Yet, this is the fashion among those who today [1500s] are regarded as our best preachers…and such teaching is childish and effeminate nonsense....There are some who have no understanding to hear the truth of freedom and insist upon their goodness as means for salvation. These people you must resist, do the very opposite, and offend them boldly lest by their impious views they drag many with them into error. For the sake of liberty of the faith do other things which they regarded as the greatest of sins…use your freedom constantly and consistently in the sight of and despite the tyrants and stubborn so that they may learn that they are impious, that their law and works are of no avail for righteousness, and that they had no right to set them up. —Martin Luther
I’m good with that, but sometimes I feel like a mosquito in a nudist colony. I know what to do. I just don’t know where to start.
It’s a radical thought. Being a free Christian who gets grace is nothing more or less than being normal.
The disciples in Matthew 12:1-14 are just doing what normal people do when they’re hungry...getting something to eat. They weren’t trying to make a point, to offend somebody or to preach. They were hungry and got something to eat.
Jesus in response to the Pharisees and their criticism said, “You’re crazy. What’s wrong with you? We’re hungry and we ate. What is it about that that bothers you?”
We Christians have a neurotic side. You know it’s true. There is something about religion that makes us weird. We watch only Christian movies. We read only Christian books. We wear only Christian underwear. And then we wonder why people think our godliness is strange. So living as a free Christian is, in a sense and at least for us, being normal, doing normal things, and avoiding the rules that surround our subculture.
Sometimes we, as Christians, just aren’t normal and it hurts our witness. Others don’t recognize us for who we are—followers of Jesus Christ—because there is so much other stuff standing in the way.
The principle (that I got from Jesus) is this: Live your life with such freedom that uptight Christians doubt your salvation.
And I might add: Live your life with such freedom that every fanatic is offended by your very presence.
So what stands in our way?
The Pharisees were looking for sin...and they still are.
“But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, ‘Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath’” (Matthew 12:2).
I believe that church discipline is the mark of the true church, but discipline isn’t about sin; it’s about repentance. If it’s about sin, you won’t have time to do anything else. Sin is everywhere and it involves everybody except you and me...and I worry about you.
There is a game in the church played by Pharisees. It’s called “gotcha.” “Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words...” (Matthew 22:15).
“Gotcha” is a game free Christians don’t play.
A young man once came up to me at a conference and said, “Dr. Brown, you are arrogant, prideful and rude.” I said, “Bingo...and you haven’t seen the half of it. But I’m a little bit better and Jesus is quite fond of me.”
I’m not always that free. In fact, I’m often quite defensive. But on that particular occasion, he was like the Pharisees and I was like Jesus. Follow me as I follow Christ.
The Pharisees were inconsistent about sin...and they still are.
“He said to them, ‘Have you not read what David did when he was hungry...Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless?’” (Matthew 12:3, 5).
Consistency is not only as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “the hobgoblin of little minds,” and as Oscar Wilde said, “the last refuge of the unimaginative,” it is the impossible asylum of the Pharisee.
At least a partial thrust of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 23 about the Scribes and the Pharisees putting “heavy burdens” on people is a reference not to the law, but to the laws on the laws—the traditions. I’m told there was a requirement that, in order to keep the Sabbath, a faithful practitioner of the law could not travel more than a half-mile away from his property. So in order to travel, the day before the Sabbath, one would place an article of one’s clothing every half-mile in the direction one wanted to travel.
That’s neurotic...but I understand it. It’s a human proclivity, if we’re concerned with keeping rules, to add rules to rules to rules...in order not to break the original ones.
You’ll get this even if you no longer read the newspaper in print. If you’re a strict Sabbatarian, you won’t buy the Sunday paper because it’s delivered on Sunday. You won’t buy the Monday paper because it was put together on Sunday. You won’t buy the Tuesday paper because some of it might be held-over news gathered on Sunday. Eventually, then, just to be sure, you won’t buy the paper at all.
Going to PG-rated movies are the gateway to X-rated movies...so you must stop going to the movie theater altogether.
Dancing always leads to sex...so you must stop dancing altogether.
Reading a secular novel always leads to the really bad books...so you must stop reading books altogether.
Live in the freedom Jesus gave you...and let the devil take the hindmost.
I remember going to my first movie after a year of abstinence from movies. I was told, “When Jesus comes back, do you want him to find you at a movie?” So I quit. Then after that time, as I sat in a Jerry Lewis/Dean Martin movie, I actually looked over my shoulder worried that Jesus would show up.
I smoke a pipe. A while ago, I was preaching at a prominent church and used my pipe as an illustration of heaven. I said, “Don’t criticize. A lot of people more spiritual than you are have tried to get me to stop and they couldn’t pull it off, so don’t bother.” Then I said that smoking a pipe was great because it got me through dull faculty meetings and bad sermons, to wit, “When this is over, I can get a smoke,” making the observation that heaven is like that, as the Christian says, “When this is over, it’s going to be a whole lot better.”
I got a lot of criticism, but when I spoke at that church the next time, guys were putting cigars in my pocket and a few of them started a Bible study where they smoked and studied God’s Word. They called it, “Holy Smoke.”
The Pharisees wouldn’t have done that...and at least in that instance, I was like Jesus. Follow me as I follow Christ.
The Pharisees wanted to destroy the freedom Jesus and the disciples experienced...and they still do.
“But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him” (Matthew 12:14).
Prisoners always try to destroy free people.
And ugly always tries to destroy pretty. The woman was prim and proper as she sat across from me, but she was also neurotic and knew it. During our conversation, she referred to her sister and then to my shock and her surprise, she said quite loudly, “I hate her! I just hate her!” In the dead silence that followed, I asked her why. She quietly responded, “Because she is beautiful and good.”
Uptight moralists hate free people. It’s why they tried to destroy Jesus. And it’s why they’ll try to destroy you.
Do you know what we do to new Christians? After the initial joy of their freedom, forgiveness and acceptance, we say, “Now there are some things you should know,” put a saddle on them, and ride them until they die.
A man told me one time that he felt he had attained entire sanctification, the removal of all known sin from his life. I told him that he had a pride problem...and since I told him about it, all known sin wasn’t gone. The man refused to speak to me for a long while after that. He was the Pharisee and I was like Jesus. Follow me as I follow Christ.
Jesus is Lord of the rules and he never forgot the main thing.
“And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:7-8).
I don’t know about you, but those words are so freeing and wonderful that I almost want to speak in tongues! “I’m the rule maker,” Jesus said, “I write the song and I am Lord of all. So be afraid, be very afraid.” No, no, no. Jesus said, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.”
It’s very easy, after reading all this, just to discount it with “I don’t think he’s saved,” “He’s going to hell” or “At best he’s an Antinomian.” For the record, I’m saved, I’m not going to hell, and I’m not Antinomian. In fact, you’ve never met a man who wants to please God more than I do. You also have never met a man who fails as much as I do.
The good news for me here is that it isn’t the sin. I know about the sin and it keeps me up at night. The good news is that the One who wrote the rules that convict me said, “I desire mercy.”
While this isn’t in the text, I can see Peter noticing the Pharisees. (It always makes me wince when I see Pharisees coming in my direction.) Peter would say, “Uh-oh, we’re in trouble!” Jesus would smile and say, “Don’t worry. Keep eating your dinner and I’ll take care of it.”
He does, you know? That’s why we don’t have anything to defend, protect or fix.
Live in the freedom Jesus gave you...and let the devil take the hindmost.
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