January 26, 2010

 

Lists, Liberty and Love
Alex Crain
Editor, Christianity.com

"…if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love.
Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died."

Romans 14:15

In 1955, Dr. Francis and Edith Schaeffer opened their home to help people with unanswered questions about God, faith, the Bible and their relevance to modern life. Students and seekers from all over Europe and the world trekked up to their chalet perched high in the Swiss Alps where they heard and saw Christian theology applied to all of life. Fortunately, the well-preserved written record of the Schaeffers' lives and ministry allows us to follow their trail of thought, be discipled by them, and discover a bit of what made their message so worth hearing.

Just prior to the launching of their most fruitful ministry years in post WW II Europe with L'Abri (French for "shelter") Francis had to face down a severe crisis of joylessness. What came out of that crisis is the content of his book, True Spirituality, without which there would have been no L'Abri ministry. Who would want to hear the religious ramblings of a joyless person? Not me. And, I suspect, not you either.

In chapter one of True Spirituality Dr. Schaeffer talks about living the Christian life. After being born again, what does one do exactly? He recalls a discussion about this with some students one Saturday night at L'Abri. Some talked about lists of taboos—that as long as you didn't do certain things deemed to be un-Christian, you would be spiritual. Others criticized the list mentality and spoke in favor of a more lax Christian life. No, no, no objects Schaeffer. "The true Christian life is not merely a negative not-doing of any small list of things. But neither do we come to the true Christian life merely be rejecting the list and then shrugging our shoulders and living a looser life."

Schaeffer took his students to the law of love spoken of in Romans 14:15. According to this text, no Christian may entertain thoughts of living a looser life. Here, we are commanded to walk according to love. The text says, "If because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died."

"This is an absolute declaration that we are to do this," Schaeffer said (i.e. walking according to love). He went on, "[Yes,] it is perfectly true that we cannot be saved by doing this; we cannot do this in our own strength; and none of us do this perfectly in this life. Nevertheless… it is the absolute command of God."

Now, if Christ is your Lord, you are under His command and you do what He says, right? 1 John 5:2 says, "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome."

Francis Schaeffer observed that this command to walk according to love soon leads us to discover that rather than leading into a looser life, the law of love moves us into "something much more profound and heart-searching. Having gone deeper, we find that we will be observing some of the taboos on the lists for a completely different reason… we have seen that some of those things are helpful to other people."

What a concept to instill in a new believer—being helpful to others. Could it really be so simple that true liberty is not liberty to indulge the self but it is freedom from the tyranny of our bent to please the self? Apparently so.  

Without saying it directly, Schaeffer put his finger squarely on the core problem plaguing both the legalist and the libertine: both are driven to serve self, not Christ, not others. But as the text goes on to say, "the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit," (romans 14:17). This righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit only rests on the one who walks in love.  

Intersecting Faith & Life: 

Are you joyless? Discontent? Pray for an "others-oriented mindset" that is fueled by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God. "Walking according to love" is the only thing that can keep you from falling off the narrow path into either extreme—living loosely on the one hand, or being a Pharisee that merely holds to an accepted list so that others will think well of you.

Further Reading/Listening:

worldliness, by C.J. Mahaney

how do we maintain a life of consistent spiritual discipline? by Chip Ingram (audio)