We live in a culture deeply concerned about rights. Some of these rights are assumed, like the right to dress how you will, the right to eat what you want, and the right to own a computer. Others are guaranteed by the United States Constitution directly such as the right to free speech, the right to assemble peaceably, and the right to a free press.1
You could argue that some of these rights are being eroded over time. The right to freely practice your religion, for example, has taken a hard beating since the 1960s. Hardly a week goes by without some report of a child with a Bible at school or kids praying and then getting suspended.2 Still, when you consider everything together, we may lament and complain about the situation here, but there are places in the world where those same twelve kids wouldn’t have been suspended. No, rather they would have been executed.
So, what of our rights? We have an obligation to be obedient to the government,3 but this is a republic, and we do have a say in what the government does. If we don’t like the corruption of the system, God does supply a remedy. Consider 2 Chronicles 7:14:
If my[God’s] people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.
Are you called by His name? I hope so. Since we are called by His name, if we do four things, He will do three. Our omnipotent Father promises to hear us from heaven, forgive our sins, and heal the land in response to our four acts of obedience. We know how to humble ourselves and pray, though we may not do it often enough. Seeking His face? Well, that’s a bit tougher, but then comes the real rub: Turn from our wicked ways.4 We have to repent.
Some sins are obvious. We’ve got those identified for us in both the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ augmentation to those commandments in the Sermon on the Mount.5 The whole function of the law is to point those things out to us.6 We know all about the big sins. They should be easy to avoid, right?
Well, maybe not. Even the Apostle Paul had problems with sin. What he knew he ought to do, he didn’t. What he knew he shouldn’t do, he did. Isn’t that the way with us all?7 Why is that? As much as we don’t want to admit it, we walk ourselves into temptation. We live in the flesh and then try to resist the devil. Foolish mortals. Without the armor of God,8 we’ll always get squashed flat every time. That’s why Solomon advised his son to avoid temptation, to remove his way from going near places of temptation.9 By keeping the path clear of moral obstructions, we can avoid running afoul of the snares and pitfalls. Those sneaky little foxes, the seemingly innocuous things that get us into deep trouble, stay out of our vineyard.10
Technically speaking, we are free to do a lot of things. It’s okay to dance. It’s okay to drink alcohol. It’s even okay to eat meat sacrificed to idols.11 Okay, so in this day and age, that won’t likely come up for most of us unless we hit some unusual mission field. There are, however, two things to consider when deciding to do these things. First, is it a temptation to us? For one person, a casual drink at dinner might be nothing. To a recovering alcoholic, a good whiff of alcohol, let alone a drink, may be too much temptation. Secondly, is your action a stumbling block for someone else? Better if you refrain than cause someone else to offend God.12
Because of Christ’s redemptive work on the cross, we are free to do a great many things. However, because we can do a thing, it doesn’t follow that we should.
2 Huntington, Doug. Christian Post Reporter. “12 Students Suspended for Praying at School.” Sat, Mar. 03 2007 12:53 PM ET
3 Matthew 22:21, Mark 12:17, Luke 20:25, Exodus 22:28, Acts 23:5
4 Paraphrased from a recurring theme in commentaries on the prophetic books of the Bible by Dr. Chuck Missler. http://www.khouse.org
5 Ten Commandments: Exodus 20. Sermon on the Mount Matthew 5-7.
6 Romans 7:7
7 Romans 7:15
8 Ephesians 6
9 Proverbs 5
10 Song of Songs 2:15
11 1 Corinthians 8
12 1 Corinthians 8: 11-13