We will be searching through the entire Word of God for His thoughts on this matter. Our main text for this book is taken from 1 Corinthians 11:1-16:
“1Be ye followers of me, even also as I am of Christ. 2Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you. 3 But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. 5 But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. 6 For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. 7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. 8 For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of the man. 9 Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man. 10 For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. 12 For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God. 13 Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? 14 Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? 15 But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering. 16 But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.”
“Because Christ has made us free from legalistic rules and regulations by his sacrifice, our only law is the law of love. We “walk by the spirit” as Christians, not by a definite set of instructions – otherwise it would be legalism, and Paul warns us against that! Therefore, dress and attire is subject to each individual’s taste and we can’t say one way or the other for everybody. Doing so would be judgmental and not in accordance with the laws of love, right?”
When Christ shed His blood for our sins and we believe it, the chains that bound us before salvation have been loosed. We have been freed. But just what have we been freed from?
- We are free from the kingdom of sin and death and permanently transferred to the kingdom of righteousness in Christ (Rom 6:16-23, Rom 8:1-4)
- We are free from the power of the law to condemn us to eternal separation with God (See the whole book of Romans)
- We are free from God’s wrath (1 Thess 5:9)
- We are free from the powers of fear (1 John 4:18, 2 Tim 1:7)
This is salvation. Salvation itself is in fact free. Because the human race is cursed by sin and all men are condemned to eternity in hell, God sent His sinless Son to die a horrendous death on the cross so that our debt would be paid. He said that if we would believe that He did it for us, He would put that payment to our account and we could go to heaven on what He did. No human being can experience freedom until this happens – but what a glorious thing it is if they do!
Some have the impression that we are now free to do whatever we want. That is not the purpose of Christ’s death. He did not die for us so we could then live for ourselves and just “do our own thing.” He freed us with a purpose in mind: growing closer to Him. He wants us to grow in our relationship with Him every day of our lives, but we cannot do that if we are living for ourselves.
“But wasn’t it for total freedom that Christ set us free?”
Yes and no. Jesus wanted us to be totally free from the curse of the law, which is found it its ability to send somebody for hell for not measuring up to God’s perfect standard. Because of His substitutionary death for us, the law has no power to slay us when we do not look to it to establish our righteousness in God’s sight. Jesus set us free from that condemnatory curse by shedding His blood on the cross. But Jesus never had freedom from the law as used for our instruction and growth in mind when He died for us. He set us free so we could follow Him by keeping those commandments, the moral laws of God. This moral law is called the perfect law of liberty – it is the framework for living to those who are set free from the law’s curse! Freedom is never found in lawlessness. A lawless lifestyle is synonymous with a sinful lifestyle, and sin chokes the joy, abilities and ministry of a Christian. Even Christians still have within themselves a wicked side that must be restrained. If it is not, it will destroy their lives.
In regards to the law, Christ actually raised the bar for us, not lowered it. He took observance beyond the bare minimum to a new level. He found and applied the true spirit behind the law, which is love. The law forbids murder, but Jesus said anyone who hates his brother commits murder in his heart. He did not dismiss the command, He only expounded on it and took it beyond the outward to the inward. The law forbids adultery, but Jesus said that just lusting after a woman causes a man to commit adultery in his heart. In which Testament does God expect more? The age of law or the age of grace? The law of the Old Testament is one of love. The law gave an outline of how we should love God and our neighbor that Jesus built upon, not abolished. When the Bible tells us that our law is the law of love, that doesn’t now mean that we don’t listen to what the Bible tells us anymore and we just rely on our own ideas of what love is. Jesus told us that the law, the Old Testament moral law, can be summarized in two points: loving God with all of your heart, mind, soul and strength and loving your neighbor as yourself. You cannot love your neighbor if you steal from him, kill him, bear false witness against him, or transgress any of the other of God’s commandments. See, grace can never nullify government. Grace enables people to obey government because they cannot do it on their own.
The law offers blessings to its keepers because it shows a man how he should walk.
“But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.” (James 1:25)
True freedom from the destruction, sorrow and chains of sin is found in continuing the work of this law – namely, to keep God’s commandments.
“Let thy mercies come also unto me, O LORD, even thy salvation, according to thy word. So shall I have wherewith to answer him that reproacheth me: for I trust in thy word. And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth; for I have hoped in thy judgments. So shall I keep thy law continually for ever and ever. And I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts.” (Psalm 119:41-45)
Our society tells us that freedom means not having to obey rules. But what happens in a lawless society where people are left to their own devices? The people become enslaved because they do what they want. They bind themselves in the chains that come with all manner of addictions and sinful practices. God sets rules in place to keep people liberated. Rules build a wall of protection around us. This wall is not built to keep the people in captivity, but to keep the enemies out who would destroy them. It is out of His love that God has set down rules, not because He wants to make us enslaved. He wants to set us free from the things that enslave us by putting them outside the wall. God has standards because He wants to keep us free, and give us the opportunity to live a life glorifying to Him. Submitting ourselves to God’s commandments out of a simple trust and love for Him is the substance of righteous living, not legalism. God wants His children to live righteous lives – lives that shine in the darkness of the world that point to something greater. Those who live righteously will be blessed for it!
“Blessed is every one that feareth the Lord; that walketh in his ways. For thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands: happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee.” (Psalm 128:1, 2)
Righteous living does involve a level of trust that God’s ways are best, and that He will keep up His end of the bargain, which is producing fruit in us when we abide in Him (John 15). When we run from Him or suppress His Spirit working in us, we will not produce any fruit.
As Christians, God wants us to become more and more like His son every day after that salvation – not to stay saved, but to honor Him, reach others and lay up rewards in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21). Now that we are saved, God speaks through His Word that we were freed with a purpose in mind: to serve the Lord and each other (Gal 5:13, Rom 7:6, Eph 2:10) now that we are no longer in bondage. He wants our lives to be a journey of willingly surrendering our hearts to Him and seeking His will first before our own. We are liberated to love each other and God His way – something that we never could have done while under the condemnation of the law before salvation. We are no longer keeping the law out of fear.
Did God free us so that we could do whatever we want that is against God’s moral laws without consequences? No – that would be walking in the flesh, even if we think that we are being led by the Spirit because of our emotions. If we choose the road of following our deceitful heart, (Jeremiah 17:9, Proverbs 16:25) even if we think we are Spirit-led, it will only lead to aimless wandering and corrupted lives. Of course, we have a new nature because of the indwelling of the Spirit, but the old one is still there until the day we die, making it difficult to discern at times which one is doing the talking. How do we tell if we are really walking by the Spirit and not by our carnal feelings? How do we know if we are being led astray by a way that only seems right? The answer, as always, is found in the Bible:
“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)
We are told to put our inward spiritual desires to the test (1 John 4:1) before acting on them. The Holy Spirit will never lead us to do something that is contrary to the Word; it would be completely contrary to the perfect and divine nature of the Trinity. Studying Scripture (which is God-breathed) equips us with the sword of the Spirit (the Word of God according to Ephesians 6:17) – the armor we need in
“Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringeth into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)
Even if an angel of light should appear to us we should not believe anything he says that is contrary to Bible doctrine! Just because it feels good, looks good, sounds good or seems good does not mean that it really is good. Many people claim that the Spirit is leading them in a certain direction because they just “feel” it. When they cannot go to Scripture and justify their decision, their only guide is their emotions.
So, in this age of grace, is our only law the law of the Spirit? Do we just go as we feel led by the Spirit to go and not worry about anything else? For one thing, the Spirit does not lead us by our emotions. We may have an emotional response when the Spirit teaches us something or calls something to remembrance from the Bible, as is His ministry to us, but it does not start with the emotion. The Spirit does not have to lead a person in some new way when He has already spoken, and it is just as legitimate to say that we are Spirit-led when we read the Bible as if we are led in some intangible way. The Holy Spirit is the one who wrote the Bible, and the Bible, the Word of God, is the Spirit. (John 6:63) The law of the Spirit is in perfect unison with God’s laws because they are one. Everything that we need to know for our salvation and sanctification is in the Bible – we don’t need to rely on anything else.
Some will point to the case where Paul was forbidden to go into a certain country to preach the Gospel by the Spirit. They think that means the Spirit leads everyone differently so there is no way to tell someone what they should or shouldn’t do when there are no absolutes. It’s kind of an “all paths lead up the same mountain” view of Christian living. While it is true that Paul received special insight from the Spirit that was not found in the Bible, it seems that is the exception rather than the rule from the rest of the Bible. The Bible was not complete at this time. 99% of the time, the Spirit leads through the teaching of the Word of God. That is His platform for operation, not our wayward emotions.
“God’s standard is perfect! We could never live up to perfection here on earth, so why even bother trying to live a godly life?”
Many Christians are frustrated today by God’s standard of holiness for their lives, knowing as the do how difficult it is to contend with their flesh. Consider this: is God’s standard perfect because He wants to make our lives miserable? Would He be so unreasonable as to require of us anything that would not be able to give? No. God’s standard is perfect because He knows that anything less than that is detrimental to our spiritual vitality as a believer! God does not want anyone to allow things into their lives that can lead to bigger problems down the road. We still will fall and make mistakes, yes, but does that mean that now we give up hope completely and depend on our own judgment? What it boils down to is this: you have one of two choices; you can trust that God is right and when He tells you something it is because He loves you and it is for your own good, or you can resist His Spirit, ignore what He says and look to external principles for living that only lead to unhappiness. If you don’t listen to what God has to say about a matter, you will not have any spiritual clarity, direction or discernment. You will weigh a matter in your own sight instead of comparing it with Scripture. Turning your back on God’s wisdom in order to lean on your own understanding is absolutely disastrous in every situation, no matter how seemingly small it is. We should be striving to achieve perfection here on earth because, for one reason, the closer we get to it the happier and more fulfilled we will be. The further we get from God’s plan the more unhappy and incomplete we will become. Not only that, but our witness to the lost and our ability to strengthen our fellow brethren in Christ will be much more effective. That doesn’t mean that we will ever be completely, totally perfect here on earth – the Bible says anyone who claims they are perfect are deceived and the truth is not in them. What we should do when we fall and make a mistake (and we will, though there should be fewer of them the more we mature in the Lord) is not give up, but rather see our shortcomings as an opportunity to learn and grow. As Christians, we can tap into a power source that enables us to live righteously in our new nature, for
“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Philippians 4:13)
Whatever God asks us to do, no matter how impossible it seems, we can do because of Christ’s power within us! What a wonderful blessing and a privilege. We can have victory over our sinful selves, bit by bit, day by day, struggle by struggle! Jesus said,
“I came that ye might have life, and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)
Jesus makes it possible to have a fruitful, beautiful life when we walk in His ways.
“I am a complete failure and am too weak to overcome my struggles. I will never be able to do anything good.”
Some argue this view with good intentions. They shorten the phrase, “I can do nothing apart from Christ” to just “I can do nothing.” Yes, of your own self, in your old sinful nature, you can do absolutely nothing for Christ or His kingdom. The “you” of wicked humanity that existed before you received salvation still exists, and is utterly evil and corrupted and can produce no good fruit. (Romans 7:18) Fortunately, your fleshly nature was crucified with Jesus in the eternal sense. (Galatians 5:24) That does not mean that all sinful tendencies have vanished and you will no longer want to do wrong things. You still have the old nature – and will until you die – but after you received Christ you received a new nature – the same nature that God sees now when He looks at you. It is through that nature that God now works and produces the good fruit of works that bring Him glory. With that nature comes new desires, desires for wholesome and pure things rather than the things of darkness which will try to engulf your new nature. The old nature will stay with you for the rest of your earthly life, trying to inhibit the work of God and lead you astray by its deceptions and temptations. From the moment of your salvation, a war began within you – a war between the desires of your flesh nature and the desires of your new nature. During the course of your life as a believer, you will enter a variety of small battles that comprise this war against the old nature.
How do we get victory over this old sinful nature of ours? Is it even possible? In waging this lifelong war, you are given spiritual weapons to fight these battles and protect yourself from the fiery darts of the enemy. We are not given these weapons so they can rust in the closet. They will help us in resisting and getting victory over evil. You are also given the keys to righteous Christian living:
“This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16)
Jesus did not say that He came so that we could drag ourselves through life being pummeled by the devil’s attacks all of our days with no defense. He did not say that we have no ability to live righteously. He said that He came so we could have life, and have it more abundantly (John 10:10). Walking in the Spirit, contrary to popular belief, does not mean just doing what you feel like doing. Our feelings are dangerously misleading. Every thought, every feeling, every idea must be tested with what God’s Word says before it is acted on if we are to avoid being led into error.
“Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5)
To walk in the spirit is to abide in Christ. You cannot abide in Christ and produce bad fruit. When you wander from His arms by neglecting your Bible, refusing to pray and seeking your own interests, you will find yourself unable to overcome your problems or develop character. When you stop resisting Him, return to His arms and surrender your desires to His, He will do wondrous things through you. To walk in the Spirit means abiding in the Word of God and seeking His will over your own desires. It involves sacrifice. Those who live after the lusts of the flesh are choosing to serve self instead of God during their time on earth. They want pleasure, control, the easy road, or all of them together. But Colossians 3:1-2 says,
“If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.”
Romans 13:14: says:
“But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.”
Don’t even give your flesh nature an inch, or it will take a mile. Righteous living starts with submission, progresses through seeking, and results in service. When you seek God’s kingdom first and His righteousness, you will be able to be used of Him in a powerful way and be blessed of Him. (Matthew 6:33)
Now, God is not going to force you to obey Him. He wants you to obey Him because you want to – because you love Him. The Holy Spirit is resistible, as is evidenced by Ephesians 4:30 and Acts 7:51. A Christian can choose not to walk in the Spirit and resist His work, but it will rob his life of peace and happiness for his rebellion until he chooses to submit. Let me give you this example. Suppose a father wants his son to clean up the yard. He hands him a rake and a garbage bag and tells him to do the job. The son understands what his father desires for him to do. He understands that it is for the good of the whole family if he pitches in and helps out. When it comes down to it, the son has only two choices. He can obey or he can disobey – there is no middle ground. But whether he chooses to do nothing and just stand there with a blank look on his face (does nothing) or starts arguing with his dad (openly rebels), the outcome is the same: the yard does not get cleaned and the father is disobeyed. Their relationship is put out-of-whack. Passive disobedience is still disobedience, even though it would obviously be worse for him to yell at his dad, dishonoring his dad even further than he already has. For the son to learn that he must trust his father enough to obey him, the father will have to punish his son for his rebellion out of love. He will need to make things temporarily uncomfortable so his child will realize that he is on the wrong path.
Continue on to The Real Meaning of Legalism…