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Today we’re going to begin a study on what I believe is a very important spiritual theme. The theme is “Christian Freedom.” We must understand what the Bible teaches about being free in Christ. Our Lord said, “If the Son shall make you free, you shall be free for real.”

Now, what does it mean to be free? Paul the apostle says, “We are no longer bound by dietary laws. We are no longer bound my the new moons and the Sabbaths and the feast days.” Even the Sabbath day itself, in Romans 14, is indicated as optional.

We are free in Christ. We are no longer under the law, he says. But free to do what? What are the limitations? What are the boundaries? What are the parameters of our freedom in Christ?

Many today are abusing this. Some are not even using what is theirs in freedom in Christ. Find out what God says about it by staying with us as we study today.

What is Christian freedom? Now that is a really important question. What is Christian freedom? And I think there were a couple people who asked this. First of all, let me go with you to John chapter 8 and let’s look at the total picture of Christian freedom. You’d have to go to verse 30 to begin with.

John 8:30, “And as Jesus was speaking these words,” – and marvelous words they were about who He was, He said – “as He spoke these words,” – said John – “many believed on Him. Then said Jesus to those Jews who believed on Him, ‘If you continue in My word, then are you My disciples really,” – or for real, alēthōs, truly – “and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you” – what? – “free.”

Now notice, first of all, that freedom is a result of truth. You take a guy – and this is the way I’ve usually illustrated this – you take a guy who’s got a very, very complex math problem, and he’s got this assignment that he’s got to turn in to his professor the next day, and he’s in an advance mathematics class or an advanced something or other that has to do with math, and he’s got to get his problem done. So he starts about 8:00 and he keeps his problem going, and he’s got a bunch of X’s and Y’s and all this kind of stuff, and he’s trying to put the whole thing together. And he struggles, and he struggles, and he struggles. And you know what happens? The guy is a slave to his problem, isn’t he?

And let’s say he comes to the conclusion, and he gets an answer, and he goes back and checks his answer and it’s wrong; he’s still a slave. About 3:00 in the morning he gets an answer, and he goes and checks it about five ways and it’s right; he’s free, right? He’s only free when he discovered the truth, that’s all.

You see, freedom is a result of knowing the truth. There is no freedom apart from knowing the truth, because the search goes on. A man is never liberated from the dilemma until he arrives at the solution. So Jesus said to the Jews, “You guys are still fuddling around with the problem. You’re still playing religious games. If you would listen to Me you would know the truth, and the truth would set you free from the tremendous problems you’ve imposed on yourself by your legalism.”

You see, their legalism, they were satisfying themselves in the fact that they were working out a problem instead of being satisfied with an answer. And, of course, they said, “We are Abraham’s seed, and we’re never in bondage to any man. How sayest, ‘Thou you shall be made free’? Why, we’ve never been slaves to anybody.”

“Oh, really? Huh. Have you forgotten that you were slaves to Egypt, slaves to the Babylonians, slaves to the Greeks, slaves now currently to the Romans?” “We were never slaves to anybody.” “Check again.” And then Jesus said, “Worst of all” – verse 34 – “Verily, verily, I say unto you, whosoever commits sin is the” – what? – “slave of sin. You’re a slave to sin.”

You see, as long as you sin, you sin, you sin, you never get a solution, so you never get free from the bondage of sin. When the solution to sin comes, sin’s power is broken, sin is forgiven, you’re free. The problem is solved.

Isn’t that really what contributes to Christian peace. I mean, if you stop and think about it, what is the greatest thing to know about as a Christian? It is to know that you’re free from the consequences of what? Sin. You’re free.

So first of all, Christian freedom has to do with finding the truth in Jesus Christ and being liberated. But taking it a step further than that, how far does our freedom go as Christians? There’s a lot in the New Testament about Christian liberty and about what Christians are free to do.

You know, some people have taken this idea of freedom and just gone crazy with it. “Well, I’m saved. And, boy, the Lord’s going to take care of me, so I’ll just do what I want to do.” I heard one man who said – I think it was a week before last – he said, “So what if I do wrong. The Lord’s forgiven me in the past, He’ll forgive me again.”

You know what that says to me? That says, one, he doesn’t understand freedom; two, he doesn’t really love the Lord, because if he loved the Lord he couldn’t tread on His love like that. You see, if you love somebody you don’t stomp their grace, do you?

So you see, what is the boundaries of Christian liberty? Are we free? Listen, 1 Corinthians says, “All things are lawful.” Did you know that? You say, “Where is it? That’s my life verse, I’ve got to find that one. Where is it?” I’m not going to tell you.

Chapter 6: “All things are lawful, but all things aren’t expedient.” There’s got to be a boundary. “All things are lawful, but I’ll not be brought under the power of any.” Where does Christian liberty fit into this thing? Just how free are we? Well, I want you to know something exciting, Romans 6.

In Romans 6:14 it says, “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you’re not under the law but under grace.” So you’ve been freed from sin.

“In what sense? Are you saying that as a Christian I never sin? Is that true?” Some people say, “Well, as Christians, Romans says we’re free from the law. We have been made free from sin. That means that sin doesn’t bother us anymore.” I’ve actually heard that preached, that we have been made free from sin. Sin doesn’t bother us. Listen, when you became a Christian sin will bother you a lot more than it did before you were saved.

Being free from sin doesn’t mean you’re free from the actuality of it, it means you’re free from the penalty of it, you’re free from the wages of it. Why? Because you died with Christ.

How many times can a person die? Once. And when sin comes to me and say, “MacArthur, I’m going to kill you for your sin,” I say, “Sorry, I already died.” “When did you die?” “I died the day I received Jesus Christ. I was crucified with Him; nevertheless I live. I died in Jesus Christ on the cross. It’s your tough luck. I also rose from the dead.”

You see, that is the death: I died in Christ when I gave Him my life. I was buried, right? That’s Romans 6. And I rose, and I walk in newness of life. I’ve paid the penalty in Jesus Christ by my union with Him. Sin has no claims on me; sin can’t touch me. I still sin, it just has no ultimate penalty.

I’ll tell you something else: I don’t sin that grace may abound; God forbid. So we’re free from the power of sin, we’re free from the wages of sin, free from the penalty of sin.

Now I want to take this freedom to Romans 14 and 15, because here, you see, you ran into another area. How free are Christians?

You know, some people say, “Well, we’re Christians. Man, we’ve got liberty, we can do what we want to do.” And these are the same people that are always saying that you shouldn’t feel guilty for anything, you just do what you want to do.

And you know, you’ve even got people who claim to be Christians and claim so much freedom that they can have sexual relationships outside of marriage, and they can just about do anything they want without any theological problems. Believe me, they don’t escape guilt and they don’t escape chastisement, but they at least have fit their theology to rationalize along with their behavior. But in Romans 14 you have this idea of freedom, and how does it work together with the Christian’s commitment.

Now let me just say this to begin with. There are several principles here regarding freedom. Now the first few verses of the chapter – in fact, I guess we’d have to consider the first thirteen verse probably as one unit of chapter 14 – really tell us that we’re free in Christ.

But there are some other things that go along with it. It says, for example, in 1: “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believes that he may eat all things, another who’s weak eats only herbs.” You’ve got some people who eat meat and others who are vegetarians. “Let not him that eats despise him that eats not, let not him who eats not judge him that eats, for God’s received them.” In other words, the big issues isn’t what you eat or what you don’t eat; and those were issues in those days. That’s right.

Listen, a Jew became a Christian and he went over to a Gentile’s house and they had roast pork. Well, he got apoplexy, he couldn’t handle that. And oftentimes the Gentile was just sticking in and turning it, you know, saying, “Hey, we’re free fella, you know, have a little pork.” “Ooh, ooh, ooh,” see. I mean, he couldn’t handle that.

You see, too many years, too many years had gone by when he had been circumscribed to the law. Why, in Acts chapter 10, when the Lord came to Cornelius and spoke to him in the sheet and said, “See all those animals there, they’re all clean. Go ahead; rise, Peter, kill and eat.” Peter said, “I have never in my life eaten anything unclean.” And the Lord said to him, “Don’t you dare call unclean what I’ve cleansed.” That was tough for Peter. I imagine the first ham sandwich he ever ate went down hard. Boy.

So you see, there was a freedom there, there was a liberty there. There was no more dietary laws, there was no more the clothing law of the wool, and so forth and so on. There was no more kitchen cooking laws. All of that stuff had been set aside. All the peculiarities of Israel had been set aside in the institution of the church; so those outward laws were gone. And yet the Jews couldn’t handle those things, and when they saw some people doing certain things it grieved their spirit.

And he goes further and he says in verse 4, “Who are you that judges another man’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls; and let every man be judged by God. One man esteems one day above another, another esteems every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.”

When I was a little kid growing up in Philadelphia I could not read the funny paper on Sunday. You know that’s true in some cases now.

You know, there was a choir that came to a church back there where I went to church as a little boy and they sang on a Sunday morning, and in the afternoon some of them went into the drug store to make a phone call, and nobody in the church came back that night to hear them. They had violated the Lord’s Day. Well, there’s no law you can’t make a phone call on Sunday. But you see, they had this little box in which they had it fit everything. And so, some people regard a day above another.

What happened here was some of the Jews were still upholding the Sabbath, and some of the Gentile were saying, “All you legalists, we’re free on the Sabbath; we’re going to go out and go fishing.” And some of the more liberated Jews even who had matured in the faith were exercising their liberties.

But he says, “Look, if he regards a day and regards it to the Lord, and he that regards not the day to the Lord, he doth not regard it. He that eat eats to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks. And he that eateth not to the Lord, eateth not and giveth God thanks.” In other words, it doesn’t matter; these are inconsequential gray area things.

So you’re free, you’re free to do whatever you want. “Ah,” you say, “I like that; free to do whatever I want.” Yeah, all things are lawful. “Hmm.”

There’s a second principle. First principle is you’re free. Second principle is don’t offend. Now that really ties it down, doesn’t it? That’ right. Verse 13: “Let us therefore not judge one another anymore, but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block” – or an occasion to fall – “in his brother’s way.”

Hey, maybe I think I am free to do all those things, but maybe if I didn’t do them I might be more loving toward my weaker brother who doesn’t yet understand his liberties. Do you see? There are some gray areas where these things apply.

“I know and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus” – Paul says – “that there is nothing unclean of itself.” Boy, that is a very interesting statement. Now watch, “Things are not evil of themselves.”

“Is money evil?” No. No. “Is the fruit that comes from the tree from the vine from the grape evil?” No, it’s just fruit that comes from the grape. You say, “But it gets alcoholic.” Who gave it the property that caused it to get that way? You say, “Well that was somehow in the creation.” Well, maybe it was in the fall, but it’s here; but it isn’t evil.

You see, it isn’t the fruit of the grape that creates the problem, it’s the guy who imbibes the fruit of the grape that is the problem. The thing of itself is not the problem. You see, things are not unclean, things are neutral things; and one man can touch the thing and make it into an evil thing, another man can touch the thing and it can become a holy thing. The difference in wine is the difference between the wino and the Communion service. You see?

This summer when we went to Israel and they didn’t have any grape juice, and we had to have real live wine at the tomb of our Lord. And I know that there were people and other groups were going, “Oh, Martha. Ooh, ooh, see?” you know. “Can we? Can we dare? Do we?”

The thing of itself is nothing, it is the Communion we were celebrating of our blessed Lord. I mean, if you happen to be in a land where there’s no Welches, you make due, right? I mean, it really isn’t that big of a deal. You see, it isn’t the thing itself, it is then man who has the thing in his hand that is the problem.

“There’s nothing unclean of itself, but to him that esteemeth it to be unclean, to him it is unclean.” In other words, if he’s determined it in his mind, the best thing for him to do is avoid it. There’s no sense in violating your conscience. And if you haven’t matured to the place where you understand that freedom, don’t violate your conscience.

Ah, but verse 15, “If your brother is grieved with your food, you’re not walking in love. Destroy not him with your food for whom Christ died. Let not your good be evil spoken of; for the kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

Then he says in verse 19, “Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace and things with which one may edify another; for food destroy not the work of God.” In other words, just so that you can have something to eat or something to drink, “It is good neither to eat meat nor to drink wine, nor anything by which thy brother stumbles, or is offended, or is made weak.”

Listen, he doesn’t say it’s evil to drink wine; no, he doesn’t. I know there’s some people who think it is a cardinal sin to drink wine. It doesn’t say that in the Bible. It doesn’t say that. Now, I hope I didn’t shoot you down too bad; but it doesn’t say that.

What it does say is, “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine, or anything that will make your brother stumble, be offended, or be made weak.” The reason the Bible doesn’t say it’s evil to drink wine is because wine of itself isn’t evil, it’s just wine, it’s just there.

You say, “But don’t you think it’s a sin to drink wine?” Listen, friends, the sin is to violate the conscience of a weaker brother, the sin is to depreciate your testimony; that’s the sin. And if any of those things make my brother stumble, then I will not do those things. The thing in itself is nothing, but the thing becomes a forbidden if it wounds or grieves another brother. That’s all he’s saying.

You know, some people can say, “Well, I’m free in Christ, I can do what I want. I can carry on like I want. I can drink as much as I want whenever I want in front of whomever I want.” And you know what they do? They offend somebody else. “If you love your brother,” – Paul says – “you won’t do anything to make him stumble.” This is the whole point.

In verse 1 of chapter 15, “We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak.” In other words, you know, “Even if you have the liberty to do some things, don’t do them, just to take care of the weaker brother.” You know who the weaker brother is? Not a new Christian, a legalist, a legalist.

“Let every one of us please his neighbor.” Who’s the example? I love this, verse 3: “For Christ pleased not Himself.” Christ didn’t do the things that He wanted to do always but the things that He knew would be good for man.”

So what are the principles? You’re free, don’t give an offense, maintain a clear conscience before God; this is God’s standard. Yes, as a Christian you’re free, that’s true; but your freedom should never get to the place where you exercise it to the wounding of another person. Peter says in his epistle, “Never use your freedom as a cloak of maliciousness. Don’t use your freedom to hurt other people.”

Now let me pursue this just a little further. Someone asked this question, and this came in last Lord’s Day, and I’m just reading the question as it was: “Please give some of the basics for Christian living; for instance, the scriptural viewpoint on dancing, drinking, smoking, and miniskirts, et cetera.”

Let me add to this, and I want to add to this lovingly, and yet I want to answer it pointedly. Dancing, drinking, smoking, and miniskirts are not the basics of Christian living; I mean that. They are not the basics of Christian living. Do you know there are some very good Mormons who don’t do any of those things and will spend eternity in hell; that’s right.

Now listen to this. There are many people, and I mean good people, Christian people, who mean well, who base their entire spiritual life on what they do not do. Did you know that? “We don’t smoke, and we don’t chew, and we don’t go with girls that do,” you know, rooty-toot-toot, see. “We’re the boys from the institute, see.” In other words, their entire orientation toward spirituality is what they don’t do. And you know something; usually they don’t do a lot of things, mostly what they ought to do they don’t do, along with what they ought not to do they don’t do, they just don’t do. I wish they’d start doing what they ought to do, even if they want to keep on not doing what they ought not to do.

Beloved, I tell you, let me tell you this: if you’re going around and you’ve got your thumb in your mouth and you got your security blanket and you’re tickling your nose with what you don’t do, I’d like to take your blanket away and make you face the issue that your spirituality is not a matter of what you don’t do.

You say, “Are you saying it’s right to dance, drink, smoke, and wear a miniskirt?” I didn’t say that. The Bible doesn’t say it’s right or wrong to do those things. The Bible doesn’t talk about those things in that context. But I believe this: I believe that if you walk in the Spirit, the Spirit of God will take care of those kind of issues; but if you just base your spirituality on whether you do or don’t do those things, then you have set up an artificial standard of your spirituality, you have probably bypassed true spirituality, and you have suckered yourself into thinking you’re securely mature, when in fact you’re infantile. Now that’s hard stuff, but I believe that.

And I’m not advocating all these things. Listen, I have very strong convictions about what’s right and what’s wrong; and I’ll tell you, I don’t do any of those things, including wearing a miniskirt. And I want you to know that as a Scotchman we have the right to do that; kilts have been in our family for years.

But the reason I don’t do those things has nothing to do with what I think the standards of the Christian life are, it has to do with what I think my testimony must be before other believers. When you go around and you start evaluating people’s spirituality by what they don’t do, you’re really sitting in the wrong seat doing the wrong thing on the wrong basis.

People say to me so often, “Do you think it’s a sin to smoke?” Of course it isn’t a sin to smoke. Where would you ever get the idea it is a sin to smoke? You say, “But we’ve always thought it was a sin.”

Listen, the Bible doesn’t say anything about it. If you want to put leaves in your mouth and set them on fire, that’s – you know. I mean, I heard one fellow say one time, “Who likes to lean down and kiss a girl and smell a camel?” you know. But I’m being facetious. But the Bible doesn’t say, “Don’t do that.”

I’ll tell you what the Bible does say. It does say, “Don’t gossip. Don’t backbite.” And the Bible does say, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” If you begin on that principle maybe smoking will take care of itself.

But you see what I’m saying is people don’t do all these little things, and they kid themselves into thinking that that’s spirituality, when all it is is an inherited traditional legalism. True spirituality isn’t that at all. But I believe, beloved, true spirituality in its depth and maturity takes care of those kind of things.

Let me give you a little thought. Do you know the Bible talks about walking in the Spirit in the New Testament? This is a key to the Christian life. Do you believe the Holy Spirit can guide your life? Do you believe that we need to have a big thing here in Grace Church that says, “We don’t, we don’t, we don’t, we don’t, we don’t.” All we need to say is this: “We do walk in the Spirit.”

You know, at our house I don’t have a sign in the kitchen that says, “Do not beat your wife. Do not maim the children.” I do not. You know why? I love my wife, I love my children; that precludes the necessity for the rule.

Listen, when the apostle Paul wrote Romans 13 he said this: “Loving the Lord and loving your neighbor is the fulfillment of all” – what? – “the law.” So you see, the artificial standard of spirituality is the list of what we don’t do. The true spirituality is walking in the Spirit and letting the Spirit convict us of the things the Spirit wants to convict us of; that’s His business.

Now I’m talking about gray area things. Of course we know some things are wrong. Clearly the Bible defines many things that are sinful and wrong. You read them, there are lists of them in the New Testament. But when we get into gray areas things –

You know, kids always say to me, “Do you think it’s a sin to dance?” And you know it’s an interesting thing. I said to this group of kids this week, I said, “You know, before you’re a Christian you use to think you had to go to the dance, kind of dance with a girl and get her in the right mood, and then you could go out and neck. Then you became a Christian and you realize you don’t dance, you just go straight out and neck, see? Yeah, well, you know, the whole place just broke up. I mean, they knew exactly what I was talking about. I mean, there wasn’t one guy in the building that didn’t understand that.

But you see, there’s the artificial standard of spirituality: “We don’t do this. Oh, but we do,” see? But that isn’t covered in the list.

It’s very obvious to me, people, that for somebody to flop on somebody else and wander around a floor with moody music playing is not conducive to spiritual growth; that’s very apparent. I don’t need a rule on that, the Holy Spirit told me that very simply; I understand that very clearly. And I realize too that a person’s clothing and how they dress is usually a revelation of the depth of their spirituality. But don’t let your dress become your standard of spirituality.

You see, Jesus said in John 15, “Hereby is My Father glorified that you bear” – what? – “much fruit.” You know what fruit is? Well, you could look and you find that fruit is good works, Colossians. Fruit is not only good works, fruit is attitudes. And so I’ve divided fruit into two things: action fruit and attitude fruit.

You know what attitude fruit is? Galatians 5: “The fruit of the Spirit is” – what? All attitudes – “love, joy, faith,” and so forth – “goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, self-control.” That’s attitude fruit.

Now, watch. The result of attitude fruit is action fruit. if you do action fruit without attitude fruit, that’s legalism – did you get that? – because you’re cranking it out in the flesh. If you walk in the Spirit, the Spirit produces the right attitude that’s producing the right behavior. If you’re just out there subscribing to some code bypassing the attitude, that’s legalism.

Now mark it: the legalists and the truly liberated, godly, Spirit-filled Christian may do the very same things. One does them in response to the Holy Spirit, the other does them to try to buy favor with God. You see the difference?

Well, this is an important issue. And I don’t think that you want to ever get in the place where you evaluate your spirituality by what you don’t do. Very, very dangerous.



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