2 Timothy 4:4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. (NKJV)
(Previous devotionals can be found at www.seriousfaith.com)
We live in a time of competition for church members; a time where success is measured primarily by numbers and income. There is no end of teachers, writers or churches who will present what feels good and tickles the ear. There is no shortage of churches that provide programs, support groups and myriads of resources that will “meet your need”.
This wouldn’t be so alarming were it not for the fact that many uncomfortable or unpopular issues are avoided because they aren’t “good marketing” and don’t put behinds into pews. The Bible has many unpleasant topics. I call them “distasteful doctrines”. These are being sorely neglected today and that’s a shame because they are a vital part of Christianity. Over the next few days we will take a look at Christian doctrines that you may have never studied, rarely studied or only lightly studied unless you are in a good, uncompromising Bible-teaching assembly – or you have studied them personally.
Jesus had much more to say about hell than heaven. Hell is a grim reality that is virtually ignored by Christians today as being too harsh, unloving or uncomfortable. We don’t want to scare people away with talk of hell, so we simply ignore it, or give it a quick passing mention before moving on to more friendly subjects. That’s a shame because our friendly intentions won’t count for much to those who find themselves in eternal torment. We’ll take a look at the facts about hell straight from the Bible.
It has been said by a very prominent “Christian” preacher that teaching about sin is one of the worst things we can do because it destroys self esteem. Quick, somebody tell Jesus and Paul. Regardless of whether we want to hear it or not, the Bible is very clear about the sinfulness of man. As Christians, we typically believe in the “idea” or doctrine of sin as it applies to humanity as a whole, but very rarely do we get honest about sin when it comes to ME. We’ll take a look from Scripture at the real nature of sin in our lives.
You would think that Christian liberty would be a very pleasant doctrine, but to teach it threatens our stranglehold on “truth” as we define it. I’m not talking about the core essentials of salvation, but all the other peripheral issues that have divided Christians into almost 3000 different “flavors”. We don’t hear much about Christian liberty because we’re afraid people might actually take hold of it and not do things OUR way. Christ died to bring us liberty, and we constantly want to rob other sincere Christians of it simply because they disagree with us on some issue or doctrine. We’ll take a look at liberty, where it applies, where it doesn’t apply and what it means to the Christian life.
Suffering is seen as something today that either is caused by a lack of faith, or is something to avoid and alleviate immediately as all costs. Does God have a use for suffering? Does He allow it? How are Christian supposed to think about suffering? We’ll examine the Bible to see if God agrees with today’s opinion about suffering..
- Christian Discipline
In this age of political correctness, competition for church members and fear of lawsuits, Church discipline has all but disappeared. That’s a shame because a leading factor in the ineffectiveness of the Church today is its hesitation to apply Church discipline. We’ll look at Scripture to find out what it is, how it works and what it accomplishes.
- Jealousy, Wrath & Judgment
We hear much about God’s love, mercy and forgiveness – and rightly so. But how much is our concept of those things distorted when we hear little about God’s jealousy, wrath and Judgment? The lack of teaching on these subjects certainly contributes to the lukewarmness of the average Christian. “Yeah, but you’re not supposed to SCARE people about God!” Oh, really? Who says? There are lots of scary and fearful things about God that we would do well to know and understand. We’ll take a look at the “unpleasant” side of God and how it affects our daily walk with Him.
- Intolerance & Exclusivity
There is only ONE way to avoid being eternally damned in hell, and spend an eternity with God in Heaven. There couldn’t be a more unpopular message today than that. All the political correctness, ecumenism, tolerance, diversity and inclusivism in the world doesn’t change that fact. We’ll look at the Bible to see how it teaches very plainly this “one way”.
On the surface, Christianity liberty appears to be a strange companion in our list of distasteful doctrines. The other doctrines in the list are distasteful to the world and lukewarm Christianity. Unfortunately, “Christian liberty” seems to be a distasteful doctrine within the Church itself. Why? In a nutshell, because we are afraid someone will actually embrace it.
The lack of allowing, and accepting, Christian liberty is a major cause for great amounts of contention, division, unrest and power struggles in churches, and between churches. Virtually every issue has become an issue that determines at a minimum, whether or not fellowship occurs, and to the extreme, whether or not salvation denied. Consider these common issues that divide modern Christians, many of which are grounds to be called a heretic, false teacher, apostate, secular or compromising:
- The name on the church building
- Whether or not you have a church building
- What is in your church building (kitchen, gym, even Sunday School classrooms)
- Frequency of communion
- Logistics of communion (broken bread, or whole bread you break a piece off of; one cup or many cups)
- Which Bible version you use
- What clothes you wear, hair styles, tattoos, piercing
- Do you home school or public shool your kids
- What type of music do you worship with
- What type of instruments are used
- Are instruments used at all
- Are you a member of a particular group
- Are you on a church membership roll
- Are you Calvinist; are you an Arminian; do you have no clue about either
- What do you believe about the end times
I’m not saying there is anything wrong with having, and following, a conviction about these issues – but I can sorely imagine that the Lord is pleased over the fact that fellowship, and even salvation, is being withheld between Christians who disagree on such NON-CROSS-CENTRIC issues. Which brings me to an illustration that I often teach to demonstrate where liberty is appropriate in our beliefs.
Picture in your mind, the cross. Now draw a circle around the cross. Draw another circle around that circle allowing a little room between them. Keep drawing circles around your circles working your way out, and away from the center. You should have the image of what looks like a target, with a cross in the “bulls-eye”. Keep this image in your mind.
The closer an issue is to the cross,
the more dogmatic we must be about it.
The farther away from the cross an issue falls,
the more generous we must be in granting Christian liberty.
Think of the resurrection. If you were to plot a point on your “target” image, the resurrection falls directly on the bullseye (cross). So would issues such as the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, the atonement, etc. Is there any room for compromise about the resurrection? Biblically, no. Does your belief in the resurrection effect whether or not you will be saved? Yes. So it is an essential where “liberty” does not apply. There is only ONE way to believe, Biblically, about the resurrection. It happened. No room for wiggle.
What about communion, baptism or sancitification (living a holy life)? Those topics fall pretty close to the cross, but are secondary developments to Christ’s birth, death and resurrection. They are very closely related to and associated with salvation, but they are one step removed from the events that cause them to be important. They are not “bullseye” issues like the resurrection or atonement but they are very close to the cross. We have a little wiggle room in the interpretation of timing, frequency and other particulars – for the most part these topics are within close proximity of the Cross and we must strive to be somewhat dogmatic about them, but allowing liberty where Scripture allows it.
What about music, schooling, clothes (which type, not whether they are modest) and issues of that nature? They are much farther out on our circles away from the cross. These things do not determine our salvation, and so generous liberty should be granted among Christians. This is the “distasteful” part of the doctrine of liberty.
To grant liberty, is to lose control over others. To grant liberty is to trust that God is capable of determining who is saved and who isn’t – and we don’t have to. To grant liberty means to give up the power of being able to determine who is a “good Christian” and who isn’t. To grant Christian liberty means we would have spend more time sharing the Gospel and less time proclaiming why we are right and everyone else is wrong.
Liberty is scary. It means that everyone doesn’t
have to believe exactly what I believe,
and serve God exactly the way I serve Him.
Let me emphasize that I am not talking about being wishy-washy. Let each person be CONVINCED and CONVICTED in their own mind about what God would have them to do, studying God’s Word with a pure heart and clear conscience. When it comes to the core essentials of salvation, those issues that are “cross-centric”, we should be dogmatic and unwavering – unashamedly teaching and binding them on all who proclaim Christianity. However, when it comes to those things that do not determine one’s salvation, we should give great latitude and generous liberty while sharing the truth in love – teaching, exhorting and persuading others about our convictions…. BUT NOT DENYING THEM SALVATION OR FELLOWSHIP BECAUSE THEY DISAGREE.
How do you know if something is “cross-centric” – an esential-to-salvation doctrine? Well, think about it. When it gets down to where the rubber meets the road, what is the only thing that really matters? Answer: are you saved or not saved? Is God going to welcome you into heaven or cast you into hell? That’s the only real thing that matters because it determines your eternal destiny.
So when I think of what is essential, and what is not, I imagine myself being presented to God upon my death, and hearing Him ask, “Why should I welcome you into heaven and not cast you into hell?” The only ESSENTIALS now, are what will be the essentials then. Help me choose the essentials:
“God, you should welcome me into heaven because…”
- We only had a piano in our church and not drums
- We didn’t have any instruments in our church
- Our women didn’t wear pants
- We had Communion every single Sunday
- We took Communion from one cup instead of those little plastic ones
- We didn’t have a kitchen or gym in our church
- We homeschooled all our kids
- We didn’t have one guy with long hair, earrings or a tattoo
- We had a “Biblical” name on our church building
- We used only the KJV1611 Bible version
- We were Calvinists
- We were Arminians
- We belonged to the one true church with the right name and everything all figured out
- I am a sinner and I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who bled, died and rose again to pay the penalty that is justly due to me
- I repented of my sins, turned in faith and obedience to You, O God, and I put my full trust and hope in salvation in Christ alone
- The righteousness of Christ has been imparted to me because my sin was laid on Him
- Jesus, who is sitting at your right hand, has already paid my debt in full and purchased my salvation and makes intercession for me
Which one(s) of those would you stake your eternity on?
If an issue does not effect salvation, why are we so quick to bind it on others, even to the point of denying them fellowship and questioning their salvation? I can only speculate but surely it has its roots in control, power, pride, insecurity, ignorance, etc. We are comfortable with our own beliefs if we make sure everyone around us validates them by believing the exact same way.
Christian liberty is a “distasteful doctrine” among Christians because we are afraid that someone might actually USE their liberty. That’s a shame because the generous application of liberty would free us to go out and reach more of the lost world if so much of our time wasn’t tied up in legalistic bickering over non-salvific issues. Other than that, I don’t really have an opinion.
In closing, what is Christian liberty? It’s freedom from the “law”, both the written laws of the Old Covenant, and the religious regulations instituted by men. It’s freedom from the legalistic requirements and constraints that men decide are “proper religion”. It’s the freedom to enjoy a personal relationship with God and worship Him in spirit and truth in the way that the Spirit leads you. It’s the freedom (that Christ secured for us) to rest in the fact that people can have different opinions and convictions and it is not a commentary or rebuke against us. Here are some Scriptures for you to study:
- Christian liberty is:
- Rom 7.6; 8.2; Gal 4.3; Col 2.20; freedom from the law
- Gal 3.13; freedom from the curse
- Heb 2.15; freedom from the fear of death
- Rom 6: 7,18; freedom from sin
- 1Cor 9.19; freedom from the bondage of man
- What are the constraints and guidelines of Christian liberty?
As with any liberty, Christian liberty is a two-sided coin. On the one side are the blessings and freedom of liberty. On the other side are the responsibilities of freedom. Our liberty is never to be an excuse for evil. Our freedom should never allow us to bully or ignore a weaker Christian. Our freedom should never be a source of contention or pride. Our freedom should never be flaunted.
Properly taught, and generously applied, Christian liberty is one of the most blessed benefits of salvation. It’s a shame we’re scared to grant it, or teach it, for fear that someone might actually use it.
Conviction and courage in the essentials; liberty and freedom in all else.
Lord, Help us to embrace the liberty that Jesus purchased on the Cross. Help us to allow others to enjoy their freedom. Help us to understand the responsibility that comes with liberty. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Contemplation: What has been your perception of Christian liberty up to this point? Can liberty be abused? Should liberty be withheld, or cautiously guarded for fear of it being abuse? Does liberty mean “wishy-washy”? Does liberty mean liberal?
Application: You would think that Christian liberty would be a very pleasant doctrine, but to teach it threatens our stranglehold on “truth” as we define it. I’m not talking about the core essentials of salvation, but all the other peripheral issues that have divided Christians into almost 3000 different “flavors”. We don’t hear much about Christian liberty because we’re afraid people might actually take hold of it and not do things OUR way. Christ died to bring us liberty, and we constantly want to rob other sincere Christians of it simply because they disagree with us. We’ll take a look at liberty, where it applies, where it doesn’t apply and what it means to the Christian life. Properly taught, and generously applied, Christian liberty is one of the most blessed benefits of salvation.
James 1:22 – But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (NKJV)
- What is the most obvious Bible truth you have learned today?
- What change in your life needs to be made concerning this truth?
- What specific thing will you do today to begin that change?