I remember a certain situation very well. One brother in faith, who was a little bit older than me, approached me and said that he had something to tell me. We had become friends before this and now I felt that he had something important to tell me. He wanted to discuss a certain matter in my life. It wasn’t clearly a matter of faith, but it was connected to the lifestyle of believers. At first, I was a little worried and felt uncomfortable, but his manner was non-threatening and his words were friendly.
This older brother explained to me how this matter in my life could cause confusion in certain situations. His life and experience regarding the life of believers was richer than my own. I had not thought about this matter in the way my friend now explained it. I didn’t feel any pressure, but on the contrary, this brother said that he only wanted to express his own opinion and understanding. He left me the freedom to do as I felt best. He didn’t approach me from above, preach the law to me, make rules, or put pressure on me. It happened as the Apostle Paul wrote, “Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do” (1 Thess. 5:11).
Believers Are Not Under the Law
The Bible tells us how there was a dispute about the meaning of God’s law in early Christianity. The apostles and other believers gathered in Jerusalem to discuss these matters. There was a different understanding between brothers in the early Christian congregation. The understanding of some believing Pharisees was that the Gentiles must be circumcised after repentance and they must obey the Law of Moses. God opened the correct understanding in His congregation through the Holy Spirit. Many brothers like Simon Peter, Paul, Barnabas, and James testified how many Gentiles heard the Word of the gospel and believed. Peter said to the brothers: “Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they” (Acts 15:10,11). We share this same understanding. We are saved only by faith in Jesus Christ. We are not under the law but under grace. Paul writes to the Romans: “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Rom. 10:4).
Freedom of Faith
What does it mean for believers to not be living under the law? Once I discussed with one teacher how our children attend some but not other events that are typically held at their school. Usually those events were not part of the curriculum, but some celebration or free-time activities. The teacher asked me if I could provide a list of events in which our children would not participate. I said that I couldn’t because we don’t have lists like that.
We know that we don’t need a list of rules because we have the Holy Spirit in our hearts to teach us. Faith is such a precious matter that we don’t want to corrupt it by sin or sinful life. Freedom of faith never means freedom to sin. Regarding that, Paul asks and answers this question in his letter to Romans: “What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid” (Rom. 6:15).
By Grace, Not Works
It would be wrong for us to try to become acceptable to God through a perfect life. Then a wrong kind of timidity would come into our life, keeping us from being a part of society in a normal, contributing way. People have tried to sanctify themselves by living blamelessly, for example, by living in a monastery or convent. God’s Word teaches us that we can freely and with joyful minds enjoy life in its complete richness, to work, meet people, and have hobbies. If we idolize a blameless life, we demean the work of Christ. We would then need advice and admonition so that we could return to trusting in grace. We are and will continue to be sinners, but, by faith, we are pardoned sinners.
Another false freedom comes through not fearing sin or by not having concern about our personal faith. If this is how we live, then we need advice to watch, to struggle on, and to live a life in harmony with the gospel.
Different Personalities and Lives, One faith
The preservation of the freedom of God’s children requires mutual love from us. We must not watch over the life of another brother or sister in a wrong way. We should not become offended over matters that arise through personality differences or ways of life as long as they are not sin. In fact, we can observe that there are many proper ways to live as a believer, but there is only one way to believe. Our experiences in foreign mission work have taught us that faith is the same even though cultures and ways of life are different from ours.
Freedom of Faith and Mutual Love
The love of a child of God does not allow us to restrict the freedom of others or break mutual love by our choices or lifestyle. As humans, we are different from one another. Some of us perhaps want everything to be “black and white.” This type of person wants all matters, also matters of faith, spelled out in an “either or” fashion. He or she wants to be able to categorize everything on one side or the other of an axis separating right from wrong.
Another person, on the other hand, is flexible and compromise-seeking. He or she wants to calmly examine and test things and reach conclusions on them (1 Thess. 5:21). Faith and love give each of us responsibility. It is important to be able to discuss the issues of faith and life in an open and non-threatening atmosphere. We have to love each other in the truth giving and receiving advice when needed. When given with grace and truth, warnings and admonitions are not the law, but caretaking of souls. It is God’s true and proper love toward us!
We come across matters that are clearly sin and against God’s Word. There are other matters that lead us further away from God, disrupt mutual love, take us “onto thin ice” in our life of faith, or entice ourselves or our neighbors to commit sin (1 Cor. 8). And, finally, there are many aspects of our lives that are not faith matters. We must not spiritualize such matters of everyday life.
By faith, God has bestowed on us the greatest freedom of all through His Son, Jesus Christ. Through His work of reconciliation, He purchased our freedom from under the rule of sin, death, and evil. We need God’s help to be able to remain in this freedom. He counsels, admonishes, and instructs us with His Word. Even today we need the exhortations of the Word of God. The Bible reminds us to “exhort one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Heb. 10:25).