I work in an environment with thousands of young people, many of them at critical thresholds of their lives. Most are seeking direction for the future (college majors, careers, marriage choices, etc.). Many of them ask,“What is God’s will for my life?”
Sometimes I answer in a way they don’t expect: “Why should God give you any more advice when you’re not paying attention to the direction He has already given?”1
I steer puzzled students to Deuteronomy 29:29 (“The secret things belong unto the Lord our God; but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”). Everyone, it seems, wants to know about the “secret things” and gain special insight into the future. A much smaller number wants to hear the Commandments, find out how the law of God gives instruction, or learn obedience.
The Word of God directs and governs our lives. There is nothing particularly flashy about it — Scripture doesn’t function like a spiritual Ouija Board. But it teaches the steadfast faithfulness and obedience that God desires. 1 Corinthians 6 and 10 show us how our lives should be governed by Scripture principles.
The Apostle Paul emphasizes Christian freedom. Four times he stresses, “All things are lawful” (1 Cor 6:12; 10:23). For someone raised in a fundamentalist environment, as I was, where there are a lot of extra-Biblical rules, this is a liberating text. Scripture absolutely opposes human legalisms.
The Westminster Confession of Faith dedicates a whole chapter (20) to Christian liberty and the liberty of conscience. Christians are free from the guilt of sin, bondage to Satan, the restrictions of the ceremonial law, and the doctrines and commandments of men. Believers are now free to obey God with a “child-like love and willing mind.” Authoritarian leaders and traditions may appear attractive, especially in unsettled or uncertain times, but we should submit ourselves only to Scripture.
A couple of years ago I got acquainted with a Liberty University student. He was bright and fairly Reformed, and he spent a lot of time at our home. He was especially troubled by the worldliness of modern evangelicalism. A few months after graduating he sent this email: “I was raised in an extremely individualistic family and when I got to see the way your family operated, those times you invited me over for lunch, I knew there was something missing in my view of the Christian life. It was from there that the LORD worked in my heart to cement all of my theological convictions concerning practical Christian living, which ended up in my decision to fellowship with the Amish.”2
The Amish! Of all things! I’d always hoped that my young friend would become a Presbyterian. (He did tell me, later, that he hoped to have a Reformed soteriological [i.e., doctrine of salvation] witness within the Amish fellowship. Maybe there’ll be a Calvinistic revival among the Anabaptists!) Personally, I like the Amish and the Mennonites. But few communities are as bound by human traditions as they are. It is our calling to be governed by Scripture.
Christian freedom only exists within the parameters of God’s law. Some preachers have argued that Paul’s language “all things are lawful” means that the commandments of God are nullified. This is a ridiculous assertion, given the context of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. Paul describes Corinthian sins, simply listing the violations of the Ten Commandments. Many of the sins are sexual (it is Corinth, after all), and they sound much like what is happening in contemporary America. Paul’s exhortation to Christian freedom (verse 12) certainly does not undermine the abiding validity of God’s law (verses 9-10).
We live in an antinomian age, with hostility to the commandments of God, even in the church. Years ago, while leading a Bible study, I happened to talk about God’s commandments. It was a slow night, with only three men present. The other fellows were elderly hyper-Dispensationalists; one was a retired pastor, the other was an active layman, a leader in a small mission. Both cautioned me against referring to the Ten Commandments, since Christians are “under grace.”
I decided to turn the table on my friends, and told them of a pastoral call I’d made earlier in the day to a “Mr. P.” “Mr. P” was a professing Christian, but he was shacked up with a married woman. The woman was divorcing her husband because she was pregnant with “Mr. P’s” child, and they eventually wanted to get married. I asked my Dispensationalist friends, “Should I tell ‘Mr. P’ that adultery is wrong and that Christians avoid sins of the flesh?” After a long silence, both said that I shouldn’t say anything, since introducing commandments might place “Mr. P” “under law!”
I was stunned by that response. Both men were legalistic, and ordinarily happy to offer opinions on what Christians should do. The only rules they disliked, it appeared, were God’s! (So it always is with legalists. Since they cannot keep the absolute standard of God’s law, they invariably replace it with a more achievable human standard.)3 It is better to stick with Jesus and the Apostles, who had no problem condemning sin from God’s Word.
God’s law should also be presented positively, shown as a hedge or a fence to protect us from harm. Years ago, a liberal school district removed the fencing from the school playground, supposedly in the name of “freedom.” Children should be free, the theory went, so they shouldn’t feel fenced in or restricted.
Administrators were startled by the results of the experiment. Children bunched to the middle of the playground, and kept far away from the edges. They weren’t sure of their boundaries; they were afraid of accidentally stumbling into traffic; and they worried about the strangers who strolled the sidewalks. School authorities soon restored the fences, and the children again freely enjoyed the whole playground, feeling safe in the clear boundaries that adults had provided.
So how does God want you to function with the boundaries He has given? How do we properly use our freedom as Christians? Concerning Christian freedom, ask the following “liberty” questions.
First, will it master me (1 Cor 6:12; 7:23)? We may have liberty to do some things, but should avoid them because they tend to enslave us. I don’t smoke, but I’m not troubled to learn that one of my Reformed friends burns an occasional cigar. I am bothered, though, when they have to sneak off to indulge a habit. Tobacco can be addictive, and it is a cruel taskmaster. Those liberated by Christ must not be enslaved by anything.
Second, is it profitable (1 Cor. 6:12; 10:23)? We can do many things, but not everything is profitable and helpful. We shouldn’t ask what we can do, but what we should do.
I am astonished by the amount of time young men spend playing video games. Hours and hours are wasted. Even if the games are innocent and wholesome (and many are not), habitual gaming is a colossal waste of time. (I am equally astonished at the amount of time I would spend watching football games if my wife allowed it.) These diversions may be lawful, but they aren’t profitable. Our first concern should be what helps us to grow and profits us as Christians.
Third, is it edifying (1 Cor. 10:23-24, 33)? Does it help the church and my brothers and sisters in the Lord? I may have freedom to do some things, but I must be careful not to scandalize others or cause them to stumble. Sometimes we choose not to exercise our freedom so that others will benefit.
Fourth, does it glorify God (1 Cor. 10:31)? Our chief end in life is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. We should choose to do the things that bring the greatest honor to God and are of the greatest service to Christ. I love to hunt, for example, and believe that it is a lawful activity. I try to be responsible in spending time and money, and nobody I know stumbles because of my hobby. At this moment, however, I have a number of outreach opportunities and believe it would be poor stewardship of my talents to spend a lot of my time in the woods. So, my rifle collects dust in the closet while I do other things. It is a small price to pay to serve Christ and glorify God.
A wise man once said that Christian ethics were easy: “Do what God tells you to do, and don’t do what He tells you not to do!” God gives us clear rules in Scripture in His commandments. He also gives enormous areas of freedom and liberates us from the traditions of men. Finally, God gives us guidelines for liberty, showing us how to conduct and invest our lives as His stewards, for His glory.
1. Use this rhetorical approach carefully, with students you know well, or with those that you have continuing contact with. Don’t be glib or appear dismissive with those who seek serious counsel, unless you know that they can take being jerked around — or unless they really need it.
2. The student gave me permission to quote from his letter. He stopped by last summer, dressed in his Amish hat, suspenders, and wool pants. He has permanently parked his car — a snappy metallic colored Neon — and is now pursuing the simple life. He has discovered, however, that he does not like milking cows!
3. Despite what this episode implies, these Dispensationalist brothers were wonderful men. They were fearless and tireless soldiers of the cross, and both are now in heaven. And on other occasions I heard them clearly condemn and counsel against sexual immorality. In our exchange, however, I pushed them to the horrifying implications of their theological system. From the look in their eyes, it was clear that they did not like the conclusions to which I (and their antinomian system) had taken them.