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THE SPIRITUAL LIFE AND ETHICS
This is a study on the spiritual life and ethics.
Ethical behavior is a major area in the spiritual life. Many
believers are not as ethical as they should be and many
unbelievers are more ethical than believers. This topic will be
discussed in five major categories.
I. TOTAL DEPRAVITY AND THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD
The first category deals with total depravity and the
righteousness of God. Both aspects deal with the issue of
ethics, or touch upon it.
A. Total Depravity
There are several erroneous concepts that people have
about total depravity. Total depravity is a theological term
describing a truth taught in Scripture, but there are four
erroneous concepts concerning total depravity.
The first erroneous concept is that the natural man has
no concept of right and wrong. That is a mistake. The natural
man does have a concept of right and wrong as Paul makes clear in
Romans 2:14-15, for he teaches that the works of the law are
written in the hearts of even the pagan world. The works of the
law which are written in “their hearts” which includes their
conscience. When they do evil their conscience will either
accuse or excuse their actions. The natural, unregenerate man
can have and does have concepts of right and wrong in their
consciousness, in their conscience, and in their reasoning power.
The second erroneous concept about total depravity is
that all men are completely sinful. This is not true either.
This is not what total depravity means. In fact, II Timothy 3:13
teaches that there is still something left in humanity that is
still good. The image of God is still in man and so there is
still something in man that is good.
The third erroneous concept is that man performs every
type of sin. This is cancelled out by Matthew 23:23; total
depravity does not mean that every man does every type of sin.
The fourth erroneous concept is that the unregenerate
man has no good works. Yet the Bible does teach that all men do
have some good works.
These are four false concepts about total depravity.
So, what does it mean? What is the correct doctrine of total
depravity? Three things should be noted. First, it means that
sin has touched every part of man; every part of man has been
touched by sin (Rom. 1:31-32; 3:9-18). Second, total depravity
means that all men have a tendency to perform evil (Rom. 7:17;
7:20, 21, 23, 25). The third thing that total depravity means is
that no one has any good works in the sight of God. Although man
can do good works, those good works in no way commend him to God.
That is what total depravity means. It means that sin has
touched every part of man, it means that all men have this
tendency toward evil, and that no man’s good works in any way
commend him to God. It is because of total depravity that
believers and unbelievers both have a tendency toward unethical
behavior and unethical behavior on the part of a believer will
affect his spiritual life.
B. The Righteousness of God
The Bible speaks of two types of righteousness: God’s
righteousness and man’s righteousness (Rom. 10:1-4; Phil. 3:7-9).
The Bible clearly draws a distinction between the two types of
First, man’s righteousness does not satisfy God, but
God’s righteousness does satisfy God, does satisfy His demands
Second, man’s righteousness is practiced in the
strength of his flesh, but God’s righteousness is practiced on
the basis of faith, by faith (Phil. 3:9).
Third, in relationship of the righteousness of God to
the unbeliever, there are two problems. The first problem is the
problem of sin. Because he is totally depraved, sin has touched
every part of him, he has a tendency toward evil and unethical
behavior. Even when he does behave ethically, his good works in
no way commend him to God. His second problem is that he does
not have the righteousness of God. The solution to the two
problems of the unbeliever is found in II Corinthians 5:21. To
deal with the problem of sin, he needs salvation. By that
salvation he is forgiven of all of his sins. Second, he needs to
have the righteousness of God. When he believes in the Lord
Jesus Christ, the righteousness of God is imputed to him. It is
placed upon his account.
Fourth, in relationship of the righteousness of God to
the believer, two things should be noted: position and practice.
Insofar as position is concerned, the believer possesses the
righteousness of God. The moment he believed on Jesus as his
Messiah, the moment he accepted Jesus as his Saviour, at that
moment he received salvation and at that instantaneous moment the
righteousness of God was imputed to him, He is now viewed as
being righteous. Positionally speaking, the believer possesses
the righteousness of God. As far as practice is concerned, the
believer now has the option to work out God’s righteousness or to
work out man’s righteousness (Matt. 6:1-18; I Cor. 3:1-23). In
the area of the spiritual life and ethics, if he works out man’s
righteousness, he will be guilty of unethical behavior. This is
why so many believers are unethical. They have chosen to work
out man’s righteousness. It might be “good business sense,” but
it may still be unethical. However, if he chooses to work out
God’s righteousness and obey the word of God and the commandments
of God, then he will be characterized by ethical behavior.
To summarize total depravity and the righteousness of
God, man is born totally depraved, and the solution is the
imputed righteousness of God and that is the basis of ethical
II. FREEDOM FROM THE LAW
The second major area in the study of the spiritual
life and ethics is the doctrine of the freedom from the law; what
it does mean and what it does not mean. This will be discussed
in four parts.
A. Romans 7:1-8:4
This passage can be divided into four parts.
1. The Law and the Believer — Romans 7:1-6
The principle is found in verse 1. He began with the
word, “or,” showing that what he was about to say was related to
the previous section of Romans 6. In the previous section he
made the point that the believer is not under the Law, but he is
under grace. The Law ruled over living people only. The Law had
no authority over a dead man. That is the principle. From that
principle, Paul gives the illustration (vv. 2-3). The
illustration is that a married woman is bound by the law of the
husband as long as the husband is alive. If she has
relationships with another man while the husband is living, she
is an adulteress. However, once the husband is dead, she is free
from the law of the husband, because death separates. Now, if
she chooses to marry another man, she is free to do so and is not
guilty of adultery whatsoever. The application of the
illustration is in verses 4-6. Through co-crucifixion, the
believer has been made dead to the Law in order to be joined to
Christ (v. 4). For that reason, the law no longer has authority
over him; he is dead to the Law. The Law instigated the sin
nature to commit acts of sin (v. 5). However, the believer is
now in a new life under grace (v. 6). Being under grace means to
be free from the Law. The believer has been discharged from the
Law. He has died to that wherein he was held. The “law” of this
verse is the entire Mosaic Law, all 613 commandments. The
believer is free from all 613 commandments, including the famous
ten. The believer is free from every type of commandment. That
includes civil, moral, and ceremonial commandments. He has been
freed from the Law. He now has a new life and now serves in
newness of the spirit and not in oldness of the letter.
2. The Law and Sin — Romans 7:7-12
Paul started out with a problem that the previous
section might raise. Does what he said in verses 1-6 mean that
the Law is sin? This is a false conclusion derived from a
correct premise. The correct premise is that the Law instigated
one to commit acts of sin. But does that mean the Law is sin?
The answer is no. The Law reveals the fact of sin. The fault
does not lie in the Law, but in the sin nature. The sin nature
uses the Law as an occasion to cause one to sin even more.
3. Deliverance and the Law — Romans 7:13-25
Here Paul pointed out five things: first, it is
impossible to have spiritual victory under the Law. Second, he
looked at the believer as being under the Law apart from the work
of Christ. Third, there is a cycle of proof, contrast, proof,
contrast. What he was trying to show here was that if a believer
tries to live the spiritual life on the basis of the Law, he will
fail. Just as with the unbeliever, the sin nature uses the Law
as a basis to cause him to sin even more. By the same token, the
sin nature will use the Law again to cause the believer to commit
sin even more. The believer is dead to the Law. He cannot be
saved through it, but neither can he live the spiritual life
through the Law. Fourth, the question is, why is there no
deliverance? The reason there is no deliverance when the
believer tires to live the spiritual life by means of the Law is
that the believer’s flesh is still under sin. There is no good
thing in the flesh of the believer. There is the constant
presence of the sin nature and, because of the presence of the
sin nature, he will never achieve the spiritual life by means of
the Law. Fifth, his conclusion was that there is no deliverance
or victory under the Law. That means there is no justification
through the Law, and it means there is no sanctification under
4. Deliverance and the Holy Spirit — Romans 8:1-4
Here Paul made five points. First, he drew a summation
when he said there is now no condemnation to them that are in
Christ Jesus. Even when believers sin, there is now no
condemnation. Second, he pointed out the principal: the
believer is now under the Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ and
this has made him free from the Law of sin and of death. Third,
he pointed out again the inability of the Law: it could not
empower one to live the spiritual life. The reason is that it
was weak through the flesh; the flesh weakened the believer’s
ability to keep the Law. Fourth, through the death of the Son,
sin was condemned in the flesh. Fifth, this in turn leads to the
enablement of the Holy Spirit. Negatively, sin condemns.
Positively, the Holy Spirit enables. Together, the righteous
requirements of the Law are fulfilled.
To summarize what Paul has been saying in this passage:
first, there is no deliverance under the Law; second, deliverance
is based upon the work of Christ; third, deliverance is
accomplished by the Holy Spirit; and, fourth, one purpose of
freedom from the Law is to bear fruit.
“Anti” means “against” and “nomianism” is from the
Greek word, nomos, which means “law.” Basically the word means,
“against law.” Many believers throughout church history have
misunderstood what is meant to be freed from the Law. They have
been guilty of the other extreme, which is antinomianism. They
have turned against all kinds of law. They took the Biblical
teaching of freedom from the Law of Moses to mean that the
believer has no law to obey. There are believers still teaching
that today. They get rather flippant and spiritual sounding by
saying, “I just do whatever the Spirit tells me to do;” although
often what they claim the Spirit told them to do violates the
commandments the Spirit gave in the Scriptures. Antinomianism
then is the teaching that freedom from the Law means that the
believer is not under any law whatsoever. That is not biblically
true. Believers have been freed from the Law of Moses, but not
to live any way they choose, but to walk by the Holy Spirit.
Their walk by the Holy Spirit fulfills the Law. It is true we
are no longer under the Law of Moses, we are freed from all 613
commandments of the Law of Moses. However, we are under another
law today. We are under the Law of Christ. Just as the Law of
Moses had many commandments, the Law of Christ also has many
commandments. There are many commandments for the believer in
the Law of Christ, and, as believers, we are obligated to obey
these commandments. We have laws we have to obey, they just do
not happen to be the commandments of the Law of Moses.
C. The Law of Moses and the New Testament Imperative
Concerning the relationship of the Law of Moses and the
New Testament imperative, there are four things by way of
contrast. First, the Law of Moses included penalties for
disobedience, the Law of Christ does not; the Law of Christ only
includes chastisement, which has a corrector force. Second, the
Law of Moses provided no enablement to keep the Law; the Law of
Christ does by means of the Holy Spirit’s ministry of indwelling
by which He enables the believer to keep the demands of the Law
of Christ. Third, the Law of Moses resulted in man’s
righteousness, but the Law of Christ means that the believer
lives out God’s righteousness. Fourth, the motivation for each
is different: the motivation under the Law of Moses was
blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience, therefore,
“obey in order that you may be blessed.” The Law of Christ,
however, states “You have been blessed, therefore do.”
Because this is a major issue in the area of the
spiritual life and ethics, this will be discussed in ten
1. Romans 14:1-13a
The main point of this passage is freedom from the Law
and freedom in Christ. First (vv. 1-3), he discussed two
brethren, one was strong and one was weak. However, the two
brothers were both obligated to refrain from judging each other.
Second (vv. 4-9), Christ is the Lord of both. Christ is the Lord
of the weak believer and He is the Lord of the strong believer.
Because Christ is the Lord of both, that is the reason for the
previous command that neither one should judge the other. Third
(vv. 10-12), he pointed out that the right to judge belongs to
Jesus. He is the rightful judge and He alone is to judge the
actions of a fellow believer. These are actions which the Bible
leaves in a neutral state, not actions that actually violate
commandments of God. If a believer lives immorally, he should be
condemned by the local church. But in dealing with amoral
issues, in those areas which are neutral, biblically speaking,
the right to judge belongs to Christ. Fourth, the conclusion
(v. 13a) is, “Therefore, let us not judge one another anymore.”
In the areas of amoral issues and in the area of neutral issues,
this is the principle.
From this first passage there are four observations.
First, all have rules to live by. Some of these rules are
biblical rules, some are man-made rules, some are church rules,
some are government rules, some are employer rules, and some of
these rules we made ourselves. Second, an honest conviction may
lead a believer to conformity to a non-essential. A believer may
have a specific conviction about a specific amoral, neutral
issue, and that will lead him to conform his action to that
(Rom. 14:5). That does not make him a legalist. Every believer
has the right to live by whatever extra-biblical laws he may
choose. However, the third observation is that one becomes a
legalist when he begins imposing his own will and standards upon
a fellow believer. That is where he has gone too far. While
every believer has the right to live according to a set of rule
that he has chosen to keep, once he starts judging the
spirituality of fellow believers, or judging the ethics of fellow
believers based upon their conformity to these extra rules, then
he has become a legalist. The fourth observation is that there
are two attitudes to avoid in this relationship (Rom. 14:10).
The first attitude to avoid at all costs is judging, especially
in this context, the weaker brother judging the stronger brother.
Usually, that is the case. Usually, the one who does the judging
is the weaker brother. The weaker brother must not judge the
strong brother. The weaker brother must realize that the strong
brother is free to partake of neutral issues. The second
attitude to avoid is becoming a despiser, a word that means, “to
think little of.” This is often the attitude developed by a
stronger believer toward the weaker believer. A strong believer
who knows that he is free to do something must not despise the
weaker believer for his convictions. He has a right to those
2. Romans 14:13b-21
The point of this passage is, “giving no offense.”
This passage has three parts.
First (v. 13b), no man is to put a stumbling block
before another. There are three key terms that need to be
clearly defined because they involve the spiritual life and
ethics. The first key term is “stumbling.” The meaning of
“stumbling” is when a brother patterns his life after the liberty
of another believer, but does not have the faith to accept the
fact that God gives him liberty to do that which the brother is
doing. If the weaker brother does this, he will fall into sin
(v. 23). A weaker brother stumbles when he has problems with
certain issues, but goes ahead and does them to imitate a
stronger believer. Because he is not able to partake of this in
faith, he sins and, therefore, stumbles. The responsibility in
the realm of stumbling is this: the strong believer is to so
guard his conduct that a weaker brother does not follow his
pattern of life so as to fall into sin because of a lack of faith
on his part.
The second key term is “offended.” To “offend” in this
context means that a strong believer allows a weak brother to see
him exercise the liberty that he has, which the weaker one does
not have, and so the testimony of the stronger one is jeopardized
before that brother. In this case, the weaker brother does not
stumble into sin but the testimony of the strong believer has
been set aside as far as he is concerned. He has been offended.
As a result, the strong believer no longer has any spiritual
input into his life. The responsibility which comes out of the
concept of being offended is that we must so conduct our manner
of life that the weaker brother is not given cause to discount
out Christian liberty.
The third term is “made weak.” “Made weak” in this
context means that a spiritually immature brother understands the
teaching of liberty, but he sees a brother partake of that which
he is free to, but the weaker brother is repelled from the truth,
and is not willing to have anything to do with it. He is driven
to a weaker position still.
The second part of the passage (v. 14) discusses the
fact that things in themselves do not defile. He is not dealing
here with the differences between kosher and unkosher, clean and
unclean. The distinction is between the weak and the strong in a
specific area. Anyone who reckons something to be unclean, for
him it is. It may not be unclean for another, but it is unclean
for him. Third (vv. 15-21), the stronger believer is to limit
the use of his liberty because the law of love always supercedes
the law of liberty. The stronger believer needs to follow two
goals. First, follow after peace; peace between fellow brethren,
peace between believers who are strong and believers who are
weak. Second, seek to edify. Seek to build up the weaker
3. Romans 14:22-15:3
His point here is having a good conscience before God.
This passage has three divisions.
The first division (vv. 22-23), is to discuss the
danger of liberty. For the strong, the danger is the flaunting
of his liberty. He can practice liberty, but he should not
flaunt it. He may have to limit the occasion and place where he
will use it. The danger of liberty for the weaker believer is
acting apart from faith. If he chooses to imitate the stronger
believer, but does not have the faith to do so, he sins.
The second part of the passage (15:1-2) speaks of the
sacrifice of liberty and points out two things. First, the
strong believer should bear the infirmities of the weak believer,
which means giving up the use of his liberty in certain
situations for the weaker brother’s sake. Second, aim to edify.
This should always be his goal. Aim to edify, to build up the
weaker believer. The sacrifice that the strong believer must
make is always viewed as temporary until the weaker brother
matures. Once the weaker brother matures, the stronger believer
no longer has to limit his liberty in a given area.
The third part of the passage (v. 3) spells out the
example to follow in all such things. The example to follow
Christ himself. “For Christ also pleased not himself; but, as it
is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell upon
me,” and that should be the example to follow.
4. Romans 15:17
The emphasis here is to do all things to the glory of
God. Here he points out two things. First, be like minded with
fellow believers. This does not mean to always agree on
something being right or wrong, but to be like minded in the
sense of being willing to give way for the sake of helping a
weaker brother grow. Second, to agree. That which may be right
for me may not be right for someone else. God’s will for his
life is not any of my business. I should reach an agreement with
the weaker brother. I will refrain at certain situations and I
will understand that just because something is right for me does
not mean it is right for him. It could be wrong for him. Where
God may lead me to do certain actions of freedom, He may not lead
another brother to do certain actions of freedom, and God’s will
for the other believer is not any of my business as far as my
right to interfere is concerned. It is my business as far as
being concerned that he find God’s will and carry it out, but it
is not my business to interfere.
5. I Corinthians 8:1-13
This passage deals with the question: How far can one
go as a believer? In discussing this subject, Paul gives three
The first principle (vv. 1-6), is our freedom in
Christ. We are free in Christ. We are free from the Law of
Moses, we are free in Christ to do whatever the Bible allows us
to do and does not forbid. In all amoral and neutral issues, we
are free to do. According to verses 1-3, knowledge leads to
freedom of action, but this freedom is to be tempered by the law
of love. Yes, we are free to do whatever the Bible allows us to
do, but our actions must be limited by the law of love. In
verses 4-6 he points out again that the believer is free in all
areas of amoral issues, but it must be tempered, limited, by the
law of love of the brethren.
The second principle (vv. 7-12), is that liberty should
not be used where a weaker brother either stumbles or is
offended. Remember, “could” does not mean “should”. Just
because you could do something, does not mean you should do
something. Liberty should not be used where a weaker brother
will either stumble or be offended. Again, if he stumbles, he
falls into sin, if he is offended he does not fall into sin; but
he has removed you as having any influence in his life
The third principle (v. 13) is be willing to give up
liberty for the sake of a weaker brother. This does not mean you
have to give up your liberty forever, but in the situations where
you are in contact with the weaker believer, or as long as he
remains a weaker believer in those situations, you will refrain
from the exercise of your liberty.
These are the three principles concerning how far one
can go in I Corinthians 8. In I Corinthians 9, Paul goes on to
give the illustration of rights surrendered. What you do or do
not do in amoral issues does not really matter to God. You must
act according to your conscience. However, God does not allow us
to use our liberty to cause stumbling or offense on the part of a
6. John 17:1-10
The main goal of the believer is to do all to the glory
of God. Under this point three things should be noted.
First, the need of the unbeliever is to receive Christ
as Saviour. When one receives Jesus as Messiah and Saviour, he
glorifies God through the salvation which he receives (Eph. 1:6,
12, 14). Having received Christ, the second goal is to live a
daily life in conformity to Christ. This glorifies God through
the new life which he now lives (I Cor. 10:31; II Cor. 3:18,
I Thess. 2:12). Third, Jesus is glorified by us being brought
into glory or glorified; this is glory through all promises being
fulfilled (Col. 3:4; Heb. 2:8-9).
There is a past, present and future aspect by which we
glorify God. In the past, we glorify God by receiving Jesus as
our Saviour, as our Messiah, and so this was glory through
salvation received. Now, in the present, we lead a daily life
lived in conformity to Christ and this is glory through new life
which is now received. The future aspect is that someday Christ
will even be further glorified by bringing us into glory, bring
us into that same glorified state in which He now is. This is
the future glory, the glory through all the promises being
fulfilled. Past, present and future, we are fulfilling our goal
and the goal of the believer is to do all to the glory of God.
This, in turn, will be the rule of life for our ethical conduct
today. Everything we do we should give glory to God. Unethical
conduct blasphemes God. Ethical conduct on the part of the
believer glorifies God.
7. Dangers To Be Avoided
In the area of legalism three dangers must be avoided.
First, is legalism itself. Again, legalism is not when a
believer chooses to live by a set of rules and regulations which
are outside of Scripture, but when a believer makes a list of
doubtful things, or amoral things, and then uses this list to
judge another believer’s spirituality. Ultimately, legalism
makes salvation or spirituality a matter of works. Every
believer must avoid the problem of legalism. We must avoid using
non-Biblical rules and regulations to judge a fellow believer’s
conduct and, therefore, a fellow believer’s spirituality.
The second danger to avoid is loss of our testimony.
Unethical behavior will ruin our testimony before other believers
and before the world. We must be very careful not to lose our
testimony and the best way of maintaining our testimony is to
live ethically. Be guilty of ethical behavior, not unethical
behavior. Of course, this involves the stronger believer being
willing to refrain to avoid causing someone to stumble.
The third danger to avoid is causing a brother to sin.
We can cause a brother to sin by encouraging him to do unethical
things or by pressuring him to do something which he is free to
do, but does not have the faith to do.
8. The Problems of Legalism
Here let me list five problems.
First, in legalism there is a lack of logic. For
example, take the issue of movies. Some believers teach that it
is wrong for believers to go to movies. However, they do not see
anything wrong with seeing the same movies on television. Where
is the logic in all this? There obviously could not be anything
wrong with seeing the movie, per se, since it is okay to see the
same movie on television. Are they wrong because of what they
are or are they wrong because of where they are seen? There is a
lack of logic there. Another example of this lack of logic is in
the issue of whether Christians can use cards or dice. In one of
the schools that I went to, they clearly taught that it is wrong
for believers to use cards or dice. Why is it wrong? Because
gamblers use them! However, gamblers use many other things and
bank robbers and murders use get away cars. Is it, therefore,
wrong for believers to drive a car? There is a lack of logic
because they do not clearly show whether the sin lies in
themselves or in the way they are used. A car, of course, could
be used correctly. It could also be used for sinful purposes.
The same could easily be true of cards and dice. The major
problem of legalism is that there is a lack of logic as to why
something is wrong in one situation and right in another
situation. Why is it okay to see a movie on television, but
wrong to see it in a theater? If it is wrong to go to a theater
because of what some people do in the back rows, the same thing
could be said about public parks since the same thing goes on in
a public park, must Christians avoid public parks? It is a lack
The second problem of legalism is confusion as to where
the sin really lies. As in the examples above, there is
tremendous confusion in whether the sin lies in the thing itself
or in the way it is used.
A third problem of legalism is faulty exegesis. For
example, in some circles they teach that drinking wine under any
circumstances is wrong. When you approach the Scriptures and see
Jesus drinking wine, they say that the word there means grape
juice. However, it is the same word that is used elsewhere for
wine that people get drunk on. It is exegetically faulty to say
that wine in one context means an alcoholic beverage, but in
another context it means grape juice. A word has a specific
meaning. If it means one thing in one place, it means the same
thing in another place and we cannot use our own preconceived
prejudices to interpret Scripture.
A fourth problem of legalism is that it is often anti-
Scriptural. For example, in Psalm 104:15 we are encouraged to
“bless the Lord for making wine the fruit of the vine that maketh
glad the heart of man.” Try as you may, grape juice simple will
not have that affect. Psalm 104:15 clearly talks about wine that
is an alcoholic beverage which maketh glad the heart of man.
That is one of the things we are supposed to be praising God for.
Yet you will not find God being praised for this in many circles.
So often legalism turns out to be anti-Scriptural, as well as
The fifth problem of legalism is that the believer
fails to live by the work of the Holy Spirit. It is a lot easier
for a believer to live by a set of rules rather than to be
sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Of course, we have
rules to follow, but these are the rules of Scripture. No
organization or church has the right to add any extra rules or
regulations and enforce them and make them a mark of spirituality
and a mark of ethical behavior. While it is easier to live by a
set of rules, the Bible encourages us to be sensitive to the
leading of the Holy Spirit in these amoral and neutral issues,
and not to set a once-and-for-all rule that the Bible does not
9. Biblical Passages Related to the Problem of Legalism
The first Biblical passage is Romans 14:1-8. This
passage makes four points. First, the stronger believer is the
one who does not have problems with amoral or neutral issues.
Those who have problems, those who feel they have to refrain, are
not the more spiritual ones, they are the immature ones. Second,
the attitudes towards each other is to be that of mutual respect.
Third, each believer may be persuaded in his own mind concerning
amoral or neutral issues and live accordingly without expecting
others to live by them. Fourth, principles underlying the doing
or the not doing of amoral or neutral things is one’s attitude
towards God in that we are to be able to give thanksgiving to God
in what we participate and in what we do not participate.
The second passage is Romans 14:14-23. This passage
makes five points. First, nothing is unclean in itself. Amoral
things, such as eating of meat or drinking, these things are not
unclean in themselves. However, second, if a believer considers
some things to be sinful or unclean, it is sinful and unclean to
him, but that does not make it sinful or unclean to another
believer. Third, the person who is free to participate in amoral
things is to limit his practice by the law of love of the
brethren. The question you should ask here is; how would his
doing a given thing in a given situation affect a fellow
believer? Different restrains will be required at different
times and no set rule will fit every situation. This is the true
biblical situation ethics: not total abstention, but rather
sensitivity to the situation and how it will affect a fellow
believer. Fourth, this passage is not concerned how the
unbeliever may react, but how the believer reacts. The fifth
point is the principal of faith. The one who is free is happy if
he does not judge or condemn himself in doing the things he is
free to do. But one with convictions is sinning if he
The third passage I Corinthians 8:4-13. This passage
makes two major points. First, nothing is sinful in itself. In
the area of amoral or neutral issues, nothing is sinful in
itself. For example, meat that is offered to idols is still good
meat. The strong believer knows that the character of the meat
has not changed, though it has been offered to an idol, and so he
is free to participate. However, the weak believer associates
this kind of meat with his past life of idolatry and, therefore,
has conscience problems and he will sin if he eats. Nothing is
sinful in itself. Meat is okay to eat, but if you have a problem
with meat you should abstain. Today, people do not argue about
meat that much anymore, but they do about wine. The strong
believer knows he is free to participate in drinking of wine in a
moderate way. However, the weak believer associates wine with
his former life of drunkenness and so he has conscience problems
if he has a glass of wine and, therefore, he should refrain.
Again, the point in these amoral, neutral issues, is that nothing
is unclean of itself but, if someone feels he is wrong in doing
something, then he should abstain from it. The second point of
this passage is that the free one is to be guided by how his
action will affect a fellow believer. What he may be able to do
one day he will have to refrain from doing on another day. The
action must be based on a given situation. There are no hard or
fast rules that will cover every circumstance.
The fourth passage on the problem of legalism is
I Corinthians 10:23-11:1. This passage makes four points.
First, again, nothing is sinful in itself. That is, insofar as
amoral, neutral issues are concerned, nothing is sinful in
itself. What is right or wrong about something is the way it is
used. Neutral things can be used properly, or improperly. It
can be committed without sinning or it can be committed with
sinning. Second, the guiding principle is: how is it going to
affect another person. In this passage, unbelievers are
included. Third, what is usually alright may be wrong in given
situation. The abstaining is not for the sake of the conscience
of the person who is free, but for the sake of the other person’s
conscience. If the other conscience is affected one must
refrain. Fourth, what is done in freedom or in restriction
should be done in thanksgiving and for the glory of God.
The fifth passage relating to the problem of legalism
is Colossians 2:16-33. Here, Paul makes five points. First, the
practice of liberty is the superior way of life. The need for
living by a set of rules is nowhere condemned, but it is not the
biblical ideal. It is not what the Bible strives for in the
spirituality and development of the saint. Second, since all
amoral or neutral issues are clean, the person who has liberty is
never to allow himself to be judged, but to continue in the
superior lifestyle. Third, living by a set of rules is a sign of
spiritual immaturity. This is opposite of what is often
portrayed today. The picture often given is that the one who
refrains from all these things is the spiritual one. Living by a
set of rules, however, is a sign of spiritual immaturity.
Fourth, to submit to rules is to subject oneself to human
precepts. If you are obeying rules that go beyond Scripture,
then you are submitting yourself to human precepts. Fifth, rules
like these seem to show wisdom and seem to show self-abasement
but, in realty, they are no help against the lust of the flesh.
The sin nature will simply use it to get you to violate your own
These are the five passages relating to the problem of
legalism. By way of summary seven things should be pointed out.
First, all amoral or neutral things in themselves are clean and
not sinful. There is nothing inherent in them that would make
them wrong to use or wrong to participate in. Second, the
stronger and more mature believer is the one who is free to do
all those things and feels no pangs of conscience. Third, the
weaker believer is the one who has problems with amoral issues
and so refrains. Fourth, the weaker believer is not to condemn
the stronger believer for participating and the stronger believer
is not to look down upon the weaker believer for not being able
to participate. Fifth, the whole life of liberty is encouraged
as superior; living by a set of rules is, in itself, not
condemned, it is not wrong, but the Bible discourages it. Sixth,
the situation ethic for the stronger believer is based on the
principle of how an action in a given situation will affect
primarily the believer and only secondarily, how it will affect
the unbeliever. Seventh, there can be no set rule or principle
which will work in every situation other than the principle of
love of the brethren. The action must depend upon the situation.
By way of conclusion three points may be made. First,
we are to obey the Law of Christ. Just as the Law of Moses had
many commandments, the Law of Christ also has many commandments.
We do not have options here. That which God has commanded for
the New Testament believer, that he must obey. The second thing
by way of conclusion, however, is that there is freedom in amoral
or neutral issues. We are free to partake and to do those things
which are neutral and amoral. However, since not all men have
this knowledge, those who have problems with any neutral or
amoral issue are to refrain. Legalism is not conducting one’s
life by a set of rules. Legalism is expecting others to live by
them and so his conscience becomes the judge of another’s
liberty. That is how a weak brother becomes a legalist. On the
other hand, if a person who is free demands others to live
accordingly, he too becomes a legalist. Legalism can go both
ways. The weaker brother can become a legalist if he expects the
strong brother to live by his rules, and the strong brother
becomes a legalist if he tries to enforce the weaker brother to
exercise his freedom.
Third, the biblical pattern is not total abstention or
total indulgence, but moderation tempered by sensitivity to the
needs of fellow believers and the leading of the Holy Spirit.
III. THE NEW TESTAMENT ETHIC
A. The Ethic Itself
The New Testament ethic is the ethic of love. The
declaration of the ethic is, “This way shall men know you are my
disciples, you have love for one another.” That is the New
Testament ethic, love. But what is meant by love?
B. Four Greek Words for Love
There are four different Greek words for love.
The first Greek word is eros. The English word,
erotic, comes from it. It refers to sexual love. By itself it
is not a wrong term. It can become wrong in certain situations.
In all immoral situations it is wrong. However, this word is
never found in the New Testament. It is the Greek equivalent of
a Hebrew word that is used in the Old Testament. The second
Greek word is stargei, which is love in the sense of natural
affection. A good example of stargei love is a mother’s love for
her child. The third Greek word for love is phileo, which is an
emotional love. It is a love of the emotions in response to an
attraction. It is the kind of love that may initially attract a
male and a female, although it is not the kind of love one should
get married on. It is also a love of deep friendship. People who
are best friends are exercising phileo love. There is something
about the spirits of two human beings that draw them together,
and this is a phileo love.
None of these first three types of love is the true
love of the New Testament ethic. The fourth word is agapei.
This is a love that can be willed. It is a love of the will. It
is the love you choose. It is the kind of love that you can make
a commitment to. This is the kind of love you should get married
on the basis of. It is a love that looks out for the well being
of others. This is the love of the New Testament ethic.
C. The Directions of Love
When the Bible uses agapei love, it points out eight
directions in which this agapei love should be extended.
First and foremost, of course, is God and Christ. We
are told that we are to love God with the wholeness of our being.
It is agapei love that we should have for Him. We should choose
to love God and put Him first in our lives and putting everything
The second is towards the spouse. Again, this is the
kind of love that you should get married on. While you may be
attracted by phileo love, eventually that will wain. This is the
kind of love that is the basis of a good and solid marriage. It
is a love that you can will, no matter how much your spouse
mistreats you. You may not be able to exercise the other three
types of love toward your spouse, but you can this one because it
is a love of the will. This is the kind of love we should commit
ourselves to because that is the guarantee of a strong, long-term
Third, this is the love to be extended toward the
brethren. When we are told that we are to love the brethren,
this is the kind of love we should exercise. It is impossible to
exercise phileo love towards all brethren. There are some people
that repel us. There are some believers that we will never be
attracted to. There are some believers that simply turn us off.
We cannot love every believer in the phileo way. But we can love
every believer in the agapei way, and we should. We must will to
love the brethren by means of agapei love. We need to look out
for his well being, no matter how much he or she may turn us off.
Fourth, this is the love that we are to have for those
in authority, especially in the spiritual realm.
Fifth, this is the kind of love we should exercise
towards the church. The church is an organism and this is the
kind of love we need to extend towards this church. We need to
learn to love the Church. Christ loved the church and gave
Himself up for it. It does not mean we need to love every
individual church and, of course, apostate individual local
churches are not to be loved. However, we are to exercise agapei
love toward a Bible based church. If we do so, we look out for
its well being and we seek to use our spiritual gifts in the
context of the meeting of that church.
Sixth, agapei love should be extended toward the sheep
as individuals. This is the love that the elders of the church
should have toward their sheep. The shepherd must learn to love
all of his sheep. Again, he cannot love all of his congregants
in the phileo sense, but he can will to love everyone of them in
the agapei sense. While on one hand one must love the church as
an organism, he must also love the sheep as individuals.
Seventh, this love is to be exercised toward our
neighbor. Jesus said that the second most important commandment
is to love your neighbor as yourself. The kind of love that we
are to apply towards the neighbor is agapei love. As far as
defining who your neighbor is, Jesus did not define your neighbor
as someone who is in your neighborhood or someone who lives next
door to you. Your neighbor is anyone who has a need that you can
meet. If you see someone in need and you can meet that need, you
are exercising agapei love.
Eighth, this is the way we must love our enemies. When
Jesus said to love your enemies, he said to agapei them. This
means that we put our personal animosity aside and we learn to
love our enemies. As long as we are holding a grudge, we are not
exercising agapei love towards the enemy. If we can truly look
at our enemy and say, “I have no personal animosity towards him,
I have nothing to say against him,” we are exercising agapei
love. Find a way to bless your enemy and you are exercising
D. The Degree of Love
The New Testament ethic is superhuman. While
unbelievers are capable of exercising agapei love to a degree,
there will always be a limit.
E. The Role of the Holy Spirit
The ability to exercise this agapei love is by the
power of the Holy Spirit. There is the duplication of the New
Testament ethic of love by the power of the Holy Spirit.
IV. DOUBTFUL THINGS
The fourth major area in the spiritual life and ethics
has to do with doubtful things. How is the believer to deal with
things where there is some doubt whether they are permitted or
forbidden by Scripture? This will be discussed in four areas.
Is pleasure right or wrong? Is it okay for believers
to have pleasure or is it wrong for believers to participate in
pleasure? Is pleasure sinful? Throughout church history, some
circles taught that believers should not have pleasure and that
pleasure is sinful. They pointed to specific passages which gave
a negative connotation of pleasure such as Proverbs 21:17,
Luke 8:14, II Timothy 3:4 and Titus 3:3. There is no question
that these passages clearly mention pleasure in a context of sin
and mention it in a context where believers are told to refrain
from being participants. On the other hand, there are other
passages of Scripture that encourage pleasure for believers.
Although often ignored, there are a number of passages that talk
about pleasure in a good sense, in a sense which believers should
expect to enjoy. Some examples are I Kings 4:20, Psalms 16:11,
147:11, John 10:11, 15:11, Romans 15:13 and Philippians 2:13.
These are passages that clearly give a positive side to pleasure.
Can believers have pleasure or is it wrong for
believers to have pleasure? How do we reconcile the verses that
speak of it in terms of sin with passages that speak of it in
terms of blessing and something believers can expect?
B. Nothing is Unclean
As was discussed earlier in this manuscript under the
subject of legalism, nothing is unclean in itself. For example,
in Romans 14:14 Paul wrote, “I know and am persuaded in the Lord
Jesus that nothing is unclean of itself save that to him who
account anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.” Another
passage along this line is I Timothy 4:4, “for every creature of
God is good and nothing is to be rejected if it be received with
thanksgiving.” Another passages is Titus 1:15, “to the pure all
things are pure, but to them that are defiled and unbelieving,
nothing is pure but both their mind and their conscience are
defiled.” According to these three passages, nothing is unclean.
However, something could become unclean if it is used wrongly.
That is the way to reconcile the passages for and against
pleasure. There are pleasures which are sinful, there are
pleasures which are not sinful. Even pleasures which are in
themselves not sinful can still be used in a sinful way. While
in itself nothing is unclean, it could become evil in certain
C. The Problem of the World
However, there is still a problem. The problem is that
there are admonitions against enjoying the world (I Tim. 4:4).
First John 2:15 states, “Love not the world, neither the things
that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of
the Father is not in him.” This is a clear admonition against
enjoying the world. How does that reconcile with the teaching
that there are situations where pleasures of the world are
allowed for the believer? If nothing is unclean in itself, why
then these admonitions against enjoying the world? The answer is
simple. These admonitions in I John 2:15, for example, refers to
the misuse of pleasure and the use of the external world.
Pleasure can be used correctly, but it can be used incorrectly.
The key to proper pleasure is to see all things as a gift from
God and not to be misused. Matthew 6:33 points out that priority
must be given in seeking the kingdom of God. Luke 12:15 points
out that we are to avoid all covetousness. First Timothy 6:17
states that the wealthy are not to trust in their riches because
all these things can come to naught. The key, then, is to see
all things as a gift from God and not to be misused.
D. Questions to Ask
When we are confronted with a doubtful thing, how
should we respond? Let me suggest six questions to ask.
The first question is: is it a weight or a hindrance?
Hebrews 12:1. Is it something that will weigh us down from
growing in the spiritual life? Is it something that will hinder
us from running the race of the spiritual life? If the answer is
yes, refrain. If no, you are free to participate.
The second question is based upon I Corinthians 6:12:
will it obtain control over my will? Is it something that is
habit forming? Is it something that once I get into I will have
a hard time stopping? If it begins exercising control over your
will, it means the Lord no longer controls your will and,
therefore, it should be abstained from.
The third question is based upon Romans 14:23: is
there a question about it in my mind? Do I feel totally
comfortable about participating in such? If the answer is yes,
you are free. If the answer is no, refrain.
The fourth question is based upon I Corinthians 8:13:
will it cause a brother to stumble? We have seen that the Bible
clearly forbids believers to cause weaker brethren to stumble.
Will it cause a brother to stumble? If the answer is no, you are
free. If the answer is yes, refrain.
The fifth question is based upon Colossians 4:5: will
it win or lose a person to the Lord? Again, if the answer is yes
or no you are to act accordingly.
The sixth question is based upon I Corinthians 10:31:
will it glorify God? If the answer is no, refrain. If the
answer is yes, you are free to participate.
There are believers who teach that it is always wrong
to owe money to anybody and, therefore, a believer must never use
credit cards, always pay in cash, always get rentals, never buy
something unless you can pay for it totally. They will not buy
anything on time plan, nor mortgage a house. This will be
discussed in three parts.
A. The Key Passage
The key passage. The key passage often used against
any form of owing is Romans 13:8: “Owe no man anything . . .”
In the Greek text, this passage has a double negative,
emphasizing that it is emphatic: owe no man anything in any way.
That verse does teach, basically, against debt.
B. Definition of Debt
What is a debt? Debt exists where liability (what is
owed), exceeds assets (funds used to pay what is owed). If the
annual budget shows a deficit, it means that the family is in
debt. If in some months the bills exceed the income because of
taxes or insurance, then income in other months must exceed the
bills in order to balance the budget. This type of temporary
indebtedness does not violate the biblical principle. The debt
remains until the account is settled, but this is not sinful in
and of itself. Insofar as a mortgage is concerned, you are not
really in debt until the next payment becomes due. Debts only
become sinful when they exceed your ability to pay them. That is
what is meant by debt.
C. Biblical Principles
In light of what the Bible demands about indebtedness,
in light of the definition of what indebtedness is, what are the
biblical principles in dealing with debts? There are three
First, you must see debt for what it is and debt is
slavery. If you are indebted, meaning you no longer have the
ability to pay what you owe, you are a slave (Lev. 25:39-41;
Prov. 22:7; Matt. 18:25-30).
The second principle is the fact that covetousness
often will lead you to unnecessary debts. Covetousness is what
causes most people to fall into indebtedness where they reach
beyond their limits of being able to pay back and, therefore,
must file bankruptcy. According to Colossians 3:5, covetousness
is idolatry. Even believers must learn how to draw a distinction
between necessity and want. It is amazing how many people
confuse that which they want with that which they need. In
American materialism, it is very easy to confuse the two. Wants
are all right if they are affordable. However, do not confuse
priorities. It is all right to buy something if it is
affordable, but even if it is affordable, do not confuse your
priorities. Now, how can you know whether you can afford it or
not? You can know in four ways. First, for economic reasons:
if you do not have the money for it, you cannot afford it. A
second way of knowing is for priority reasons: the money is
there, but it is not a priority and you may need this money for
something of greater and more important priority. A third way to
know is for stewardship reasons: is something being thrown out
for replacement because it is worn out or because it is out of
style? The fourth way to know is for spiritual reasons: will it
keep me from spending time in the church or coming together with
fellow believers? Will it cause me to cut back on my giving? If
meeting your wants causes you to cut back on your giving to the
work of the Lord, you do not need it and you cannot afford it.
Covetousness is idolatry and covetousness leads to unnecessary
The third biblical principle is to plan wisely. In
planning wisely let me mention two things.
First, the balance. The balance is: trust God and plan
wisely. We should trust God to meet our needs, but we are
responsible to plan wisely. We should plan wisely for our
children (I Cor. 12:14), for our household (I Tim. 4:8) and for
our business (James 4:13-15).
Second, there are four guidelines for your budget.
First, plan for the whole year. Figure out what your monthly
deficits are and what your yearly payments need to be.
Distinguish between monthly payments, such as rent or mortgage or
car payments, as against yearly payments, such as insurance, and
work these things out. Make your plans out for the whole year.
The second guideline is, postpone a minor purchase when
possible in order to pay it off in full to avoid interest
charges. There is nothing wrong with paying interest charges,
but they do take more money away from you. Instead of a monthly
charge with interest, put that money into savings where you are
collecting interest. You may have to put off buying certain
things, but that is fine. You will get them eventually anyway
and be debt free.
The third guideline concerns major purchases. If at
all possible, try to pay in full. If you can pay for a house in
full, do it. If you can pay for a car in full, do it. Most of
us, cannot do that. We do not get paid that well. Try to give a
large down payment. A large down payment will keep the interest
down and that will allow your monthly payments to be within the
realm of possibility in accordance with your budget. As far as
your mortgage is concerned, if at all possible try to keep it
within one-third of your total take home-pay. Keep careful track
of your discretionary income, the income that is left after all
the monthly commitments are paid, including housing, clothing and
food because these funds may be needed later on.
The fourth guideline is that if you are in debt, over
your head, try to get out to the point that all monthly payments
are manageable. That means quit using your credit cards and pay
cash. If need be, take out a loan to consolidate all your debts
so that you are making fewer and more affordable monthly