Updated April 12, 2012 (first published October 5, 1997) (David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061, 866-295-4143, email@example.com; for instructions about subscribing and unsubscribing or changing addresses, see the information paragraph at the end of the article)-
In the name of “freedom,” people frequently leave good Bible-believing churches to join one of the looser, easy-going congregations that abound in these apostate times. Commonly, they are lackadaisical about church attendance, putting more emphasis upon personal and family relaxation and recreation, upon sports and the great outdoors and an endless variety of fun. They exchange their feminine dresses for pants and shorts and other immodest attire, even joining the near-naked crowd at the poolside and on the beaches. They trade the sacred hymns of the faith for jazzy charismatic “praise” music and Christian rock. They develop a more tolerant attitude toward doctrine, emphasizing, instead, “love” and “unity,” fellowshipping with anyone who “loves Jesus.” As they pursue this new path, their ecumenical sympathies and appetite for “liberty” increases, as does their aversion to biblical separation.
When asked about the change, they say: “I feel more liberty now, more love; I am having fun; I am glad to be free of legalism; I don’t hear criticism at my church; no one judges what others do. It’s a breath of fresh air. We’re finally free of Pharisaical bondage.”
Through the years, I have witnessed with sorrow a number of Christian friends who were captured in this fleshly trap.
They are confused about the nature of biblical Christianity, having been willfully enticed by the siren song of the “live according to your own lusts” philosophy of apostasy (2 Tim. 4:3-4).
Consider the following Bible preachers whose sermons were recorded by divine inspiration. Would a person who focuses on liberty and fun be comfortable under such preaching?
“Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4).
John the Disciple
“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. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (1 John 2:15-17).
John the Baptist
“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the ax is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire” (Matt. 3:7-10).
“As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear” (1 Peter 1:14-17).
“Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them. For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light: (For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;) Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Ephesians 5:6-11).
“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Titus 2:11-14).
These men do not sound like contemporary liberty-fun sort of guys, to me. They preached liberty from eternal destruction through the blood of Christ, but they did not preach liberty to live as one pleases.
The term “liberty” is used in both ways in the book of Galatians. Paul refers to the believer’s liberty from a works gospel (Gal. 2:4), but he warns of using Christian liberty as an “occasion for the flesh.”
“For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; ONLY USE NOT LIBERTY FOR AN OCCASION TO THE FLESH, but by love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13).
The Christian has no liberty to walk in any type of unholiness, no liberty for moral looseness, no liberty to love and conform to the world, no liberty to fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness.
To the liberty-fun Christian, his personal freedom is a fundamental issue in the decisions he makes about daily living. To the Bible-believing Christian, God’s pleasure and the edification of God’s people and the salvation of the unsaved is the fundamental issue.
There is no emphasis upon “fun” in the Bible. The emphasis is upon unquestioning obedience, extreme spiritual caution, dying to self and being devoted to God’s perfect will, walking in the fear of God, spotless separation from the world. The Christian is depicted as a soldier in a war (2 Tim. 2:3-4). A good soldier is not motivated to exercise his “rights” to pursue liberty and fun; he is willing to make every necessary sacrifice and to obey every command so that the conflict might be won. Referring to the Christian life, an old song wisely says, “It’s a battlefield, brother, not a recreation room, a fight and not a game.”
The previously quoted Bible preachers sound like the “old-fashioned” Bible-believing men of God of past generations who railed against sin and error and called God’s people to holiness and separation from this wicked world. The average contemporary Christian today is not comfortable under this type of preaching. If these holy men of old were to stand before them and preach the very things that are recorded in our Bibles, no doubt they would be labeled judgmental, fun-hating, mean-spirited legalists.
Sadly, those who are crying for liberty and fun are described in 2 Timothy 4:3-4 --
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”
They search out teachers who will preach a more positive Christianity and who will encourage their idolatry of “fun” and their yearnings for carnal “liberty” in the pursuit of the fulfillment of their own lusts.
1 Corinthians 6:12 and 10:23
Someone might reply, “But Brother Cloud, aren’t you forgetting 1 Corinthians 6:12 and 10:23?” Let’s consider the verses in their context:
1 Corinthians 6:12-13 -- “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. Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body.”
1 Corinthians 10:23-24 -- “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not. Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth.”
These verses are frequently misused by those who desire liberty to fulfill their carnal desires. These would have us believe that the apostle Paul is saying the Christian has liberty to wear immodest clothing and to watch indecent movies and to romp near naked at the beach and for women to strut around in their tight pants and to immerse oneself in every sort of rock music and to fellowship closely with anyone who says he “loves Jesus” regardless of his doctrinal beliefs, etc.
Is that what Paul meant by the statement “all things are lawful unto me”? By no means! Obviously there are limitations to the Christian’s liberty, since the New Testament has so many warnings toward this end. We are not free to commit fornication (1 Cor. 6:16-18; 1 Thess. 4:3-6), nor to be involved in any sort of moral uncleanness (1 Thess. 4:7), nor to fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness (Eph. 5:11), nor to be drunk with wine (Eph. 5:18), nor to allow any corrupt communication to proceed out of our mouths (Eph. 4:29), nor to allow any filthiness of the flesh or spirit (2 Cor. 7:1), nor to be involved in anything that has even the appearance of evil (1 Thess. 5:22), nor to love the things that are in the world (1 John 2:15-17), nor to befriend the world (James 4:4), nor to be conformed to the world (Rom. 12:2), nor to dress immodestly (1 Tim. 2:9), etc.
What, then, did the apostle mean? He meant that the Christian has been set free by the blood of Christ, free from the wages of sin, free from the condemnation of the law, free from the ceremonies of the Mosaic covenant, but not free to sin, and not free to do anything that is not expedient or edifying.
The first rule of Bible interpretation is to interpret according to the context, and Paul explains himself perfectly in both passages. In 1 Corinthians 6:12-13, he uses the example of eating meat. In 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 and 10:23-28 he uses the example of eating things that have been offered to idols. In all such things, the Christian is free, because these are matters in which the Bible is silent. There are no dietary restrictions for the New Testament Christian as there were under the Mosaic Law. We do not have to fear idols; we know they are nothing. This is the type of thing Paul is referring to in 1 Corinthians, if we would allow him to explain himself in context rather than attempt to put some strange meaning upon his words that would fill the Bible with contradiction.
Paul addresses the same thing in Romans chapter 14. The Christian is free from Old Testament laws pertaining to diet and keeping holy days (Rom. 14:2-6). We are not to judge one another in these matters, because these are matters on which Scripture is silent in this dispensation. This does not mean, though, we are not to judge anything and that we are free to do whatever we please. When the Bible has spoken on any issue, our only liberty is to obey.
The contemporary philosophy is contrary to the entire tenor of the New Testament writings.
Four Tests for Christian Activities
In the two passages in Corinthians previously cited Paul gives four tests to determine whether the Christian should allow a certain thing in his life:
(1) Does it bring me under its power?
(2) Is it expedient?
(3) Does it edify?
(4) Does it help my fellow man or does it cause him to stumble?
These are tests that are applied not to sinful things which already are forbidden to the Christian, but to things the Bible does not specifically address.
The sincere application of these tests to things commonly allowed in the world of contemporary Christianity would put a quick stop to many practices. Rock music does bring people under its power; it does not edify; it is influenced by demons (a simple study of the history of rock music will confirm this); it is not therefore expedient for the Christian who is instructed to be sober and vigilant against the wiles of the devil; it further has an addictive power, appealing to the flesh which the Christian is supposed to crucify.
Immodest clothing, such as shorts and bathing suits, does hinder our fellow man by tempting him to sin in his thought life; it does not edify those who see us clothed in such a fashion; it does cause others to stumble.
Ecumenical relationships between those who believe sound New Testament doctrine and those who do not, hinders my fellow man and causes him to stumble by confusing him about what is true and what is false and by giving him the impression that doctrine is not important. Such relationships are not edifying because they weaken the believer’s spiritual discernment and zeal for the faith once delivered to the saints.
The Bible says we have liberty in Christ, liberty from eternal condemnation, liberty to serve God and to enjoy our unspeakably wonderful salvation in Christ. It does not say, though, that we have liberty to do anything that is not expedient or edifying.
The apostle Paul had such a low view of “personal liberty” that he was willing to forego the eating of meat for the rest of his life if he thought that such eating would offend his brother or cause his brother to stumble in any way (1 Cor. 8:13). He did not have the idea that he was in this world to live for himself and to stand on his liberty.
Contrast this apostolic view of Christian liberty with that which is so popular today. Those who are consumed with their “liberty” will not forego even highly questionable things for the sake of glorifying Christ and edifying their fellow man. When confronted with such things, they become puffed up and lash out against a straw man they call “legalism.” They mock those who are offended by their music and ridicule those who question their silly antics.
A Slippery Slope
Dear friends, beware of this trap. It is a slippery slope. Once you have begun to fight for your “liberty” and pursue fun, where do you stop? If you accept the lie that the very concept of drawing a line for Christian standards is “legalistic” and that the emphasis of the Christian life should be upon “liberty,” you have no boundaries. We have seen repeatedly that there is no stopping. Those who enter this path are on a backward, downward spiral.
At first the women fight for the “liberty” to wear loose pants, but eventually they are wearing tight pants. They fight for the “liberty” to wear loose-fitting shorts, but eventually they are wearing shorter and tighter ones. They want the liberty to miss some church services, but eventually they are missing many and thinking nothing of it. They want the liberty to shorten their hair, but eventually they style it almost like a man’s. They want the liberty to listen to border-line jazzed-up praise music, but eventually they are addicted to contemporary rock. They want the liberty to watch some questionable videos, but eventually they are watching R-rated ones and beyond. They want the liberty to fellowship with “very conservative evangelicals,” but eventually they are fellowshipping with those who hold damnable heresies. Or at least they become sympathetic with and defensive of those who are doing such things.
You do not lose anything by holding the strictest line of Biblical standards in this present evil world, but you have much to lose if you loosen those standards.
One thing those who let down their standards often lose is their children ........ to the world.
“For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; ONLY USE NOT LIBERTY FOR AN OCCASION TO THE FLESH, but by love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13).
“As free, and NOT USING YOUR LIBERTY FOR A CLOAK OF MALICIOUSNESS, but as the servants of God” (1 Peter 2:16).
“While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage” (2 Peter 2:19).
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