CHRISTIAN LIBERTY PART 5

CLARIFYING SOME COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT FREEDOM

PART III

4. JUST BECAUSE YOU’RE FREE TO DO SOMETHING DOESN’T AUTOMATICALLY MEAN YOU SHOULD DO IT.  You see, our natural minds tell us that if we’re free to do something, then we can do it and we wouldn’t be wrong for doing it.

But this just isn’t so! Not from a biblical perspective. FREEDOM, BRETHREN, DOESN’T AUTOMATICALLY ENTITLE YOU TO DO WHATEVER IT IS YOU’RE FREE TO DO.

  • Even though you’re free to do something, there are times when you shouldn’t do it.
  • There are times when it’s wrong or inappropriate for you to do it.
  • And there are times when it’s a sin for you to do what you’re free to do! There are two times in particular. We’ll look at the first one here and the second one in my next post.

A) DOING WHAT YOU’RE FREE TO DO IS WRONG WHEN YOU CAUSE OTHERS TO STUMBLE BY DOING IT.  Some believers don’t have the freedom, knowledge, or light that you have. They don’t see the Scriptures the way you see them. Consequently, they have different convictions about the freedom involved.

Now when you exercise your freedom in the sight of these believers and they take you to task, being offended by your conduct; then that’s the time when doing something that you’re free to do becomes wrong.

Romans 14:13-22 reads, Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.  (14)  I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.  (15)  For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.  (16)  So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil.  (17)  For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.  (18)  Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.  (19)  So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.  (20)  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.  (21)  It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.  (22)  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.

1 Corinthians 8:4-13 similarly reads,  So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.”  (5)  For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”),  (6)  yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.  (7)  But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled.  (8)  But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.  (9)  Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.  (10)  For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols?  (11)  So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge.  (12)  When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.  (13)  Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.

1 Corinthians 8:4-13 echoes the same truth as Romans 14:13-22, with one exception. In Romans 14, the weak take offense at a free person’s exercise of liberty; they make a big stink about it. But in 1 Corinthians 8, they copy it in violation of their conscience. That is, they exercise a liberty that they don’t really have as yet.  Their conscience tells them it’s wrong. But they do it anyway because they see you doing it.

When we put these two passages of Scripture together we see that WHAT MAY BE ALRIGHT FOR YOU TO DO IN ONE INSTANCE (WHEN YOU’RE BY YOURSELF OR WITH LIKE-MINDED BELIEVERS) CAN BE WRONG FOR YOU TO DO IN ANOTHER INSTANCE (WHEN THERE ARE CONTRARILY-MINDED PEOPLE AROUND). It may be the same freedom and the same act (for example, you’re eating meat in both instances). But where, and when, you exercise your freedom makes all the difference in the world and it’s what determines whether you should exercise your freedom at any given moment.

Let’s look at the word embolden in verse 10 for a moment. The word comes from the Greek root word oikodoméo which means ‘edify’. In other words, when a weak brother or sister sees you doing something that you’re free to do, but they themselves don’t think they’re free to do it because their conscience is still unenlightened to the truth regarding this freedom; they’ll go ahead and do it, in violation of their conscience, because they see you doing it. They’re using you as a justification for their doing the same thing. Your example is edifying, building up, or strengthening them to do what you’re doing–even though their conscience is still unenlightened and therefore it’s telling them not to do what you’re doing.

Conscience isn’t enlightened by practice or by imitating the example of others: it’s enlightened only by the truth of God’s Word. It’s God’s truth that sets conscience free to do what it formerly forbade or prohibited (see John 8:32). If some believers don’t know the truth of God’s Word about a particular freedom and their unenlightened conscience forbids them from partaking of that freedom, when they disregard their conscience and do what they see you doing, they’re violating their conscience. And when they violate their conscience they sin.

Now we can argue that we weren’t meaning to set a bad example. We were merely doing something that we were free to do. Therefore, since we weren’t meaning to set an example for others to follow, we shouldn’t be held liable when other people copy what we do.

But that’s not how the Lord sees it. Your example, though unintended, was an occasion for the weak to sin. And when they sinned, you sinned too. Note verses 10-12, For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols?  (11)  So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge.  (12)  When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 

We can argue that it’s their fault. A person shouldn’t do anything in violation of their conscience. And that’s true! It’s their fault! But the Lord, brethren, holds you at fault too for setting the example by an indiscriminate exercise of your freedom. Your exercising your freedom publicly in the sight of the weak was the impetus for the weak to sin against their conscience. Therefore, their sin is also your sin.

Now get this. You’re doing something you’re perfectly free to do, that is, eat meat offered to idols! But doing it in the presence of the weak is sin! THERE ARE TIMES WHEN EXERCISING YOUR FREEDOM IS WRONG! IN GOD’S SIGHT, IT’S SIN! Said another way, THERE ARE TIMES WHEN IT’S SINFUL AND WRONG FOR YOU TO DO WHAT YOU’RE TRULY FREE TO DO!

The freedom to do something doesn’t automatically mean you should do it, nor does it automatically mean you would be right in doing it. The freedom itself isn’t what determines whether you should exercise it or not.

THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE TIME AND THE IMPACT THAT YOUR EXERCISE OF FREEDOM WOULD HAVE ON OTHERS IS WHAT DETERMINES WHETHER OR NOT YOU SHOULD EXERCISE YOUR FREEDOM AT ANY GIVEN MOMENT.

Brethren, don’t exercise your freedom in the presence of those who might object to it: you’d be wrong in God’s eyes for doing it.

Consider the people around you before you publicly engage in a freedom that you have. Be considerate of the brethren. And be sensitive with regard to their convictions and their present spiritual state or maturity.

When using your freedom is all that matters to you, when you don’t care about how other people would be affected by your exercise of freedom; you’re wrong as wrong can be.

You need to seriously consider camping out on Romans 14:13-22 and 1 Corinthians 8 until you get the message that the Lord is wanting you to get. What is it? THE WELL-BEING OF THE BRETHREN MATTER MORE TO GOD THAN YOUR FREEDOM TO DO A CERTAIN THING. THE WELL-BEING OF THE BRETHREN IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOUR FREEDOM. In the words of Paul, Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall, 1 Corinthians 8:13.

Coming Up On My Next Blog Post, Part 6. I’ll look at another instance where it’d be wrong for you to do what you’re truly free to do. Golly! These posts are really crucifying. But, then, freedom has never been cheap or free. Drop by and I’ll leave the light on for you.

CHRISTIAN LIBERTY PART 4

CLARIFYING SOME COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT FREEDOM

PART II

2. JUST BECAUSE YOU HAVE THE FREE WILL TO DO SOMETHING DOESN’T AUTOMATICALLY MEAN YOU HAVE THE FREEDOM TO DO IT. This is another difficult concept to grasp and I pray God help you understand and accept it. If you understand the difference between freedom and free will you’ll be better able to understand the truth I’m trying to present here.

As a free moral creature, endowed by God with free will, you’re free to fornicate. Free to cheat on your taxes. Free to rob a bank. Free to do a million and one things because you’ve got the power and ability to choose for yourself and make your own decisions.

But as a Christian who knows God’s Word, you realize you’re not free to do these things because God has prohibited them in His Word. He commands you not to do them. Consequently, as an obedient Christian, you don’t do them.

You see, you can go ahead and do these forbidden things if you want to: you have the free will to do them. But you don’t do them because God forbids it. And since He forbids it, you understand that you don’t have the God-given freedom to do them. You have the free will to do them, but you don’t have the freedom to do them.

God’s commandments, you see, restrict the freedoms that humankind and flesh would otherwise love to have. While we don’t have the freedom to do a million and one things that self and flesh would love to do, nevertheless, the greater and more precious freedom that we do have is the freedom not to give in to sin, self, and the flesh.

Brethren, we’ve got the greatest freedom of all and that is the freedom to obey God and do the right thing. Without Christ in our lives we wouldn’t have that freedom. We would be enslaved to sin. We would spend our eternity in hell. Praise God we have the freedom to do what we couldn’t do before, and that is, obey and please God–not ourselves.

3. Another hard concept for people to grasp is the fact that EXERCISING YOUR FREEDOM DOESN’T AUTOMATICALLY MAKE YOU RIGHT. You see, in the natural realm, if you’re free to do something, then it isn’t wrong for you to do it. For example,

  • If you’re free to own a car, then you can own a car and you wouldn’t be breaking any law to own your own car.
  • If you’re free to adopt the religion of your choice, then you can practice whatever religion you want to without interference or persecution from the State. You wouldn’t be doing anything illegal to practice whatever religion you want to practice.
  • If your parents give you the freedom to date, then you wouldn’t be breaking your parents’ rules when you go out on a date because your parents don’t have any such rules against dating. You wouldn’t be doing anything wrong as far as they’re concerned.

Do you see what I mean? The freedom to do something in the natural automatically presupposes you would be right in doing it. You wouldn’t be breaking any laws. You wouldn’t be wrong for doing something that you’re free to do.

Brethren, no matter how you define freedom, when you use your freedom and/or your free will to disobey God, then what results is an act of sin and disobedience. Even though you were free to make that choice, you would be wrong for disobeying God.

Take Eve for an example. Eve was free to either eat the forbidden fruit or not eat it: it was her choice to make. The moment she ate that fruit she disobeyed God. The act of eating was an act of disobedience, she freely chose to disobey, and that act of disobedience was sin. In other words, an act of free will or freedom can also be an act of disobedience.

The same thing can also be said with respect to genuine Christian freedom. An act of freedom can also be an act of disobedience. For example, when you use your freedom to drink wine to become drunk or become an alcoholic and a drunkard, then you’ve used a legitimate freedom to disobey God’s prohibition against drunkenness. Do you see how you can use your freedom to disobey God? Brethren, WHEN YOU USE YOUR FREEDOM OR FREE WILL TO DISOBEY GOD, YOU’RE NO LONGER RIGHT. YOU’RE WRONG AND YOU’RE IN DISOBEDIENCE TO GOD.

Brethren, DON’T BASE THE RIGHTNESS OR WRONGNESS OF AN ACTION ON WHETHER OR NOT YOU’RE FREE TO DO IT. Just because you’re free to do something doesn’t automatically mean you’re right to do it. An act of free will or freedom can also be an act of disobedience.

Coming Up On My Next Blog, Part 5. More food for thought as I discuss another misconception of freedom. It’ll be crucifying, so bring your cross. God’ll have the nails and hammer.