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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC 8am service, 2004-05-02

Text: Galatians 5:1-10

Why do we need to know so much about our liberty? One reason is that there are varying views on this, and some have gone to extremes.

I. Extreme Views of Liberty

A. Lawlessness

On one extreme there are people who take liberty to mean that we are absolutely free to engage in any activity at all. So to them, it seems all right for a Christian to smoke, drink, sport any kind of hairstyle they like and put on the most outrageous fashion designs, and indulge in every kind of recreation that is available on the market. And they won't allow anyone to judge whatever they do, because to them, Christian liberty means that everything is permissible for the Christian, so long as nobody gets hurt. 

This is not liberty but Lawlessness! This of course, is not what the Bible teaches, for God's Word says in 1 Corinthians 9:21 'To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,)' Every Christian has been freed by Christ from being enslaved to sin. But this means that he is now under the authority of Christ. This means that we are free, not to do whatever we like to do, but what we ought to do. And so, liberty should never become an excuse for anyone to indulge in sin and in willful independence.

B. Legalism

Now, on the other extreme, there are people who take a very restrictive view of Liberty. To them, if you want to be truly spiritual and accepted by God and by other Christians, you must not watch any shows on TV, you must not listen to any music except hymns. 

And you must also not participate in any Christmas or Easter programmes (because of alleged pagan origins), etc. The list of prohibitions and requirements goes on and on. And so to them, Liberty is whatever keeping all these prohibitions and requirements allows you to do. This is not liberty but Legalism! It only leads to a judgmental spirit among Christians. And as we have seen in our study of Galatians the Bible does not teach such Legalism, but is in fact against it. 

II. The Bible's Teaching on Christian Liberty

A. Christ Has Given Us Liberty

There were certain people in the Galatian churches who claimed that all Christians, whether they were Jews or Gentiles, must strictly observe certain religious practices besides having faith in Christ, or else God will not accept them. One of these practices was circumcision. But the apostle Paul warned them that by adding such requirements for acceptance by God they were falling away from grace and from Christ. Galatians 5:2-4 'Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.'

This phrase 'fallen from grace' by the way does not mean that a person can lose his salvation. This verse has often been used out of context to teach that one can lose his salvation. But the Bible teaches us 'Once saved, always saved!' No one who is saved by grace can fall out of that grace and become unsaved. The phrase 'to fall from grace' in this context means to move away from the true doctrine that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ alone to a false doctrine that is based on earning merit through performing works of the Law.

Here the apostle Paul said that the Christian is free from the need to perform any works of the Law to gain acceptance by God, for as a believer in Christ he is already fully accepted by God. The redeeming work of Christ has freed him completely from having to seek salvation through observing the laws of God any more. And Christians should guard this God-given liberty well against anyone who would attempt to bring them back under a yoke of bondage. Galatians 5:1 'Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.' This important verse, by the way is where the theme of our messages for this quarter comes from: 'From Slavery to Freedom in Christ.'

B. That Liberty Should Be Guarded and Treasured

Dearly beloved, since Christ has made us free, as this verse says, we must guard and treasure the liberty that He has given to us. God has given us the liberty to enjoy many things in life, and we should receive them with thanksgiving. Let us not think that God is against us enjoying life. He is not a killjoy. The enjoyment of pleasure and comfort is not a bad thing in His sight. After all, God created man with the authority to exercise dominion over creation and to enjoy it (1 Timothy 6:17). 

Because of this it would be wrong for anyone to place unreasonable restrictions and prohibitions upon believers. That would only be putting them back under a yoke of bondage. In the eastern part of the U.S. there are a group of Christians who continue to put themselves quite unnecessarily under a yoke of bondage - the Amish people. They believe that since the scriptures command separation from the world, followers of Christ must therefore not use electricity, and not have radios, televisions, computers, cars or any kind of machine. They still use horses and oxen for farming and oil lamps for light at night. They are opposed to all the conveniences of modern technology, which to them, is part of the ungodly system of the world which will come under God's awful judgment. 

Now, it is true of course, that there are certain things we should not have any part in because they are truly part of the ungodly and sinful world system. But whenever we overdo this separation, we run into the error of legalism and deny ourselves and others the things that God has meant for us to enjoy in life. 

Such an error may start very small. It is first introduced into a congregation by just one person who begins to teach that believers need something more than faith in order to gain acceptance by God. When nothing is done to stop this, it soon spreads and causes confusion in the whole church. This apparently was what happened in the Galatian churches, as can be seen in vv. 7-10 'Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded: but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be.' Verse 10 tells us that the whole heresy in the Galatian churches had started with just one man whose legalistic teaching infected the whole church!

So let us be careful to guard ourselves well from such teaching. Do not to let anyone rob us of the liberty that we have in Christ, for it is a wonderful gift from God that we should always guard and treasure. 

C. That Liberty Should Be Used Responsibly

However, like all good gifts, liberty is something that must be used responsibly or else the end-result will be disastrous! You will notice that in Galatians 5:1, the liberty that we are told to stand fast in is not just any kind of liberty, but it is qualified as the one 'wherewith Christ has made us free.' If this qualifier is not included in this verse, then some might use it teach that we are to stand fast in an absolute liberty, which will give rise to lawlessness and licence to sin, and to the seeking of pleasure and satisfaction at the expense of the well-being of others or ourselves. Thus, we must differentiate the liberty in which we should stand fast, from absolute liberty by calling it 'Christian liberty.'

Martin Luther, the Reformer who started the 16th Century Protestant reformation, wrote a treatise on Christian Liberty in 1520, and he put what we have just mentioned this way: 'A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.' 

And so whenever you think about Christian Liberty always remember this: It is God's gift to you, but you must use it responsibly. And please do not go to the extreme which is lawlessness, nor to the other extreme which is legalism. With that understanding we can now proceed to examine what it means to stand fast in Christian Liberty. There are things that it permits us to do and things that it does not permit us to do. 

III. What Christian Liberty Permits

A. Works of Love (5:6)

Our passage in Galatians mentions what we are free to do in v.6 'For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.' You ought to be using the liberty you have in Christ to produce works of love. Or, to put it another way, you ought to use the liberty you have, as an opportunity to do as much good as you can in this life, for others. 

John Wesley lived his life by such a rule: 'Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, In all the ways you can, In all the placed you can, At all the times you can, To all the people you can, As long as ever you can.' Now, to John Wesley, the word 'good' follows what the Bible defines as good. That is why he spent all his life as a preacher, loving and helping people to know God and His salvation, and promoting the knowledge of God's Word wherever he went. Wesley used his Christian liberty very well!

Therefore, I would recommend you to make this your own personal rule of life as well, to maintain the proper use of your Christian Liberty - to do all the good you can, following what the Scripture defines as good. Now that we have seen what we can do as we stand fast in Christian liberty, let us consider:

IV. What Christian Liberty Does Not Permit

A. Sinful Pleasures

Christian liberty must never be used as a licence to sin against God or man. To use it for such ends is not to stand fast in Christian liberty at all, but to step away from it and to stand fast in unchristian lawlessness instead. What are the kinds of pleasurable activities that have no part in Christian liberty? They include gambling, gluttony, drinking and immoral living. 

One verse that speaks about this is Titus 3:3 'For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another.' The picture given here is one of bondage - one that makes a person a slave to his own lusts and pleasures. The addiction to pleasure becomes the master. It controls a person so much that it is even considered necessary to sin in order to serve this master. This yoke of bondage is a lot worse than the yoke of bondage of legalism mentioned in our text, since it leads a person not only into slavery, but into sin as well.

And so, to stand fast in true Christian liberty, you must keep youself away from pursuing this kind of pleasure. If you have to steal in order to obtain pleasure, that pleasure is wrong. If you must tell a lie to obtain pleasure, then that pleasure is not for you. If you have to hurt someone or even yourself in order to experience pleasure, that pleasure is wrong. 

Today there are certain video games that actually condition the players to derive pleasure from inflicting pain and harm on others (Doom, Diablo, Counterstrike - the virtual reality is so good that it is like the real thing). Some years ago two teenage boys went on a shooting spree in a high school in Colorado before killing themselves. It was learnt later on that they had been playing the videogame Doom for hours and hours and they got such a thrill out of it that they wanted to do enjoy killing people in real life!

B. Worldly Pleasures

Now there are other forms of pleasure that do not involve anything sinful, but they are closely associated with sin, or with an ungodly lifestyle - a lifestyle that is characterized by self-centredness, rebellion against authority, and an indifference toward God and His Word. We can call this worldly pleasure, because it is so closely linked with the world. 

For instance, when Karaoke singing first started, it merely provided a social opportunity to show off one's singing talent with the accompaniment of taped music. But today Karaoke lounges are frequented mostly by people who smoke, drink, curse and swear, and indulge in sexual sin. They have also become notorious for illicit activities. With such worldly connotations now attached to karaoke lounges, Christians should stay away from them, since God says in 1 John 2:15, 'Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.'

C. Lawful But Not Expedient Pleasures

Now besides all these, there are also pleasures that are neither sinful nor worldly, and yet we must exercise great care in pursuing them, because they may also lead to an abuse of our Christian liberty if we are not careful. One useful verse that tells us of this is 1 Corinthians 6:12 'All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.' The first part of this verse gives us a principle that must be applied whenever we have to choose between things that are lawful and things that are expedient, or more important. There are many lawful pleasures and comforts in our lives. Sleep is one of them. Watching television is another. Then there is the pursuit of various kinds of hobbies: surfing the internet, collecting stamps, playing chess, reading novels, body-building, painting, sports, going window shopping. A Christian does not do anything wrong if he does any of these things. 

But if, as a result of them, we do not have enough time to spend with the Lord, or to do what He wants us to do, and if we find ourselves neglecting our responsibilities as God's stewards, of caring for our loved ones and helping others who are in need, then we must seriously assess our priorities and apply this principle. Sometimes we must firmly regulate our time spent in them and discipline ourselves to stop doing something even though we want to continue, since we are enjoying it so much. And this we do, because of the deep conviction in our hearts that God must come first. What we enjoy are the good things that He has given to us. They must be put aside when more important things require our time and attention.

Let us always keep our priorities in proper order. Recreation is good, but it needs to be placed after many other things that are more important in life. Many people tend to overdo the things that they love to do. E.g. Internet gamers who spend most of their time playing internet games. There must be a limit to your involvement. It is one thing to enjoy some recreation. But when you cannot pull yourself away from it and spend hours and even whole nights doing it, it becomes an addiction. That recreation has actually taken over your life. You have come under its power! Please remember what God's word says in the latter part of 1 Corinthians 6:12 'all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.' Anything can bring a person under its power. 

One example is watching TV: A poll conducted about 2 years ago indicated that many Singaporeans are becoming couch potatoes, watching more than 4 hours of TV a day. Those with access to all the SCV channels face a greater risk. Please, take heed to what you have heard today, and do not let any game, hobby, or pastime become an addiction or an obsession to you. Now we want to look at another thing that Christian Liberty does not permit:

D. Stumbling Others

This is highlighted in 1 Corinthians 8:9 'But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.' A young Christian lady who is not modestly dressed is gently advised by her Christian friends that she should be more appropriately dressed, lest some brothers are tempted to lust after her. But she retorts 'Well, that's their problem, not mine! As far as I am concerned, I can dress any way that I like.' 

Let us understand the principle that no one lives unto himself alone. God wants us be very careful about the things we say and do, the pleasures and pursuits we engage in, and about the choices we make in life. And this is simply because all these have an impact upon others. What kind of impact is your life having upon others right now? Is your life a stepping-stone or a stumbling block? 

This principle of not being a stumbling block not only applies to what we do before our fellow believers. It also applies to our testimony before the world. We should not do anything that can hinder the spread of the Gospel, or that will bring shame to the name of Christ that we bear. 

And so let us summarise the things that Christian liberty does not permit: We should not engage ourselves in Sinful Pleasures, or in Worldly Pleasures. We should exercise care in pursuing those pleasures that are lawful but not expedient, or that will bring us into addiction. And whatever we do should not be a stumbling block to others, causing them to sin, or hindering non-Christians from coming to Christ.

Finally, let me give you one useful guideline that may help you if you are still unsure of certain things: Ask yourself whether Jesus Himself would do whatever it is you propose to do, or if you can do it with Jesus standing there and watching you. This of course assumes that you have already known Christ well enough to know what He would approve and not approve. We end this message with 1 Corinthians 10:31 'Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.' Ultimately, this is what Christian Liberty is meant to achieve in us.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

December 3 & 10 - Holy Living

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 2 Peter 3:11