Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Christian and His Liberty: Christian Liberty and Conscience

This next section deals with a Christian's liberty and how it pertains to conscience and the higher calling of charity. Two areas are dealt with specifically- food and holy days. The world in which Paul lived was immersed in idol worship. Along with such worship went the practice of offering meat to idols. This meat could either be eaten in honor to the idol (I Corinthians 8:10, 10:28), or it could be sold in the meat market after having been offered (I Corinthians 10:25). The eating of meats offered to idols was a practice in which all unsaved Gentiles would have had a part. It was their unregenerate way of life; therefore, after salvation, many of these Gentile believers would still have been very sensitive to the issue. Many of them would have felt the sting of a guilty conscience when they tasted the meat which brought back such painful memories of idol worship. This was the thought process of Paul when he wrote, “As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) but to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him. Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled (I Corinthians 8:4-7).”

On the other hand, the converted Jew, having been brought up with the strict nature of Judaism, would be more likely to struggle with no longer having to observe certain days in the physical sense. The holy days of the Old Testament such as the Sabbath, the Passover, and the feast days are fulfilled in spirit as the believer serves Christ. In the Church Age, a Christian is not required to physically observe these things since God is dealing with men in a different way. The principles which are embedded in these days and feasts are fulfilled in Christ Jesus. Their significance is fulfilled in spirit as the believer serves Christ in humility. This is what Paul meant when he wrote, “Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth (I Corinthians 5:8).” However, having been so strictly brought up in the routines and rituals of Judaism, coupled with the fact that so much of these things were still observed, it would have been very difficult for many converted Jews to leave off the actual practice of these days for fear that they would be in disobedience to the law of Moses. Understanding the background of these things will aid in properly interpreting the many lessons of this passage. As the section draws to a close, it will be very evident to the humble-minded that Christian liberty is to be used, not for selfish reasons, but for the edification of others, “For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God (I Peter 2:15-16).”

In order to prevent the mishandling of Scripture, Christian should be biblically defined before delving into the passage. In the purest and strictest sense, Christian liberty is freedom to simply trust in the finished work of Christ apart from the works of the law. This definition is established by the book of Galatians where Paul clearly lays out that salvation is by faith in Christ alone apart from any work of the law. Christian liberty allows each and every believer to cease from dependence upon his own ability and rest entirely in the righteousness of Christ, as Paul wrote, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage (Galatians 5:1).” Yet, this liberty is not a license to sin, nor is it freedom from standards, because Paul goes on to say, “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another (Galatians 5:13).” Liberty from the bondage of human inability to flawlessly keep God's law allows the Christian to rest in the ability of Christ and freely serve others with a self-sacrificing spirit.

Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.” (Romans 14:1)

Christian liberty and conscience is the subject of the first twelve verses. The conscience and its conduct is first presented. It would be very convenient if everyone's faith was mature and complete. Many unnecessary arguments could be avoided if every believer fully understood and obeyed the doctrines of Scripture; however, such is not reality. The truth is, every Christian is at a different point in his spiritual walk, and some are weak in the faith. In other words, they may see limitations or evil in certain actions which, in and of themselves, are not evil at all, but for some reason, their conscience is offended in such actions. God opens this discourse by commanding the believer to receive such people. Human nature would tend to reject someone with such struggles, but the love of Christ commands just the opposite. The context of this passage is not commanding a Christian to coddle the rebellious troublemaker, but to be patient and understanding of the person who does not understand the full impact of Christ's finished work.

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