Tuesday, March 20, 2007

BOUNDARIES, NOT BARRIERS

In the first century, a perversion of the Gospel was spreading in the Christian world. Paul made reference to it twice in the book of Romans (Rom. 3:8; 6:1,2). They were saying, "let us sin that grace might increase"! In the last part of Romans 6, Paul reminds them that there was and is no benefit to sinning: "the wages of sin is [still] death." Despite the clear teaching in Scripture, there are many who simply dislike rules and they will do almost anything to conform the Scriptures to their liking. They don't want restrictions or limitations on what they can do. And so there are people who pervert the Gospel to justify sin. But Christian freedom and liberty does not mean freedom to sin (Gal. 5:13). That means that homosexuals have to quit those relationships to become Christian. That means that thieves have to quit stealing to become a Christian. Those who are "living in sin" must make the difficult decision to quit sinning in order to walk with God.

Having now taught for a while in the county jail, I regularly come across people who see civil and criminal laws as barriers. If only society didn't infringe on their liberties, they wouldn't be in jail. This attitude can make more difficult the class I teach on boundaries. Boundaries are the lines between you and me; they define where I end and you begin. Boundaries are about responsibility for myself and respect for others. But sometimes, the students in these classes hear me talking about something different. To them, boundaries are barriers to their happiness and self-fulfillment. They don't want boundaries on what they can say. They don't like boundaries on what they can do: speed limits, drinking limits, ownership limits, spending limits, etc. And so when the discussion is on boundaries, they only hear you talking about barriers to their happiness and freedom. Boundaries to them are just an attempt by society to force them to conform.

Just like those people in jail, there are many who claim to believe in Jesus Christ who will move heaven and earth to soften the teaching in Scripture on holy living. They make it difficult to teach on moral issues because they see it as being negative or as being fixated on Law. But this is not the case. The Lord is the one who commanded us to carry our cross daily and to deny ourselves. It is impossible to understand and put into practice what He is saying unless we distinguish between what is right and wrong. To walk in darkness, instead of the light, is to cross a boundary. To walk on the broad way, instead of the straight and narrow, is to cross a boundary into sin. To do unto others in a way that you yourself would not like is to break the golden rule. There are boundaries in worship: it must be in truth and spirit (Jn. 4:23,24). There are boundaries in marriage and divorce (Matthew 19:1-9; 1 Cor. 7:10-12). So boundaries are not barriers to happiness: they are essential to happiness in Chrisian living.

When someone circumvents the clear teaching of Scripture in order to get along with others, it is no different from justifying sin. The reality is that there are places we can go and places we cannot. God has called us to freedom in Christ, but it is not freedom to sin. When the preacher talks about holy living, be sure to understand that he is not trying to create barriers to your happiness. God's Word defines the boundaries for holy living. Any failure to speak clearly on Christian conduct is to cross a boundary for which there will be severe judgement from God: teachers shall incur a stricter judgment (Jas 3:1ff). Without sounding like a graceless teacher of the Law, we must teach that there are boundries in life.

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