Posts Tagged ‘Liberty’

Learning to Live in Liberty

Learning to Live Free

© C. O. Bishop 5/11/15; THCF 5/17/15

Galatians 5:14-26

Introduction:

Paul has spent four chapters warning against Legalism, and stating the free position of the believer; a half-chapter introducing Liberty as a life-concept, and now is having to give the “directions and warning label” for Liberty.

Unlike the legalizers, he makes no apology for the Christian having the liberty. Quite the opposite: he warns us against letting anyone rob us of it. But he does warn against the danger of misuse—the danger of allowing “liberty” to cloak licentiousness. (Verse 13). So, one might ask, how do we strike a balance? How do we live in liberty, and still not fall into licentiousness? It would be easy to smugly say something like “self-control!” or “moderation!”, but that is not what Paul preaches; He preaches the living, breathing, walking, talking love of Christ. We are free in Christ!  That is a positional truth, and a “location” truth. “In Christ!”

There was once a short time in US history during which there were some states where slavery was permitted, and some where it was prohibited. It was critically important to an escaped slave that he or she should stay in a place where it was illegal to enslave another person…because in that place he or she was free! Were they safe? No, not completely, because the laws had not become federal, yet, and it was quite common for an evil person to kidnap such an endangered soul and take him or her back into a slave state. They lived in fear that they might be taken back into slavery. We would do well to think of that, ourselves: We are only safe and free in Christ.

Satan still desires to enslave us, though we have been permanently set free. He can do it either through legalism or licentiousness. Those are the twin traps into which he tries to lure all believers. Those are the two “ditches” on every road the believer walks. Both are deadly snares; traps that are really difficult to escape. So what does it look like to be on the road between the ditches…walking with Jesus, and not wavering into license or legalism? Paul says it is to be summed up in one word:

Love—Agape Love.

14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

If you know that your sin could result in someone else spending eternity in Hell, because they used your sin as an excuse to reject the Lord, shouldn’t that make you more conscious of your actions and words? Therefore, loving our neighbor with agapé love should be among our primary concerns as committed Christians. (Compare Leviticus 19:18)

Agapé love implies “Being committed to the good of the recipient of that love, without regard to the effect in one’s own life.” This is the kind of love—the only kind— that Jesus commanded; and it’s the kind He demonstrated at the Cross. It has absolutely nothing to do with feelings, but is entirely about doing. It is “commitment with shoe-leather”. It is doing what is best for the other person. Ironically, it is also what is needed for you! This is how you stay on the road where you belong.

This is how you walk with Jesus. He said in John 13:34, 35 “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” So, Paul is reiterating that the entire Christian walk is one of allowing the Holy Spirit to pour through us the Agapé love that is only available from God. That is our outreach to the lost around us, and our fellowship with the believers around us. That Agapé love is what it is all about.

15 But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.

OK, so here is a big one: you may think, “Well, this person is already a believer, but they are frustrating me, or mistreating me, so I am free to ‘give them a taste of their own medicine!’”. No! This is precisely what He warns against! There is more damage done to unbelievers and to the credibility of the Gospel by “bickering believers” than perhaps anything else.

I have repeatedly been informed that the single most common reason for missionaries leaving their chosen fields of service is the fact that they and their co-workers were not getting along at one level or another. Sometimes they tried to hang on, and endured for years before they broke down, but the hard-heartedness that believers demonstrate toward one another (and the sins that come along with it) makes the worst possible testimony. How did Jesus say the world is to know that we are his servants? He said, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples….” How? Because we are constantly fighting against one another?  No! The Agapé love applied consistently between believers is the strongest testimony we can produce.

Unity as a Result of Agape Love

And how did Jesus say the world would know that He himself was sent by God? He said in his prayer (John 17:21) “…That they may be one…that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” Unity in the Church is the other half of the testimony of the church. In fact, if you think about it, you can see that Jesus gave the World two means by which to judge the Church: Agapé Love, and Christian Unity. Whether we like it or not, we are being judged by the World, as directed by Jesus Himself, and…we are found sadly wanting. If we allow ourselves the luxury of anger, bitterness, or self-will, then what we demonstrate to the world is that the message of the cross is false, and/or that we ourselves are not the servants of God.

In fact, even when we want to do right, we find ourselves thwarted, either for the simple cause that it takes two people to be in unity and a loving relationship, but only one wants it; or, because in our human ability we simply cannot bring ourselves to be at peace with someone because they have hurt us badly, or we don’t trust them, or, conversely, that we feel guilty because we know that we hurt them.

Either trap can be fatal.

So… what is the answer? We agree that we can’t do it, so… Who can?

Only the Holy Spirit can do it

16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.

It is funny that we should say that we “can’t do it”…that is exactly what God says, too! God warned the Israelites that they could not keep his Law. Paul has warned the believers that they cannot please God in the flesh. God never has given us a difficult assignment; He has almost always given us an impossible assignment! The Christian life is not difficult, it is impossible… apart from the moment-by-moment control of the indwelling and presiding Holy Spirit.

Only God can live the life that his righteousness demands.  Jesus demonstrated God’s righteousness, as “God in the Flesh.” He fulfilled the righteous judgment of the Law upon us at the Cross, and His righteousness was imputed to us (deposited in our accounts) the moment we trusted in His finished work for our salvation. But we still somehow think we ought to be able to do in our flesh what even He himself did by the Holy Spirit. (Jesus pointed out that what he did he did by the Holy Spirit.)

17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.

This is a very important concept. Paul has laid out the problem in stark terms, not padding the truth at all. We still have a sin nature, but we also have a new nature. The new nature is a created being; completely obedient to God, and completely in harmony with the Holy Spirit. But we still have a will, and, even now, we can choose to submit to the Holy Spirit, and “walk” (day-by-day, step-by-step) with Him, or not. There is a war going on, and we have to choose, moment-by-moment, whose side we will serve.

18 But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.

Remember that Paul made a similar statement in Romans 8:14 “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.”

If you are a child of God, you are not under the Law…and, by the Holy Spirit, it should become clear to all observers that your life does not need the constraint of the Law, because you are under God’s direct control.  If you insist on putting yourself under the Law, then you are defeating the purpose of God’s Grace. So, what is the “measuring stick”, so to speak? How are we to see the difference, day by day? Paul introduces two contrasting concepts; “works” (plural) and “fruit” (singular). He pairs them with two mutually exclusive persons; the old Sin nature of every believer and the Holy Spirit of God. He says that our old sin natures produce certain traits in character and behavior that are observable to any person watching, and rejectable by all, as well. Think about this: sins of the flesh, while a source of pleasure to unbelievers, are a source of condemnation from those same unbelievers when they are practiced by believers. Why? Because, for better or worse, the World holds us to a higher standard of righteousness, and it is always looking for ways to condemn us.

But if you walk in the Spirit, there will be nothing to condemn. Doesn’t that sound attractive to you? It does to me. I read in the book of Daniel that his 120-some worst enemies, who unanimously wanted him dead, could find nothing wrong with him except his relationship with the God of Israel. My friends don’t have to look very far to find fault with me. My enemies certainly can find cause to condemn me. And I yearn for the time when I will finally be freed from my sin nature, and can rest from the war between the flesh and the Spirit.

But I remember that Daniel was living that way in his normal human body, not in some sort of “exalted state”. He simply was unfailingly doing at all times exactly what he was supposed to do. There is no evidence of his ever having spoken unkindly, or having stirred up arguments, having made accusations, or anything else of a counter-productive nature. Ironically, though, in his recorded prayer, he identified closely enough with Israel that he said “…we have turned our backs on You…” (Not “they”, but “we”.)

What will it look like?

So, what are the earmarks of the flesh-controlled life, and that of the Spirit-controlled life?

19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,

20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,

21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

I find it fascinating that the “works” (plural) of the flesh are listed seventeen strong, with an eighteenth item that is a “catch-all” phrase: “and such like”. The list is literally twice as long as that of the fruit of the Spirit, and the last item extends it to include everything that the human heart can imagine. And it is plural; if you are partaking in any of these, then you are in the flesh; it’s as simple as that.

But the next “list”, the fruit of the Spirit, is half as long, and is singular: it is not a “smorgasbord” from which you can choose what you would like to exemplify. It is a “nine-fold” fruit, singular; a fruit with nine aspects, or characteristics, and all nine aspects, or characteristics, have to be present or it is not the Holy Spirit who is producing it.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,

23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

Notice that last bit? “Against such there is no law…?” Why is that even an issue? It is because the whole context of the book has been the separation of Law and Grace. If you are walking in the Spirit, the Law will have no effect on you because it does not touch the things of the Spirit. That is why the enemies of Daniel could find no cause for accusation in his life. He walked in the Spirit, and there was no cause for offense. There was literally nothing to condemn. I would love it if all my enemies found in me that same problem: nothing to condemn. But the honest truth is that my friends can find fault with me.

I did discover recently that a man I have known for 25 years, and of whom I had heard via the workplace “grapevine” (nice word for gossip) that he strongly disliked me, actually disliked me because I am a believer. That is a relief to know. I learned it, ironically enough, from another unbeliever. (He said the exact word used was “Bible-thumper”…which I guess is OK, but I do hope I did not cross some line and offend him by my words. If it is God’s Word that offended him, I am in the clear, but if I did it, then he may have had reasonable cause for offense.) I will probably never know for sure, but I don’t think we have ever had an argument, or any sort of cross words. We only worked together a short while, and I think I was always relatively friendly…but who knows? James says we all offend with our tongues. Looking forward, all I can do is to try to be vigilant to walk in the Spirit, so as to not cause offense, but, instead, to be productive for God.

This next verse is easy to miss, and nearly as easy to misread:

24 And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.

Please take note that this is past tense: Whatever the verse is about, it already happened. This is not a command to “get crucified”, or to “crucify the flesh”. It is a statement of Fact, that if you belong to Jesus, then the crucifixion is a done deal. We just need to learn to walk in the daily reality of that fact. God sees you as being permanently separated from your old sin nature. He dealt with your sin at the cross, and will no longer see you in your sins. In fact, that is what Romans 6:1-14 is all about. You are dead to sin (whether you believe it or not), and do not have to continue in it. In Romans he points this truth out and says that it is incumbent upon us to believe it and rest in that truth, taking shelter in the fact that we are no longer slaves to sin. Here in Galatians, he says we are to walk in that truth.

Conclusion:

25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

This is an “it just makes sense” sort of statement. “Since you already have been saved, redeemed, resurrected and baptized into the Body of Christ by the Holy Spirit, and since, in fact, you are already seated with him in Heaven…doesn’t it make sense that you function by that principle as well? That you, in fact, allow Him full ownership in your life?”

And what would that look like if you did?

Paul’s final messages in Galatians are to tell the believers how to treat one another. But if the fundamental principle is confessed and agreed to, (that, since I am spiritually alive because of Christ and Him alone, and have been joined to him by the work of the Holy Spirit, not my own works) then it is a logical necessity that I complete the transaction and walk with him.

When I was first born again, something a friend said made perfect sense to me: “If I belong to Him, I ought to work for Him.” That stuck with me ever since. And, as I look at this verse, I realize that that is exactly what Paul says. If I belong to Him, it makes sense that I act as if I do.

Spend some time thinking this over: if you see that the fruit of the Spirit is pretty thin on the limbs, so to speak, then perhaps you need to confess that you are not walking consistently, and you need to allow God to work a full repentance—a turnaround—a change of course. “Walking” must become a continuous exercise of faith, not just a series of failures, in the flesh. Bear in mind that as a toddler is learning to walk, he or she falls down a lot. That is OK…success means getting up one more time than we fall down. Eventually we learn to walk in a stable manner.

Let’s look to God to teach us to walk with Him.

Lord Jesus, help us to see ourselves through your eyes, and to be sober about our strengths and weaknesses, our successes and failures, and to confess them for what they are, without excuses. Allow us to be healed by your Spirit and so to lead others to You.

Amen


Christian Liberty

What is Christian Liberty?

© C. O. Bishop 5/2/15; THCF 5/3/15

Galatians 5:1-14

Introduction:

Paul has spent much of the last four chapters talking about the trap of legalism, and rightfully so: it is warned against all through the Bible, Old Testament and New Testament, though more so in the New, to be sure. Now he seems to move toward a conclusion: if Legalism, Law-works, are NOT how we are to live then how should we live? What does Christian Liberty amount to? Does it mean we are to be lawless? Absolutely not! It means we have been called to a higher law, one of the heart and of the Spirit, which sets us free from the Law of Sin and Death. So Paul is now teaching how that is supposed to work. What does genuine liberty look like, as opposed to Licentiousness which is claimed to be liberty? And how important is it, really?

Maintain your Liberty!

Galatians Chapter 5:1-14

1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.

This is a very far-reaching command. It is a principle by which to live; not a checklist item. The things being suggested by the then-current crop of legalizers, confronting the Galatian believers, may not even be touched upon by the legalizers today. Perhaps it is the idea that one has to be baptized to be saved…or has to be baptized by a certain formulaic ritual, or into a certain church. Perhaps they are telling you that what you use for communion, who serves the communion, or the clothes you wear, or how you hold your hands when you pray… are the keys to peace with God. Do these ideas sound ridiculous? Guess what—they (and many other similar follies) have all been cited as cardinal doctrines. Churches split over tiny differences, and people try to deny one another access to God over tiny differences, too. I was in a Baptist church once where the preacher still put on a black robe even to baptize someone in a creek. (Why?? What was the message he was sending? That “Clergy” is somehow separated from the “common” folk? Or did the black robe somehow solemnify baptism?)

Sometimes unbelievers have been literally shut out because there was something in their lives that the church-folk didn’t want to be associated with. I recall an older, unbelieving friend telling me that he had quit attending church altogether, because, when his father had been murdered and he was trying to find someone to bury him, all the local churches (where they lived at the time—somewhere in New Jersey, as I recall—and 50 years ago or more) initially refused to help! Perhaps they were afraid of the publicity; perhaps some other fear—perhaps there had been some involvement of organized crime—I’m not sure; but his father’s own church would not bury him.

Were they so convinced of their own righteousness that they did not dare “taint themselves” by being involved in the funeral of a murdered man? Or were they afraid of honoring a murdered man and possibly incurring further violence toward themselves? I don’t know. But, as far as he was concerned, their testimony was ruined, along with the testimony of every other church in the world. He was deeply disillusioned about churches, by that experience.

He finally found a pastor of a local, evangelical, non-denominational church who readily agreed to serve, and he was grateful for that help…but when he shared all this with me, he had long since moved away from that area, and was not at ALL interested in anything churches of any sort had to offer. He died an unbeliever, as far as I know. That is a sad story, but it is true. Sadder still is the fact that, while all those churches collectively helped to send that man to hell, he himself ultimately made the decision to reject the God of the Bible. Their personal bondage to irrelevance had a permanent effect on his personal bondage to sin.

Unless he repented after I last saw him, he was lost…and, the blame partly lies at the feet of those churches, who loved their own reputations more than the Gospel. He was sure, the last time I talked with him, that because of his personal good works, he deserved eternal bliss with God. I was a very young believer at the time, and tried to point out to him that NO one deserves heaven on their own merit. I verbally, earnestly, included myself in that indictment, but his final words to me were, “Well, I do!” So; evidently, he, along with them, had bought into the idea of salvation by works. The pastor who buried my friend’s father had not fallen prey to that doctrine, and behaved with Grace and Mercy toward him. I just wish he could have led my friend to Christ before he left town for good.

2 Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.

So…what is being taught here? Is Paul telling the Galatian believers that if they undergo circumcision (to become Jews) then they have lost their salvation? I thought he said that was impossible…?  Let’s read the next verse:

The Whole Law or None

3 For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.

The issue, here, is that one cannot choose to obey pieces of the Law, and so claim to be “keeping the Law.” If you decide that Law-keeping is the pathway to God, then you are obligated to keep all of it. It is interesting to watch and see how picky the so-called “law-keepers” become about which portions of the law they will keep. They may tithe, and they may not work on the Sabbath, or they may not eat certain foods, or wear certain clothes—but they are completely lax and very self-justifying about the rest of the Law. Paul, however, does not allow them that option. He says they are debtors to do the whole law. (Bear in mind that it is God talking, here, not just Paul!)

4 Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.

The temporal, daily, living effect of Grace, then, is gone…the eternal effect is there for the believer, regardless of their later behavior and beliefs; but way back in Galatians 1:4, Paul says that Jesus also died “…to deliver us from this present evil world”…and when a person embraces Law, they shut out Grace…so that they cannot embrace the liberty of Grace. In that sense, then, Grace has ceased to have an effect on their lives.

The liberty of the believer is solidly taught in chapters four and five, but it is feared by churches everywhere, because they think it is the equivalent of license to sin. It is definitely not, and that notion is clearly rebuked in scripture, but we tend to think of it that way, anyhow. But! Notice that it is the legalizers— those who try to attain to righteousness by human effort— who are being rebuked, and to whom Paul says “ye are fallen from grace!” not those who have fallen into some sort of immorality, or other sin. This has nothing to do with salvation, and everything to do with a grace-filled life and a peaceful walk with God. There are plenty of passages where believers are exhorted to live holy lives…but here, the thing under condemnation is self-effort and self-justification. There is never a suggestion that the things they are doing are making them in any way more acceptable to God.

The Righteousness of Faith

5 For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.

There is coming a day when we will be completely clothed and permanently filled with the Righteousness of Christ. I yearn for that day, as my continual failures distress me deeply. Positionally, we already are completely righteous in Him. Our new natures, in fact, are completely righteous already. But we still labor under the weight of our old sin nature. Paul says (Ephesians 4:22-24) that the old nature is “being corrupted” as a continuing reality. But he also assures us that our new nature is “after God (in His own image) created in righteousness and true Holiness.” So what we are looking forward to by faith is the full reality of His image, with our old nature gone forever. We endure this life by faith, looking forward to that which is to come. We cannot earn it; it is already ours. The best we can do is to learn to walk by faith in the reality of our new natures.

6 For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.

The outward symbols mean nothing. The reality of Faith, working because of Love, means everything. Putting on the outward trappings of religion does not help anything. Being transformed from the inside out was God’s plan from the beginning.

7 Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?

The believers in the Galatian churches had begun well, and had been learning to walk with God. Paul asks how it is that they have stumbled, and are now being hindered. (He knows the answer—he wants them to see that truth of the matter.) This is similar to God’s questions to Adam, in the Garden. “Where are you? Who told you that you were naked?” God knew the whole truth—He wanted Adam to see it and confess it. God wants us to consider our progress or lack of it, and be honest as to how we got there. Sometimes it may mean recognizing that a “friend” has not had a good effect on our life. Sometimes it means that a personal choice to feed on some religious writings or teachings has subverted our thinking. More frequently it means recognizing that our own responses to life in general have not been productive. But ultimately, it means that legalism is not from God!

Legalism is Not From God

8 This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you.

This is a pretty firm statement: this argument did not originate with your Savior!
Stop and think, then: where did it come from?

Ultimately, there is only one other source. The Flesh could do it on its own, but remember: the World, the Flesh and the Devil are allied against you. If it comes from any of them, it effectively comes from all of them. If it doesn’t originate with God, you can assume it ultimately originates with the Enemy, at one level or another.

9 A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.

This is such a tiny verse it is easy to pass it over. Paul is using a common saying to warn them that there is no such thing as a “little bit” of sin. They used to say “there is no such thing as being ‘a little bit pregnant.’” Eventually it will show up in all its glory.

Sin will eventually bear fruit. If you decide to dabble in legalism, then you will eventually find that Grace has been set aside, just as if you had whole-heartedly embraced the Law. This requires some soul-searching: I need to examine my motives: am I “serving” because I am fearful of losing my right standing with God? Or because I think that, in some way, He will “owe me something” in the way of a “good life”? Either of those is a wrong motive. If I am a believer, then my standing (my position with Him) is already perfect, regardless of my behavior: I can’t improve it, nor can I damage it. I am already seated in the heavenlies with Christ, whether I believe it or not at any given moment. Also, God does not “owe” me anything, nor will he ever. My life may be short or long, easy or hard. There are believers in the world undergoing terrible persecution: did they somehow displease God? No, usually persecution comes because believers are doing exactly what they should be doing. Jesus promised that “in the World ye shall have persecution”.

Judgment is Coming

10 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.

That is one thing we can be sure of: Judgment is coming. As believers, we need to realize that, though our punishment for sin was completely poured out at the Cross, we still face the Judgment Seat of Christ…and it is not necessarily going to be a pleasant thing. 1st Corinthians 3:10-16 states that some of us will be saved “as one escaping through the flames”. We should think carefully about how we live, how we serve, and why.

Paul was confident, as he thought of their past walk with God, that they were real believers, and that they would respond well to this correction. But he foresaw a grim future for those who were trying to subvert them. “…he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment….”

11 And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased.

There seems to be the idea that perhaps the Judaizers had even tried to say that Paul was in agreement with them…and that he had just neglected to tell them this part. Paul poses the question, “If that is what I am teaching, why am I suffering persecution? The Cross would not be offensive to the Jews if I was still teaching that believers had to become Jews.”

Sometimes, even today, a false teacher comes along with something like this: “No, no, you’ve got it all wrong! That is not what Jesus was trying to tell you! You just misunderstood! What He really meant was…” And then they teach some seriously bad doctrine that points people away from the Cross. By the way, when anyone tells you that there are other ways to be saved than by the Cross of Christ, you can mark him/her as a false teacher right then. Jesus himself says there is no other way. The apostles were in full agreement, saying “There is no other name under heaven, given among Men, by which we must be saved.”

A false teacher may be very popular, and preach warm, friendly-sounding messages that seem to reach out to the world with open arms. But if he offers something other than Christ and Him Crucified, for salvation, then he is helping divert people from the Cross, and sending them to a Christless Eternity. We feel sad to say such things, but far sadder to think of the thousands upon thousands who have been lost to the lure of the soft-sell, because someone was not willing to take a stand on the actual Gospel, but offered a “social Gospel” or a “self-help Gospel” instead.

Jesus spent a lot of time warning of coming judgment, and even stated that “they who do not believe are already condemned”. The bad news is what makes the Good news good. Paul said “…Christ came to save Sinners….” Jesus said He came to “call sinners to repentance.”

I have a student who recently had to skip classes because she was having a broken, infected tooth extracted. She first had to have penicillin for a few days, to kill the infection. She told me later that she could not believe how much better she felt once the infection was gone, along with the bad tooth. She had evidently suffered from the infection longer than she knew, and the penicillin gave her virtually immediate relief, capped by removal of the painful source, the rotten tooth.

So, the penicillin turned out to be great news because …what? Because she had a serious infection that was making her very sick, and possibly would have threatened her life! The infected tooth was what made the penicillin (and the tooth extraction) “good news.” Otherwise both would have been really bad news.

If sin were not a serious issue, with fatal consequences, then the crucifixion would be terrible news. If I were not a condemned sinner, then I would not need a savior. And Jesus’ death would just be a tragic miscarriage of justice. But; as it is, we see the Grace of God through the horror of the Cross, and we realize that it was the horror of our own sin that necessitated the Cross. Yes, the Cross is an offense; but not to God, and not to believers.

Contending for the Faith

12 I would they were even cut off which trouble you.

That is a pretty grim thing for the Apostle to say: if we said it today from the pulpit we would get into trouble. He is literally saying, “I wish they’d just die, and quit bothering you.” Some translations say “mutilate themselves”, but the Greek word so translated (apokopto) usually means “removed” or “severed”. We may wish something similar, under similar circumstances, but Paul knew that their judgment was coming, and that he had to wait for the Lord to act.

In Psalm 37 David made the statement that “They (the wicked) shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb”. Now, “Soon” is always meant “soon” from God’s perspective, but, in this particular passage, the word translated “soon” means “suddenly”—as in, “without warning”. The false teachers face an awful eternity—we pray for their salvation, not their death. Jesus said “love your enemies, and do good to those who hate you…pray for those who despitefully use you.” But I think that to pray for God’s intervention on behalf of the church is also in keeping with God’s word.

So, to pray that God will shut the mouths of false teachers is correct; not “un-loving”. In fact, in Titus 1:10, 11, Paul mentions this, saying that their mouths “must be stopped”. This is one of the few places where the scripture teaches contending for the faith. Corrective teaching, even to the extent that it causes disharmony, is better than false teaching, producing a so-called “harmony” that is to the detriment of the hearers. (We are not talking about simple disagreements about petty issues, here, but false doctrines that can destroy the church.)

Consider this: when a airliner is losing power, and there is a chance of a crash-landing, is it better to offer free drinks and peanuts, or, to give instructions as to how to prepare for the crash? One response may produce temporary peace and happiness, but the other offers a hope of survival. We preach the truth of the Cross, not because it is comfortable, but because it is true. We preach Grace, not to promote license to sin, but to produce liberty to serve. If false teachers are deterring believers from Grace, and substituting Law, it is entirely within God’s instruction to both apply corrective teaching and to simultaneously pray for God to close their mouths.

Conclusion:

13 For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. 14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

Here is the key to the whole argument, in my opinion: the legalist churches fear liberty because they equate it with license. Paul warns against misusing liberty right here. Notice he makes no apology for their having the liberty…he just commands them not to abuse it.

Every time a Christian, or even someone who just claims to be a believer, falls into sin,

  • Legalists will claim he is “living proof” of the “dangers of Christian liberty;”
  • Unbelievers will rave that he is the “epitome of Christian hypocrisy” (implying that all Christians are, by definition, hypocrites); and
  • True believers everywhere will grieve for the damage done to the testimony of Christ.

God knows the truth. Any or all of them could be right, but the believers know the real cost. There will be people who will use that person’s sin as an excuse to reject Christ, and will be lost.

If you know that your sin could result in someone else spending eternity in Hell, even if it is only because they used your sin as an excuse to reject the Lord, shouldn’t that make you more conscious of your actions, attitudes and words? It certainly should!

So: loving our neighbors (with agapé love) should be our first concern as committed Christians. Agapé love implies being committed to the good of the recipient without regard to the effect in one’s own life. It means consistently putting the needs of others before your own. This is the kind of love that Jesus commanded, and the kind He demonstrated at the Cross. It has absolutely nothing to do with feelings, but is entirely about doing. It is “commitment with shoe-leather.” It is doing what is best for the other person, even when it doesn’t feel good for you. Bear in mind that Jesus didn’t die for you because it felt good, or because it was fun: he did so because you needed it!

Let’s pray:

God help us to use our liberty only to serve and Honor you. Help us to see ourselves through your eyes, and to not serve ourselves, but rather, serve you by serving others. Make us the kind of men and women you have called us to be.