Freedom from Commands?

This is the second in a series of articles dealing with dangerous and erroneous concepts of what is involved in having freedom in Christ. There are some who reason like this as they advocate freedom to disregard the Bible example concerning the Lord's Supper: "If its purpose is to make us think on the atonement, then what difference does it make at what hour or on what day we do it, or if we do it twice on a day or several times weekly?"

He could proceed, "What difference does it make whether we take fruit of the vine and unleavened bread, for if our purpose is to think on the atonement, then buttermilk and corn bread would serve the purpose just as well, if we did it in love and thought of the atonement." An extension of that logic (?) would be, "What difference does make if we do it at all, if we think we can accomplish the purpose for which it is given without doing it?" Not surprisingly, his comments about baptism are in the same vein. He says, "So the burial is in the tomb. The action of baptism symbolizes that. To millions of persons, dipping, pouring, or sprinkling of water ritually symbolizes that action." His conclusion is that we should not be dogmatic against one who is convinced that these forms are acceptable expressions.

Imagine a man who claims to be a preacher of the gospel teaching that freedom in Christ means freedom to determine what you think is the principle behind a command, then obey or disobey that command as long as you think you uphold the principle! The truth is, one shows respect for the principle by faithfully obeying the command that emphasizes that principle, not by substituting something unauthorized by God.

The principle expressed by Samuel in 1 Samuel 15:22 is still valid, "To OBEY is better than sacrifice, and to HEARKEN than the fat of rams." All through the Bible, both in the Old and New Testament, we find examples or commands that show that God is not pleased when persons assume they know more about how to express the principles which underlie the commands than God does. One cannot read the story thoughtfully without being impressed by the fact that Saul was following the logic pattern of these false teachers of today, assuming he could get by with "keeping the principle" but disregarding the command.

The difference between the attitude of these false teachers and that of Paul is seen when we compare Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians 11:24 with their statements. Paul says, "Wherefore whosoever shall eat the bread or drink the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord." These teachers say these kinds of things: "Such expresses an effort to fulfill legal requirements by obeying commands rather than to fulfill the purpose of refreshing our memories." So their conclusion is: It would be practically impossible to partake of the cup in an unworthy manner as long as your purpose is to refresh your memory and think on the atonement, and to reason otherwise would be legalism!

Note in the statement above: "an effort to fulfill legal requirements by obeying commands rather than to fulfill the purpose of refreshing our memories." Of course any person who attempts to "fulfill legal requirements merely by obeying outward commands rather than to fulfill the purpose of" the commands is wrong. Their erroneous assumption is that those of us who teach the importance of obeying the commands are automatically and necessarily more concerned with the outward ritual than we are with the purpose for which these rituals were given. It is not so! Jesus put it in this language, "These ought ye to have done, and not to have left the other undone" in speaking about a similar situation.

The fact that many of the Jews (and many Christians) got sidetracked and more involved with the correct rituals rather than understanding the meaning and purpose of the rituals does NOT mean that the ritual is therefore unimportant, unnecessary and invalid. There is no doubt that many who profess membership in the Lord's church think, "I have been baptized. Therefore I have kept the law, and am saved." They have a legalistic approach and are wrong. This in no way invalidates the importance of being baptized -- obeying from the heart the form of doctrine delivered -- as Paul puts it in Romans 6:17. These false teachers argue that it does. Their idea is that "in baptism, symbolically, one is transported back through time and space and buried with Christ where atonement is made." If one can "symbolically" do that without actually being buried, he has that freedom! If one concludes that the word "baptism" means burial, and Christ authorized ONLY a burial in water for the remission of sins, they claim that such a person is "legalistic," and depending on some trifling ceremony for his salvation! This conclusion is invalid and dangerously wrong.

We keep hearing and reading such statements as, "Grace and truth were not a system of law to replace the old one." This may be true, but their reasoning about it is invalid, as usual. For example, we read such statements as: "It is not a legal relationship, but a spiritual one." If the statement were "not primarily," I would have no argument with it. But they suggest that if it is a legal requirement, it cannot be a spiritual one. To illustrate: Scripturally, marriage is not primarily a legal relationship, but a spiritual one. If we use this modern brand of logic, we would conclude that anyone who assumes there is any value in a ceremony or marriage license is merely legalistic and denying the true essence of marriage. Thousands have done this, and scoff at the idea that a "mere piece of paper" or a "few words from a priest or preacher" make any difference. "We love each other, and that is all that counts." This position logically demands that we arrive at that conclusion. The truth is that Jesus said, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." No scoffing at the idea that these are mere technicalities and whoever insists on them is 'legalistic', will remove or change those requirements. We have seen members of various denominational bodies doing this for many years, but when we find it coming regularly now from those we have considered members of the Lord's church, it is especially heartbreaking.

One who logically follows this method of reasoning can take Jesus' statement, "Except a man be born of water and the Spirit he shall NOT enter the kingdom of heaven," and conclude (as thousands or millions have concluded), "That is 'legalism and I will have nothing to do with it, for one is saved by grace, and if I cannot be saved by grace on my own terms, I will not be saved at all. For a man to be born of water and the Spirit demands action on his part, and anytime action is demanded, this is ritualistic, legalistic and ridiculous."

One author asks, "How would a listing of authoritative demands help a person show love?" His question implies the answer, "It could not." He is wrong. Jesus said, "If you love me you will keep my commandments." It is as certain as it can be that a person shows love by listening to and obeying God's commands.

One author says, "All through the ages, God was trying to get us simply to love him and one another. That was the purpose of the law--." He is wrong again. It is one thing to assume that the purpose of a commandment is merely to get a person to love Him, and another thing to teach that when one properly loves the Lord, he will do His commandments.

His conclusions are that the only law God has is love. None of His commandments are anything but guidelines for expressing love. If you want to express love in some other way than according to God's guidelines, it is perfectly satisfactory, and any denial of that is termed 'legalism'. When he says, "Expressed love fulfills the law of Christ," he is almost right. If he had said, "Love expressed as God directed it be expressed fulfills the law of Christ," he would have been correct.

It is one thing to say as the Bible teaches, "You should express your love as God directs, not just substitute your own way of expressing it" and another to say, "You are not allowed to express your love in any way except in obedience to a command." The latter statement is not true. For example, a person should express his love for Jesus by taking the Lord's Supper, consisting of fruit of the vine and unleavened bread, upon the first day of each week. This does not mean that he is not allowed to express love by raising his eyes to heaven and saying, "I love you, Lord." But he is not to substitute his spontaneous expression of love and gratitude for God's express command.

One writer even tries to teach that "worship by demand" is an irrational, ridiculous portrayal of God as an egocentric, arbitrary God who has required "our gifts to feed his pride." That is, if we teach that God demands certain "acts of worship," then we are teaching that God is irrational, egocentric and arbitrary! If that does not approach blasphemy, then we wonder what would! Imagine this false teacher standing there telling Cain and Able, "God said to offer a blood sacrifice, but if you assume He meant that, you must think of Him as egocentric, arbitrary, demanding God. Surely it would be just as appropriate to offer in love a grain offering!" The preachers whose articles and sermons we are reviewing was not there, but the author of the false doctrine they teach was, and Cain believed it and suffered the consequences. The results are listed for our admonition and warning.

T. Pierce Brown

Published in The Old Paths Archive