Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
July 20, 2003
Holy & Free, Part 1: Principles for Holy Living
As a preface to this morning’s sermon, I want you to know that the outline for it came from a taped sermon of John MacArthur’s entitled “Making the Hard Decisions Easy.” I remember the night MacArthur preached it some 17 or more years ago. It made an impression on me then, and I still think his outline was an excellent way to cover this subject, which is why I am using it with you this morning. What is the subject? How do you deal with those issues the Bible does not directly commend or condemn? How do you go about figuring out whether it is right before God to engage in any particular practice?
We dealt with this subject briefly in our study of Romans 14 back in April, but I want to take some time to dig into this subject more deeply before we begin our study of Philippians this fall. This morning lays a foundation of principles which we will then seek to apply to particular areas over the next two months.
As was pointed out in our study of Romans 14, there is freedom in Christ. Others do not have the right to condemn us because we may do something different from them in the use of that freedom. However, there is also responsibility with that freedom. We are not to flaunt our practices in the face of others. We are to love one another and give full consideration to one another in the use of our freedoms. In addition, freedom is not license. There are definite Biblical principles we must apply to life in order to discern whether any particular activity is God honoring or not.
Here is an example before we look at the general principles.
The Bible gives direct commands such as “Thou shall not steal” (Ex. 20:15 cf. Rom. 13:9; Eph. 4:28). It also expands on those commands giving principles that arise from them. The OT command not to steal is expanded and clarified in various passages. Deut. 22:1-4 deals with what to do with things that are lost that you find, so that you do not steal. Deut. 25:13-16 deals with using full and just measures for business because to do otherwise is fraudulent and stealing. Lev. 25:36 deals with charging usurious interest which is another form of stealing.
The Bible does not say anything about computers or copying software that you did not purchase. Yet, the principles of the Bible make it clear that such illegal activity is stealing and therefore sin.
To live righteously before God we must understand the Scriptures. We must know both the specific commands that God has given us, and the principles and precepts of His Word so that we may follow the intent of His commands in areas that are not specifically addressed. True Christianity is for thinking people.
Those who want to establish their own code of conduct will twist the Scriptures to make them match their own thoughts and feelings. They will err either to legalism, where things that are gray become black and white, or to license where everything becomes gray and just a matter of opinion. Both are wrong.
The legalist, (the Pharisee), removes the grace of God from life and places restrictions on what God allows. The libertarian removes the holiness of God from life and our pursuit to be like Him. They allow what God restricts. Both commit the same basic sin though they are completely opposite in their application. Both replace the final authority of God’s word with themselves. God, through His revealed Word and the conviction of the Holy Spirit, sets the standards for how we are to live. No one, including ourselves, and nothing else may set those standards.
Let me present to you some of these principles for Holy living along with some practical examples so that you might find the balance God gives us for life. This will not be an exhaustive list of Biblical principles, but simply some to get you started thinking toward how to apply the Scriptures to your life in a personal and practical way.
Here are questions to ask yourself when trying to make decisions in areas not specifically commended or condemned in the Bible. They provide the balance in practicing your freedom in Christ while also being submissive to God’s holiness and perfect purpose in your life.
1) Principle of Expedience. Will it be spiritually profitable? 1 Cor. 6:12 “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.” That is, all things that are not specifically addressed in the Bible as being unlawful, are lawful. Profitable – “to my advantage” Will my doing this enhance my spiritual life? Will it cultivate godliness?
Example: Sleep is not wrong. It is good. Nothing wrong with it. Nothing wrong with even sleeping in on occasion. But that good thing if done too frequently will not profit you because it will cultivate laziness. When overdone, it is not to your benefit. We must move away from concentrating on “can I do this” or “am I allowed to do this” to asking what spiritual profit it will bring.
2) Principle of Edification. Will it build me up? Will it put me on the path to greater spirituality? 1 Cor. 10:23 All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. This is the same basic idea as first principle, but the word here is edify, oikodomew, meaning “to build a house.” Will it increase my spiritual stability, strength and maturity? 1 Cor. 14:26 says, Let all things be done for edification. It is not enough to just refrain from doing something that would tear you down. We are to be about the business of being built up ourselves and building up others.
Self discipline is part of this. 1 Corinthians 9:24 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. 25 And 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. 26 Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; 27 but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.
It takes self discipline to win the prize. It takes self discipline to pursue after that which is best instead of that which may be just good or neutral. It takes self discipline to study your Bible, pray and serve the Lord. It is good to cultivate self discipline even in areas of freedom.
Example 1: You go out to celebrate something and you have had a wonderful meal. You are thinking about topping it off with a hot fudge sundae. You have complete freedom to do this, but perhaps it could be a good occasion to just say no, especially if you have been saying yes a lot lately. Why? Simply to re-assert that you are in control of yourself and not your body. Example 2: It is Saturday and you don’t have to be at work so you have complete freedom to sleep in. Yet, on occasion, it is good to say no, and get up at your normal time if for no other reason than to assert that you are in control and not your body. Cultivate self-control. You don’t have to be fanatical about this, but when you control your desires with your mind, you exercise yourself for godliness.
So ask yourself these questions as you are considering something. Will it build me up? Will it strengthen me? Will it move me to Christ-likeness, to spiritual maturity.
3) The Principle of Excess. Will it slow me down in the race? Will it hinder me in my Christian walk? Hebrews 11 is the chapter describing those who lived by faith and are the great cloud of witnesses that are watching us as we strive to live by faith. Will it slow me down in the race of life, hinder me in my Christian walk? Hebrews. 12:1 Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Note again vs. 1. We are to lay aside both that which encumbers us and that which is sin in order to run the race. The race here, agwna – from which we get our word agony – the struggle, the fight of the life of faith that we are called to live in the power of Christ, cannot be run if we are in sin or weighted down, encumbered, by things that may be good, but are not the best. To run the race of the life of faith it will take determination, discipline, and perseverance.
What is this weight, this encumbrance? The word here is ogkon. It means “bulk.” It is not sin, but something that hinders us from running as we should. Imagine the fellow who is about to run a marathon. If in his training he is gluttonous, or gets drunk, his sin will keep him from running well. But what if he puts on a heavy pair of jeans, a flannel shirt, an overcoat and then straps on his hiking boots and sets off to run the marathon? That is not sin, but it is not the way you run a race either. His clothing is fine in itself, but it will not help him run a marathon. You must shed off those bulky things and instead equip yourself with what will aide you in running the race well – shoes, shorts and a shirt designed for running.
Example: Is it sinful to go out on a Saturday night with your wife, enjoy a nice dinner, go for a drive, sit under the moon at a lookout and tell her how much you love her, and then get home at 3 a.m.? Of course not (some of you would like your husbands to do that!). That is not sinful. But what if you have a prayer meeting the next morning at 9 and teaching a Sunday School class at 9:30? It still is not sinful, but it is an encumbrance that will impact what you are able to do the next morning.
There are many things in our life, even good things, that we voluntarily restrict simply because they will slow us down in our race in the life of faith. I should willingly set it aside anything that hinders me from effective service for Christ because I want to run well.
4) The Principle of Enslavement. Will it bring me into bondage? 1 Corinthians 6:12 “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.” I should never allow a non-moral thing to become my master. Psalm 8:3-8 tells us that man is the king of the earth – “When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, The moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained; 4 What is man, that Thou dost take thought of him? And the son of man, that Thou dost care for him? 5 Yet Thou hast made him a little lower than God, And dost crown him with glory and majesty! 6 Thou dost make him to rule over the works of Thy hands; Thou hast put all things under his feet, 7 All sheep and oxen, And also the beasts of the field, 8 The birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, Whatever passes through the paths of the seas.
Man is the king of the earth, yet how easily he yields up his position to little things? The item or action itself may or not be sinful, but people allow it to become their master. They become addicted and controlled by it. We all understand the dangers of physical addictions such as like drugs, smoking, drinking or gluttony. But what about the spiritual dangers of psychological addiction such as television, entertainment, computer games, sports, or the various types of materialism?
Let me give you a simple test for whether you are being mastered by something. If you cannot easily set it aside for a day or two, then you are probably enslaved to it. Or another simple test: if your mind is pre-occupied by it, then you are probably addicted. What is supposed to occupy our minds is God and that which is related to Him.
5) The Principle of Equivocation (lie/falsify). Will it hypocritically cover my sin? Am I doing it in the name of freedom, when in reality I am pandering my own evil? 1 Peter 2:16 “[Act[ as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. The principle here is that you are using your freedom to cover your lust and evil desire. Example: A person says, “I’m free to see that movie.” Perhaps he might have that freedom, yet what he is actually doing is going to see it to pander to his evil heart. Be honest with yourself. Is this really something that profits you spiritually, something that builds you up? Or is it something that hinders you in running the race of faith? Does it enslave you? Or does it cloak your evil desire. What is your real motive? The one that you might not even want to admit.
Example: Young people might say, “there is nothing wrong with dancing. David danced before the Lord.” True, but is that the kind of dancing they want to do? We must be careful lest we twist the Scriptures to justify our own desires which may not be those arising from the pursuit of holiness. I’ve been around enough to know that there is a big difference between the kind of cultural dancing that occurs at a Jewish wedding and that which occurs at a night club, or between that dancing which is done by a group in celebration of a joyous event and that which is done in the sensuality of one’s own lust. Now be careful that you don’t conclude something I am not saying. I am not speaking against dancing itself. What I am saying is that you have to be honest enough to exam your own motives. Please understand, as Galatians 5:13 says, For you were called to freedom, brethren; only [do] not [turn] your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. It is not hard to turn your liberty into a false justification for license which does whatever your fickle heart desires. And do recognize how fickle our hearts can be and how capable we are of using almost anything to justify ourselves. Jeremiah. 17:9 warns, “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?
6) The Principle of Encroachment (encroaching on the sovereignty of Christ). Will it violate the Lordship of Christ in my life? I believe everyone here would agree with these two statements. 1) Every Christian should live in submission to the Lordship of Christ. 2) Not all of us agree 100% on what the Lord would have us to do. The same action is seen by some as sin and others as wonderful. Turn to Romans 14. We have dealt with this passage a couple of moths ago, but we are going to briefly consider it again. “2 One man has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables [only.] [One is a meat eater and the other a vegetarian] 3 Let not him who eats regard with contempt him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats, for God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand. 5 One man regards one day above another, another regards every day [alike.] [One is a Sabbatarian. The other is not.] Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. 7 For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; 8 for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.
What each does or does not do is because each believes it is what the Lord would want. We need to ask ourselves if this is something I believe the Lord would want or not want? We recognize that this is a matter of conscience.
Some would ask, what if your conscience is wrong? Well, first, don’t violate your conscience, for Paul tells us “whatever is not of faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). Second, you can sear your conscience if you continually violate it. Paul did not want a seared conscience such as those who had fallen from the faith and paid attention to the doctrine of demons and the hypocrisy of liars (1 Tim. 4:1,2). Third, keep a clear conscience. Paul said he worked hard to keep a good conscience before God (Acts 23:1; 2 Timothy 1:3).
MacArthur tells the story of his dad, Jack MacArthur, being in Michigan to preach a week of revival meetings. The host pastor asked him what his plans were for the next day. Jack said he thought they might to play some golf in the morning and do some visitation in the afternoon. The host pastor was indignant about this and said he could never do such a thing. Jack said he thought it would be good for them to get acquainted, etc. The next morning, the reluctant pastor came anyway saying, “he was doing it out of hospitality, but knew he should not be there.” First hole – half way down the fairway. Someone yells, “fore.” The pastor looked up – and lost two teeth. The story was he then fell down by a tree saying “I knew it, I knew it.”
If this man believed golf on a Monday morning during a revival was wrong before he went, you can be sure he believed it more after. For this man, all the violation of his conscience did was push him deeper into his bondage – his lack of freedom. The man viewed the accident as the judgement of God – and well it may have been. Don’t violate your conscience or ask someone else to violate theirs in any of these areas Scripture does not specifically address. If you choose to do something, you must believe that it fits within the will of the Lord for you.
Fourth, you also must train your conscience. Your conscience is a product of what you believe and it will change as what you believe changes. Have your mind renewed by your own study of God’s word.
7) The Principle of Example. Will it help other Christians by its example? I Corinthians 8:9 “But take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” We talked about this a few months ago too. The weak are those that might be tempted to do what you are doing, but they do not have the freedom of conscience to do so. Don’t cause your brother to stumble into sin.
The pattern of your life is setting an example. This can be positive or negative. You not only want to avoid causing someone to stumble into sin, but you also want to motivate them to Christ likeness. 1 Corinthians 11:1 says, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” Our goal in all areas of dealing with one another is described in Ephesians 4. It is the building up of the body of Christ. It is seeking to attain the unity of faith and becoming knowledgeable, mature people of God. We are to help one another stand firm against all the false teachers and false doctrine that surrounds us. We are to “grow up in all aspects into Him which is the head, even Christ.”
Will it help or hinder other Christians by its example?
8) The Principle of Evangelism. Will it lead others to Christ? Turn to 1 Corinthians 10:25-33. The background to this passage is that animals were sacrificed in pagan worship practices, and the excess meat would be sold. In effect, there was a “temple butcher shop.” A strong believer has no problems with the idolatry associated with it because he knows idols are nothing. But those weak in faith, perhaps just coming out of such idolatry himself, could not in good conscience eat such meat or he might feel he was again participating in that idolatry. Paul says, “25 Eat anything that is sold in the meat market, without asking questions for conscience’ sake; 26 for the earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains.” In other words, don’t question the meat. Simply view it as God providing.
In verse 27, we have two Christians who have a friend in common who is an unbeliever and the unbeliever invites them to a meal. – cf. vs. “27 If one of the unbelievers invites you, and you wish to go, eat anything that is set before you, without asking questions for conscience’ sake.” This is the same principle as in verse 25, don’t ask.
But in verse 28 we find that someone does say that it is meat offered to idols. The strong Christian has a dilemma, and the weak Christian is thinking, if not saying “I can’t eat that.” What do you do? “8 But if anyone should say to you, “This is meat sacrificed to idols,” do not eat [it,] for the sake of the one who informed [you,] and for conscience’ sake; 29 I mean not your own conscience, but the other [man’s]; for why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience? 30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks? 31 Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; 33 just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the [profit] of the many, that they may be saved.
If they don’t eat it, then the unbeliever will be offended. If you do eat it, you offend the weaker brother. What do you do? Don’t eat it! Why? For the sake of the weaker brother and the unbeliever. It is better to offend the unbeliever than a weaker brother. If the unbeliever sees you offending the weaker brother, then the unbeliever would have to conclude that the love of Christians for one another is shallow and it is better to remain an unbeliever than be associated with such people. But if the unbeliever sees the love for one another, it will be attractive. The stronger should simply explain the situation to the unbeliever -, i.e., “my brother here cannot eat such meat in good conscience and I do not want to offend him, so I will need to refrain as well – please pass the beans.”
9) The principle of Emulation. Will it be consistent with Christ likeness? Would Jesus do it? The popular phrase – WWJD – What Would Jesus Do? fits here. This helps in many, many areas. 1 John 2:5,6 – “5 but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: 6 the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.” Romans 8:29 adds that true Christians are predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son. We are to be like Jesus, so ask that question of yourself. What would Jesus do?
10) The principle of Exaltation. Will it exalt God? 1 Corinthians 10:31 “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Will it glorify God? Will it lift up His holy name? Will it honor Him? Will it adorn the doctrine of God in my life? Will He be glorified, honored and praised by it? This is the bottom line of making decisions in any of the so called “gray” areas. Will it exalt God?
That question is only truly important to those that are saved and have their lives correctly focused on the very purpose of their existence which is the glory of God. Those people who remain in their selfishness thinking that life is about themselves will not consider this final question or any of those that preceded it. People can give a lot of lip service to being Christians, but the reality of the claim will be demonstrated in how they live, and especially so when it comes to these issues in which they must carefully think to decide what they will and will not do. It is easy to conform to the sub-cultural standard that exists within a church and fool people into believing that you love God. But you don’t fool God. He knows the truth for He also knows the very motivations of your heart. If you really want to live a life that is honoring to God, then these principles will help you do so.
The principles of Expedience, Edification, Excess, Enslavement, Equivocation, Encroachment, Example, Evangelism, Emulation and Exaltation. Deciding what to do in a “gray area” situations is easy, because these are the “Es” of such decision making.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.
Young Children: Draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch.
Older Children: 1) Count how many times “principle” is said. 2) Discuss with your parents the Biblical principles that will help you decide what is right and wrong before God.
THINK ABOUT IT
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others:
What process do you use to decide whether it would be right before God to do or not do some particular thing? Is it okay to copy commercial software you get from a friend? Why or why not? How are legalists and libertarians the same? Different? Explain the Principle of Expedience – 1 Cor. 6:12. How will you decide if it is okay to sleep in? Explain the Principle of Edification – 1 Cor. 10:23. Do you ever refrain from something just for the sake of the self-discipline involved? Why or why not? Explain the Principle of Excess – Heb. 12:1,2. What is the difference between a sin and an encumbrance? What encumbers you in your walk with Christ? Explain the Principle of Enslavement – 1 Cor. 6:12. Do you have an physical or psychological addictions? If so, how will you break them? Explain the Principle of Equivocation – 1 Peter 2:16. Do you ever use your freedom as a covering for what is actually either sinful or pandering to an evil desire? If so, what will you do to correct yourself. Explain the Principle of Encroachment – Rom. 14. How does your life show your submission to Jesus Christ? In what ways do you violate Jesus’ lordship over you life? What role does your conscience play in your life? How can you train it to righteousness? Explain the Principle of Example – 1 Cor. 8:9. If other people followed your example would they also be following Christ’s example? Why or why not? Explain the Principle of Evangelism – 1 Cor. 10:25-33. Why is it better to offend the non-Christian than the Christian in brining people to Christ? Explain the Principle of Emulation – 1 John 2:5,6. How is God conforming you to the image of His Son? Explain the Principle of Exaltation – 1 Cor. 10:31. Are you living for the glory of God? What can change to make it more glorifying to Him?
Holy & Free- Principles for Living
1 Principle of Expedience
2 Principle of Edification
3 The Principle of Excess
4 The Principle of Enslavement
5 The Principle of Equivocation
6 The Principle of Encroachment
7 The Principle of Example
8 The Principle of Evangelism
9 The principle of Emulation
10 The principle of Exaltation
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