying? What do we do with a freedom that has an adverse effect on us and others as well? In the first of a two-fold response, I pointed out the Biblical prescription for us to voluntarily put restraints on our freedom. You can read all about it in the 6th and 7th installment of this blog on Christian Liberty.

When we put the whole of Scripture together here is a second thing we see. While the Lord expects us to voluntarily place limits or restraints on our freedom, there may come a time when restraints may be placed upon us by the church, that is, the church’s pastors and leaders. This is necessary (a) in order to safeguard the well-being and unity of the whole church. And it’s also necessary (b) in order to preserve the church’s witness of Christ in the world.

We read about this in Acts 15. There were so many Gentiles getting saved that the early Church, which was predominantly converted Jews, was confronted with the question of whether or not these Gentiles were required to keep the Jewish, Old Testament law in order to be saved (verse 1). Evidently, some of the converted Jews in the early Church were still keeping the law and using the law as a means of salvation. They felt that if they had to keep the law to be saved, then the Gentile believers should also have to keep it if they wanted to be saved.

The controversy was so serious and divisive that the believers involved in this conflict appealed to the Lord’s apostles in Jerusalem for a clarification and resolution of this matter (verse 2). A council was held and many of the people present were given an opportunity to voice their opinion.

Finally, when everyone had their say, James, our Lord’s brother who was the recognized leader of the church in Jerusalem, gave his judgment on the matter: And so my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.  (20)  Instead, we should write and tell them to abstain from eating food offered to idols, from sexual immorality, from eating the meat of strangled animals, and from consuming blood.  (21)  For these laws of Moses have been preached in Jewish synagogues in every city on every Sabbath for many generations (Acts 15:19-21, NLT).

Evidently, after James voiced his judgment on the matter, the rest of the church’s leaders discussed the merits of what James had decided. They prayed about it and sought God’s guidance. And God, in turn, through the Holy Spirit let the leaders know what His will was in the controversy (Acts 15:28). When everything was said and done, all the leaders agreed that James’ decision was the right one (Acts 15:25). In other words, James’ decision was not the dictatorial edict of one man, but rather, a binding proclamation that all of the church’s leaders were in agreement about. Most importantly, the judgment was God’s will.

The church then wrote a letter that was sent to, and read in, the churches in Asia Minor and Syria. It read, For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay no greater burden on you than these few requirements:  (29)  You must abstain from eating food offered to idols, from consuming blood or the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality. If you do this, you will do well. Farewell (Acts 15:28-29, NLT).

Now when James issued his judgment, he declared that the Gentiles were not required to keep the Law in order to be saved (verse 19). But because there were Jews in every city who diligently observed Moses’ Law, and even converted Jews who continued to attend synagogue services in addition to church; then James chose what he felt were the most important things that the Gentiles not do in order not to offend the Jews (verses 20 and 29).

Why didn’t James want the Gentiles to offend the Jews? Because the church was trying to reach out to the Jews. The apostles realized that the church’s ministry to the Jews would be greatly hampered and hindered—the Jews would not be won to Christ—if  Christ’s followers were guilty of doing things that were truly abominable in the sight of the Jews.

Now of the many things that James could have chosen to lay upon the Gentiles, he chose only four: the Gentiles must not eat foods offered to idols, not commit fornication, not eat blood, and not eat meats that had been strangled. [When an animal was strangled the blood remained in it and the Jews were prohibited from eating blood, Leviticus 17:10-14].

Note that these four prohibitions were from the Law. But James already said that the Gentiles weren’t required to keep the Law to be saved. That’s right. They didn’t have to keep the Law to be saved.

But as a matter of courtesy or consideration for the Jews and Jewish believers who lived among them, the Gentiles weren’t allowed to do these four specific things. James, you see, wasn’t trying to put the Gentiles under legalism or the law: he was simply setting forth the guidelines, limits, or restraints that were necessary to keep the Gentiles from offending the Jews. In other words, while the Gentiles didn’t have to keep the Law to be saved, they still had to keep these four prohibitions of the Law as a safeguard to keep the Jews from stumbling or taking offense. The Gentile believers were indeed free. But free not to sin (fornicate) and certainly not free to offend the Jews (eating blood, food offered to idols, and strangled meat).

Furthermore, by issuing a judgment that would be binding upon the other churches, James sought to bring peace and unity to a church that had been greatly divided on this issue.

So what’s the point in all this? The point is, while we must willingly and voluntary impose restraints on our freedoms, there is nevertheless a place for the church, through its leaders, to put restraints on us; and even prohibit or forbid us from doing some things that are, like the early church, divisive to the church and offensive to those whom the church is trying to reach with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Naturally, this right and prerogative of the church to put restraints on freedom can be abused by carnally-minded, power-hungry, controlling, legalistic pastors and ministers. That is regrettable. God’s people ought to stand fast on their God-given liberty and not allow themselves to be brought under bondage to the whims and fancies of men, regardless of their calling or office in the church.

But, having said that, the misuse of restraints by carnally-minded ministers does not negate the right and prerogative of the church to put restraints on freedom if it is deemed proper and necessary by the will of God for the edification of the entire church and for the success of its ministry in the community or world.

CONCLUDING GUIDELINES

In bringing our study on freedom to a close, here are some general guidelines that I’d like for you to prayerfully consider and observe for your sake and the sake of others.

  • Don’t legislate your liberties over others and compel them to do something that their conscience won’t allow them to do.
  • Don’t exercise your liberties in the presence of the weak or the unenlightened. When legalists are involved, stand fast on your liberty and don’t let their religious laws bring you into bondage.
  • If you’re weak in an area of the flesh and are temptible or liable to give in to temptation and sin, then temporarily forego your liberty. IF YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE LIBERTY, THEN TAKE THAT LIBERTY AWAY FOR THE TIME BEING. For example, if you consider yourself free to drink alcohol, then quit drinking it altogether if temperance isn’t working and you find yourself becoming a drunkard or an alcoholic. If you consider yourself free to watch TV, then turn it off, or get rid of the TV altogether, if you lack self-control and find yourself  addicted to watching programs that aren’t any good for you.  Set your liberty aside until you’re crucified and dead to the temptation. If it takes several months or years, so be it. Join the club. Many of us have had to work hard and long to be free and stay free. Remember, liberty doesn’t force or compel you to do something that you’re free to do. Not everything permissible is profitable! Liberty is the power to not do things that you’re free to do. Concentrate on dealing with the problems that liberties have caused in your life. If you don’t deal with your problems, the Lord will deal with you about them and that’s never a pleasant or an enjoyable experience. Resume your liberty only when you’re in full control of your decisions and actions. May God bless you and help you to be free and to stay free.

5 Comments

  1. Nikki said,

    March 6, 2013 at 12:56 AM

    You’ve got a great blog here well done congratulations

  2. queenlorene said,

    March 25, 2013 at 1:31 AM

    My main temptation is humor. I love all kinds, and can easily get caught up in it. Humor is a great tool when used to inspire, encourage and cheer another, but can quickly go down a dark road. If you see me go down that road, let me know. Sometimes I forget, or the temptation to be funny is too much for me.

    • gaylorddiaz said,

      March 25, 2013 at 9:38 AM

      I’m with you there, Lorene, b/c I’m the same way. Most of my life I was wayyyy toooo serious and dull. In the last few years a close friend of mine taught me to laugh and enjoy humor. Humor (the good clean kind) is medicine to my soul and I’m thankful for those who spread it around and make this world a little cheerier place to live.

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    April 18, 2013 at 8:25 PM

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    • gaylorddiaz said,

      April 20, 2013 at 9:29 AM

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