Freedom from Law?

This is the third in a series of articles dealing with some of the dangers of false conclusions concerning the kind of freedom we have in Christ. Many of those who are teaching a kind of freedom in Christ unauthorized by God's word will quote such passages as Romans 8:2, "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death." Then they will emphasize "free from the law". They conveniently overlook the fact that it is the law of the Spirit of life under which we operate that has made us free from another law. Therefore it should be plain that we are not free from all law, for the Bible plainly teaches we are "under law to Christ" (1 Cor. 9:21).

One author quotes Acts 15:10, "Why therefore do you make trial of God by putting a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?" Peter's words had to do with the impropriety of binding on Christians the practice of circumcision and the keeping of the law of Moses in order to be saved (Acts 15:1). This author's application (or misapplication) of it is, "If you teach that there are any rules or commandments we must follow except just to love God and your neighbor, you are putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples and are condemned thereby." It would seem by his teaching that the grace of God will cover almost every sin except the sin of teaching that we are under obligation to obey the commandments of the Lord!

His thesis is, "If you love God, none of the commandments of God have any binding effect, for you can express that love any way you choose and it is just as good as the ways God chose." Instead of teaching such a false doctrine, the Bible teaches us what He wants us to do, and how He wants us to do it, and we express our love by doing it, not by substituting something else for those commands or disregarding them.

He repeats the kind of mistake that is so difficult to discern, but which underlies most of his misapplications when he says, "Love seeks the good of others instead of seeking to comply with regulations." If he had said "instead of MERELY seeking to comply with regulations," I would find no fault with his statement, but his unfortunate and improper way of making "either-or" statements is one of the things that makes his whole book full of error. The truth is, "Love seeks the good of others while it also seeks to comply with God's regulations." The way he puts it, if one seeks the good of others one does not need to regard God's regulations as binding, since all of God's regulations were merely given to show love! This is not so!

The usual perverted reasoning and exegetical error are found in several authors who use Rahab as an example of the flexibility of God's will, and advance the idea that we may disobey Him with impunity as long as we mean well. The reasoning goes like this: God taught that lying is wrong, yet Rahab lied and "is listed among the heroes of faith for that very reason." Then they may quote Hebrews 11:31 to prove the point. But Hebrews 11:31 does NOT say that Rahab was approved because she lied. It specifically says in one version, "because she had given friendly welcome to the spies." If a person cannot see the difference between teaching that God shows mercy and forbearance to people in all generations in spite of the fact that they disobey His commandments, and in teaching that God contradicts himself and approves of them disobeying His commandments, then any reasoning will probably be of no value to him. Surely most persons who read this will be able to see the difference.

Almost every false teacher whose work I have read which wrongly emphasizes the freedom we have in Christ uses Jesus' teaching about the Sabbath in Luke 13 to advance the idea that "If one of God's laws seems to work a hardship on you, they are very flexible, and you can disregard them with impunity." The very idea is contrary to God's praise of those faithful men who died before they would disobey one of God's commandments. Can you imagine one of these false teachers of today teaching any person that one of God's commandments (or all of them combined) were worth dying for? His teaching would be, "If you love God, recognize that His commandments are mostly suggestions for demonstrating love, and live on in love, disregarding any commandments that you feel are unnecessary to demonstrate it."

Instead of Jesus violating the law as these false teachers and the Jews claim, he was simply violating the Jew's prejudicial misapplications of the law. There is nothing in the Old or New testament that implies that using God's power to heal was any kind of violation of the Sabbath, neither was walking through the grain fields eating grain.

It is one thing to show from the Bible that God himself allows exceptions to His general rule (which He does on more than one occasion), in accordance with principles which HE defines, and another to teach that we have the right to make our OWN EXCEPTIONS in terms of principles which WE ASSUME are satisfactory.

One author concludes that if we shake hands instead of kissing, we may as properly "allow an alteration of the method by which the meaning of baptism is expressed." That is, Paul said, "Greet one another with a holy kiss" (Romans 16:16). Since we often greet one another with a handshake, according to him, we have substituted our expression of greeting for God's command. The principle he teaches is: Since it is satisfactory and approved to substitute our way for God's command in this instance, it is satisfactory to do it in any instance. His conclusion is based upon the idea that there is no way we can tell when an act mentioned was merely incidental or cultural and when it was important or continually significant for all generations. In which case, we could not really tell whether 2 Timothy 2:15, "Study to show thyself approved unto God" is any more applicable to us than 2 Timothy 4:21, "Do thy diligence to come before winter." According to his logic (?), if we decide to wait until winter to come, thus substituting our will for an expressed command, we may substitute it in all cases!

We admit that it is not always easy to know what is applicable. But the answer is not in assuming that almost any conclusion to which a person may come is just as valid as any conclusion to which another person may come. If there are no rules of interpretation which are valid, there is no standard by which we can say, "This is right and that is wrong." The only thing that such a person can say is wrong is for us to be so arrogant and legalistic as to say anyone is wrong. Of course it is not arrogant and legalistic for them to say we are wrong, but only for us to say they are wrong!

The kind of perverted reasoning that is commonly used by those who misunderstand the kind of freedom we have in Christ is often begun with such statements as, "We have no right to limit the liberty of others by binding our scruples on them." There should be no doubt about it. But when one equates "binding our scruples" with teaching them that God's law is binding, he grievously errs.

One author says, "Circumcision was neither a plus nor a minus unless it hindered their faithful, loving work." He apparently misunderstands the whole subject. Paul taught that it did not matter whether a Christian was circumcised or not, and the person who taught that it was necessary for salvation was a false teacher, to whom Paul gave subjection "no, not for an hour." This author, on the other hand, would teach, "It is false doctrine, but no false doctrine matters, for they had all been baptized and were children of God." He does not seem to know that circumcision to the Jew was a commandment of God, and necessary for him to be a partaker of the covenant blessings as long as the covenant was binding. Circumcision to the Christian was a matter of indifference, and no one had a right to bind it on him. God left the Christian free to do it or not. That is certainly not the same as a Christian deciding that it is merely a "human scruple" when God has commanded something, so you may choose to do it or not.

One author whose teaching would lead to the conclusion that freedom in Christ is freedom to do almost anything you please as long as it is not immoral says, "Paul tantalizes the legalist by not telling which side was right on the matter of eating foods and keeping days." He does no such thing. He plainly teaches that it is not against the teaching of Christ to eat any kind of food. But he also teaches that the person who does not understand that, is not thereby condemned. I know of no faithful gospel preacher who teaches otherwise. That is a far different thing than teaching that it makes no difference what God teaches, one can believe, teach and practice almost anything he chooses as long as he loves.

Most of these false teachers say such things as, "Fellowship must not be endangered by efforts to decide or bind scruples." That is true, but they make no distinction between scruples that men may have and commandments that God decreed. I do not teach a person to be baptized because I have scruples against sprinkling, but because God said do it. Their tragic error is that they put the commands of God and scruples of men in the same category, and thus disregard and disobey Paul's teaching, "turn away from them" (2 Tim. 3:5).

These false teachers have no way that I can tell of obeying both of these commands: Titus 3:10, "A factious man after the first and second admonition, reject," and Jude 3, "Contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints." According to them, if one contends for the system of faith, he would be legalistic and factious, and should be rejected. But if he contends that almost any doctrine is satisfactory, for no one can properly understand what God wants us to do, then he is to be accepted!

One author asks, in an effort to prove that we should have fellowship with almost anyone (except, perhaps, with those who teach that God's commands are binding), "Would it contaminate us to serve with someone in Christ who wore some sectarian name other then ours?" What does "contaminate us" have to do with the situation? Would it "contaminate us" to have a lying, murdering hypocrite sit by us in the assembly and take the bread out of the same plate with us? If we answer "No," does that prove that it is right for the rascal to do it? He shows his bias by implying that the name we wear is sectarian. If the name "Christian" is sectarian, what could be unsectarian? We might ask, "Would it contaminate us to serve with someone who was not even in Christ, and who wore no name at all?" That which proves too much proves nothing, and as usual, this kind of question proves nothing. He says, "We have no alternative other than to accept him. It is not our prerogative to judge him."

If that kind of logic is accepted, not only do we disregard Paul's express teaching in Titus 3:10 and Romans 16:17, we actually have no basis on which to have or not to have fellowship with anyone. If a person's interpretation of the resurrection of Christ is that He was not actually raised, but it was a spiritual resurrection (whatever that means), that is satisfactory to these false teachers. His interpretation of baptism is that it is sprinkling (or nothing at all), for it only symbolizes or suggests dying to sin and rising, and that can be done almost any way we choose. Who are we to think OUR interpretation is any better than his? He may interpret "Upon this rock I will build my church" as "Upon Peter I will build my church" and "I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom" as "Peter was authorized as the first pope to make rules for the kingdom," and I must accept his interpretation as valid!

According to these teachers, the only interpretation that is invalid and to be rejected is the interpretation that obedience to the commands of God is necessary. The only doctrine that is a cause for division is the doctrine that the commands of God are more than suggestions as to how one may express his love! The only man that is factious is the man who teaches that we all should speak the same thing and obey God's commands, whether or not we can understand why God gave it. I am persuaded that no sensible, honest Bible student could arrive at that position without a long journey with a lot of help from the wrong sources. Jesus said, "He that wills to do his will shall know of my doctrine, whether I speak from myself or of God" (John 7:17), and the key is probably found in the "will to do his will" rather than in the kind of philosophy that will enable me to find a way to circumvent it.

T. Pierce Brown

Published in The Old Paths Archive