This sermon is number 3 in a series of 4
Life In The Spirit - Part 3
"Legal Fear vs Loving Freedom"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2010 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
Well, good evening to you all again, it's good to be back in the Iron Hall this evening for our third instalment in this study in the book of Galatians that we have entitled 'Life in the Spirit'. So I want you to turn with me, please, again to that little Epistle, and we are looking at chapter 5 tonight, and we're only going to read the first 18 verses. The first week we looked at two chapters, the second week two chapters, but this evening we have a more palatable amount of verses to consider and - God willing - next week we will finish off chapter 5 and into chapter 6 as well, as we conclude our studies.
So Galatians chapter 5 please, and if you want a title for this message it could be 'Legal Fear vs Loving Freedom'. Verse 1 of Galatians 5: "Stand fast therefore in the liberty", or the freedom, "wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage", or yoke of slavery. "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. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love. 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. And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased. I would they were even cut off which trouble you. For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty", freedom, "only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. 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. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law".
Now if you have been with us from our first study a fortnight ago, you will know that the context of this little book was the invasion of false teachers, who we have come to call 'Judaisers', who were insisting that the Gentiles who had come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ must be circumcised as Jews are in order to receive the promise made to Abraham. Of course, we saw that the essence of such teaching was 'Christ and...', Christ plus something else - the completed work of Christ was undermined, and there was added to the work of Christ legalistic requirements of Judaism. In chapters 1 and 2, you remember, we looked at quite a personal portion of Scripture, where Paul recounts how he himself was an arch-legalist and how, through his Damascus Road conversion, he was delivered by grace. It wasn't the works of the law that saved him, as it was not the works of the law that saved these Galatians when he first preached the gospel of grace through faith alone in Christ to them at the beginning.
Then last week, in chapters 3 and 4, we looked doctrinally at the great truths that are behind Paul's theme in this Epistle. Tonight we're looking at chapter 5, and we will look into chapter 6 as well next week. If chapters 1 and 2 are personal, and chapters 3 and 4 are doctrinal, chapters 5 and 6 are practical. You will recall, I hope, from our first week that we emphasised the point that to approach God on the basis of our works is to approach God on a performance-based level - that we find acceptance with God, or at least we attempt to, by our own efforts. We saw that what came out of that type of approach to Christianity was that, if that affects our relationship with God, it also affects our relationship with one another. If we must perform to gain acceptance with God, equally we fall into the trap of thinking that we will require others to perform in order to be acceptable to us - and that is certainly what the legalists did in Galatia. They required the Galatians to perform in order to gain acceptance with them - and their performance was specifically circumcision and the rights of Judaism. But the same will be the case for us: if we have accepted some idea of salvation, or for that matter sanctification, that is a performance-based achievement, we will require others to perform in order to be acceptable with us - and legalists certainly will require us to perform to gain acceptance with them.
We see this in chapter 2, remember Paul very descriptively says in verse 4 - and one translation put it like this, that: 'These false teachers infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ, and to make us slaves'. They wanted to enslave these Christians by their legalism. In other words, they had to perform to gain acceptance with them. Now in chapter 5, and particularly verse 1 which I think is the key verse of the whole of the Epistle, we see Paul's response to this teaching of the Judaisers. Verse 1: 'Stand fast therefore in the liberty', in the freedom, 'wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage', or slavery. Paul was having none of it. Basically what he's saying here is: 'Christ set us free to be free! We've been set free in order to experience our liberty and therefore, Galatians, do not submit again to any yoke of bondage, to any form of slavery'.
Now tonight and next week we're going to consider: what does this mean practically? This is what Paul basically does in chapter 5, but let me say, and you must note, that again Paul starts by establishing truth - that's so important. Verse 2: 'I say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing'. He is reminding them, as he has already done so, that to accept circumcision means that Christ will become no use to you, Christ will be no value to you at all! Why? Because Christ's ministry comes to us by grace through faith, and not by the works of the law. Then in verse 3 he reminds them again: 'For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law'. To accept circumcision obligates you to keep the whole law. You cannot cherry-pick with God's Old Testament law, it's all or nothing! Of course, we touched last week, I think it was, on perfectionism and how the law demands that. It demands us to fulfil it perfectly and absolutely, and because that is impossible for us - and that was never God's intention in the first place, giving us the law was to show us that we cannot be perfect - if we try to gain acceptance with God on a legal level, it will bring a curse, it always does and it always will!
Then in verse 4, Paul again brings truth before them: 'Christ is become of no effect unto you', that's some statement, 'whosoever of you are justified by the law', or seek to be justified by the law, 'ye are fallen from grace'. Verse 4 in another translation puts it: 'You are severed from Christ, you are alienated from Christ'. Living by law is effectively a kind of Christ-rejection - that's how serious it is! Paul uses this term: 'it is falling away from grace'. Now, don't fall into the misunderstanding of that statement to think that it's teaching some kind of 'saved and lost' doctrine - that one minute we can be saved by grace through faith, and the next minute we can not be saved, and if we were to die end in eternal torment. That is not what this really means, 'falling away from grace', what it means is, in the context: 'If you're going to follow law, you're effectively rejecting Christ' - and that is a departure from God's ordained means of salvation, and God's ordained means of sanctification for that matter. He shows clearly what God's ordained means is in verse 5: 'We through the Spirit', not through the law but through the Spirit, 'wait for the hope of righteousness by faith'. The conclusion of the matter is verse 6, 'For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love'.
He is laying the foundation of truth, and the reason why he starts this practical section with doctrine is because - and I want you to grasp this lesson, for it's fundamental to your Christian experience - what we believe affects the way we behave. What we believe affect the way we behave! We have seen already that because these Galatians had started to accept a legalistic understanding of the gospel, and a legalistic understanding of their sanctification, they were being robbed of their joy. Chapter 4 and verse 15, one translation puts it: 'What has happened to all your joy?'. In chapter 5 he proves it again to them in verses 7 through to 9: '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'. Paul says: 'What you're starting to believe is affecting the way you're behaving. You're no longer running well as you once did. People are hindering you, and people are persuading you of ideas that are not of God, but are of men'. Verse 8: 'This persuasion cometh not of him that called you', not from God, the inference is it's from men.
The legalists were robbing them of their joy. The legalists were robbing them of their victory, and effectively the legalists were robbing them of life. These legalists who had come to spy on their freedom in Christ and make them slaves, these legalists were spiritual thieves. Charles Swindoll calls them 'Grace Killers', and he's right. Paul says they were upsetting these Christians, they were heaping more and more guilt upon them, and shame on them, simply for not following their legalistic man-made rules. We see that in verse 10, if you look at it, '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', and verse 12, 'I would they were even cut off which trouble you'. Now I don't want to touch a very delicate matter here, but that could be translated: 'As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves' - that's literally what it is in the Greek. These who were advocating circumcision, Paul said, if they want to be so fulfilled with their legalistic requirements, he's so angry at their legalism, he says: 'Why don't they go the whole way and emasculate themselves if there is some kind of virtue in this kind of fleshly and carnal adherence to rules!'. Strong language, isn't it? We wouldn't even want to repeat it if it was not the apostle that first said it, but it gives us an idea of the serious nature of this whole issue of legalism. What Paul is really saying is: 'If man-made laws are keeping you Galatians from God's liberty, if man-made rules are keeping God's children from their freedom and holding them in bondage, I count that so serious, so serious as to pronounce a curse on those who are teaching such lies'.
Now, we're going to get practical tonight in three ways. First of all I'm going to teach you from Scripture how to recognise legalists and their legalism. Then secondly we want to exhort you to exercise your liberty in Christ and enjoy it - you're allowed to enjoy it! Then finally a word of warning, don't flaunt your liberty and beware of license. Let's deal with one at a time, first of all: how do you recognise legalists and their legalism? Well, taking generally the whole teaching of Scripture, there are a number of ways we can identify a legalist and legalistic teaching. I've only four, and one of them I'll deal with next week because it fits the context of our portion next week, but I'll give you three at least tonight, and I'll mention the other.
First of all: legalists elevate human tradition to a place of biblical authority. Let me repeat that: legalists elevate human tradition to a place of biblical authority. Warren Wiersbe put it like this: 'The problem really isn't tradition, because tradition is simply the content of what one generation hands to another. The problem is traditionalism, which is the worship of traditions to such an extent that few people dare to examine them or try to change them'. There are good traditions that we have passed down for us from one generation to another, there are even Biblical traditions that we have mentioned in the Bible - but the problem comes when there is traditionalism, and we worship the traditions to such an extent that we don't allow anyone to examine them, and we certainly will never try to change them. Now the problem comes when the legalist forces others to accept traditional viewpoints that have clearly outlived their usefulness - that's when tradition becomes a burden, when it doesn't do the job it was intended to do in the beginning. But the problem is accentuated, because often that tradition - whatever it might be - might be elevated to a scriptural or to a near-scriptural authority.
We need go no further to none other than our Lord Jesus in this regard, in Mark 7 He said to the Pharisees: 'Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. In vain do they worship me', here it is, 'teaching as doctrines the commandments of men' - teaching as doctrines the commandments of men! They elevate human tradition to a place of Biblical authority - but the greatest problem is not necessarily that. The greatest problem is when legalistic, man-made tradition actually prevents us being and doing what God commands. Jesus went on with those Pharisees to say, '...teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. You leave the commandment of God, and hold to the tradition of men'. Are you with me? Where man-made tradition is elevated to scriptural or near-scriptural authority, it actually negates and cancels out what we ought to be, and what we ought to do as God has explicitly commanded.
That leads us to another way you can recognise legalists and their legalism. Not only do they elevate human tradition to a place of Biblical authority, they obsess over the minutiae of these particular man-made doctrines while missing what really matters with God. They obsess over the minutia of certain teachings, while missing what really matters with God. I go to the Lord Jesus again, Matthew 23: 'Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected', here it is, 'the weightier matters of the law, justice, and mercy, and faithfulness: these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat, and swallowing a camel'. Obsessing over minutiae that they perceive to be in the law, while leaving undone the weightier matters of God's commands - and then there's this quite strange statement about straining out a gnat, and swallowing a camel. I wonder have you ever considered what that means? Well, in the Jewish kosher dietary laws Leviticus tells us that eating both camels and gnats was forbidden - not that you would want to eat a camel or a gnat! But the Pharisees obsessed about keeping these laws, and about anything unclean entering their mouths - so much so that, when they drank their wine with their meals, they would strain their wine through their teeth and then pick out the insects afterwards. I don't know if they had dentists in those days, but I imagine that the Pharisees were popular patients! Straining sweet wine through the teeth, in order to trap little insects to keep God's law - but Jesus comes to them, and He says: 'You work so hard, lest you make the tiniest blunder in breaking this Mosaic law, as if that was the most important thing, that you didn't swallow an insect! But when it comes to the weightier matters of the heart', Jesus says, 'You're effectively gulping down a camel!'. Have you got His point?
The Lord was meaning that you're filling your lives with the uncleanness of lovelessness, cruelty and pride; while you're obsessing about little laws that, in comparison with what God thinks really matters, pale into insignificance. David Johnson, in one of his writings, expresses the experience he had in a legalistic group - and he really puts modern clothes, I suppose, on what the Lord Jesus was talking about. He said: 'I grew up in a church, and we very carefully monitored external behaviours'. But here was the dilemma that David Johnson had, he said: 'I used to wonder why bowling was so evil, while being a dried up old sourpuss was OK'. Think about it - that's what the Lord Jesus was talking about, that's what legalists are like. They obsess over the minutiae of laws, while missing what really matters with God. Now next week, God willing, we'll tackle the third, where laws become more important than lives - that's a big one.
But fourthly I want you to see that also you can recognise legalists because they use fear, guilt and shame to control their victims - and I use that word 'victim' wisely. They use fear, guilt and shame to control. Now, I've only to give you the example from chapter 2 where bold, big Peter - remember the way he was in the Gospels? - but now he fears rejection from these Judaisers. Legalism uses peer pressure to force conformity, and because the focus is always on exterior conformity of behaviour rather than the interior transforming of the character, you've got to conform! To question is to rebel, and to rebel is to be rejected by the greater group - and no one wants to be rejected, so what do you do? You just give in and you comply. Manipulation of people through fear, guilt and shame is unacceptable - that's what the Bible teaches. I've got to give you the Bible tonight, let's go back to the Lord, Matthew 23 - He says of the Pharisees, the legalists of His day: 'They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders; but they themselves are not willing to move them with one finger'.
Do you know what a legalist does? Do you know what a legalistic system does? It creates false guilt and false shame, because of man-made rules and regulations - and Christians, even, are weighed down so much by them that all their joy, all their peace, all their victory goes. Now here's a question for you to consider - and, I tell you, I've considered it very painfully, because as a preacher I believe that I have weighed Christians down with unnecessary burdens at times - but here's a question to consider: why do we make Christians feel more and more guilty, when the New Testament message is that they are not guilty? In fact, more than that, it is the awareness of their guiltlessness in Christ that will be the very thing that will enable them to live victoriously over sin! It is the awareness that we are justified, and we are sanctified, not by ourselves but by a gracious act of God in Christ, and that by faith He puts us in Christ and immediately we're justified and set apart for Him - and that's the secret of drawing from that, living a victorious Christian life - and yet I have to confess to you, I have often made a better job of pointing out people's failures and faults rather than pointing them to the solution of how they can get over their hangups.
But that is not the greatest tragedy, the greatest tragedy is that legalists and legalism bring death and not life. Paul said it in 2 Corinthians, that we as New Testament ministers of the new covenant are not ministers of the letter, that is the law, but the Spirit - for the letter, the law, kills; but the Spirit makes alive. This is why the Lord Jesus said to the Pharisees: 'You hypocrites!' - and you know that 'hypocrite' comes from a Greek word that was used for actors who would walk around in part with a mask on them, playacting. That's what legalism produces: spiritual performers without reality. Legalism prevents us being real with ourselves, legalism prevents us being real with God. Legalism cannot bring life in the Spirit, and effectively legalism is so serious because it robs us of the blood-bought possessions that we have in the redemption of Jesus Christ.
But the most personally serious part of legalism is the emptiness of life that you experience when you're in that system. The emptiness of life was expressed several years ago by a pop song - some of you might remember this one, but it could equally well be applied to legalism. The chorus goes like this: 'Nothing ever happens, nothing happens at all. The needle returns to the start of the song, and we all sing along like before. We'll all be lonely tonight and lonely tomorrow' - that's legalism. Nothing ever happens, nothing happens at all. The needle returns to the start of the song, and we all sing along like before - and we'll all be lonely, that is an emptiness in our souls, tonight and tomorrow. The 19th-century philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once told a story about a village inhabited by ducks. On Sundays the ducks would waddle out their doors to church, down the street, and they would waddle into the sanctuary and squat in their favourite pews. Then the duck choir would waddle in, and the duck pastor would waddle up to the pulpit and open the Bible. He would read: 'Ducks, God has given you wings. With wings you can fly, with wings you can mount up and soar like eagles. There are no walls to confine you, no fence can hold you. You have wings, God has given you wings, and you can fly like birds!'. Excitedly all the ducks shouted: 'Amen!', and then they all waddled home.
Are you free? Are you living up to your confession in Christ? Are you living up, perhaps, to the claims that you make in song, in prayer, in testimony? I'm asking you: are you free? Well, if you're free then live like it! It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. So here is my second practical point: exercise your liberty and enjoy it! Now you might say: 'Well, if we don't live by laws, then how ought we to live?'. Well, the answer is very simple: we ought to live by the liberty of love through the power of the Holy Spirit. Now, I don't have time to fully expound this, and I'll go into as much detail as time permits - but if you want to read more about that, read, when you go home, Romans chapter 13 and verse 8 to the end of the chapter. You will read there the Ten Commandments mentioned, and then Paul says: 'But all these laws are summed up in this: Love your neighbour as yourself'. You see, this is what Paul effectively says in this chapter, if you look at verse 6: 'In Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love'. Verse 13, the beginning of the verse: 'For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty', you've been called to freedom, and then verse 14 'For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself'.
Now here, in a nutshell, is the message of the book of Romans, and certainly chapters 6, 7 and 8 of the book of Romans, and much of the message of the book of Galatians: before we were saved we were in the slave market of sin, we were never ever free before - but Christ has bled and died to redeem us, and now we are free, we are no longer under the master called 'sin'. Law has inflamed that sin in us, law has made us aware - it's like a magnifying glass that makes it bigger to our eyes so that we can face it and get it dealt with by Christ - but when we are justified freely by faith, we become free in Jesus! Free from the law of sin, the slave master of sin! Now some of you are struggling in a cycle of sin and defeat, that is a deception of Satan if you're a believer - because the power line of sin has been severed at Calvary, and sin shall no longer have dominion over you. You're not a slave, you're free!
You see, Romans 6, 7 and 8 teaches us that the sin nature has been crucified with Christ, and it has no power. But the wonder of the liberty that is in the Spirit is: God has now written His laws upon our hearts, and so we're not living in an external requirement system, but internally we are now walking by the Spirit. It is in walking by the Spirit, Galatians says, that we will not fulfil the lust of the flesh. So the key is: we live not by law, but by love in the Spirit, and that is the new commandment. Jesus said to His own: 'A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another'. You see, basically, the liberty that we enjoy in Christ can be summed up in this statement: it is to love God and to love your neighbour, and that's it. Love to God and love to others. Saint Augustine summarised it like this, and it's a startling statement that some of you may have problems with - and I can understand why - but he simply concluded the matter by saying: 'Love God and do what you like'. Oh? Yes, love God and do what you like. His point was: what you like will be what God likes if you love Him. That's why Jesus said: 'If you love me, keep my commands' - but what I want you to understand is that the basis for that is not law, it is love!
Let me illustrate it to you like this: you're 17 years of age, or you could be 77 years of age, and you've just passed your driving test. This only applies to the 17-year-olds: you come in and you declare, 'Daddy, I've passed my test'. Daddy pats you on the back, and he reaches into his pocket, and he hands you the keys of his Mercedes-Benz - or maybe his Clio! He says: 'Away you go, the car is yours, you have it for two hours on your own'. Maybe you can remember that? Now what do you do? Well, I think I'm speaking for most of us, after an hour you come back shaking like a leaf, sweat pouring off you. You didn't take the two hours, you could have driven over the limits, you could have went in reverse down the M1 for all your father knew, but you probably wouldn't have done it - why? Because, hopefully, you have a relationship with your father, and you love him. That's it! That's the liberty that we are meant to enjoy in the Lord Jesus Christ!
Now, let me deal with some concerns that you might have - 'David, are you saying that there are no boundaries?'. No, I'm not saying that. I have boundaries, and you should have boundaries too - but what I am saying, and what Paul is saying, and what the whole New Testament teaches is: that you shouldn't make laws out of your boundaries, and you certainly shouldn't make your boundaries laws for others! Now, if your reaction to that is: 'Well that's not enough, people will then go and do what they want, and everybody will run out of control' - well, that may show several things. It might show that you're not trusting the Holy Spirit to do His job, for its His job, it's not your job - it's the Holy Spirit's job, and if He can do his job, you don't need to worry about it, that's for sure. It might also show you that you are insecure concerning the divine power of the Gospel - because I praise God that the New Testament teaches not only a gospel that wipes the slate clean of our past misdemeanours and sins, but the gospel that delivers us from the power of sin presently. It's a full gospel, it's a gospel of victory! But perhaps a more sobering thing that might show you, if you say 'Well, that's not enough, people will do what they want', it might actually show you that you are a legalist.
Now, you'll come back at me and you'll say: 'Well, are there no boundaries in Scripture? Is that what you're going to say?'. No, it's not! There are many boundaries in Scripture, and let me say categorically that there are what we call the fundamental doctrines of Scripture, and those are nonnegotiables regarding the person of the Godhead, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Gospel by grace through faith, etc. There are the moral laws enshrined in the Ten Commandments, generally speaking, and those are nonnegotiable. We're not talking about those things - and if you look at verses 19 through to verse 21, you will see many sins that Paul mentions, and at the end of his list of them he says: 'I want you to know that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God'. So we're not talking about morality here, and we're certainly not talking about fundamental doctrine. Even over and above that, there are New Testament principles and New Testament guidelines that we must discern and weigh up scripturally as to what they teach - but here's where the problem of legalism comes: when we decide - we decide - to protect people, lest they cross one of these boundaries, one of these principles of the New Testament. So, lest they go too far, we build our own fences around those principles in order to protect those dear people from sinning. That's where the problem starts, that's what the Pharisees did with the Torah - they accepted all the laws of God, and that was OK, but what they did was, lest anyone came near transgressing the law, they made up a whole lot of rules of their own just to keep people safe. Now it was sincere, and it was well-meaning and motivated - but here's what happens, and it always happens with legalism: it doesn't take time to pass very long before the fences become the laws, the man-made fences become the laws and, tragically, the original Biblical guideline is lost.
Now, I know what some of you are saying, 'Be specific! Be specific!'. Well, the problem about being specific is that you start legislating, and that's exactly what Paul says we shouldn't be doing. But to help you, let me be specific in something that I don't think will be controversial. In 2 Corinthians 6:14 we read: 'Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what partnership', what fellowship, 'has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?'. Now, the original context of that verse was teaching that we as Christian believers in the New Testament should have nothing to do with pagan ritualism. We should not be eating at the table of Baal, or some false god, during the week at pagan festivals, and then on the Lord's Day eating at the Lord's Table - it's not on. Now, we have applied that to Christian marriage, and I think it can be, but what we've often done is we've gone further and we've applied it to say that: 'Well, if you get saved, you need to be very careful of your non-Christian friends. You need to be careful you're not unequally yoked together with unbelievers'. Then the next step that happens is, the Fellowship you belong to, after you've ditched all your unsaved friends, has an evangelistic weekend - and you're scratching your head and looking around the place for some unsaved friend that you dumped many years ago at your conversion, and you don't have them anymore!
Are you with me? Do you understand how man-made fences - and I know you have to choose your friends wisely - but listen, if we have no unsaved friends who are we going to bring to Jesus? Do you think knocking at a door, and a cold-shoulder response is going to do it? It's not going to do it, it might do it once in a while - but the Lord was criticised and castigated, and He was told that He was demonised, why? Because He was a friend of publicans and sinners - a friend now!
That's just one, but let me make another point out of it: we need to learn, as mature believers, to differentiate between principles, clearly laid down, Biblical, New Testament principles, and preferences and prejudices. Let me explain that: a preference is something that is to your taste, a prejudice is a negative feeling or an opinion that you've come to based on ignorance - you don't know all the facts, but you've come to your conclusion. Now let me give - and this is a controversial one, but I don't know why it is - let me give you an example: lifting up your hands in praise and prayer to God. Now, don't fall off your seat! You may not be extrovert in your worship, you may not, and that's OK - that's your preference - but it is a prejudice if you prohibit it for another person. Here's the reason why: there are few more biblical practices, if you read your Bible, than lifting up your hands in praise or in prayer. Now, if you don't feel comfortable, don't do it - but you're not allowed to look down on someone who does do it, you're not allowed! You're certainly not allowed to prevent people doing it - but do you know where the problem comes? When we not only do that, but we start changing hymns and choruses - and I've seen this done - where the author wrote: 'I lift up my hands to the King of Kings', and we are uncomfortable with that, and we change it to 'I lift up my heart to the King of Kings'. Because of our legalistic taste, or distaste, we change it! Then - and this is what is even more worse - you maybe see somebody doing it, and you go to them and you say: 'We don't do that about here'. I'm telling you, that's wrong, that's wrong.
Well, there cannot be true liberty where legalists impose their preferences and their prejudices. Now, we all have to have our principles, and we all have to arrive at our Biblical principles according to what the word of God says - but we are legalistic if we impose our preferences and our prejudices on others. Max Lucado says: 'Legalism makes my opinion your burden, it makes my opinion your boundary, it makes my opinion your obligation'. Now, I'm with Luther, my conscience is captive to the word of God - but make sure you never make another man or woman's conscience captive to your conscience, for that's wrong! Now, I know I'll not get the 'Preacher of the Year Award' for what I'm saying, but there are many non-essential and indifferent matters that are preferences and prejudices that are dividing the body of Christ tonight, and they ought not. You can have your tastes, and you can have your views, and you can have them in an Assembly context, and you're allowed that - but be careful that we are not betraying a distrust of the Holy Spirit to guide people. When we distrust Him, do you know what we have to do? We have to start making all these rules for every eventuality. I perhaps know what some of you are thinking, 'David, you're being really petty!' - am I being petty? Paul says: 'No! The legalists are being petty, and dangerously so!'.
Charles Swindoll in his book, 'The Great Awakening', that I recommended to you, tells this story: 'I was conversing with a man I greatly admire. He is a Christian leader in a position that carries with it heavy and extensive responsibility. He said he was grieved on behalf of a missionary family he and his wife had known for years. The legalism they had encountered again and again on the mission field from fellow missionaries was so petty, so unbelievably small-minded, that they had returned to the States and no longer planned to remain missionaries. He said it was over a jar of peanut butter' - that's right, a jar of peanut butter. Swindoll said: 'I thought he was joking, to which he responded, 'No, it's no joke at all'' - legalism never is.
Swindoll says: 'I could hardly believe the story'. It went like this: 'The particular place they were sent to serve the Lord did not have access to peanut butter. This particular family happened to enjoy peanut butter a great deal. Rather creatively, they made arrangements with some of their friends in the States to send them peanut butter every now and then so they could enjoy it with their meals. The problem is they didn't know until they started receiving their supply of peanut butter that the other missionaries considered it a mark of spirituality that you not have peanut butter with your meals'. Swindoll says: 'I suppose the line went something like this: 'We believe since we can't get peanut butter here, we should give it up for the cause of Christ', or some such nonsense. A basis of spirituality was 'bearing the cross' of living without peanut butter. The young family didn't buy that line. Their family kept getting regular shipments of peanut butter. They didn't flaunt it, they just enjoyed it in the privacy of their own home. Pressure began to intensify. You would expect adult missionaries to be big enough', Swindoll says, 'to let others eat what they pleased, right? Wrong. The legalism was so petty, the pressure got so intense and the exclusive treatment so unfair, it finished them off spiritually' - not as missionaries, spiritually. 'They had finally had enough. Unable to continue against the mounting pressure, they packed it in and were soon homeward bound, disillusioned and probably a bit cynical'. Swindoll concludes: 'What we have here is a classic modern-day example of a group of squint-eyed legalists spying out and attacking another's liberty. Not even missionaries are exempted'.
Is it petty? Well, your preferences and your prejudices, if they're not principled according to the New Testament, they may well be petty - but make sure they're not dangerous. I'll tell you, there are people who have been driven into the world and away from Christ for worse and for less than peanut butter.
We've seen how we ought to recognise legalists and their legalism, and exercise our liberty and enjoy it - but finally and very quickly, there is a warning: don't flaunt your liberty, and beware of license. Now, are there principles that regulate our liberty? Yes, there are. You're not allowed to flaunt your liberty if it will be the downfall of a weak brother or sister around you. Romans 14 says: 'Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother'. There is the whole law of the weaker brother in the New Testament which prohibits us flaunting our liberty that might cause another to fall. Romans 14:19 also teaches that we're not to flaunt our liberty if it disturbs the unity of the Church, that's another important one. A third boundary is that we are not to flaunt our liberty if it violates our own conscience - what I mean by that is: if you don't feel it's right to do a thing, don't do it; for that which is not of faith is sin. So you heed your own conscience! The problem comes when we want others to live by our conscience, if we don't have Scripture for it.
But certainly what Paul says very strongly in chapter 5 here of Galatians verse 13 on, is that we are not to use our liberty as a pretext to sin. Verse 13: 'Brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. 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'. We've talked about 'Grace Killers', but there are also, the New Testament teaches, 'Grace Abusers' about. In one place it speaks of them as 'turning the grace of God into lasciviousness', lawlessness. Now, we're not advocating that, we're not allowed to flaunt our liberty, and we're certainly to beware of license - but listen: if you know anybody who is a grace abuser, or listening to these messages you're tempted to be a grace abuser, you do not understand the grace of God! You don't understand it!
Paul talks about it in Romans 6: 'What shall we say then?', certain people infer to him, 'Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?'. Are we to sin and just live on in sin, so that the grace might be heaped on it? Paul's answer to that is: 'How can we, who have died to sin, still live in it?'. What Paul is simply saying is - and this is the message of the Gospel - through the cross we have been made free by the redemption of Christ from the master of the sin nature in our life, and from the taskmaster of the law which inflames sin; and Christ, through His precious blood, has made us free not to sin by the power of the Spirit, but He certainly has not made us free to indulge in sin!
Let me say something to you that I have learned. Even when we give the warning that we shouldn't flaunt our liberty, and we should beware of license, there are those - like myself this evening in the series - who preach grace, and they will always be accused of encouraging lawlessness, always. Paul was: 'Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?'. I have to say to you that that is a risk, that is a risk that we have to take when preaching the grace of God. The risk is: people will misunderstand us, and people will use it as a pretext to continue in sin. But what we must never do is, because of a fear of that, change the wonderful free grace of God into legalism - because Paul says that is a greater sin than any sin you might fall into! Do you believe that? Do you believe that?
I ask you: are you living by legal fear or loving freedom? Are you living by legal fear or loving freedom? In the movie 'The Wizard Of Oz', Dorothy wanted to get home - maybe that's you! - the Lion needed courage, and the Tin Man needed a heart, and the Scarecrow needed a brain. I can't help thinking it's like some groups of Christians, but they all go off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz. When they finally meet the Wizard, they find him to be a huge head - if you've seen the film - with a loud intimidating voice, and a hostile demeanour. All the fire and smoke surrounding him helps to create the exact image that he wants. In order to gain his blessing, the four must perform a service for him. Now that is a typical religious transaction when dealing with a Pharisee: you have to perform to gain a blessing. They actually succeed in accomplishing what was effectively a suicidal requirement of killing the Wicked Witch of the West, and bringing back her broom. The four adventurers actually then come to the Wizard, and have the audacity to hold the Wizard to account, and ask him to do what he said he would do - he would bless them if they fulfilled his requirements.
Now, where am I going with this? Well, in their book 'The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse', David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen pick up the story here and make a very important point regarding legalism. Listen carefully, they say: 'With thunderous roar, the Wizard demands to know how these four dare to challenge him. It's at this moment that Dorothy's dog runs over to a small room and pulls back a curtain, and what is revealed to us is a simple, flesh-and-blood man who has long been hiding behind the mask of power'. There he is, the film depicts him, 'He is operating behind a curtain pulling levers, making smoke, fire, and noise. The result is to impress, but it's only a facade'. Even when he's exposed he roars out: 'Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!'. They said that: 'The Wizard is in fact a power abuser' - a legalist. Like legalists and legalistic systems, he controls and punishes people for noticing that he's only a man.
That is like a law, and it is like those who live by law - but listen, believer, 'There is therefore now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus, who live according to' - what? The law of the Spirit, 'the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, which has set us free from the law death'. Are you free? Are you free? Live like it, and enjoy it!
Abba, Father, we thank You that the Lord Jesus, Your only begotten Son, pronounced that whom the Son sets free, they shall be free indeed. Now Lord, I pray that by the power of grace, through faith, in the Spirit, that people who are shackled and enslaved by their own rules, or by the rules and restrictions of others, Lord, that they will get into the mighty emancipation of the liberty of the Spirit. We know that that doesn't mean that we walk and trod roughshod over the principles of holiness and the command of Scripture, but it does mean that we actually realise them - no longer falling short but, Father, allowing Christ to live in us! Lord, that's what we need: Christ in us, the hope of glory. We will still remain children if we live according to any law. Oh Lord, impart and make the reality evident in people's lives tonight of the life in the Spirit, to the glory of the One who alone is worthy, the Lord Jesus Christ who bought it with His precious blood - not silver or gold, not the vain tradition of our fathers, but with His precious blood. Glory to His name, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered in the Iron Hall Evangelical Church, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the third recording in his 'Life In The Spirit' series, entitled "Legal Fear vs Loving Freedom" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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