Friday, June 19, 2015


by Jonathan Hill

One of my friends had parents who were legalistic in their thinking, it was trendy to call unwise behavior, “sin.” 

The problem was that not everything they chose to label as sin was sin.

For instance they would step beyond the scriptural warning of, “Do not be drunk” (Eph. 5:18) and change it to “Don’t drink.”

Similarly they didn’t like tattoos and so they would take a verse such as “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19) to mean that you couldn’t get a tattoo, smoke, etc… 

While I agree to an extent that such behavior is unwise, it is not necessarily a sin (leaving room for conscience, see Rom. 14). 

So then my friend, now grown up, realizes that his parents went overboard with his upbringing. They set what I think were good and healthy rules for their family, but made false claims that the rules were from the bible.

It also didn’t help that they looked down on anyone who broke one of their rules. So now he smokes cigars and drinks wine. Which isn’t a big deal, but he goes overboard.

He demonstrates his freedom in Christ to do these things in a way that intentionally causes irritation with his parents. 
"For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 
"For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Gal. 5:13-14 ESV)
Often when someone finds freedom from legalism there is a tendency to go overboard and flaunt their new-found-freedom in Christ.

Paul warns the church in Galatia about legalism, but also notes that there is an equally grievous error of using their freedom to exercise the flesh. Theologians call this license.  

Imagine the Christian life as a road with a ditch on either side.

On one side there is the ditch of legalism and on the other side is the ditch of license. Both my friend and his parents missed the design of God and found a ditch. They just found different ditches. 

The Apostle Paul then points us forward. For those prone to legalism he says there is really one law that trumps all others: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Gal. 5:14).

You have to check your motives against love. The heart matters as much or more than the letter of the law.

To those who are prone to find the ditch of license the Apostle Paul says that love prompts us to serve others… not gloat in our freedom. The same word, “Love” compels both believers to leave the ditch behind and find the road.  

The word love seems like it is open to interpretation these days, but when used in the scripture it always comes in a context.

To know more about the specifics of loving your neighbor as yourself, the Apostle provides two lists.

First he accounts for the deeds of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21)… This is what it looks like to NOT love your neighbor.
Then he provides a list that describes the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:2-23)… this is a description of what it looks like for love to work out in the life of a believer.  

It’s important to note that love is a fruit of the Spirit. It’s not natural to love your neighbor. But the work of Christ in our lives causes us to care more about our brothers and sisters than we care about our freedom or ego.  

(For a related article, read The Road Less Traveled.)


This article submitted by guest blogger Jonathan Hill

Jonathan lives in Pensacola, FL where he writes and speaks about leadership in family and ministry. He is a husband, father, and committed follower of Christ. He has over eighteen years’ experience as a student pastor. He has been a guest speaker in a variety of settings including student camps, disciple now events, student and college retreats, family conferences, and revivals. You can find more of Jonathan’s devotional, theological and biographical writings by checking out his blog,
The Hill House.

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