6. Personal Freedom
We live in a society committed to self-love and to each one doing his own thing, pursuing his own happiness, comfort, and peace. This commitment to self, of course, is destructive to society, to the family, and any human relationship. Such a course is the product of Satan’s influence and delusions and is directly opposed to the direction and injunctions of Scripture for the life of the Christian.
The mandate on the body of Christ is love for God and love for one’s neighbor, the pursuit and promotion of the kingdom of God, doing not our own thing, but denial of the self-life that we might be free to live for God and others.
Thus, we find in the New Testament what we can call the doctrine of One Another. Over and over again in the New Testament we find injunctions and statements concerning our responsibilities to one another. The point being, God has called us to be a ministering people following the example of our Lord who came not to be ministered to, but to minister and give Himself a ransom for many.
Galatians 5 is one of the key passages in Scripture dealing with the Spirit-filled life or walking by means of the Holy Spirit who indwells every believer. It is important to understand that Paul’s argument centers around the believer’s freedom. Note the following:
(1) They had been prisoners of sin, in bondage to its control and death (3:22), and the Law had not been able to liberate them. The Law had been merely a temporary custodian to care for Israel until Christ when man could be freed from sin and justified by faith (3:24).
(2) Before Christ, man was like a small child, under this tutor or guardian and no different from a slave and so, in bondage, under the legal practice of the law and Judaism (cf. 4:1-3).
(3) But with the coming of Jesus Christ, they were set free, made adopted sons with the Holy Spirit’s indwelling which was also a proof of sonship (4:4-7).
(4) However, because of false and legalistic teachers, some were trying to go back to the works of the Law as a means of spirituality. They were becoming entangled again as slaves under the Law (4:8-11).
(5) Thus, note Paul’s declaration and injunction in 5:1-12. Here the Apostle deals with the believer’s freedom and warns us against entanglements with the law or any kind of human works system by which one attempts to be justified from sin’s penalty or sanctified, delivered from sin’s power. The Christian is one who is justified, saved by faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. He is also one who is sanctified, transformed in his spiritual character, through his new position in Christ and by faith in the Spirit who indwells him or her (3:1-5; 4:19; 5:4-5, 16, 25).
The believer in Christ is a freed man! What does that mean? How should that affect our lives? Biblical truth is never irrelevant to how we live our lives.
Man’s Viewpoint of Freedom
Paul is concerned about the wrong influence of man’s perspective about freedom. To the world (those operating without the divine absolutes of Scripture) freedom means the right to be and do as you please, how you please, when you please, where you please. It means doing your own thing, being your own boss, looking after number one first. The Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary says it means “exemption from necessity in choice and action.” It is the right to any choice so long as it is your own personal choice.
But the Bible teaches, as well as a simple observation of life, that such a definition or viewpoint is not freedom. It is instead license and an excuse to throw off the moral restraints of God in pursuit of selfish goals (Rom. 1:18f; John 3:19-21). This always results eventually in the exploitation of others, moral degeneracy, and lawlessness as it is becoming more and more evident in our “do your own thing” society.
This kind of freedom, or license as it really is, is also SLAVERY OR BONDAGE.
2 Peter 2:17-19 These are springs without water, and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved. 18 For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, 19 promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved.
God’s Viewpoint of Freedom
Negatively: What Freedom is Not
Paul is concerned that we have God’s perspective, the viewpoint of Scripture regarding true freedom. Christian freedom is never the freedom to sin or do as you please.
Galatians 5:13 For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
The Galatians, like many today, tended to go in one of two extremes. Some were reverting to the Law as a means of spirituality or righteousness. This only served to bring them back under bondage to both the power of the flesh and indwelling sin within and without. Thus, to these Paul wrote 5:2-12. Such a position always nullifies the deliverance that is ours in Jesus Christ because it places our faith in the wrong objects—self and the Law. This is what it means to fall from grace: to fall from God’s grace provision against the flesh. It doesn’t mean they had lost their salvation. It means they had forfeited their deliverance by the power of Christ. Legalism will produce some service, but it will be a joyless service and a service stemming from generally neurotic, self-promoting motives to meet selfish needs.
Others, hearing about their freedom in Christ, thought they could now do as they pleased. But such a philosophy always results in non-loving, selfish, exploitation that ignores the needs of others and acts in ways that are harmful to the body of Christ and God’s purpose for the church.
So, to these the Apostle wrote Galatians 5:13-14. “Serve” is the Greek douleuete, (douleuvete) a present active imperative of douleuo (douleuvw), “to perform the duties of a slave or servant.” It is important for us to note that most of the One Another injunctions in one way or another demonstrate the heart of a servant. “Opportunity” is aphorme (of-ormhv) which originally meant “a starting point” or “a base of operations,” then “an opportunity, an occasion, incentive” or “pretext, excuse.”
Principle: Our liberty in Christ and the abundant grace that is ours in Him must never be used as an excuse to do as we please and in the process hurt others or ignore our calling and obligations to God and men (cf. Rom. 5-6; Tit. 2:11-14). Freedom in Christ never means freedom from the presence and struggle with the flesh or indwelling sin. It means the provision of the Spirit as God’s means of victory (5:16-17). So our salvation and freedom in Christ is never to be considered as freedom from servanthood or from service and loving responsibilities to others (Rom. 14-15).
Here lies a great Christian paradox. It is interesting that Paul, having warned these Christians against becoming slaves again to the Law and the flesh, now urges them to become servants, slaves to one another (5:13) which includes, of course, being bond slaves to God (1 Cor. 6:19; Rom. 12:1). This paradox is tremendously instructive:
- Slavery to one another and to God is nothing at all like slavery to the flesh or to the Law.
- Slavery to flesh and the Law result in death, misery, and frustration. It causes us to be consumed, torn apart by one another.
- On the other hand, slavery to God and one another results in true freedom and maximum blessing.
- Slavery to sin is involuntary and never neutral. It is degenerative and destructive both to self and to others.
- Slavery to the Law is voluntary, it is man choosing to save himself. As such it is foolish, burdensome, but also completely helpless to change our lives from the inside where it really counts.
- Slavery to God and to one another is voluntary. But it is a product of love and the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus, it becomes a source of glory to God, and joy, peace, and blessing to self and to others.
Positively: What True Freedom Is
Freedom is not the right to do as one pleases, but the power and capacity both to will and to do as one ought. True freedom is never freedom from responsibility, but responsibility not only for choice, but right choices. Freedom is an inner contentment with who we are in Christ and with what we have. It means to covet only heavenly treasure. It means the willingness and ability to allow God to be in control of your life. It means single-mindedness which turns the control of one’s life over to Christ which in turn frees us psychologically and volitionally to follow the Lord. It means the liberty for self-responsibility to both God and man under the grace of God.
A train is a good illustration because it is only effective when it is on the tracks for which it was designed. Tracks don’t inhibit a train, but enable it to run freely as long as it is running under the power of the steam or fuel of its engines.
But let’s understand that freedom is particularly concerned with human relationships which flow from right relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. This is a key point throughout the fifth chapter of Galatians. Five times the apostle uses “one another” in relation to our freedom—once in verse 13, twice in verse 15, and twice in verse 26. Central to each reference is the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
This is a vital and key point in our study. No matter what mankind tries to do to improve the world or society, society eventually deteriorates. Why? Because man is enslaved to sin; man is primarily sinful and selfish. Rather than truly desiring to serve others, he basically desires to serve himself, to meet his own felt needs and, as a result, he ends up exploiting others as Paul warns us in Galatians 5:15 and 26.
This is evident in our social programs. The programs fail to work effectively because man is unable to work them effectively. Paul knew that if we were going to be able to serve one another in love we would need strength from a source other than ourselves and we would need to deal with the inner man honestly through confession and the power of the indwelling Spirit of God.
Mark 8:33-35 shows that true freedom flows out of total commitment to Jesus Christ. In losing our lives in devotion to Him and His purposes, and in turning control of our lives over to Him, we find true freedom—the freedom to be what we were designed to be and thus experience true joy. Using our freedom to indulge ourselves never satisfies the inner core longings of the heart. Instead it destroys the soul’s capacity to relate to others, and leads either to the neglect of others or their exploitation. Thus, we are to voluntarily, out of love, serve one another as bondslaves of the Lord.
Being a servant of Christ involves us in service to others because being in Christ we are part of His body and members of one another.
A Warning Against License
A philosophy of license always results in non-loving, selfish, exploitation that ignores the needs of one another and acts in ways that are harmful to the body of Christ and God’s purpose for the church. So to this end, the apostle wrote Galatians 5:13-26.
Serve One Another By Love
Love fulfills the Law :
Galatians 5:13-15 For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
Concerning Paul’s explanatory word in verse 15, Warren Wiersbe writes:
This verse gives the reason for the above (note the “For,” gar, a particle of explanation). Freedom in Christ does not ignore the law, it fulfills its holy demands through that which is its essence, love for one’s neighbor. “If you love people (because you love Christ), you will not steal from them, lie about them, envy them, or try in any way to hurt them.”34
Love from within through the ministry of the Spirit, with Scripture as our guide for how love acts, fulfills the Law.
Consequences to Avoid:
Carnal Christian Cannibalism
Galatians 5:15 But if you bite and devour one another, take care lest you be consumed by one another.
When we do not serve one another we invariably end up devouring one another. This is the alternative. It seems there is ultimately no neutrality—either we live for others or we live for self.
God’s provision of the Spirit
Galatians 5:16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.
Herein lies the secret. Not through the terrors of the Law, but through the personal ministry of the Holy Spirit will victory over the flesh or the sinful nature be experienced.
“Walk by means of the Spirit.” “Walk” is an imperative, a command. Though not under the law, we are not without the responsibility of right choices. As a command, it also implies the ability to do so. In the Greek text, the tense is present continuous action pointing to the need to walk moment by moment, step by step in dependence upon the Spirit. “By the Spirit” points to the Holy Spirit as the agent and means, and thus the strength by which we are to live our lives.
“And you will not carry out the lusts of the flesh.” “Will not” is ou me (ouj mhv), a strong negative of denial, “not at all!” “Carry out” is teleo (televw) in the Greek meaning “bring to an end, finish, bring to fruition,” or “perform, accomplish, carry out.” “The lusts of the flesh” refers to the problem we all face of the continued activity of the sinful nature, the propensity for sin that continues to exist even in the life of the saved. While we are never entirely free in this life from the evil desires that stem from our fallen human nature, we can experience victory over them through the Holy Spirit.
The Struggle Between the Flesh and the Spirit
Galatians 5:17 For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.
In this verse the Apostle explains why we need to be walking by the Spirit, that is, to have a life controlled and energized by the very Spirit of God. The explanation is found in the fact of the raging conflict going on between the Spirit and the flesh. Though we are judicially dead to the sinful nature and its power and can experience the deliverance of our new life in Christ though our union with Him (Rom. 6:1-14) and the power of the Spirit, the sinful nature is nevertheless not eradicated. Bartlett has a good word here. He writes:
The acceptance of Christ into the heart will inevitably provoke a bitter and determined resistance on the part of the old sinful nature which hitherto has had everything its own way. Nor will the flesh be put to sleep by the fond delusion that it is dead and buried. It is imperative for our spiritual growth that we grasp the fact that the old nature is not removed or reformed at regeneration. Failure to understand this elementary fact frequently plunges the new convert into needless bewilderment and even despair of his standing before God when, after a peaceful period of triumph and fellowship with Jesus, he stumbles into the old sins and faults he fancied had been vanquished forever. With older Christians this error often operates to effect quite different results. Persuaded that they cannot sin, adherents of the heresy of sinless perfection will deny that those practices are sinful which the Word of God plainly denounces as sinful. He who thinks he has reached perfection is the victim of an illusion indicating that he is desperately in need of a new pair of glasses to forestall threatening blindness.35
Deliverance from the Law through the Spirit
Galatians 5:18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.
Again, this does not mean Christians are without responsibilities and imperatives to obey. The Lord said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” The point is we have a new means of living. Just as justification is not by the works of the Law, so sanctification cannot be achieved by human effort. The believer is not spiritual because he keeps a set of principles or imperatives. He keeps the imperatives of Scripture because he is spiritual.
To be under the law is to be under its authority as a rule of life, and thus to try to keep it as a means of sanctification.
The Works of the Flesh Versus the Fruit of the Spirit
Galatians 5:19-23 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
(1) A Contrast of Source or Means—Flesh versus Spirit—one or the other is dominant.
(2) A Contrast of Results or Effects—Works (points to human resources) versus Fruit (points to inner life and the result of nurturing the spiritual life and divine resources).
(3) A Contrast of Characteristics and Blessings.
The Works of the Flesh (19-21).
These form three categories which are, however, only a small illustration of the activities of the flesh. Note “and things like these” in verse 21.
(1) Sensual sins—immorality, impurity, sensuality, vs. 19, and drunkenness, carousing, verse 21.
(2) Superstitious or religious sins—idolatry, sorcery.
(3) Social sins—enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying. This by far, makes up the largest category with most of these involving the heart and mind and man’s relationships with people.
The Fruit of the Spirit (22-23)
“Fruit” is singular which suggests that these nine qualities form a unity. When one is missing the whole is spoiled. They form three categories:
(1) Conditions of the mind or mental attitudes which form the foundation or the soil for all the others—love, joy, peace.
(2) Actions toward others involving our relationships with man—patience, kindness, goodness.
(3) Qualities in relation to self which affect us in our relationship toward God, others, and self—faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
We should note that which heads the list is love. This is the Greek agape (ajgavph) and is a Spirit produced, sacrificial, mental attitude kind of love that flows from biblical thinking buttressed by the control of the Spirit.
The Foundation for Transformed Living
Galatians 5:24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
This does not refer to self-crucifixion or self-mortification—that which man does in the energy of the flesh to overcome the flesh. It refers to the truth of Romans 6:1-14, the truth of the believer’s co-identification with Christ through the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:12-13). The work which positionally and judicially unites us into Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection so that, while the flesh is still active, its power is broken with the result we can walk in newness of life. The flesh is still alive to us, as the context makes perfectly clear, but we are dead to it and we can, through the Spirit, have victory over its desires.
An Exhortation to Cultivate a Walk by the Spirit
Galatians 5:25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.
Since the emphasis is clearly on the fruit of the Spirit, the need is the cultivation of the spiritual walk. Note the condition or comparison. Since regeneration is a work of the Spirit of God (something man cannot do) so also is daily sanctification, resurrected, transformed living. “Walk” is stoicheo (stoicevw), “to be in rows (of waves, plants, and men), to walk in line and keep in step (especially of marching in file to battle).” We are to keep in step with the Spirit. Step by step our walk is to conform to the Spirit’s control, enablement, and direction.
Exhortations Against Non-Loving One Another Actions
Galatians 5:26 Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.
When actions like these exist in our lives, it is clear evidence that we are not walking by the Spirit. Regardless of what we claim to know or believe, when we are acting like this, we are not serving by love and walking by the Spirit.
This then is the way to serve one another and experience true freedom, the freedom to follow the Lord. By faith in the finished work of Christ, by faith in our identification in Him, by faith in the ministry and power of the Spirit of God, God sets us free from the domination of sinful habits and lives of selfishness. In essence, one of the results of walking by the Spirit and the knowledge of the Word will be obedience to the One Another commands of the New Testament.
Many churches today are what we might call “preacher oriented” rather than “body oriented.” Only the pastor or special teachers share the Word of God with others in the church. The people come, listen to a sermon or a lesson and then depart and spend little or no time with other believers in a situation where they can love one another in the sense of these One Another injunctions. Please do not misunderstand. It is good and biblical for pastors and other teachers to expound on the Word (1 Tim. 4:6-13). This is a vital necessity, but according to the New Testament every member is to be contributing to the building up of the body of Christ in both informal and formal settings to provide opportunities to love, encourage or comfort, build up, and serve one another. No matter how large the staff, no church staff can begin to do the work needed to properly care for the body of Christ as can the body itself as God has designed it (Eph. 4:16). In fact, one of the jobs God has assigned to church leaders is that of training others to minister and build up the body (Eph. 4:11-16). No matter what your gift(s), get involved in your local church and in the lives of others in the sense of these One Another injunctions of the New Testament. God wants to use you. You are vital to the spiritual health of the church. And if you are a church leader, evaluate your church structure to see if it is designed to promote the function of the body.
Ephesians 4:11-16 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (NIV)
As we study the New Testament and particularly these doubtful areas as dealt with in Romans 14, 1 Corinthians 8, 9, and 10:23-33, we find that Christians tend to fall into five different categories depending on how they understand and respond to their liberty in Christ.
The Weaker Brother
An analysis of these passages reveals four weaknesses which define the weaker brother.
He is weak in faith (Rom. 14:1-2; cf. 22-23).
Faith as used here means a firm, intelligent conviction based on Scripture that something is okay or not okay. The Greek text has “the faith” which may sometimes refer to the body of truth which is to be taken in faith, but due to context (vss. 2, 14), the article should be taken as a personal pronoun, “his faith.”
He is weak in knowledge (1 Cor 8:7; cf. Rom. 14:14).
This is the reason for his lack of conviction, a lack of biblical understanding of God’s grace. His faith is either misinformed or lacking in biblical content which included three issues.
- They did not realize the idol was nothing. They had not seen the implications that “there is only one true God” (1 Cor. 8:4-5).
- They did not know that food offered to “a nothing” was not spiritually affected and that it could not be unclean in itself (Rom. 14:14).
- Finally, they do not understand that food cannot commend us to God, that food in itself has no spiritual bearing on our spiritual lives (1 Cor. 8:8).
He is weak in conscience
This means his conscience is based on human standards and norms and is overly sensitive, condemning him for things Scripture does not (1 Cor. 8:7; 10, 12).
He is weak in his will
He is weak in his will because he can be influenced to do something contrary to his conscience, or to act without becoming fully convinced by Scripture that something is either right or wrong. In this case, the weaker person acts on the example of the stronger believer without biblical conviction and faith. This violates his conscience, and so causes him to sin against the Lord (1 Cor. 8:10).
The weaker brother is any believer who, because of the weakness of his faith, conscience, knowledge, and will, can be influenced to sin against his conscience by the example or life style of a stronger brother. The weaker brother is not just a new or immature believer; he is not a Christian who happens to differ with you or me on some issue, but he or she is one who can be influenced to act contrary to their conscience or personal convictions (14:23; 1 Cor. 8:9-12).
The Stronger Brother
Conversely the stronger brother of Romans 15:1 is the one who is strong in his faith (conviction) (Rom. 14:22); knowledge of grace and what is truly right or wrong (1 Cor. 8:7, 10; Rom. 14:14), in his conscience (Rom. 14:22), and will (1 Cor. 10:10; Rom. 11:14). So the stronger brother is the believer who is certain of his biblical convictions, understands his freedom in Christ, and exercises his liberty without doubting and without being improperly influenced by differing opinions or behavior.
The Pharisee Believer
Warnings of Scripture regarding being judgmental of others such as Matthew 7:1-3 undoubtedly had in mind the Pharisees. The Pharisee mentality is a problem among all people, and God’s people are not exempt because we still have old patterns that need to be dealt with along with a sinful nature that wars against the Spirit (Gal. 5:16).
Not understanding God’s righteousness in Christ, this type of believer works to gain God’s righteousness or to be accepted with God (Rom. 14:1-10). The tendency is for such believers to look down on those who do not do and believe as they do in regard to debatable issues. This was one of the problems for the church at Galatia (Ga. 5:1-15). Romans 16:17 warns about those who cause dissensions, and a critical spirit is associated with such people. Those involved in the fan clubs mentioned in 1 Corinthians 3:3 were critical of others in an effort to promote their favorite teacher. In fact, Paul warns of this in 1 Corinthians 4:3 (cf. also 2 Cor. 10:7-12; 4:6).
This believer is characterized by a number of things.
- He lacks in biblical understanding of the believer’s freedom in Christ and his deliverance from the works of the law, or from human works as a means of salvation or spirituality. So he is a legalist. Legalism is not simply the conviction certain things are wrong, nor the avoidance of certain things. Rather it is an observance or an avoidance done in order to merit favor with God.
- He has very strong convictions about his list of taboos, but his convictions are based primarily on his own background and prejudices rather than the teaching of Scripture.
- He is often strong willed. He is able to resist pressure from others to conform to their standards. He tends not to be influenced by the example of others and often takes religious pride in his taboos, for to him they are a sign of his super-spirituality.
- Above all he tends to be hyper-critical and judgmental and seeks to get others to conform to his opinions. Those who will not conform he rejects and refuses to accept.
- He is usually not too hungry for the in-depth study of Scripture. He tends to be superficial and an externalist.
The Stumbling Block Believer
This believer (cf. Rom. 14:13; 1 Cor. 8:9-13) may have all the characteristics of the stronger brother, only he uses his liberty without regard to biblical guidelines for the use of liberty, i.e., the biblical principles which govern behavior in the questionable things. The majority of 1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14 and 15 are aimed at this type of believer, or at keeping the stronger believer from misusing his or her liberty. This is a believer who is weak on LOVE and concern for the One Another responsibilities laid out in the New Testament.
The Servant-Type Believer
This believer (cf. Rom. 15:1; Gal. 5) too has all the characteristics of the stronger believer, but he is not in bondage to his emancipation. He forgoes his liberty, out of love, for the sake of others, whenever it might harm another believer, hurt his testimony with unbelievers, or in essence break any one of the cardinal principles necessary for exercising our liberty, and for guiding us as to when we should or should not do certain things. The servant-type is strong on love and follows the model of His Savior. He pursues the things which make for peace and the edification of one another. Rather than becoming a stumbling block, he seeks to be a stepping stone.
Guiding Principles Under
Grace for Deciding Right and Wrong
Freedom in Christ never means freedom to do as we please, but the power to do as we ought in accordance with the character of Christ as His life is reproduced in the believer by a Spirit-filled, Word-filled life.
The Principle of Love
Though convinced that I have liberty to do something, nevertheless, out of love for the weaker brother, I will limit my freedom when necessary to avoid being a stumbling block (Rom. 14:15; 1 Cor. 8:1-13). If my actions may cause a believer to stumble by influencing him or her to follow my example, the question is, “Do I really have liberty to follow my own conviction regarding the doubtful thing?” The answer is an emphatic no!—not if I am walking by love. Listen to the warning of the following passage:
Romans 14:15-21 For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; 17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. 20 Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. 21 It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.
The Principles of Profitability and Edification
While all things that are not specifically forbidden by Scripture, particularly the New Testament, are lawful to me as a believer, the question I must ask is, “Is it profitable to my spiritual life, to God’s goals for me, to my health, to my testimony to the lost and my life as an example to other believers?” The Apostle wrote, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable” (1 Cor. 6:12). Again in 1 Corinthians 10:23, Paul wrote, “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.” (See 1 Cor. 10:23-32.)
The Principle of Enslavement, of Who and What is in Control
The answer to this question becomes a determining factor as to whether we really should or should not do the thing in question. Paul succinctly stated it this way, “All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered (brought under the control of) by anything” (1 Cor. 6:12b). Believers are to walk under the control of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18; Gal. 5:16). By means of the Spirit, they are to have control over all aspects of their lives rather than be under the control of what we might call life dominating patterns. The body is a wonderful slave and God’s instrument of service, but it is a poor master. The questions we must ask is, “Will it enslave me? Is it something that is known to be habit forming or addictive so that it could enslave me?” This does not automatically exclude something and anything can become a habit that controls me, but this principle does pose a warning.
The Principle of the Temple
The New Testament teaches us that the body is the temple, the very dwelling place of the Holy Spirit and should be cared for accordingly (1 Cor. 6:19-20). The body is an instrument used by the Spirit of God, a vehicle of service by which we can glorify God. A weak body becomes a weak instrument, so we need to care for it, protect it. This means proper rest, diet, exercise, and the elimination of those habits which are unhealthy and harmful.
While sitting in a restaurant eating breakfast, I was once asked by another pastor who was sitting across the isle if I preached against sin. Knowing something about the church he pastored, and being a bit suspicious about the question, I asked him to clarify his statement. He said, “I am talking about things like dancing, wearing makeup, smoking, drinking, and things like that.” This man weighed at least three hundred pounds, was under six feet tall, and was eating a breakfast big enough to feed a small army. Maybe it was meanness coming out, but I replied, “No, not really. If I am going to preach against sin, I usually focus on things like gluttony and life dominating sins.” I hope he got the point.
The Principle of Exaltation
Here we must ask the question, “Will it glorify or exalt the Lord and His glory?” In a context dealing with doubtful issues, we are told to act on this principle, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).
The Principle of Constraint, of Living as an Example in Supreme Self-Sacrifice
2 Corinthians 5:14-15 For the love of Christ controls us (compels, constrains), having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; 15 and He died for all, that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf (emphasis mine).
This principle applies to all Christians, but it is especially vital for Christian leaders such as pastors, teachers, elders, deacons, etc. One of the characteristics so necessary for a leader is that of self-sacrifice, of giving up our rights for the benefit of others and for the glory of God. Why? Because their lives are so determinative and influential on others. Christ, our supreme model, said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). This means the need for sacrifice whenever and wherever, or one forfeits the right of leadership (cf. 1 Cor. 9:1-23; 2 Thess. 3:7, 9; 1 Tim. 4:12; Heb. 13:7; Tit. 2:7).
A friend of mine, Jack Lewis, summed up the issues this way:
(1) Liberty is constrained by our love of Christ. If you do not love Christ forget all the rest of the principles and do what you want.
(2) Liberty should not cause another person to stumble, be made weak, or turn from Christ. This is a major point. It is the only one that says that a person sins against Christ.
(3) Liberty should be edifying. Does your liberty build up the body of Christ?
(4) Liberty should not be enslaving. Can someone be enslaved by their liberty?
(5) Liberty should glorify Jesus. Does your liberty bring glory to Jesus?
(6) Liberty should help you toward your goal God has set.
(7) Liberty should be worthy of the gospel. Does your liberty hinder the gospel of Christ?