Free In Christ

Finding Freedom in the Churches of Christ

Free In Christ: The Exercise Of Christian Liberty

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In this chapter of Cecil Hook’s “Free In Christ”, Cecil tackles six things that are very important in understanding our freedom in Christ.  Having already established that freedom in the preceding chapters, it is now time to deal with some things that would logically come up as we try to put that freedom into practice.

The first thing is:  Can amoral things and actions be sinful?  This comes up because with freedom we must decide which things are good for us and which are bad.  Under Law, these things were defined for us but now we must use what we know about God to make moral decisions for ourselves.

Cecil explains it like this:

“Our purity or defilement is not determined by what we see, hear, taste, our touch, but by our motive for seeing, hearing, tasting, and touching. Jesus explained that man is defiled by his thoughts rather than by what he eats (Matt. 15:1-20). Defilement is not in certain actions and things, but in improper use of and attitude toward those actions and things. Actions and things, generally speaking, are amoral. They have no inherent moral value. Is not this the point that Paul would impress upon us? “I know, and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for any one who thinks it unclean.…for the kingdom of God does not mean food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:14-17). Our purity of thought or defilement of purpose determines whether a thing is moral or immoral. Sin is not in things, but in people — in the heart. This is what Paul expressed when he wrote, “To the pure all things are pure, but to the corrupt and unbelieving nothing is pure; their very minds and consciences are corrupted” (Titus 1:15).

This is absolutely correct.  Things themselves are not sinful, it is people that are sinful.  What Cecil is getting at here is that an action can be right for one person and wrong for another based on their motive. Cecil gives many examples like a person using narcotics for medical purposes vs. the person using them for recreational purposes or a person becoming a preacher to boost their own ego vs. someone preaching to help others.  In both cases, the action is the same but only one person is sinful in each case.  We need to realize that it isn’t the action or thing that makes something sinful, it is the heart.

Next, Cecil gives some things limiting liberty in amoral things.  I will just post what Cecil wrote on this because it is only one paragraph.

“When a new kind of case is tried in the courts, it becomes a test case. The decision rendered toward it is used to judge all other cases which involve a like principle. There are two test cases in the Scriptures regarding Christian liberty. These both involve amoral things — the eating of food and circumcision. The verdict in regard to the eating of meats demands (1) that a Christian surrender his liberties if they put a fellow disciple in jeopardy, and (2) that his liberty be exercised with self-control. In regard to circumcision, the verdict forbids us to bind our scruples on others so as to limit their Christian liberty. These verdicts can be applied to everything which is of like principle today. (Read 1 Cor. 6, 8, 10; Rom. 14; all of Galatians; Acts 15).

Two great rules for governing our own liberty.  1.  Don’t practice your liberty in a way that will hurt someone else. 2. We are not allowed to limit another Christian’s liberty.  These are very important.

The next thing:  Our liberty is limited by self-control.  Cecil explains it like this:

“Man must never be brought under the control of amoral things. “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be enslaved by anything. ‘Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food’ and God will destroy both one and the other” (1 Cor. 6:12-13). Paul is saying, “God has created the body with its appetites, cravings, and desires, and at the same time God created good things to satisfy the desires; let the desires be fulfilled in moderation and self-control, not slavishly being ruled by the desires.” Both the appetite and the meat to satisfy are amoral. They have no special significance before God. “But food will not commend us to God; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse; nor, if we eat, are we the better” (1 Cor. 8:8). Applying this principle to all instincts, desires, drives, or cravings given by God, we see that none are evil within themselves.

Realizing that our hearts make something good or bad takes the legalism out of the faith.  If our hearts are right then so are our actions.  If our hearts are wrong, so are our actions.  It is as simple as that.

The next thing:  Our liberty is limited by charitable regard for others.  Back to Cecil:

“Love would constrain a disciple to surrender his liberty in amoral things if they prove to be destructive to a brother. “All things are lawful for me; but not all things are helpful” (1 Cor 6:12; 10:23). “Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for any one to make others fall by what he eats; it is right not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother stumble” (Rom. 14:20-21). Urging that we be above blame in exercising our liberties, Paul exhorts, “So do not let what is good to you be spoken of as evil” (Rom. 14:16). “Happy is he who has no reason to judge himself for what he approves” (Rom. 14:22). Freedom must not destroy others.

We are free to practice our freedom as long as it doesn’t hurt another Christian.  This should be the way that we want it because we should love our brethren more than our freedom.  If we love freedom more than we have truly missed the point of Christianity.

The next thing: liberty of others must be respected

We need to leave other Christians alone and not bother them about doing what they think is right.  Although I do not believe the church of Christ view of instrumental music, I don’t go into the building on Sunday morning with my guitar and interrupt the service.  It would be I who would be of wrong heart.  The people are worshiping with their hearts and what they are doing is appropriate as long as their hearts are appropriate.  I also don’t agree with other congregational (outside the church of Christ) practices but I do not try to stop them either.  These practices are right as long as the heart behind them is right.  Even if the practice came from an impure place, it may have become pure through new usage.  Even if the idea is doctrinally incorrect, the heart can make the practice right even if it was once wrong.  It is only matters of the heart that I would truly concern myself with when it comes to trying to change a person’s practice (I would however suggest different practices if I thought they would benefit a fellow Christian but would not stop a practice because it wasn’t approved under a supposed pattern)

The last thing:  evil displayed with the good.  I’ll let Cecil explain this one

“Must a thing be shunned because evil is displayed with the good? Again, purity of purpose determines the case. Only the good will be sought by the pure in heart. But evil is everywhere. In one form or another it is presented in the newspaper, on the radio, on television, in movies, in fiction, in history, in the Bible, in the school, in places of business, on the job, at the game, in the church, and in the home. In all of these things our purpose is to accept the good while holding misgivings toward the evils incidental to the good. The desirable rose has thorns incidental to it. Although the thorns are detested, we do not let them prohibit enjoyment of the rose. In enjoying the rose, we learn to avoid the prick of the thorn. So the presence of that which is undesirable does not eliminate our liberty to enjoy that which is good.


Written by freeinchrist

April 1, 2010 at 8:00 am

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