Tag Archives: freedom

Morality and Law

ten commandmentsMany have complained to me about my believing the law (including the Ten Commandments) has passed away with the finished work of Christ. The claim is that if the Ten Commandments are gone, then the things forbidden by the commandments are now acceptable. So, if the law which says, “Thou shalt not commit adultery” is gone, then we are morally free to commit adultery. The problem comes from understanding the role of the law. The law does not make an action morally right or wrong. The law declared what was already immoral to be illegal. Without the law, the immoral is still immoral. Without the law, the threat of punishment for the immoral is gone, but that does not make it moral. Without the law we still must not commit the immoral because it remains immoral, even if there is no law to punish us.

But without further understanding this could lead us into a different error. If morality remains the same even though the law is gone what about dietary laws, restrictions on clothing, and tattoos? If the law declared the immoral to be illegal, then does that mean eating certain things was immoral prior to the law? And wouldn’t eating those things is still be immoral? If so, wouldn’t that mean Christ, by declaring all foods clean, permitted immorality; and the church, as a result, sanctions immorality?

Actually it doesn’t mean this at all. Some laws codified and provided punishment for actions that were always immoral (murder, adultery, disrespect of parents, idolatry, etc.). Other laws were meant to show deeper truths (such as those pointing to Christ like Sabbaths, sacrifices and rituals) or to produce an obviously unique people different from the surrounding communities (such as clothing laws, dietary restrictions, etc.). While these things were not themselves immoral prior to the law, because the law forbade them, committing them violated the law of God which was itself an immoral act. For these otherwise morally neutral but legally forbidden actions, violation was immoral. So, being free from the dietary law, I may eat whatever I choose so long as it is not otherwise immoral. Since food type is morally neutral, I am free to eat whatever. However, even without a law against adultery, adultery is still immoral and contrary to the life of the virtuous Christian.

So, while it is not possible to separate the moral law from the ceremonial law without doing damage to both, it is possible to separate those things that are immoral regardless of law and those things made immoral by inclusion in the law. With the passing away of the old covenant the former are still immoral as always, but the latter are no longer immoral because the law which forbade them has passed away. There is now no law to immorally violate.

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A Time and a Place

This afternoon, while preparing for Sunday, I noticed a Facebook post from a pastor in Pakistan sharing the joy of this year’s Easter celebration. Of course, it didn’t take long for some “well-meaning” Christian to strip away any joy from the post. An American believer responded with the tired old: “Easter is a pagan Roman Catholic holiday.” Now, before you jump on the bandwagon and try to convince me that Easter is evil and sells out the faith along with Christmas and other holidays, let me tell you what bothers me so much about the discussion—a discussion I am more than familiar with, having discussed it for decades.
The first thing bothering me is the absolute inability to celebrate what another church is doing without jumping in with judgment. Here we have a brother celebrating the resurrection of our Lord in a land where doing so makes one into a target. Then, assuming he has any right to speak against such a brother, we hear from one who will likely never actually suffer anything greater than a bit of ridicule for his Lord. I’m sorry, but I’ll put the faith of a brother in Pakistan, China, Cuba or any number of other nations up against the faith of most of my fellow American Christians—including my own faith!
The second thing bothering me is how much of what we see as so important is nothing but a symptom of our own affluence and freedom. We have time to argue and fight with one another about whether Easter or Christmas should be celebrated because our faith costs so little. Christians in America are, comparatively speaking, wealthy. We can afford to waste time with such arguments because we have so much time to waste. If we were locked in a constant struggle to eat we would have no time for such things. If we were assaulted daily for our faith we would not be so cavalier about driving wedges between ourselves and other brethren.
We in the US have time and leisure to argue, fight and divide. It is just sad to see this spoiled nature vomit out when a brother in a persecuted land shares the blessings of our Lord’s service.
This brother’s mean-spirited petty response to the praises of another is a perfect symbol of so much of American Christianity. Does this mean we should never discuss such issues or debate them? Of course not! But we must understand that such discussions are our privilege because of the freedoms we enjoy. We should not smack our unfree brethren upside the head with them—no matter how important we may believe them to be.
Remember, as the teacher said, “There is a time and a place for everything.” There is one important lesson all of us Christians can learn. We must all learn “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.” –Mark Twain

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