Asserting Our Rights

Sam Petitfils 

“But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Corinthians 8:9)

Many people today parade their freedom and rights, and will quickly defend them if someone dares question them. But the Apostle Paul cautioned against this stance, and instead directed the followers of Christ to operate from a higher motive: the law of love.

We need to guard against a couple of positions that people adopt when it comes to Christian rights and liberty (those so-called gray matters that Scripture doesn’t directly address):

1. Legalism.
The legalist launches a banning campaign, and attempts to simply forbid anything and everything. They pile up rules and heap up lists of conduct to the highest heavens. But they do not succeed for several reasons. Sometimes they forbid what God allows. In another discussion on liberty in Romans 14, Paul seems to identify the weak with those who forbid the most (14:1-12). He calls the person who requires a strict adherence to diet and observance of religious days, “weak” (Romans 14:2). Legalists also stumble over their own inability to consistently live up to their strict code of conduct, opening themselves up to charges of hypocrisy. Finally their strict rules do not address the real problem: the human heart. God cares about motive and what goes on inside the heart (Romans 14:5-9).

2. Libertinism.
Libertines do not ban things; in fact they allow themselves any activity they want. They pride themselves on what they allow, and forbid very little. Their god is their belly (Philippians 3:19). They flaunt their liberty and seem to live for it. Their biggest error is they see no connection between salvation and holy living. John would write that our hope in Christ leads to a pure life (1 John 3:3), while Paul wrote that true grace teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires (Titus 2:11-12). People who parade their liberty often turn grace into lust (Jude 4) and seem to base their lifestyle on their present impulses.

But the Christian needs to operate on higher principles such as love to God and neighbor. God calls us to sacrifice many things, including our liberty if it might become a stumbling block to another believer, particularly a new convert. God does indeed grant the child of God a degree of liberty if it does not violate a biblical command or principle. In fact, we should not allow our liberty to be judged by another person’s conscience (1 Corinthians 10:29). Still, if some activity we may allow ourselves causes another to stumble, then we should gladly surrender it (Romans 14:13; 1 Corinthians 8:13).

Jesus calls us to love and to have due consideration of the spiritual welfare of others in the body of Christ. If my actions, although not strictly evil, cause a brother or sister to stumble, then I need to be willing to set aside my liberty for however long it takes. Love will lead us to live above approach and also to set a good example to others. It also leads us to consider the needs of our brothers and sisters above our own (Philippians 2:3-4).

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