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THE LIBERTY OF LOVE AND THE LOVE OF LIBERTY
CAN THE DUTIFUL BE BEAUTIFUL ?
A QUESTION has been asked,
in general to this effect:
HOW is there perfect liberty in Christ as in Galatians,
if we have to keep restrictions such as those seen in Acts 15 ?
LET US TAKE THE WORDS AS GIVEN, FOR THIS QUESTION, WHICH HAS BEEN RELAYED.Introduction to Answer
'Could the religious fundamentalists please let me
know how they reconcile Paul's writing in Galatians that NO restrictions
were imposed upon the message of Christian liberty he preached; with the
account in Acts which insists that a letter was circulated to Paul insisting
that he taught abstinence from blood and meat sacrificed to idols?'
It would appear that the questioner wishes those who believe that God has chosen to speak, and that His word in the Bible is true, to answer a particular problem for that person. This in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by His grace and strength, we are happy to do.
One would also point out that the demonstration that
the Bible is the word of the one and Almighty God is found in The Shadow
of a Mighty Rock, esp. Chs. 1-3, 10,
but throughout. The precision of utterance on this present topic of interest,
is just like what He says about His return in the person of Jesus Christ.
For the latter see Ch. 5 above. In this case,
history is expounding it without words, just as the words for it, the script,
are written around two millenia beforehand.
The first consideration which comes to mind is that the letter is not accurate. It will therefore help if you correct some matters.
The second is this: it does not make as much of Paul's claims to liberty, as it might have done. Surely in Galatians 5 there is a far broader account of it, than that quoted.
The third: the letter to which the enquirer appears to refer, in Acts 15, is not circulated TO Paul, but to be circulated BY him. It does NOT tell what HE teaches, but what seemed good to the church, though of course, he agreed.
Fourthly, therefore, and in principle: in answering a query about what something MEANS you really first have to find what it SAYS. To this then, and not to some concept about it, we shall now come.
Now we come to the immediate answer to the material, as
corrected, and as given
1.THE ISSUE relative to the Acts 15 council was in a major way, just this...
Was circumcision needed for salvation ? A sensationalistic statement and evil claim to the effect that it was, appears in Acts 15:2. It was a direct attack on the Gospel as in Galatians 6:14, John 10:9, Romans 3:23ff., Ephesians 2:1-10. Paul did not give place "for one hour". He was horrified, affronted, appalled (Galatians 2:5). He characterised their activities as being directed to "spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage".
2. Some of the sect of the Pharisees (Acts 15:5) were of opinion that it WAS in fact necessary to salvation to be circumcised, and more generally, "to keep the law of Moses". Such a breach of the LIBERTY IN CHRIST, to make it a bondage to secure salvation, not a gift, was outrageous, contradiction of all that Christ had done, and finished (I John 5:12-13, Romans 10:9).
3. The finding of the meeting however was not to this effect. It was the complete contradictory of such an alien view, a humanistic hollowness, a self-vaunting co-saviour concept, for the sinner. Peter in particular made the dramatic appeal: "Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on 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 in the same manner as they." This of course was in line with Psalm 32, Isaiah 53:10, 55:1-10. Hearing the work of God through Paul and Barnabus, then, the meeting went on to declare "that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we write to them…." (Acts 15:19-20)
4. The impact of this was that the notion that you needed the law observance or circumcision in general, in order to be saved, was misplaced. It was woeful, offensive, intrusive, contrary to Christ.
5. However, there were some measures deemed to "seem good" to them and to the Lord, to lay on them no more than certain "necessary things". Now the language, "seemed good" (Acts 15:28) in the context just reviewed, means NOT that it is NECESSARY to salvation to do this and that; but that it seems good that they should so act. It is necessary, therefore in some other respect, as "seemed good" suggests, following the complete NEGATIVING of the concept of law-keeping FOR salvation, which had decisively just been made.
6. In that context, then it cannot be necessary for salvation. Nor does it say that it is.
7. In what then does this necessity consist ?
A review of Paul's writing in I Timothy 4:4-5, shows that he teaches BY THAT TIME that "every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer."
8. The term "every creature" as to the scope for eating, and "nothing" as to what cannot be received is perfectly clear. The prohibition is therefore withdrawn, as in Acts 15.
9. Peter meanwhile, we find, has indicated that Paul's writings are "scripture" along with the writings of the others whose words were God-given, that is, those who wrote the other books of the Bible (II Peter 3:16). Since this is the case, then this definition of Paul applies as the word of God.
10. What however of what had "seemed good" to the Acts 15
meeting ? The language and the lack of definition about the nature of the 'necessity', except that in context it could NOT mean for salvation, indicates, in view of the above, that this was a temporary and prudential injunction. It was presumably meant to prevent upsets and dissensions, uproar and difficulty for people newly won from Jewry, who would be outraged in certain emotional respects if some matters were taken BEYOND the 'mere' affirmation that faith (with repentance - Luke 13:1-3, Acts 2:36) in the Lord's Christ (not some other one, made up in the minds of men - Luke 2:36, II Corinthians 11). There was to be some gracious restraint, lest some be incensed and unstable. This was an exercise in love from the outset.
Thus they would be especially sensitive at some points of custom (Acts 15:29). It also "seemed good" to send chosen men as message bearers (Acts 15:25). Are they then to be presumed to
be 'necessary to salvation' or simply used for a purpose for the time, as convenient and appropriate ? This then is the sense of the term.
11. Baptism itself, similarly, and as in Galatians 6:14, I Peter 3:21 was not necessary to salvation, but statedly applied in terms of being of good conscience to God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, was something far removed from the merely sacramental.
It is NOT the washing of the flesh, says Peter, but the express work of faith in the objective Christ, bodily raised (Romans 10:9, I Cor. 15:1-3, Luke 24:39) which is the rest of faith. Nevertheless, people should in their lives, if Christian, ensure that they were baptised. As with the thief on the cross, there was no way could he be baptised before death. It simply did not matter in this, that it is not a criterion or necessity in order to be saved. While it was a good symbolism and a proper sign of the covenant, and hence in fidelity and openness of heart to be sought; for all that, it no more made salvation, or was necessary for it, than a ring for marriage. The 'baptism' of I Cor. 12:13 is the one that is to the point here, and that is the enmemberment in Christ by faith, in His body.
12. It is the same with the Lord's supper. AS OFTEN AS YOU DO IT, Christ indicated, do it in remembrance of Me. Is this some lack of, or loss of liberty ? Is this some 'restriction', to use the words of the party putting the question which we here answer ?
Is it a 'restriction' to 'love one another with a pure heart' (I Peter 1:22) ? so that you do not needlessly provoke them, as in Acts 15 ? or that "as new born babes," those becoming Christians are to "desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby" (I Peter 2:2) ? Is it a restriction on a bridegroom that it seems good to kiss his bride, or a NATURAL EXPRESSION of his love ? Does baptism as a symbol of the faith, does the Lord's Supper as providing an image of His death and pictorial expression the direct and personal appropriation of the fruits of His sacrifice for sin, become a NECESSITY for salvation, then, because it seems GOOD to the Lord that you should do it ?
13. This is simply reading into the Bible what is not there, and in the case of Acts 15, reading into it what it has just expressly REJECTED.
14. That is like imagining that when a girl says, No I do not love you, but it would be good if we dined tonight, that this means that if you do, she will marry you! It is stretching words beyond breaking point. Moreover, in the case before us in Acts 15, it is no mere unwise extension of the text, that is being assumed in the questioner whom we answer, but a flat contradiction of its own emphasis, just before made; and this without any verbal warrant at all. If you want to 'interpret' somebody by contradiction of what is presented, you have ceased to relate to the words in view.
15. Quite simply NOWHERE does the Bible limit the freedom of salvation in Christ, to make something else necessary for salvation, least of all in Acts 15, which categorically condemns such a conception, Paul himself bearing the letter. This is the liberty which some spy out, because Galatians is explicitly rebutting those who made it clear this was needful IN ORDER TO BE SAVED (as noted for Acts 15:1, cf. Galatians 2:4-5). THIS is the liberty and THIS is the freedom. You still breathe, not in order to be saved; you still love, as an expression of it. But the lack of restriction is on the cause of restriction, which in context is the liberty in Christ ONLY to bring your salvation, in faith through His blood, by grace (Romans 3:23ff., Ephesians 2:1-10).
The result of the meeting went to perfection with his own writings, such as his stout defence of this liberty, the more especially in Galatians 2, 3,5. There he asks them if they have lost their minds, or very nearly so, in that having BEGUN in the Spirit, they now want to CONTINUE in the flesh. Did law keeping save you ?
Is this how it began ? he asks. Then avoid such folly. That, after all was the question put to THEM, and this is the answer provided by THEM ALL. It is impossible to find any problem, except if one ignores what is written, then adds to it. This the Bible FORBIDS (Proverbs 30:6). It is not a right way to interpret anyone, and an extraordinary way to 'interpret' the Bible, an invasion of the word of God.
16.In Galatians 5, indeed, Paul is still more insistent. STAND FAST IN THE LIBERTY which you have obtained, he exclaims. Which liberty is that ? It is the liberty "by which Christ has made us free", and he adds, "do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage." All the scriptures are saying the same. NOTHING is to be added to the objective Christ (Galatians 3:8,14,18) for salvation. Whatever He requires is to be done in love and in prudence and in helpfulness, being 'all things to all men' (I Corinthians 9:19-22), if by any means any may be saved.
17.Accordingly, for example, it also "seems good" to the apostle, NOT to offend someone by eating meat offered to idols. It is NOT that the idols are anything; it is NOT that it is dangerous to faith, or a breach of any sort of salvation necessity.
It is simply that it would help some weaker brethren if you did not flaunt your liberty in their faces in matters where they are not yet clear. "And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died ?" (I Cor. 8:11).
Thus Paul does many things, accepts many limits in his work, in order not to offend needlessly those who are being saved: "to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might be all mans save some. Now this I do for the gospel's sake…" (from I Cor. 9:22-23). This however does not constitute a barrier to be leapt over in order to be saved, but a FREE and WILLING provision of grace in order to be serviceable.
Thus a doctor does not smile in order to remain a member of the Medical Association, and would not regard this (in most cases, one hopes) as a restriction on his own mode of being a member; he might well nevertheless do it, in a gracious manner, to help the patient. There simply has to be a distinction and realisation of the distinction between the works of flesh, the salvation through works, and the normal functioning of the heart and conscience of a Christian in liberty, as expression of goodness. Out of love what is needed is done without any more conditioning or 'restriction' than a good mother feels in cutting a kid's lunch.
In other words, trees have fruit, but the fruit is not the root. The tree is freely planted by God (Matthew 15:13), and the fruit is the result. Bearing fruit is not a restriction, but a function. The tree naturally produces it. If you really are a good tree, it would be a real nuisance, a restriction NOT to do it! It is all a matter of understanding what Christian life is, and of knowing the Lord. That is a certain result of being born again (John 17:1-3, Jeremiah 9:23-24).
18. Thus the answer to the "problem"
is very simple.
2) That it is done in love, for
works by love (Galatians 5:6), and it is planned
as a help to the afflicted, troubled or confused. This of course has LESS
THAN NOTHING to do with being saved, but everything to do with the grace
to be shown to others when you are! The teaching is explicit, and these
are examples of that principle.
It is a bond like a helicopter rope,
that is used to draw others. That is all. It is not how the helicopter
works. It is service from above.
That is what the apostle says. Using a car is not buying it; rather, it is one of the reasons for the purchase. In this case, the 'purchase' is free, and is a donation from Christ, so that there is no restriction associated with the Christian message, but there is this that one owes to love one another. If this seems a burden, then where is the love ? If the love is present, then there is its function.
Paul therefore, while showing the
principles of loving restraint will not "for
one hour" allow this to be swerved, twisted
or tormented into some silly notion that your restraint is some work necessary
to salvation, or that the law is your saviour in part or in whole. A man
is justified "by faith apart from the deeds
of the law", he declaims in Romans 3:28. That
was the issue, the context, the question, and this is the answer.
Furthermore, it is not only a GIFT
but a "GIFT BY GRACE" (Romans 5:15), so that BOTH what is given to you
(the gift of God is eternal life, Romans 6:23), AND the WAY it is received
is a gift. Nothing meritorious, restrictive, is there. It is all grace,
gift by faith, since the work is ALL DONE BY CHRIST; and it was HE on whom
the restriction came, when He bore sin, for this was death! (Isaiah 53:6).
His people receive life, according to the Gospel and the experience (cf. I Peter 1:8ff.). In love we then proceed, we who are Christians, to SHOW it. For an athlete to show his speed is not a restriction but an opportunity: if he really is an athlete; and as to Christ, His burden is light.
It is a joy of intense liberty to serve Him. To show self-control for others is no burden, but as natural as the green in LIVING leaves. To the dead, all is the burden; and in a figure, they are a burden even to themselves!
Need more. It also is there,
for Paul continues in Ephesians 2: "not of
works lest anyone should boast". Imagine getting
to heaven and saying, Oh well, I was enabled to do better by my own
works, adding to the flavour and savour of the Gospel! Not permissible!
Heaven is not like that. It is the gift of God, that you enter. So Romans
6:2, John 10:9, 4:10,14. What FLOWS OUT (John 7:38) of the midst of the
Christian is statedly the Spirit of God. By His power, who comes in the
name of Christ, what is needed may be done, and He comes from Christ as
a gift (Acts 11:17, 2:38), who endues the Lord's people. In short, "freely
you have received, freely give!" (Matthew
10:8). There is no restriction in liberty, and
"where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty"
- II Cor. 3:17.
Apart from this question which you relayed to me, you might find it useful to read The Shadow of a Mighty Rock, Chapter 7, Part 3. You can get this by turning to the LIBRARY and then to the SHADOW in that, and on the page this provides, this is a page counter to take you places.
In the love of Christ,
whose word is truth
for World Wide Web Witness Inc.