True Christian freedom is to be free from slavery to self-desire and to be totally liberated to do whatever God wants you to do. And that's an exciting kind of liberty.
The implication is simple. Our aim is not to please ourselves, it's to please the Lord. That's real freedom. Welcome to Grace to You with John MacArthur.
I'm your host, Phil Johnson. For most people, the notion of Christian liberty boils down to figuring out what they're allowed to do. Can you watch films rated PG-13?
Are you allowed to drink alcohol? What desires are you allowed to indulge in? Well, today on Grace to You, John MacArthur shows you what Scripture says about Christian liberty and why it's not really about fulfilling your desires at all. John's lesson is part of his current series. It's a collection of some of his most memorable sermons.
We've titled the series The New Testament Beginning to End. If you have your Bible handy, turn to the book of Galatians as John begins today's lesson. You know, the greatest liberty in the world is to be free from yourself, right? To be able to give. The best illustration in the world of this is Jesus.
He knew liberty like it's unbelievable. In Romans 13-14, put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make not provision for the flesh. There's a contrast there. You either make provision for the flesh or you put on Jesus Christ. You say, what does He mean put on Jesus Christ? Well, you see, Jesus Christ made no provision for His own desires.
No, none at all. He said this, and this is what Paul said in Romans 15-3, Christ didn't please Himself. Christ said this, my meat is to do what? The will of the Him that sent me. Yes, Christ was free. He didn't please Himself.
He's the perfect example of selflessness. True Christian freedom is to be free from slavery to self-desire and to be totally liberated to do whatever God wants you to do. And that's an exciting kind of liberty.
The implication is simple. Our aim is not to please ourselves, it's to please the Lord. That's real freedom. Christian liberty is not freedom to please the flesh, but to please the Lord. And our motivation and our motivation is not just the stiff upper lip of duty, but it's the loving service of gratitude to one who set us free.
And there's great flexibility in it, great flexibility. As we look at the Old Testament, for example, the area of sex is very, very clearly defined. God tolerates no extramarital, premarital sex at all. Nothing outside the marriage bond, and there are some very severe prescriptions for anybody who engages in adultery, fornication of any kind, bestiality, which is sex with animals, homosexuality, anything like that, is tremendously condemned in the Old Testament. Not only in the New Testament are we to assume all of a sudden God's changed all His patterns, that now because we have liberty in Christ, we can do whatever we want to do, and we can say, well, we love each other.
You say, who would ever say something dumb like that? Oh, plenty of people, believe me, as if God has thrown the Old Testament out. Nothing has changed. God's patterns haven't changed any more than God has changed. The day God changes His morals is the day God dies and some new God is born, right?
Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, forever. God doesn't change. The advocates of free sex today have infiltrated even Christianity.
It's taken for granted that sexual love is the most important thing, and the only way to express love is through sex, and it's got to be right because we like each other, and after all, we prayed. And everything in the name of freedom in Christ, that's not freedom in Christ, that's the same old slavery to self, the same old slavery to lust, the same old slavery to the flesh. God's ethics haven't changed one bit, not one bit. Christian freedom then is not freedom to indulge the flesh. Secondly, Christian freedom is not freedom to injure others.
You know, and this is a very important area. Look at verse 13 again, back to Galatians here, 5-13. For, brethren, you have been called unto liberty, only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.
Oh, that's so good. Somebody could say, hey, look, man, I'm free in Christ, so I'm going to do what I want, and that's how it is. And you go waltzing off, stomping all over a whole lot of other Christians. Somebody put it this way, not in the biblical context, but he said, your freedom ends where my nose begins. And that's right spiritually.
The argument of the Judaizers would have been, oh, that's great, everybody's free, so everybody just mows down anybody in the way. And here we get into this whole area of Christian liberty in relationship to my brother. My liberation is not to hurt my Christian brother. Verse 13, look at it, it's very simple. It says this, by love, agape, supreme kind. By love, serve one another.
Now here you come again with the death to self. Your freedom in Christ isn't to do whatever you want, it's to do that which is going to help your brother not hurt him. I like this word serve, it's douluo, it means bond slavery. It means to do that which would serve someone else, make yourself a slave of someone else. You see, that's kind of a paradox, isn't it?
Liberty and slavery. Yeah, it's a paradox, but it isn't a contradiction, for such service is voluntary. Now looking at Romans 14, notice verse 1. Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. And here we have two kinds of people, two kinds of Christians. Do you know there are two kinds?
There are. You say men and women, that's two kinds, but that's two different kinds. Two kinds of Christians.
You say, what are they? Weak and strong. You say, what's a weak one? A legalistic one. What's a strong one?
A free one. A mature Christian is one who understands his liberty. A weak one is one who still hung up on the law. Now the weaker brother just couldn't accept his liberty. You say, well, what do you mean by that?
Let me illustrate this way. All right, in the church, for example, at Rome, you've got a lot of Jewish people. Okay, some Jewish people get saved and some of these Jewish people get saved and they're told all of a sudden you're free. No more bondage to the ceremonies. You can change your diet. You can change your cooking habits. You can change all the feasts. You can alter everything.
You're free from all of that. And he just gags. There's no way he's going to do that. There's no way he can get by the Sabbath and not keep all the laws. He's not about to carry sticks on the Sabbath.
He's not about to work on Saturday so he can meet with the Christians on the Lord's day, the first day of the week. He can't do that in his conscience yet. And he may get invited over to a liberated brother's house who's having pork chops. He can't eat them. There's something in his conscience that just doesn't let him accept his freedom.
Do you see? He is free. He can't accept his freedom. So what does this other liberated character over here do? Does he just say, hey, fellow, what's wrong with you and sit and eat pork chops right in his face? You see, that would be to flaunt his liberty, wouldn't it? And all you'd be doing would be hurting him and wounding him and injuring him and making him think less of you because he still thinks these things are right.
The best thing to do is don't eat those pork chops because then you don't offend him. Well, that's the point. There are some that are weak in the faith. Verse 2, one believes that he may eat all things. Another who's weak is a vegetarian. You say, well, does the Bible teach you to be a vegetarian? No, but if you want to be a vegetarian, you can be a vegetarian. Notice it says, who is weak, eateth herbs. I didn't say that.
It's right there. And perhaps they were not pure vegetarians, but they were trying to avoid meats offered to idols. Some guy who's legalistic, you know, of course, it says in 1 Timothy that all things are to be received with thanksgiving and that all those animals in the sheet in Acts 10, and the Lord said to Peter, rise Peter, kill and what? Eat. So don't worry about trying to defend vegetarianism biblically.
They can't be done. So there may be a guy though who just doesn't want to take a chance on eating some meat that had been offered to an idol. You know, people would offer things to idols and they go out the back door with the stuff and sell it on the street to people and they would wind up buying food that was offered to an idol.
It's no big thing, but for some it was a stumbling block. So verse 3 says, let not him that eats despise him that eats not. Let not him who eats not judge him that eats, for God's received him. Listen, God takes the weak and the strong, the eaters and the non-eaters.
So don't make a big issue over whether he eats or doesn't eat a certain thing. And he says to the strong in chapter 14, listen, just remember the weak person hasn't yet discovered the meaning of his freedom. At heart he's still a legalist. He still sees Christianity as a set of rules.
He hasn't yet understood his liberty. And boy, there are a lot of Christians like that, I'm telling you. There are a lot of churches like that where in the church they set up a code of rules where everybody has to function by the rules. You know what they're doing? They're implying that the work of the Holy Spirit inside is inadequate. That's right. They're trying to go mosaic. They're trying to reestablish an external code.
There are some people who don't understand their liberty and so they live according to certain ritual and rules. Now what do you do to them? If you're a stronger brother and you're not hung up on that, do you mock him and say, look at him, look at him?
Weakling? No, you receive him as a beloved brother. Yes, verse 1, receive ye, receive ye. That's very important. Your freedom is no excuse. And now we're talking about neutral things, non-moral things, like eating certain foods and such neutral things.
You say, what do you mean neutral? Well, you say, does that mean baptism? No, it doesn't mean baptism. Does it mean reading the Bible? No. Does it mean shopping at Montgomery Wards on Sunday?
Yes. If in your mind there's something wrong with shopping at Montgomery Wards or save on the Lord's Day, then that's fine. That's a non-moral thing. That's just the way you feel. Maybe you've been raised that way. I'm not going to take you over there and push you in the door and say, be free, my brother, be free.
That's where you are. I love you and I'll say, praise the Lord. And I don't go there either because I don't want somebody to see me go there who doesn't think that's the thing you should do and then say, well, look at John. He did that and I'm offended. Now what he's saying is, let the Lord deal with it. Verses 4 and 5, he just says, let the Lord take care of this. Who art thou that judges another man's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. You let God be the judge of him.
Verse 5, one man esteems one day above another, another esteems every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. If the guy wants to keep the Sabbath for a while, it's fine. Just don't offend him. Just let him do it.
There's no sense in making an issue out of it. Verse 6, he that regards the day regards it unto the Lord. I mean, if a guy wants to keep the Sabbath, he's doing it for the Lord, he thinks it's right. He that regards it not to the Lord, he doesn't regard it. He's saying, man, I'm free from that.
I don't want to keep that anymore. He that eats, eats to the Lord and gives God thanks. And he that eats not does it to the Lord and gives God thanks. So don't make an issue out of it. The Lord will take care of all the decisions, verse 10, at the judgment seat of Christ.
He'll make all the dispositions. What did Peter say in 1 Peter 2, 16? Remember this? Never use your liberty as a cloak of what? Maliciousness. Don't flaunt your freedom over somebody who doesn't understand it. You're going to meet legalistic brothers. You're going to meet people who think it's wrong to dress a certain way. It's wrong to do certain things on the Lord's day.
It's wrong to use certain kinds. You know, there are some people who you say, oh golly. And people go, oh a minced oath.
And they give you this long lecture about golly is a contraction of God or something or you've heard that. The best thing you do is just avoid it. You certainly don't want to just flaunt it. No, you want to serve lovingly the need of your brother even though he's weaker. Now look at verse 13. Let us not therefore 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.
Don't do anything. It's going to make your brother stumble. Verse 21, jump down. It's good neither to eat meat or drink wine nor anything by which thy brother stumbles is offended or made weak.
That's right. If somebody is offended, now nobody today is offended in terms of meat or food, certain foods because we don't have foods offered to idols. But there are some people who get offended by people who drink wine. I don't drink wine. One of the real reasons I don't is just because of this verse. It is good not to do that because it will inevitably make somebody stumble and make somebody be offended and somebody will be made weak. And I just rather not do that to my brother. Now you'll notice three concepts in verse 21.
It is good neither to eat meat, drink wine or anything by which thy brother stumbles or is offended or made weak. Stumbling means to halt the progress. You can actually halt the progress of a Christian by doing something in front of him which his conscience doesn't allow him to do. You say, well, how do you mean that?
Well, pursue a little further. You can offend him. First of all, you jeopardize your testimony, don't you? He thinks less of you as a Christian as well as the fact that you've offended him. In other words, you've said in effect to him, I don't care what you think.
I'll do what I want. And that hasn't shown him love. But notice this little phrase, be made weak.
That is really interesting. If he has stumbled and become offended, he will probably fall back further into legalism. That's right. Because when he sees that thing going on in his face, such liberty will nauseate him and often force him back into deeper legalism. And he'll fall further away from real freedom in Christ. Well verse 14, I know when I'm persuaded by the Lord Jesus that there's nothing unclean of itself, but to him that esteemeth anything to be unclean, to him it's unclean.
Isn't that right? Boy, it may not be unclean in itself, but if a guy thinks it is, he just can't handle it. So bring him along lovingly, slowly. Verse 15, if thy brother be grieved with thy food, you're not walking in love. Destroy not him with your food for whom Christ died. Jesus loves that guy, loves his heart. Don't exercise your liberty in his face to the point where you destroy your testimony and you cripple him and push him further into legalism. Verse 17, for the kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Those are the things that matter. Verse 20, for food, destroy not the work of God. Well, one other verse, 2 and 3, chapter 15, two verses.
Well, let's go all three of them. We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak and not to please ourselves. Now see, there's the crux of the whole issue. We're not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbor for his good gratification, for even Christ pleased not what? Himself. I'll tell you something, beloved, Christian liberty is not the freedom to injure my brother.
Do you see it now? It is not the freedom to do whatever I want and say, I'm free. I'll live it up. It is the freedom to lovingly serve that brother. There are some things that I could do that are not wrong, but they are those gray area things that to some people would be very, very wrong. And so I don't do those things because I wouldn't do anything consciously to offend my brother, for that would be a misuse of my liberty. That would be a gross misuse of the freedom that the Lord has given me. Now go back to Galatians chapter 5 and let's wrap it up. On the other hand, if you decide you're just going to use your liberty, you're going to do whatever you want, you're going to live it up, you're going to go out and drink and smoke and do whatever else and dance and party around and go to Las Vegas and do whatever you want and maybe even throw in some of those little kind of neutral things and just live it up.
You know the result? Verse 15, if you bite and devour one another, take heed that you be not consumed one of another. If you're just going to accept, exercise your liberty and just stomp all over everybody else, you know what's going to happen? You're just going to have the whole church fighting itself. You know what will happen to the unity of the body if everybody does that? Everybody exercises his own liberty?
It will destroy these people. You say, well, John, you could sure really change your whole life pattern if all he did was go around worrying what everybody thought. Yeah, but it's wonderful to do that because that's what the Bible says. By love, serve one another. Don't use, like Peter said, don't use your liberty as a cloak of maliciousness. So Christian freedom then is not the freedom to indulge the flesh and is not the freedom to injure others. Thirdly and lastly, Christian freedom is not to ignore the law. You can't say, well, I'm free in Christ. I'm going to ignore the whole law.
Verse 14, look at it. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Listen, people, freedom in Christ isn't freedom to ignore the law, it's freedom to what? Fulfill the law.
Isn't that great? Freedom to fulfill the law. For Paul, the moral law was still the expression of the will of God. Romans 7, you read it, he loved the law. He says, I delight in the law. It was still God's law. But Paul says, I'm not bound externally in the concrete forms of Judaism, but I have the internal form of the law, love of Christ bubbling out of my life in which the whole law is fulfilled. The law is summarized in love.
That's nothing new. That's Leviticus 19, 18, tells us the law is summarized in love clear back then. And it's now made possible by the power of the indwelling Christ.
No, the requirements haven't changed, but the basis of operation has gone inside. And the law is simply this, love thy neighbor as thyself. This then is the message that Paul is giving. Christian liberation does not result, listen, in pagan vice. It does not result in the destruction of others in a plethora of personal pleasure seeking. And Christian liberty does not ignore God's moral law.
It fulfills it from the inside. And you know, if you read Romans 13, 8 to 10, he says, you know, you've heard the law, thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not covet, thou shalt not do this, thou shalt not do that. And then he says, the whole law is fulfilled in this, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. You know, if you have love you don't need those laws. Do I need a law that says don't kill if I love somebody? Do I need a law that says don't covet if I love somebody? Do I need a law that says don't steal if I love somebody? Am I going to steal from the one I really love? Am I going to kill the one I really love? Am I going to covet from the one I really love? Am I going to commit adultery against the one I really love? No, you see, if love is there, all the rest of the law is fulfilled.
You say, I'd sure like like to have that love, you do. The moment you're saved, that's the point of the whole text. When you were saved, the love of Christ was what? Romans 5, 5, shed abroad in your heart and you fulfill the whole law.
It's there. And when the Christian acts on the principle of love, he is fulfilling everything that the Mosaic law was intended to accomplish but he's doing it from the inside. So we're called to freedom, beloved. Freedom in Christ, not to serve self anymore, but I'm liberated from myself to serve God, number one, to serve God and then to serve others.
Now in those three points that I gave you, we have every relationship covered. That's right. First of all, I told you that Christian liberty is not freedom to indulge the flesh, right? That's self-control. Christian liberty is self-control, not freedom to indulge the flesh, control self. Secondly, I said that Christian liberty is not freedom to injure others. That has to do with loving others, ministering to others.
Thirdly, I said Christian liberty is not freedom to ignore the law but to fulfill it. That's toward God. The first point, toward self. The second point, toward others. The third point, toward God. My freedom is expressed in self-control, love of others, obedience to God's law. Every relationship is harmonized in Christian liberty.
You say, John, I sure wish I had that. How? I mean, it's nice to say all that about my Christian liberty but how does it operate? And that's the third and last question in our study. How is the expression of freedom possible? Are you ready for this?
You want to know how it's possible? Verse 16, this I say then...what's the next phrase? Walk in the Spirit. Walk in the Spirit.
Oh, that's so exciting. Listen, the operation of Christian liberty is not automatic. We must walk in the Spirit.
The Spirit is there. When I was saved, I came out of the control of self, out of the control of a system of legal enactments into the control of a person, God the Holy Spirit. When God set the law aside at the cross, He knew what He was doing. He didn't leave the world without a restrainer.
No. You want to hear something interesting? Did you know that God ran the world for 2500 years plus before Moses ever arrived without the law? Yes, He did.
Did a good job. And I'll tell you, God can run the world after the law has been set aside just as well as He ran it before. You say, but without the rules, how will He restrain sin? He'll restrain sin by the indwelling presence of whom? The Holy Spirit. People, let me tell you something personal from my life.
I chafe like gangbusters under an illegal system. I spent the most carnal years of my Christian life in a legalistic Christian institution. Those were the most carnal years of my Christian life.
You know why? Because externals were being substituted for the work of the Holy Spirit. And consequently, I ignored the work of the Holy Spirit and endeavored to subscribe myself to externals. I didn't do the Spirit any favors, did I? God will fulfill His entire law in me if I do what?
Walk in the Spirit. You're listening to Grace to You with John MacArthur. He's chancellor of the Masters University and Seminary. His lesson today is part of his current series. It's a collection of landmark sermons from John MacArthur's five decades of ministry. We call this series The New Testament, Beginning to End. Well, John, the title for today's message was a simple question.
What is Christian liberty? And that made me think, when I study Scripture, I often approach it with questions. And I think that's really one of the best ways to study the Bible, ask questions as you read. What do you think about that?
No, I do it every week of my life. I ask the text questions. What does this mean? Well, if it means that, then how does that connect with this passage over here? The whole process of Bible interpretation is querying the text.
It's one question after another. And I've often said to seminary guys at the Master's Seminary that I'm through my preparation when I don't have any more immediate questions. Because sometimes you could say, well, what does this mean?
Well, maybe it sounds like it means this. Then you have to say, well, does that contradict anything else in the Bible? Because the Bible has to be consistent. So I just continually ask questions, which eventually led to the MacArthur Study Bible, where I tried in the footnotes to answer the pertinent questions in every text. So a Study Bible may not appear in the format of a question-and-answer book, but that's exactly what those notes are. It has 25,000 footnotes. I found out the other day MacArthur Study Bible notes have 1.2 million words.
Wow. That was 1.2 million words, and all of those words are designed to answer the question that a reader would ask about the verse that the person is reading. MacArthur Study Bible is available to help you understand the Word of God, to bring the Bible to life, to give you the true message, which is the divine revelation. So it comes in the New American Standard, the New King James ESV. You can get a MacArthur Study Bible in English, obviously, but also Spanish, French, Italian, Arabic, German, Russian, Chinese, Portuguese—one book, and you have a library that helps you understand all the Bible.
Reasonably priced, lots of different editions, free shipping, and you can order one today. Yes, and, friend, whenever you have questions while studying Scripture, the MacArthur Study Bible provides instant help. More than likely, you'll find the answers you need right there in the footnotes. To place your order, contact us today. You can call us toll-free at 800-55-GRACE. You can also order the MacArthur Study Bible at our website, gty.org.
Again, the MacArthur Study Bible comes in multiple English translations—the New American Standard, New King James, and English Standard versions. You can call us at 800-55-GRACE, or view all the choices at our website, gty.org. And remember, Grace To You has thousands of free resources online to help you understand and apply God's word. So whether you're looking for biblical insight on parenting, or what Scripture says about the spiritual gifts, or how you can know if you're called to ministry, visit gty.org. And there you will find blog articles, sermons, and other Bible study tools that will help you grasp the life-changing truth of God's word and how it applies to you.
The website again, gty.org. Now for John MacArthur and the entire Grace To You staff, I'm Phil Johnson. Thanks for tuning in today, and be here Wednesday when John shows you God's plan for your family and the blessings that come from following it. Join us for another half hour of unleashing God's truth, one verse at a time, on Grace To You.
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