“Love God and do as you please.”
I think that is a great statement.
Don’t agree? Well, don’t label me a heretic just yet.
That is actually a quote from St. Augustine of Hippo, or rather a modern version of a quote from Him.
Augustine’s exact quote within it’s surrounding context is this: “Once for all, then, a short precept is given thee: Love, and do what thou wilt: whether thou hold thy peace, through love hold thy peace; whether thou cry out, through love cry out; whether thou correct, through love correct; whether thou spare, through love do thou spare: let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good.”
And to offer the modern translation of that last phrase in the paragraph, I have seen it translated this way: “Love God and do whatever you please: for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.”
Now, let me reiterate. I think that a great statement?
The reason I bring this up is that it goes hand in hand with my post from last week when I said, “…we as Christians no longer live our lives according to a list of commands — “do this and don’t do that.” We no longer submit ourselves to a rigid pattern of what is right and wrong or good and bad. Instead, as Christians we live our lives according to one standard: will doing this thing or not doing this thing draw me closer or push us farther from God?”
I know that when we as Christians begin talking about Paul’s statement that all things are lawful to us, it becomes really easy for us to slip into the category of belief where the grace of Christ becomes a license to sin. However, the Paul that says all things are lawful to us, is the same Paul that says we are not to continue to sin so grace can abound (Romans 6:1). Then we also have James saying that when a person knows the right thing to do, but doesn’t do it, to him it is sin (James 4:17).
I still don’t think this changes what I said last week, or what Augustine is saying in the above quote, but rather determines how in the love of God, we are to interpret and put into practice the freedom we have to do all things as we please.
So back to Augustine’s quote: What he is saying is that if you are living your life with a mind continually set on loving God, then nothing else you can do following that will be sin. To put it another way, if our primary objective is to love and please God, then no other thing we determine to do secondarily will offend or grieve God.
I think this is why the Bible tells us to “delight ourselves in the Lord and He will give us all the desires of our heart” (Psalm 37:4). It is because when we delight in Him, our desires will naturally be pleasing to Him.
This is why Paul goes into and extended explanation in Romans 14 to say that if you have faith to eat meat offered to idols, eat it, but if you don’t have that much faith, it would be sinful to eat it. We are accountable to our level of faith and the effects on our conscience and the conscience of those around us at the time.
Although I’m hesitant to use it because I don’t want this to become a post on the debate over alcohol use, I think that this is a fair, modern equivalent of this passage. If you have faith enough, while loving God and others to drink alcohol (like most Presbyterians), then there is no sin in doing so. However, if you do not have the faith that grants your conscience freedom to drink alcohol (like most Baptists), then it would be a sin for you to do so. Neither side, though, is wrong. The problem comes in when one side declares theirs the absolute way for all Christians, and pushed their level of faith onto others.
Now, let me get pretty confrontational here to both sides of the use of Christian freedom.
To the people who are going to run with what I say here and act like you are incapable of wrongdoing due to the freedom we have in Christ, remember that Paul tells us not to use our liberty as an opportunity for the flesh (Galatians 5:13). There are some things that you need to abstain from no matter how much you desire to do it, because at least for you, giving into those desires may never happen in faith and out of love for God. There will always be something you must abstain from because it will damage your love for Christ. And hear me clearly, those things may well be things other people can do without any problem.
If there is nothing in your life that you feel the need to abstain from for the sake of your relationship with Christ, then chances are, you don’t have a relationship with Him in the first place.
On the flip side, to those who are proclaimers of absolute rules that in their version of Christianity, everyone must keep. You are just as wrong. And oftentimes, you are sinning by your efforts to return a liberated brother to religious bondage under your own subjective set of rules. It is an affront to the grace of Jesus Christ who for freedom’s sake has set us free (Galatians 5:1).
The truth is, if you are a person who requires absolute adherence for all Christians to your own selective list of right and wrong, I fear that you really do not understand the gospel which offers liberty to the captives. And to be honest, while there is a biblical command on others to not offend a brother with their freedoms, I also must agree with Martin Luther when he condemns those who oppress their brothers with legalistic bondage and says:
“There are some who have no understanding to hear the truth of liberty 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 the 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 the stubborn so that they also may learn that they are impious, that their laws and works are of no avail for righteousness, and that they had no right to set them up.”
Luther was not commanding the use of Christian freedom to offend the conscience of a brother, but rather insisting that we regularly offend the false piety and legalistic religion of those who have seen the offer of free grace, yet continue back to a life of “grace by works.”
I think if I return to the alcohol example, I can explain this better. Alcohol use, in scripture, is clearly something that should be done with maturity so as not to become enslaved to it’s effects, but never is it outright forbidden. The Gospel, then, delivers both, the alcoholic, and the “grace-by-abstinence” preacher to a place where they can enjoy God’s creation.
It delivers the alcoholic from their bondage to the drink, and for that former abuser, it is probably a good idea, at least for an extended period of life, to abstain from all use of alcohol in and effort to grow in their sanctification and love for Christ. That is this person loving Christ first and their lifestyle following.
On the other hand, though, the Gospel also frees up people in bondage to religious rules to have a glass of wine and lighten up (Ps. 104:15). You can enjoy alcohol without becoming a slave to it, because Christ is your first love, and everything else is flowing from that.
Again, I’m not debating alcohol here. The fact is, there is a good and righteous way to use everything on the planet, and then there is a sinful and rebellious way to do so. This is why we have the simple commandment given to us that whatever it is we decide to do, do it to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). If you can glorify God and do whatever it is by faith, do it. If you can’t do it to His glory, then don’t. But whatever you do, don’t turn this thing in either wrong direction, whether it is freedom for everyone to do whatever they want, or to a new lifestyle of selective rule keeping based on your own conscience and lack of faith. Instead, preach freedom to those who can walk in freedom, and maturity to those who cannot.
When all is said and done, God created the world and everything in it and then stepped back, looked at it, and said that it was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). For the Christian, then, who has been restored to the love for God intended in the Garden of Eden, this world and everything in it was created for us to enjoy and to honor God with. When we can learn to do that, we will truly know what freedom is and how Christ intends us to live.