The Important “L”

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By Brian Sharpe

This past weekend we went on a senior high retreat to the Parsons’ cabin. The Parsons’ cabin has become a yearly staple in our student ministry calendar. It is a small, simple cabin that God has used over the past thirteen years to do some great work in me and the students that have attended those retreats. This past weekend was no exception — God was at work. He prepared a lesson in me that was just right for the group we had going. Our topic of conversation was legalism, licentiousness, and liberty.

As someone who grew up in the church, legalism is a pitfall I can fall into. Legalism is where we create rules that God doesn’t hold us to and we expect others to adhere to those rules. If others don’t hold to those rules, then we judge them. That’s what the Pharisees did in Scripture. They would create laws that they expected everyone to follow, and if someone didn’t follow them, they were less spiritual than they should be.

Licentiousness is where we create a moral law for ourselves apart from God, and we live by it. There is no expectation of others except, as long as they allow us to live as we want. This is a huge problem in our culture today. We become god and set our own standards. As believers, we have to pay careful attention to make sure this doesn’t sink into our way of life. It is easy to fall into, but we have to fight the urge to be king over our life.

Legalism and licentiousness are two ends to the spectrum, and both lead to bondage. Legalism sets up rules for everyone, licentiousness sets up rules for self and no one else. Legalism says it is a sin to listen to certain types of music. Licentiousness says I can listen to whatever I want, because I want to. Legalism says it is a sin to date. Licentiousness says that I can date whomever I want, when I want. Legalism says that everyone should only eat certain foods. Licentiousness says I can eat whatever I want, it doesn’t hurt anyone else.

Then there is liberty. Liberty is freedom. We understand that because of the country we live in. Yet how I define liberty as a believer is understanding the freedom we have in Christ, but living out of love and not our rights. Liberty filters every decision through a screen of, “How will what I am doing bring glory and honor to Christ?” Its focus is on loving God and loving others. Its focus in not on rules or rights. When legalism says it is a sin to listen to certain music and licentiousness says I can listen to whatever I want, it doesn’t affect me. Liberty says, “How does this music bring glory and honor to Christ?”

This is the conversation we had last weekend with high school students. It was a fun conversation, but also led to some great dialogue and self-reflection. How am I living? Am I living in liberty, where I seek to live out of love, or am I being legalistic or licentious? The hard thing about this question is that it is not a one-time thought, but it’s a constant evaluation of every decision. As a passionate follower of Christ, I need to seek to live out of liberty. I need to seek to live out of love, asking the question, “How is what I am doing bringing glory and honor to Jesus?” It’s what our students were challenged with last weekend, and it’s what I am challenged with every day.

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