Moderation, Contentment, and Christian Liberty (Calvin)

John Calvin’s section on Christian liberty in his Institutes is one of my favorite parts of this outstanding book.  It’s biblical, Christ centered, founded on grace, pastoral, and very level-headed.  At one point Calvin says that Christian freedom does not mean we can be luxury-seeking gluttons and drunks who chase after our own lusts.  Note how he talks about moderation and soberness, and also notice how he explains that Christian liberty has to do with contentment:

“Where there is plenty, to wallow in delights, or gorge oneself, to intoxicate mind and heart with present pleasures and be always panting after new ones – such are very far removed from a lawful use of God’s gifts.”

“Away, then, with uncontrolled desire, away with immoderate prodigality, away with vanity and arrogance – in order that men may with a clean conscience cleanly use God’s gifts.  Where the heart is tempered to this soberness they will have a rule for lawful use of such blessings.”

“But should this moderation be lacking, even base and common pleasures are too much.  …Thus let every man live in his station, whether slenderly, or moderately, or plentifully, so that all may remember God nourishes them to live, not luxuriate.  And let them regard this as the law of Christian freedom: to have learned with Paul, in whatever state they are, to be content; to know how to be humble and exalted; to have been taught, in all circumstances, to be filled and to hunger, to abound and to suffer want (Phil. 4:11-12).

John Calvin, Institutes, III.XIX.9.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

That’s Not Christian Liberty, That’s Immaturity!

Conscience: What It Is, How to Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ by [Naselli, Andrew David, Crowley, J. D.] Christian liberty is one of those great biblical truths the Protestant Reformers recovered.  The papacy had made all sorts of rules, regulations, doctrines, and so forth that were neither commanded nor taught by Scripture.  The Reformers, thinking of texts like Matthew 15:9, Acts 5:29, Galatians 5:1 (and so on), said that to believe man-made doctrines or to obey man-made religious laws destroys the freedom of the conscience (see WCF 20.2).

The Reformers also talked about Christian liberty in terms of the gospel, that our consciences are be free from the terrors of the law because Christ obeyed in our place and paid for all our sins.  Justification by faith alone is very closely related to Christian liberty!

John Calvin said the following:

“…Christian freedom is, in all its parts, a spiritual thing.  Its whole force consists in quieting frightened consciences before God – that are 1) perhaps disturbed and troubled over forgiveness of sins, or 2) anxious whether unfinished works, corrupted by the faults of our flesh, are pleasing to God, or 3) tormented about the use of things indifferent (Institutes, III.XIX.8)”

Of course, Christian liberty has a few angles to it.  It also means we should obey God and seek to be holy – Christ saved us to do good works! (Eph. 2:10).  I also appreciate how Naselli and Crowley explained Christian liberty as they reflect on 1 Corinthians 9:19 and the surrounding context:

“Christian liberty isn’t, ‘Cool! I finally get to do the stuff I’ve always wanted to but my strict upbringing wouldn’t let me.  Then you Facebook about it so that everyone knows you’re hip.  That’s not Christian liberty; that’s immaturity.  Christian liberty is the domain of the mature, not the immature.  When the immature get ahold of it, they make a mess of it, like some of the Corinthians did.

Christian liberty is not about you and your freedom to do what you want to do.  It’s about the freedom to discipline yourself to be flexible for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of weaker believers.”

In summary, Christian liberty 1) frees us from man-made laws and doctrines, 2) is based upon the gospel and justification by faith alone, and 3) isn’t about doing whatever you want to do, but in self-control being flexible for the sake of the gospel.  Here’s Calvin again:

“Nothing is plainer than this rule: that we should use our freedom if it results in the edification of our neighbor, but if it does not help our neighbor, then we should forego it.”

The above quote by Naselli and Crowley is found on page 132 of Conscience: What It Is, How to Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Consumer Sex and the Crumbling of Society

For quite a few years Jennifer Morse has been saying that if sex is separated from man-and-wife marriage, committed relationships, and procreation, and if it is reduced to a consumer product, it will lead to the weakening of a free society.  One of the places she argues this point is in her 2005 book, Smart Sex: Finding Life-Long Love in a Hook-Up World.  I don’t agree with everything in this book, but Morse makes some outstanding ethical and social points in it.  For example:

The sexual revolution has been disappointing because it has been profoundly anti-social.  By uncoupling sexual activity from both of its natural functions, procreation and spousal unity, we have capsized the whole natural order of sexuality.  Instead of being an engine of sociability and community building, sex has become a consumer good.  Instead of being something that drives us out of ourselves and into a relationship with others, our sexual activity turns us inward on ourselves and on our own desires.  A sexual partner is not a person to whom I am irrevocably connected by bonds of love.  Rather, my sexual partner has become an object that satisfies me more or less well.  I call this modern approach to sexual behavior ‘consumer sex’” (p. 61-2).

“…The view I laid out in the first section [of this book] is an outline of an alternative view: human sexuality is about building up the community of the family, both through bringing new children into being and through unifying the spouses in heart and soul as well as body.”

“I believe this difference in world view is at the heart of the culture wars.  One side believes the meaning of human sexuality is primarily individual.  Sex is primarily a private activity; the purpose of sex is to obtain individual pleasure and satisfaction.  The alternative view is that sex is primarily a social activity.  The purpose of sex is building up the community of the family, starting with the spousal relationship and adding on from there” (p. 63).

“Sexual activity can be destructive of community if people become focused inward, exclusively on their own desires, rather than on the building up of the community of the family” (p. 115).

Morse is right on here.  A consumer view – a narcissistic view – of sex is ultimately bad for people and society in more ways that we might realize (I’ll come back to this in a later post).  The biblical view of husband, wife, marriage and family is not a straight-jacket, boring, or old-fashioned way of life; it is a way of life that benefits and blesses other people – and society as a whole!

Jennifer Roback Morse, Smart Sex, (Dallas: Spence Publishing, 2005).

shane lems

Christ Has Set You Free

Slave of Christ: A New Testament Metaphor for Total Devotion to Christ (New Studies in Biblical Theology) One very rich NT theme is the freedom that Christ has gained for his people in his death and resurrection.  In fact, because Paul talks about this freedom so frequently, he has been called “the apostle of freedom.”  Here is Murray Harris’ summary of the NT’s teaching of the freedom that Christ has won for us:

1) Freedom from spiritual death (John 5:24, Eph. 2:1, Col. 2:13).

2) Freedom from ‘self-pleasing’ (2 Cor. 5:15).

3) Freedom from people-pleasing (Gal. 1:10, 1 Cor. 7:23, 9:19).

4) Freedom from slavery to sin (John 8:34, 36, Rom. 6:14-23).

5) Freedom from bondage to the Mosaic law, especially if observing it is seen as a way of gaining God’s approval (Rom. 7:6, Gal. 2:16, 3:10, 13).

6) Freedom from fear of physical death (Heb. 2:14-15).

7) Freedom from slavery to ‘the elemental spiritual forces of the universe” (Gal. 4:3, 8-9, Col. 2:8, 20).

Murray later writes,

“Only the person who has suffered under the rigors of slavery truly appreciates freedom.  Indeed, the more intense one’s experience of servitude, the greater one’s appreciation of emancipation.  The joy of freedom is in direct proportion to the pain of slavery.  The person who is unaware of being enslaved neither longs for nor appreciates freedom.  On the other hand, the person who is painfully aware of grinding slavery will pine after freedom and embrace it with enthusiastic relief when it comes.”

Murray Harris, Slave of Christ, p. 75-79. shane lems

The Fundamental Principle of Protestantism

Systematic Theology, 3 Volumes One of the high notes of the gospel is that Jesus has set his people free from sin’s guilt and bondage, Satan’s tyranny, and the demands and curses of the law as a covenant of works.  Since he has set us free, we are to walk in that freedom (Gal. 5:1).  We obey his law out of gratitude, and submit willingly to him, but we do not allow human laws and traditions to bind our consciences.  Sola scriptura: “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, for man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture” (WCF 1.6).  Charles Hodge explained this in a wonderful way (if you listen carefully, you can hear echoes of the Westminster Standards and Martin Luther in these words):

“It follows from the fundamental principle of Protestantism, that the Scriptures are the only rule of faith and practice, that no work can be regarded as good or obligatory on the conscience which the Scriptures do not enjoin. Of course it is not meant that the Bible commands in detail everything which the people of God are bound to do, but it prescribes the principles by which their conduct is to be regulated, and specifies the kind of acts which those principles require or forbid.”

“It is enough that the Scriptures require children to obey their parents, citizens the magistrate, and believers to hear the Church, without enjoining every act which these injunctions render obligatory. In giving these general commands, the Bible gives all necessary limitations, so that neither parents, magistrates, nor Church can claim any authority not granted to them by God, nor impose anything on the conscience which He does not command.”

“As some churches have enjoined a multitude of doctrines as articles of faith, which are not taught in Scripture, so they have enjoined a multitude of acts, which the Bible neither directly, nor by just or necessary inference requires. They have thus imposed upon those who recognize their authority as infallible in teaching, a yoke of bondage which no one is able to bear. After the example of the ancient Pharisees, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, and claim divine authority for human institutions. From this bondage it was one great design of the Reformation to free the people of God. This deliverance was effected by proclaiming the principle that nothing is sin but what the Bible forbids and nothing is morally obligatory but what the Bible enjoins.”

“Such, however, is the disposition, on the one hand, to usurp authority, and, on the other, to yield to it, that it is only by the constant assertion and vindication of this principle, that the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free can be preserved.”

Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, book 3 page 237 (III.XVII.4.3).

shane lems
hammond, wi

Redemption

 I’m enjoying this book on counseling: Redemption by Mike Wilkerson (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011). In it, Wilkerson explains how the gospel kills our idols and heals our wounds.  I appreciate this book because it shows first of all that people really deal with some terrible suffering and secondly it shows that the redemption Jesus accomplished has everything to do with our wounds, sins, and tears.  This is where theory and practice meet: the truths of the gospel have everything to do with the Christian in the valley in the shadow of death.

“..What if your anguish stems from the slavery of addiction?  Here too it may get worse before it gets better.  But that doesn’t mean God is absent; it means he is at war against the gods that have enslaved you.  It means the bonds of slavery have been tied so tightly that they’ve cut into your skin and can’t be removed without some bleeding.  Your slave masters are not only outside you, in the temptations of the world; they are also within you, wherever you have allowed those temptations to bond with your sinful desires.”

“You must still cry out to God in faith for deliverance.  Yet, as you are brutally honest about your anguish, you must equally be honest about your sin.  You must know that you are in the midst of a war.  Expect death and pain in the process because you have to put sin to death by the Spirit (Rom. 8:13).  But also expect new life, for those who die with Christ also rise with him (Rom. 6:8).  What this means is that your redemption is as certain as his resurrection.”

I recommend this book for any serious Christian who deals with deep scars or who knows other scarred Christians who need gospel centered encouragement.  Pastors, elders, and other Christian leaders who counsel people will want to read this for sure.  There are reflection questions, Scripture references, and “for further study” resources at the end of each chapter.  Redemption is just under 200 pages, and most Christians should be able to work through the book one chapter at a time.  This may be a good book for a small group discussion setting.  I doubt anyone will regret reading this; in fact, I’m certain many will read it again and again.

shane lems