They Promise Them Liberty
In 2 Peter chapter 2, the inspired apostle gives us a vivid picture of those who are called false teachers: He warns that they will lead many astray through their destructive heresies; that they will speak deception to those who are escaping from sin; and will entice them through the lust of the flesh. Then, continuing his thoughts (verse 19), Peter says "While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage."
Recently, I've seen some who profess to be gospel preachers, but instead are like those described by Peter. Rather than standing firm in God's Word, they teach the weak and unlearned to be less concerned with living righteously and more concerned with loving others. While I do agree that we need to teach how to be more loving, we must not do so at the expense of standing firm in the Truth and Righteousness of the Gospel.
In the past few years this has been the plea of liberal brethren who want to have unity at the expense of strict adherence to the doctrine of Christ. Even now some are teaching that Liberty in Christ is equal to freedom from religious regulation; especially with regards to moral restraint. Oh, they don't just come flat out and denounce the scriptures, they smoothly misapply the scriptures to teach their ideas of grace, love, and liberty. Here is something that one preacher has said lately:
"The old covenant was a very regulatory covenant, one in which every aspect of their lives, was spelled, out for them. But the new covenant is not like that."..."It is a covenant which is characterized by liberty." Liberty from what, you ask? The scriptures tell us that we have liberty from the law of sin and death (Romans 7 & 8). In Acts 13:38-39 Paul says, "Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses." The Jewish Christians gained freedom from the law which could not remove sins nor give life (Galatians 3:21). They were no longer bound to follow the old law of commandments contained in ordinances (Ephesians 2:15). The handwriting of requirements was nailed to the cross (Colossians 2:14). Also, under the new covenant we gentiles have overcome the power of sin through the avenue that Christ gave us in His dying on the cross. Romans 6:6 says "knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin." Herein is our liberty -- from sin and it's eternal consequences.
But, wait! Isn't this what this preacher is referring to? No. Rather than pointing to our freedom from sin, in the new covenant, he instead refers to the new-found freedom as freedom from regulation; yes, freedom from regulation. He builds a comparison between the old and the new; shows you how regulatory in nature the old law was and then compares it to Christ's law; points to the fact that we are not told exactly how many times to assemble, or exactly to the penny how much we are to give to the Lord, etc; then, takes a quantum leap from there and tries to prove by his theory that the new covenant is not a regulatory covenant; that we have regulatory freedom in Christ.
You say, "Wait a minute brother! You're jumping to conclusions, aren't you?" No, rather driven to conclusions; for notice what he says in the following quote: "It troubles me greatly because I believe that there are many who would try to denigrate that liberty which is in Christ. And they want to spell out every detail in every minute facet of our lives for us. Wherein has the liberty gone?" This preacher says that he was troubled because there were some who were trying to denigrate his liberty which is in Christ. Notice that he says they spell out every detail (but he never mentions who they refers to, or what it is that they are detailing).
Could it be that he does not like the fact that there are some who are more specific in their preaching than he is? Could it be the fact that some brethren are not afraid to make application where it is needed in order to touch the heart and life of the listener? Could there be some moral issues here that he is afraid to deal with, perhaps for fear of self-incrimination? "For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shamewho set their mind on earthly things"(Philippians 3:18-19).
I believe I know the kind of preachers that our libertarian brother is referring to. They are my brethren who are bold in their proclamation of the gospel and in all of the areas in which it applies. They are not afraid to step on toes in order to influence the heart. They are not willing that any aspect of the Christian's life should go unaffected by the words of Christ and of His apostles. They are diligent to make application where it is needed, and sometimes where it is not even wanted. They preach in-season and out-of-season; where they are liked and where they are disliked, fearing God rather than man. The apostle Paul encourages us -- "Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern" (Philippians 3:17).
And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God( Jn. 3:19-21). Now if there are some who are getting upset at those preachers who are spelling it out, doesn't it come with high probability that there must be areas in their preaching or practice that are a little shady? If somebody spells out something that you are involved in which is ungodly and not becoming of a Christian, that you don't want to change, aren't you going to be a little upset too?
That is why some churches choose to hear watered-down preaching. They are not ready to totally conform to God's word, so they bring in preachers who will speak softly and smoothly. "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth..." (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
When these libertarian preachers cry foul because they don't want to adhere to sound doctrine, they are just admitting their looseness. They don't want to deal with the details about godliness -- that stuff is unpopular. They can stay friends with everyone if they don't preach with strictness on modesty, sound speech, dancing, use of alcohol, or other avenues of worldliness. They can keep their audiences at ease by glossing over the specifics, by preaching in the positive and exhorting in the affirmative.
"Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape...?" (Hebrews 2:1-3).
So, if my liberty in the New Covenant is not freedom from regulation, what, then is it? Let's see what the scriptures say: "Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that ones slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life" (Romans 6:16-22).
So the liberty that I have in Christ has not freed me from regulations; it has made me a slave of Righteousness to God, and no longer a slave to sin and death. But my libertarian friend continues with "Don't misunderstand me. I understand that specifically from Galatians chapter 4, liberty is used in reference to liberty from that old covenant, but what kind of covenant was it? It was a regulatory covenant in which every aspect of worship, every aspect of daily life, the kind of work you could do, when you could do it, and every other aspect of your life was for the most part regulated."
Did you catch it? He said "I understand...but". He says that he understands what they had liberty from, but continues to wrest the scriptures in order to support his false premise. If we have liberty from a regulatory covenant, then he must be saying that the N.T. is not a regulatory covenant? That's what he is inferring. He also says "The New Testament is not a list of rules and regulations. Does it contain rules and regulations? Absotively and posilutely! And I said it just the way that I meant it. But it is a system of grace, it is a system of love, it is a system of mercy."
So he admits that the N.T. contains rules and regulations. But, which rules in the N.T. should we override with love or mercy? Should we overlook immodesty because we love our brethren -- Or, rather should we teach them the truth and rebuke their sin? Should we have mercy on the false teacher and let him continue to have fellowship with us -- Or, should we mark and avoid him? Should we accept any and all divorces and remarriages in the name of Christian fellowship -- Or, should we rebuke those that are contrary to scripture?
"Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord." (Ephesians 5:6-10).
In continuing his address, this proponent of perverted grace exclaims: "We know it's a system of grace. We know that there is liberty. But is that what we put into practice in our lives individually, in our churches collectively? Is that how we operate? Is that new covenant a system of perfect law keeping or one of grace?"
Here he pits grace against perfect law-keeping in an effort to contrast the new against the old. If you answer his last question with "grace", then you are rejecting "perfect law-keeping", and are inferring that we are under a system of im-perfect law-keeping. Thus, you are left with the idea that you don't have to be so concerned about missing the mark, or striving to be sinless, since you are not under a system of "perfect law-keeping." Now, what's wrong with this picture? Doesn't this sound a little fishy? The problem is -- we are not under a system that permits us to sin; in fact we are told not to sin. Paul said "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?"(Romans 6:1). Look at these other passages:
Do these libertarians even know what it means to be righteous? They cry about those who allegedly preach "perfect law-keeping", and yet Paul said "DO...NOT...SIN"! What part of "do not sin" do they not understand?
1 Timothy 4:16, "Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you."
1 Timothy 6:14, "that you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christs appearing,"
1 Peter 4:18, "Now 'If the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?'"
Titus 2:14, "who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works."
What's the bottom line here? If you are one who tries very hard to do those things which are right, and to never do things which are wrong, you are classified with those who are perfect law-keepers and are therefore pitted against the law of grace. But those who are imperfect law-keepers, who frequently miss the mark, are left feeling good about themselves because they are under a system of grace that will cover all their sins. These are the ones who are being catered to by the libertarians.
"Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness..."(Jude 3,4)
What else does the libertarian warn about?: "We're gonna bite and we're gonna devour each other and we're gonna be consumed. Now, if the church of Christ is not growing as it should, brethren, this is the reason. Who wants to be a part of that? When there are members who don't want to associate with other members because my shorts might be a little too short, because I may say something that's just a little bit off-color from somebody else."
Are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:6) prone to be dressing immodestly, using off-color speech, engaging in worldliness, or otherwise not adhering strictly to the Truth? It appears that the whole lesson was preached so that this kind of application could be made. Those who are not intent on strictly adhering to the Word are always diminishing those who are. We are the ones who are accused of biting and devouring, because we rebuke them for their backsliding and worldliness. We are accused of being the reason that the church is not growing. Why this sounds like the very same line that the liberals use -- "we don't have the love of Jesus in our hearts."
John said, "In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God..." (1 John 3:10).
Look at the reason that he gives for division: shorts too short, and speech that's off-color. Someone tell me where the Bible says that we should tolerate ungodliness? If we accept their shorts and speech now, what are we gonna do next year when their shorts are shorter and their speech is even more off-color? What about the next year? And the next? You see, they have a way of leading us further and further down the pathway of unrighteousness (Psalm 1:1): They lead you to believe that it's entirely acceptable to walk in the way of the ungodly. Then later they tell you that you can stand in the path of the sinners and not be hurt by it. And, finally you're enticed to accept that if you sit in the seat of the scornful, you are still perfectly "OK" because you're under a system of grace and not of perfect law-keeping.
It sure sounds like the libertarians are approving of some ungodly practices, doesn't it? The apostle Paul rebuked those "who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them" (Romans 1:32), and we must rebuke them as well. My brethren, their kind of preaching must not be tolerated. It must be stopped before it's damning influence is felt.
In 2 Corinthians 6:14, Paul warned "Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?" Now, compare that with the similarities between where we and the libertarians stand: "do not sin" vs. no perfect law-keeping; "pattern of good works" vs. (so-called) liberty; "hungering and thirsting" vs. contented with grace and mercy; and "strictly follow" vs. unconstrained. On one hand, you have those who are seeking to do their very utmost toward God. And, on the other, you find those who are content doing as little as possible. These libertarians are sounding just like the sinners in the world; the only difference is that they claim to be God's children, and are convinced that they are going to heaven.
"He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the just, both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord" (Proverbs 17:15).
Nearing the end of his sermon, this libertarian preacher asks "Will we not bite and devour at one another over things which the New Testament has not specified? When the New Testament tells me to do it, I'm gonna do everything that I can to do just what it says, as it says. But when the New Testament preaches by principles, I don't have liberty to bind anything more than that because I am bound then to operate under how and not how much."
Sounds like it ought to say "You don't have the right to take away my freedom to talk, dress, or act the way that I want to!" The question is: Just what do you think those principles teach you? Are principles there just to be ignored? Do they not serve a purpose? In Galatians 5:21 Paul says, "...drunkenness, revelries, and the like;". Tell me what "and the like" refers to, if it does not pertain to things that are to be included with these sins. Are not immodesty and crude language in the same category with licentiousness and uncleanness?
We are not given freedom to sin. We are to act "as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God" (1 Peter 2:16). "For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another" (Galatians 5:13). Do you see how these libertarian preachers shy away from preaching that we must work righteousness. Instead, they specialize in preaching freedom from regulation. Freedom, freedom, freedom -- that's what they want. They teach weak brethren that they can create their own restrictions regarding modesty, speech, and a myriad of other important issues "For they being ignorant of Gods righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God" (Romans 10:3).
"For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age" (Titus 2:11-12).
What else can we say, but that this libertarian preaching perverts the gospel of Christ (Galatians 1:7). It puts a stumblingblock before our brethren -- teaching them to be loose, accepting of immorality, and insensitive to sin (Rev. 2:14). It shows us that these libertarian preachers are really full of hypocrisy and lawlessness (Mt. 23:28). What did Paul say to one who was seeking to turn others from the truth?: "O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord?"(Acts 13:10).
Those who preach liberty from restrictions need to be marked. Their preaching causes division, because they not only contradict themselves, but they contradict the Holy Scriptures. Heeding to their doctrine will cause one to be separated from the Lord, because they preach grace and liberation instead of strictness and carefulness. They strengthen the hands of evildoers (Jeremiah 23:14), and they strive to have friendship with the world (James 4:4).
"Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1).
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