FREEDOM IN RELIGION
[Some introductory remarks have been omitted]
Tomorrow our country will be celebrating Independence Day, a day set aside to remind us of the great freedom that we are blessed with in this country and the great sacrifices that so many of our fellow citizens have made in order that we might enjoy this freedom.
As we look back over the history of our great nation, who can fail to be thrilled with such words as uttered by the patriot Patrick Henry, when he issued the challenge: "Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased by the price of chains or slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death." You know, there always has been those in this country who want peace and life so much that they are willing to compromise. They are willing to yield to those things that would be dangerous to this country and to their children and grandchildren.
And it is not unlike the religious world today. There are some today who want peace so much, that they are willing to compromise the truth and enter in once again into the chains of wickedness and slavery of sin. Thousands have given their lives so that we might have freedom in this country. And thousands have given their lives in the proclaimation of and practice of pure Christianity since Jesus died on the cross and established His church back in the first century.
We should ever be thankful to God for the freedoms we have in this country and for the true freedom we find in Christ Jesus our Lord.
One of the great fundamental freedoms that we have in this country is religious freedom. Under our constitution, we are given the right to believe and practice what we want to in religion. We are given the freedom to worship and serve as we desire. How long this freedom will last is hard to tell. There seems to be, even now, those in this country that would like to do away with any kind of professed Christianity. And there are very powerful and influential people involved in this movement. But, we are grateful for the fact that we still have many of the basic freedoms intended by those who wrote our constitution.
But the fact that we are free to choose how we will worship and serve God and what we believe in religion according to our constitution, does not necessarily mean that our choices will be pleasing to God. God has given us each the freedom to choose. When He created us, He did not make us robots and program us to obey Him, He made us free moral agents with the freedom to choose whether we will serve Him or not.
Joshua speaks of this choice in Joshua 24:15 in his great challenge to the people of Israel, "And if it seem evil unto you to serve Jehovah, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve Jehovah." The Israelites had a choice. They could choose to serve the false gods of the nations around them, or they could choose to serve the one true God. God did not then, and He does not now, force us to obey Him or force us to choose Him over false religions. That choice is left up to each one of us.
Jesus set forth this choice in His teaching in Matthew 6:24, "No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Then, in Matthew 7:13 and 14 He said, "Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." All of us are free to make one of these choices: God or Satan; the wide gate or the narrow way; the way of destruction or the way of life. And each one of us are making these choices every day that we live.
FREEDOM HAS RESPONSIBILITIES
Some people misunderstand what is involved in true freedom. Some believe that true freedom means there are no restraints, that if one is truly free that he is free to do anything he wants. Some in the religious world have come to accept this in reference to Christianity. They believe that it makes no difference what one does in worship to God, or how the church is organized, or what kind of activities the members are involved in. After all, one is free in Christ.
But, although Christ promised to make us free -- He did not promise to lift all restraint, all law and make us completely independent.
There is something else that we need to realize: God has made it so that we have the freedom of choice, but not freedom from choice. Everyone of us really continues to serve or be a slave. Everyone of us much chose one master or another.
Paul wrote in Romans 6:16, "Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?" You see? There is no middle ground. Everyone of us serves someone or something. And so, the question is not whether we are free or not -- but the question is -- whose slave am I? Spiritually speaking, as well as politically speaking, absolute freedom is impossible.
That's why it's so hard to understand preachers telling us that we are not under any law. It's true that we are not under the law of Moses. Many preachers need to re-read and re-study the books of Romans and Galatians, and come to an understanding that those passages they refer to in those books that they believe says we're not under any law, are referring to a particular law, the law of Moses.
Not one New Testament passage teaches that when we find freedom in Christ, that we are free from ALL law. Paul wrote in First Corinthians 9:21, "To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law." The law that they were "without" refers to the Law of Moses. The Gentiles were "without" the law of Moses. But Paul says, even though he was "without law," (that is, the Law of Moses), he was still under the law of Christ. We are under law today -- it is the law of Christ -- the gospel -- the New Testament -- the New Covenant.
The question for us today is not "Are we under any law?" But "what law are we under?" And it is important to realize that we are under and subject to law and that law for us today is the New Testament.
WE ARE UNDER THE LAW OF CHRIST
So, Paul says he was under law to Christ. Everyone who is living today is under the law to Christ. By that, I mean we are all subject to the New Testament. Everyone who is living today (whether he recognizes it or not -- whether he obeys it or not) is obligated to obey the New Testament or his soul will be lost. Jesus shows this in Mark 16:15 and 16 in the Great Commission: "And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be condemned." If all men everywhere are not obligated to obey the gospel of Christ, the New Testament, then why does every creature (or, all people) in all the world need the gospel preached to them?
Each one who is listening to this program today (who is at an accountable age and who is mentally capable of understanding the gospel) is either living in harmony with Christ's law or we are living in rebellion to it. We are either in Christ, in the kingdom, in His body, the church, or we are in the world, the kingdom of darkness, sin.
The only real freedom that man can enjoy is freedom in Christ.
LIBERTY AND LICENSE
Some folks today confuse freedom with license. Some feel that freedom is the individuals right to do what he wants to do, when he wants to, and the way he wants to. So freedom is equated with license. This is one of the reasons people today say, "You can't legislate morality." This view results from a perverted concept of freedom. To legislate means to make laws. This country is based on the concept of legislating morality. If morality were not legislated, chaos would be the result. God Himself has legislated morality from the very beginning. But the rejection of God's standard of morality, and the view that is so popular today that you can't legislate morality, is taking us toward that chaos and will only result in the ultimate destruction of this country.
Paul wrote in Galatians 5:1, "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free..." Paul here affirms that Christ has made us free. Yet he reminded them in verse 13, "For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another." We are free. But Paul warned the Galatians that there was the possibility that they could misuse liberty or freedom. Peter also gives this warning in First Peter 2:16, "and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God." We cannot be truly free while involved in sin. The only way to be truly free, to have true freedom, is to abide by the restrictions found in the law of Christ. Freedom certainly is not license to do what we want to do.
FREEDOM HAS RESTRICTIONS
In fact, the Bible teaches that freedom has restrictions: Paul, in writing to the Corinthians in chapter ten and verse 23 said, "All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not." There are many things that are lawful, but we must consider whether it is expedient to practice them. The word "expedient" means "advantagous or profitable." Some have confused the term expedient with the term convenient. But that which is convenient is not always expedient or advantageous and profitable. Christians are not free to do that which is not expedient.
Another restriction found in this passage is: "All things are lawful for me but all things edify not." To edify means to build up -- strengthen. We are not free to do anything if it does not edify or strengthen.
Paul warned in First Corinthians 8:9, "But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak." We must consider whether or not the exercise of our Christian freedom may harm someone else. Paul wrote in Romans 14:13, "Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way." Rom 14:21 says, "It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak." We may be free to do something, but if it will harm others -- if it will cause them to fall or sin, then we cannot do it.
There are four questions we ought to ask before engaging in any activity:
One, is it lawful? That is, do I have a lawful right (according to the Bible) to do what I am thinking about doing? Is it authorized in the Bible? Does the Bible give permission?
Number two, is it expedient? Is it helpful, advantageous and profitable for me and for others? Is this something that will help or hinder myself or others?
Number three, how will my doing this influence others? Will this cause others to stumble? Will it cause others to lose respect and admiration for me? Will it cause them to fall and sin?
Number four, will this edify? Will it build up and strengthen others as well as myself spiritually? Or, will it cause me to become weaker spiritually?
You apply these four questions to any thing you might want to mention. Drinking, dancing, smoking, immorality, anger, gossiping, forsaking the assembly, whatever you might mention, and these four questions will help you determine if you should do it or not.
Freedom must not be understood to have no strings attached. No one has the right to cause another to stumble and sin under the guise of exercising Christian freedom.
Many feel that the creating and enforcing of law is an infringement on one's freedom. In reality those who want to be free from all law are in the worst bondage of all. Peter speaks of this in Second Peter 2:18 and 19. "For when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage." Here were people who promised liberty to others, but who were themselves slaves of corruption because they had been overcome by corruption. Beware of those who would promise freedom from any law and any restraint.
There is no freedom -- true freedom apart from law. James wrote in James 1:25, "But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed." James 1:21-22 says, "Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves." The word "engrafted" means implanted. The engrafted word is the perfect law of liberty, the gospel planted into the hearts of people who have obeyed the gospel of Christ. Law and liberty are not antagonistic to one another or James could not have called the gospel "the perfect law of liberty."
True freedom -- freedom from sin -- comes only as the result of having believed and obeyed the gospel. This is what Paul taught in Romans 6:15 through 18. "What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness." When Paul tells the Romans that they are not under law but under grace, he is telling them that they are not under the law of Moses, but under the gospel. The gospel is what provides freedom for us today. Freedom that is charactertized by the greatest joy that man could ever hope for is the result of obeying the gospel of Christ.
Is this freedom yours? It can be yours today by obeying the gospel. Now in the remainder of our lesson today, I want to examine this great Plan of salvation that God has given to us. I know that sometimes people refer to us as "five steppers" because we teach that there are five things that the Bible teaches that we must do to be saved. I really don't take that as an insult but as a compliment. Because it shows that we are simply teaching what Christ and the apostles taught. So, let's examine these five steps.
First, the Bible teaches that one must believe that Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus Himself said in John 8:24, "I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins." I don't believe that anyone who professes to believe in Jesus would deny the necessity of believing in Him. But one must ask, how does one come to believe in Christ? The apostle John answered that question in John 20:30 and 31, "And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name." What causes one to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God? The things that are written in the Bible. "These are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God." This agrees with Paul's statement in Romans 10:17, where he said, "so then faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God." It is by hearing God's word that faith is produced in our hearts. And that faith leads to "life through His name." But it's not by faith only. For the Bible teaches that there is a second step that one must take for salvation. That step is repentance of sin. It was Jesus Himself who said, "I tell you nay, but except ye repent ye shall all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3 and 5). Peter, on that great Pentecost day told the people, "repent, and be baptized, everyone of you for the remission of sins..." (Acts 2:38). Paul said in Acts 17:30, "And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:" If one is to receive the remission or forgiveness of sins. If he is going to obey the command of God. If he does not wish to perish, he will repent of his sins. He will make up his mind that he is going to stop sinning and turn to living the way God would have him to live as revealed in the New Testament. After one repents, he is then qualified to confess Jesus as his Lord. In Matthew 10:32 Jesus said, "Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven." Paul wrote in Romans 10:9 and 10, "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." An example of that confession which is unto salvation is found in Acts 8:37, where the Eunuch confessed, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." Thus, confession of Christ is necessary in this great plan of salvation. It was also Jesus who first taught the necessity of baptism under the New Covenant. Jesus sent the apostles to preach the gospel to the world, and in giving that Great Commission He said, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." This is why when you read the book of Acts, you see the apostles and other evangelists teaching the necessity of baptism. In that first gospel sermon following the resurrection of Christ as recorded in Acts 2, Peter told the people, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins," Is baptism a necessary part of the gospel? Would Jesus have told the apostles to baptize everyone who believed the gospel if it were not necessary? Baptism is for the remission of sins. Thus it is necessary for one to be baptized to receive the remission of sins. Isn't that what Peter said on Pentecost day?
Yes, you have the freedom to make the choice -- we pray that you will choose true freedom in Christ today by taking these five steps?
[Some of the concluding remarks have been omitted]