Thursday, April 29, 2010
Christian Liberty and Ethics
I consider myself relatively well-travelled, so it is through experience that I make the statement that much of the world wants to live in America. Not all, but much. Because America is free. It's a place where you not only have opportunity and choices, but you have the freedom to do what you want. Everyone is wealthy. Everyone is happy. There is more food than we know what to do with and no one ever cries in America.
At least that is the perception.
But for those of us who live here, we know that picture is not altogether accurate. It's not realistic. Don't get me wrong - I love America and when I travel outside of America, I can't wait to get back. But for those outside of America that want to be in America, it is possible that a perception of liberty and freedom has created an unrealistic picture of what the actual American life looks like.
I think this is true of Christianity as well. Let me explain: It is true that salvation is of the Lord - it is His work and His doing, and when I stand before the Father in heaven and He asks why He should allow me into His eternity, my only answer is Jesus Christ. There is nothing I could ever do to merit His favor - Jesus alone bore my sins on the cross, paid the high price of God's wrath on His person and purchased me for His Father's sake. Taking this truth and applying it to every day life, however, has developed a perception among believers that Christian liberty means we are free to do whatever we want, since salvation is of the Lord and we really can't earn God's favor. We've got our fire insurance, and technically we are "free from the law," so we have the liberty to live life as we please. We are not under the law. Nothing is expected of us but to enjoy the freedom from sin that Jesus afforded.
Is this really true? Perhaps I have overstated it, but I believe that my words are an accurate description of the misperception of Christian liberty.
True, God has taken away the punishment of sin. Jesus paid that. But God does not take away the consequences of sin - that is something that we have to bear. But I don't want to talk about blatant, overt sin that believers may choose to engage in. The consequences of that sin is obvious and deserved. What I want to talk about is true Christian liberty - those things that would not fall into the category of "sin" but are somewhat a gray area as to whether or not it is proper to participate in. You know, maybe it's television shows that make you a bit uncomfortable to watch. Or the choice to smoke or drink...in public or just private? The music you listen to - are we allowed as believers to listen to rock music? Or only Christian rock? Isn't everything "allowed" within the boundaries of Christian liberty?
Time for a word from the Word:
"All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify...whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, just as I am also of Christ." ( I Corinthians 10: 23, 31-33 and 11:1)
Here Paul gives us a list of ethical questions to ask, when it comes to non-sin liberty choices:
1. Is it profitable?
2. Does it edify?
3. Does it glorify God?
4. Does it give offense?
5. Does it imitate Christ?
To be clear, questions like these only align us with the character of our Savior - they do not save us. Christian liberty is not a matter of salvation because we all know that our works do not earn us salvation. But our works evidence our salvation and a person who is walking with the Lord seeks to imitate Him. So this morning I wanted to provide you with a list of ethics questions to help you shape your Christian liberties and clear up the misperception that freedom in Christ means freedom to make poor choices without consequences.
Though I am writing about non-sin issues, there are still consequences to every choice we make and even a non-sin choice, if made poorly, can lead to a sinful result. And truth be known, many of the choices that we feel fall in a non-sin category, are because we don't want to recognize the fact that it actually is a matter of choosing righteousness over sin.
I am sorry if it sounds like I am talking in circles, but I believe you know what I am speaking of - for example, is music a moral issue? I don't think so, but lyrics are. So how do we justify filling our heads with godless lyrics for the enjoyment of the amoral music? How do we justify watching television shows that glorify pre-marital and extra-marital sexual activity and not be affected by it? We do it by claiming Christian liberty.
Don't misunderstand me -I am not advocating legalism by any means. The instruction God gives us in His word is intentional and not a checklist to follow. His instruction flows from His character and if our call is to be Christlike in all we do, then acting on His word is for discipleship. We have to avoid the pendulum swing of legalism, so the bottom line is that we need biblical guidance and support in our decision-making processes. We have to know the word and then act on it, not on a vague understanding of freedom and not on a system set up to earn God's favor.
So, take the questions above, generated from Paul's instructions to the church at Corinth and use them as a guideline. I am afraid I possibly stirred up more confusion than clarity, but this is what was laid on my heart this morning, so I am passing it on to you.