As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, we are free indeed (John 8:36). We are free from sin. We are free from condemnation. But when it comes to our actions, just what exactly are we free to do?
God has made it clear in Scripture that there are certain things He forbids us from doing. He also gives us explicit positive commands about certain things. But there is still a whole world of issues that are not talked about in the Bible—things like sports, music styles, poker, and TV. How do we make decisions about such things when Scripture doesn’t say anything about them?
Issues of Christian liberty are part of daily life. And many people take the easy way out by makings lots of strict rules around these ambiguous areas. I went to a college like that, where we didn’t have to decide anything for ourselves as students because everything already had a rule controlling it. There were rules about what time we got up, what time we went to bed, what hours we studied, who we could talk to, how far we could walk with a girl beside us before we had to separate. There were rules for everything. And it did simplify life on a superficial level. But on an internal level, it hopelessly compounded things.
How are we to make decisions about things that are not clearly indicated to us in Scripture? How do we develop criteria to make those kinds of decisions in a way that honors God, in a way that benefits us, in a way that causes the growth of the body of Christ, and in a way that makes the gospel believable and attractive to the unconverted?
There are a lot of people who think freedom means being allowed to live on the edge of disaster. But that shouldn’t be our standard. The question we shouldn’t be asking is, “Can I get away with this?” We are not looking for high-risk Christian living.
We are not looking to get as close as possible to the fire without getting burned. Instead, our first question should be, “Will this be spiritually beneficial?” Paul says,
All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. (1 Corinthians 6:12)
The verb translated as “profitable” is sumpherō. It means to bring or pull something together for one’s advantage. Paul did not want to invest his life in things that didn’t return a spiritual dividend. If something didn’t promise to bring him some positive spiritual benefit, why would he engage in it? And we should have this same mindset when we approach an activity. We should ask, “Will it assist my spiritual development? Will it cultivate godliness?”
All things are lawful if they are not forbidden by God, but the world is filled with things that promise absolutely no real spiritual advantage. Sleep is a good example. Sleeping is not forbidden in the Bible. But sleeping too much is not to your spiritual advantage when you could instead use the time for God-honoring deeds.
Paul restates this idea in 1 Corinthians 10:23 with slightly different language: “All things are lawful, but not all things edify.” The word for “edify” here is oikodomeō, which means to build a house or foundation. This word connotes a more long-term benefit.
So, when we are considering an activity, it is good to consider both the short-term and long-term effects it may have. Will it bring any immediate benefit? Will it aid your future spiritual growth? These are much better questions to ask than, “Can I get away with this?”
Paul offers us an illustration of this approach from the athletic world:
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
If someone wants to win a competition, they have to be in better shape than everyone else. They will have to train harder than everyone else and practice better self-discipline. If athletes control themselves so well for the sake of a temporary trophy, why wouldn’t we be even more disciplined for the sake of the eternal rewards offered by God?
Paul lived this way, denying and strengthening himself in order to run as efficiently as possible. May we learn to do the same. And next time, we will look at another motive for using our liberty with discernment.
The Master’s University and Seminary admit students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national and ethnic origin in the administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other school-administered programs.
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Santa Clarita, CA 91321
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