Overcoming Licentiousness

Living by the Spirit is not a license to do whatever we want. The licentious person has no regard for rules and regulations. The apostle Paul asks, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin, how can we live in it any longer” (Rom. 6:1,2)? God delivered us from the bondage of sin, why would we want to go back under that bondage again? We are not under the law, but we are not lawless. We have an eternal standard, but neither legalism nor license are the means by which we live a righteous life. Living by faith in the power of the Holy Spirit is not a license to sin; it is a gracious means not to sin.

We are free in Christ to live a moral life, but there are times when we should restrict our freedom. The first is mentioned in 1 Cor. 6:12, “’Everything is permissible for me’ – but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible for me’ – but I will not be mastered by anything.” We have the freedom to eat whatever we choose, but food can become our master if we find ourselves living to eat instead of eating to live. Our freedom becomes license when we abuse our rights and indulge ourselves. One slice of pie can be good, but eating the whole pie is not beneficial. We have to master our appetites or they will master us. Remember, the fruit of the Spirit is self-control (Gal. 5:23).

The second is mentioned by Paul in 1 Cor. 10:23, “’Everything is permissible’ – but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible’ – but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.” Paul qualified our freedom with the principle of love (1 Cor. 8:1). “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak” (vs. 9). We have to learn to restrict our freedom for the sake of a weaker brother. If what we are doing is morally permissible, but offensive to others, then we shouldn’t do it. We never have the right to violate another person’s conscience. “When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall” (vss. 12,13).

License is a form of spiritual deception referred to as Gnosticism. People think they can indulge their flesh without violating their spirit. They falsely reason, “What I do in the flesh doesn’t matter, it is only what I do in the Spirit that matters.” The Corinthians had reasoned that food was both necessary and pleasurable. They also argued that sex was both necessary and pleasurable and therefore any sex drive had to be satisfied. But Paul answered their argument when he wrote, “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord and the Lord for the body” (1 Cor. 6:13). We cannot separate our bodies from who we are.

Dr. Neil

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