Today in Christianity there are two extreme positions. These positions are not new they have existed since apostolic times. Each is critical of the other. Neither is biblically correct. Both are devastating to the cause of Christ. On the extreme right is legalism; while on the extreme left is license. There is between legalism and license the biblically correct position and that is liberty. Paul wrote to the church at Galatia to deal with this matter as the church at Galatia was caught up into the controversy. Read Galatians 5:1-13.
Legalism – a mixing of faith and works
The Galatian Error – Legalism
The church at Galatia had those who were guilty of mingling grace and works. They taught that in order for a person to be a Christian they had to believe in Christ by faith, but also had to submit to and observe the rituals and regulations of religion – i.e. circumcision, the Levitical Law.
“What must I forsake?” a young man asked. “Colored clothes for one thing. Get rid of everything in your wardrobe that is not white. Stop sleeping on a soft pillow. Sell your musical instruments and don’t eat any more white bread. You cannot, if you are sincere about obeying Christ, take warm baths or shave your beard. To shave is to lie against him who created us, to attempt to improve on his work.” Quaint, isn’t it — this example of extra-biblical scruples? And perhaps amusing. The list has constantly shifted over the 1,800 years since this one was actually recorded.
There’s something comfortable about reducing Christianity to a list of do’s and don’ts, whether your list comes from mindless fundamentalism or mindless liberalism: you always know where you stand, and this helps reduce anxiety. Do’s-and-don’ts-ism has the advantage that you don’t need wisdom. You don’t have to think subtly or make hard choices. You don’t have to relate personally to a demanding and loving Lord.
There are people (in churches) who do not want us to be free. They don’t want us to be free before God, accepted just as we are by his grace. They don’t want us to be free to express our faith originally and creatively in the world. They … insist that all look alike, talk alike and act alike, thus validating one another’s worth. Without being aware of it we become anxious about what others will say about us, obsessively concerned about what others think we should do. We no longer live the good news but anxiously try to memorize and recite the script that someone else has assigned to us. We may be secure, but we will not be free.
Rigidity is the trademark of legalism, the archenemy of any church on the move. Let legalism have enough rope, and there will be a lynching of all new ideas, fresh thinking, and innovative programs.
It was Billy Sunday who said, “Some persons think they have to look like a hedgehog to be pious.”
The bite of legalism spreads paralyzing venom into the body of Christ. Its poison blinds our eyes, dulls our edge, and arouses pride in our hearts. Soon our love is eclipsed as it turns into a mental clipboard with a long checklist.
A bishop said to Louis XI of France, “Make an iron cage for all those who do not think as we do, an iron cage in which the captive can neither lie down nor stand straight up.” The awful instrument of punishment was fashioned. After a while, the bishop offended Louis XI, and for fourteen years he was in that same cage and could neither lie down nor stand up. It is a poor rule that will not work both ways. “With what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again.”
2 Corinthians 3:6 “Who also hath made us able ministers of the New Testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life.”
Galatians 2:20-21 “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.”
License – Faith with an absence of works
The Opposite Extreme – I am free in Christ therefore, I can do anything I want to do. Many believe that freedom means license to do whatever we want, whenever we want.
Someone has said that license, is the abuse of grace to serve oneself selfishly and sinfully. It is an unrestrained life that scorns God’s commands. The Christian who falls into license may reason that he can indulge in sin because his eternal salvation can’t be lost, or because he is forgiven already, or at least, he rationalizes, “God will forgive me when I sin.” This is the immature attitude behind the objections noted in Romans 6:1 and 6:15.
Romans 6:1 “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?”
Romans 6:15 “What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.”
License,” or “lasciviousness,” is a Biblical term. “For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Jude 1:4)
The term “lasciviousness” means “without restraint.” Those in license see no problem in restraining the sin, which easily besets them.
2 Timothy 3:1-5 “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.”
Part of the problem of the lack of discipline and the overabundance of self-indulgence on the part of believers is that feelings has become more important to us than finding God. I. The person who practices license is not living by grace, they are Antinomian. His principle and philosophy of life is one of total freedom. He does not consider law, he is lawless. He does not consider love, he is selfish. His basic philosophy of life is one of total freedom. This was the philosophy of the libertines in the days of the NT. It is the philosophy of Hugh Hefner and Playboy magazine. There are no absolutes, no laws. Things of life involve a total freedom and a total liberty.
A man’s worst difficulties begin when he is able to do as he likes.
Liberty – Faith demonstrated by works
The Proper Response
Galatians 2:19 “For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.”
Galatians 5:13 “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.”
Liberty does not mean the absence of laws. The Constitution of the United States promises its citizens “liberty,” but that does not give license to break its laws. We can never enjoy true freedom without some restrictions on our activities. If every man does that which is right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25), the result is eventual anarchy. As Christians, we are to maintain proper standards of conduct because of the Lord’s admonition to “be ye holy; as I am holy” (1Peter 1:16).
1 Corinthians 10:23 “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.”
Ephesians 2:15 “Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace;”
Liberty always comes with conditions – you must treasure it, defend it, use it responsibly – license is achieved by nothing more complicated than putting your selfish desires at the center of your life.
Lord Jesus, thou who art the way, the truth, and the life; hear us as we pray for the truth that shall make all free. Teach us that liberty is not only to be loved but also to be lived. Liberty is too precious a thing to be buried in books. It costs too much to be hoarded. Help us see that our liberty is not the right to do as we please, but the opportunity to please to do what is right. (Peter Marshall, Before the U.S. Senate)
In Christian Love and With Many Prayers,