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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
June 7, 1998
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 think it very well covered an area that we in this church have been struggling with – how to deal with those issues the Bible does not directly commend or condemn. How do we go about figuring out whether it is right before God to engage in any particular practice?
As I have tried to do in the last several messages, I have preached, I have pointed out that 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, with that freedom comes responsibility. We are not to flaunt that freedom in the face of others. We are to love one another and give full consideration to one another. 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.
Let me give you a quick example before we look at the principles I gleaned from MacArthur.
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. For example, in the OT, the command not to steal is expanded and clarified in various passages. For example 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 otherwise it is fraudulent and stealing. Lev. 25:36 deals with charging usurious interest which is then a 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 not only the specific commands that God has given us, but also the principles and precepts of His Word 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 for everyone else based on their own thoughts and feelings will err either to legalism where things that are gray become black and white, or to license where everything becomes gray, just a matter of opinion though they be in direct violation to the principles of God’s Word. Both are wrong. The legalist, the Pharisee, removes the grace of God from life and establishes themselves, instead of Scripture as the final authority. The libertarian removes the holiness of God from life and our pursuit to be like Him. They too become the final authority rather than God’s Word. Both errors commit the same basic sin though they are completely opposite in their application. One places restrictions on what God allows while the other allows what God restricts. God through His revealed Word and the conviction of the Holy Spirit sets the standards for how we are to live – and no one and nothing else.
Let me work you through these 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 some to get you started thinking toward how to apply the Scriptures to your life in a personal, practical way.
Questions to ask yourself when trying to make decisions in areas not specifically commended or condemned in the Bible and so you are trying to practice your freedom in Christ while also trying to be submissive to God’s 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?
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 to 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” to asking what spiritual profit it will bring.
check, if concept of not being master is not brought out later, bring it out
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. Same basic idea as first principle, but word here is edify, (oikodomew ) oikodomeo – “to build a house” Will it add to my life things that increase by spiritual stability, strength and maturity. 1 Cor. 14:26 says, Let all things be done for edification. It is not enough not 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 Cor 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.
For example. You out to celebrate something and you have had a wonderful meal and you are thinking about topping it off with a hot fudge sundae – something you have complete freedom to do – it is good on occasion to just say no! Why, simply to reassert that you are in control of yourself and not your body. 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, I am getting up at my normal time if for no other reason than to assert that you are in control and not your body. Cultivate self-control. When you control your desires with your mind, you exercise yourself for godliness.
So ask yourself as you are considering something, will it build me up, will it strengthen me, will it move me to Christlikeness, to spiritual maturity.
3) The Principle of Excess. Will it slow me down in the race? Will it hinder me in my Christian walk? Heb 11 is the chapter describing those who lived by faith and are the great cloud of witness that are watching us as we strive to live by faith. Heb. 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, (agona ) agona – from which we get our word agony – the grueling, tough, 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 ) 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, and 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. That is not sin, but it is not the way you run a race either. Each of those things is fine in themselves, but they will not help you 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.
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 you are 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. Anything that hinders me from effective service for Christ – I set it aside because I want to run well.
4) The Principle of Enslavement. Will it bring me into bondage? 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.” I should never allow a non-moral thing to become my master. Man is the king of the earth – Psalm 8 – 3 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 they allow it to become their master. They become addicted and controlled by it – whether that is something physical like drugs, or smoking, or drinking, or something more psychological like 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 would be: – if your mind is preoccupied by it, then you are probably enslaved to it. 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.
You are free, but you are using it to cover your lust and evil desire. For example, “I’m free to see that movie, etc. 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 u? Is it something that hinders you in running the race of faith? Does it enslave you? Or does it cloak your evil desire. Look at your motive.
Young people say, “there is nothing wrong with dancing. David danced before the Lord.” True, but is the kind of dancing you are using that as an excuse for the same kind of dancing? We must be careful lest we also 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 wedding and that which occurs at a night club, 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. What I am saying is that you have to be honest enough to examine your own motives. Please understand, as Gal. 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 – doing 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. Jer. 17:9 says, “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. Some think something is a sin and some think the same thing is not. Turn to Romans 14. We have already dealt with this, but we are going to 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.’
What each does or does not do is because each believes it is what the Lord would want. Ask yourself the question then. Is this something I believe the Lord would want or not want? And this is a matter of conscience. What if your conscience is wrong? Don’t violate your conscience. You cannot know if your conscience is wrong anyway. This is because your conscience is only a product of what you believe. We talked about this a few weeks ago. Your conscience will change only as what you believe changes. You do not want to ever develop the habit of going against your conscience or you are in danger of searing it. Paul said he worked hard to keep a good conscience before God (Acts. 23:1; 2 Tim. 1:3). He did not want a seared conscience 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).
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.
7) The Principle of Example. Will it help other Christians by its example? I Cor. 8:9 But take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. We talked about this a few weeks 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 is also from the positive stand point, not just keeping someone from stumbling, but motivating them to Christ likeness. 1 Cor. 11:1 Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. Our goal in all areas of dealing with one another is described in Eph. 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 other Christians by its example?
8) The Principle of Evangelism. Will it lead others to Christ? 1 Cor. 10:25-33. Background. In pagan worship – animals sacrificed. Excess meat the pagan priests could not eat was sold out the back door – the “temple butcher shop.” A strong believer, has no problems with the idolatry associated with it because he knows idols are nothing. But someone else not being strong in faith, maybe just coming out of such idolatry himself, cannot in good conscience eat such meat or he might feel he was again participating in that idolatry. 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 butcher. Simply view it as God providing.
Next, 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. So here we find also the principle – don’t ask – same as in verse 25.
But now, in verse 28 we find that someone says it was meat offered to an idol – “hey, isn’t that a great roast. I got a great deal on it at the temple butcher shop.” The strong Christian has a dilemma and the weak Christian is thinking if not saying “I can’t eat that.” What to 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 – 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 – better to remain an unbeliever than be hooked up 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 – pass the beans.”
9) The principle of Emulation. Will it be consistent with Christ likeness? Would Jesus do it? Popular phrase now – WWJD – What Would Jesus Do? This will help 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 questions of yourself. What would Jesus do?
10) The principle of Exaltation. Will it glorify God? 1 Cor. 10:31 Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Will it exalt God, lift up His holy name, will it honor Him, will it adorn the doctrine of God in my life? Will He be glorified, and honored and praised?
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