Errors Related To A Separated Life
Dr. Joe Temple

Introduction

We have been presenting a series of messages entitled Simple Questions Often Asked . Of late, we have been discussing particularly the question, “What is a separated life?” The message I now bring to you is a vital one to an understanding of that theme; it concerns an area in which I believe the greatest damage is done when people make an effort to live a separated life.

Areas of Separation

When we began the discussion of this question, we had an explanation of terms. What do we mean by a separated life? What do we mean by separation? We discovered as we examined the Scripture that the Bible does not deal with the subject of separation primarily in relation to things; rather, it deals with the question of separation in relation to areas.

We found, for example, that there will be times when God will demand on the part of Christians separation from sinners and sinful things; there will be times when God will not want you to have anything to do with sinners and sinful things. We discovered there will be times when God will want you to separate from saints—from other Christians who are not living in the fashion and the manner in which they should. God will demand a separation.

Then we found that God does demand and will demand separation from spoilers. The word spoilers is not used in the Bible. It is a word that we have coined to describe those people who in the Scripture are referred to as deceivers, false prophets, antichrists, messengers of Satan , etc. We have used that word to describe them because their one aim and purpose is to spoil the work of God. We have learned that we are expected as Christians to separate ourselves from them.

Essentials of a Separated Life

We have discovered that separation is not an easy way of life to follow. If we are to live a separated life, there are certain essentials which will have to be recognized and maintained. If we are to live separate lives in any or all of the areas that I have mentioned, there must be a sincere desire on the part of the individual Christian to glorify God. His main thought and purpose must be God's glory.

Then we discovered that there must be a spirit of discernment, for we found that though all things are lawful for us because we have been set free in Christ, not all things are expedient, nor do all things edify (I Corinthians 10:23). We need a spirit of discernment so that we can tell whether or not a particular thing is expedient or best for us, whether or not a particular thing will edify us or someone else.

We found that the third essential is a need for a system of discipline on the part of the Christian because the easy thing to do is to forget whatever we may feel in relation to a sincere desire to glorify God. We may forget what is best. We may forget what edifies. We may be unconcerned as to the damage our lives can do to others, so we must discipline ourselves to live in accordance with our calling.

Possible Errors We May Commit

The message I now have for you is the last in the discussion of the question, “What is a separated life?” The subject of our discussion is Errors Related to a Separated Life. Perhaps this is the most important discussion of all because, as I have suggested, perhaps more damage is done to the doctrine of separation in this area than in any other. I want to suggest to you that there are three errors which we as believers must avoid, three errors of which oftentimes we are guilty either entirely or in part.

The Error of Legalism

The first error that I would bring to your attention is one that I am going to call the error of legalism. Many people who are interested in living a separated life make the mistake of becoming legalistic. The term legalism or legalistic is not found in the Bible. It is a term coined by theologians to describe a condition which existed in the New Testament as a result of the teaching of Judaizers and as a result of the teaching of early day Gnostics.

Legalism in the Early Church

I suggest that you turn with me to the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 15, and notice when this particular error first reared its head in the early church. This is the record of an early day Church council which had to decide what would be expected of early believers:

Acts 15:

1And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.

The apostles had preached salvation by the simple grace of God; the simple message which had been proclaimed was that if you receive the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, then you are a Christian. But certain folk came down from Judea and said, “No, that is not quite enough; not only must you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, but you must be circumcised after the manner of Moses or your salvation will not count for anything.” Glance at verse 5:

Acts 15:

5But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.

Salvation by Simply Trusting Christ

When this other group heard about these Gentiles' finding Christ by simply trusting Him as Savior, they said, “Well, I am so glad they are trusting Christ, but it is necessary for them to be circumcised. It is also necessary for them to keep the law of Moses, else their salvation will not amount to anything at all.” This is legalism, Beloved.

We do not have the same thing today literally because no one goes around advocating that people be circumcised in order to be saved. A few people do go around advocating that we keep the Ten Commandments in order to be saved. Let us sum it all up by saying that if you question an individual's salvation because of anything he does or does not do, then you have committed the error of legalism. You are guilty of that with which the Apostle Peter challenged his friends in verse 10:

Acts 15:

10Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?

This is a yoke unreasonable and certainly not one with God's approval.

Legalism in the Galatian Church

The problem of legalism which reared its head in this early day Church council became the theme of one of the important letters in the New Testament, the book of Galatians. Turn with me to chapter 3 of the Galatian letter, verse 11, which is the theme verse of the entire chapter:

Galatians 3:

11But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.

Let the word law here stand for thousands of regulations which have developed down through the years in relation to Christendom, and recognize, as Paul does, that no man is justified before God by the things which he does.

Legalism in Keeping of Days

If you glance at chapter 4 of this same letter, you will notice in verse 10 one form that this kind of legalism takes:

Galatians 4:

10Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.
11I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.

These early Judaizers were saying that unless the Gentile Christians observed the same Jewish holidays that the Jews observed, then they could not be pleasing to God, and perhaps they were not even saved. Again, we do not suggest keeping Jewish holidays today, but we are guilty of like condemnation because oftentimes we say that if a person works on the Lord's day—Sunday—then he could not be a Christian because he ought to keep one day holy unto the Lord.

People often ask me why I don't sign my name to petitions to close up businesses on Sunday. The reason I don't is that I don't have any Scriptural right to do it. I would love for things to be arranged so that everyone could come to God's house when he wants to come to God's house, but I have no right to question anyone's relationship to the Lord because he operates a business on Sunday. If I do, then I am like those early day legalizers; I am observing days and months and seasons in relation to merit.

Legalism in the Colossian Church

Turn to the Colossian letter, chapter 2, verse 16, where you will find another form that legalism took in that early day:

Colossians 2:

16Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:

Skip down to verse 21:

Colossians 2:

21(Touch not; taste not; handle not;

This was the slogan of the legalists who said that individuals were not right with God if they ate meat because meat that was offered to idols was a questionable thing in that day. Or as they might say in our day, that individuals are not right with God if they drink, if they have respect to this or respect to that. The whole thing is summed up in the phraseology, “Touch not; taste not; handle not.”

Legalism Defined

Legalism is that spirit on the part of Christians which judges a man's relationship to God by the thing which he does or does not do—things oftentimes set up arbitrarily by the Christian or by the Christian group without any relationship to the Word of God.

The Result of Legalism

Legalism has its roots in the insecurity of the believer. The sad result of legalism is described in II Corinthians, chapter 3, verse 6, and the result becomes evident after a certain length of time. The apostle was speaking of the ministry God had committed to his care, and he said:

II Corinthians 3:

6Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.

I would have you notice the last part of that verse: “the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” This is the sad result of legalism; it kills every vestige of Spirit-given life in the believer. It smothers the flame of the Holy Spirit. So instead of a living, vibrant Christian testimony fostered by the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the believer's life, there is a cold, negative approach to the things of God which eventually proves uninteresting to the person involved and distasteful to all who may come in contact with him.

May I say in summary that the situation today may not be the same. The problems may be different. But the error of legalism is made when we insist on a specific rule or practice as necessary to obtain or maintain favor with God.

The Error of Lasciviousness

May I suggest that we look at another error oftentimes made by Christians. Not only must the error of legalism be faced, but the error of lasciviousness must be recognized. Turn, please, to the epistle of Jude:

Jude:

4For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Notice the phrase, “turning the grace of God into lasciviousness.” We are well aware that there are ungodly men who do this, but had we time to pursue this word lasciviousness through the New Testament, we would find that Christians also are guilty of turning the grace of God into lasciviousness.

What is lasciviousness? Webster's Dictionary gives a very simple definition of the word: “a lack of discipline.” The word lascivious itself is the translation of the Greek word aselgeia , which means “unrestrained action.” Oftentimes, it is used in connection with unbridled sex, and because it is, individuals are prone to think that when you use the word lascivious or lasciviousness , you are talking only about immorality. We are thinking of it at the moment in relation to its basic meaning, and that is a lack of discipline, or unrestrained action.

Two Extremes

Christians have a habit of going to extremes. At one extreme are those who commit the error of legalism. At the other extreme are those who commit the error of lasciviousness. At the one extreme are those who say, “You have to do it this way or you are not pleasing to God.” At the other extreme are those who say, “I have been made free in Christ; therefore, I can do anything I want to do and God will not hold me responsible.” That is the error of lasciviousness.

The Paraphrased version has caught the meaning of Jude 4 very well I think; it translates verse 4: “I say this because some godless teachers have wormed their way in among you, saying that after we become Christians, we can do just as we like, without fear of God's chastening.” This, Beloved, is lasciviousness. A Christian is free, we are told, and he can do whatever he likes without regard to God, himself, or anyone else. When an individual takes that attitude, he is making a very grave error.

Not for an Occasion to the Flesh

Turn with me, please, to Paul's letter to the Galatians, which, as I have already suggested to you, has as its basic subject the error of legalism, but which also deals with the error of lasciviousness:

Galatians 5:

13For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty;…

No question about it. That is the full meaning of the text: Don't let anyone argue; you have been called unto liberty. Now notice this:

Galatians 5:

13…only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.

Get the last part of the verse: “…only use not your liberty for an occasion to the flesh.” The word aforma , which means very literally, “a starting point.” What is the apostle saying? He is saying that though we are free in Christ, we must be very careful that we do not use that liberty as a starting point to live in a manner whereby we are fulfilling the lusts of the flesh.

Let me emphasize that there are Christians who are walking in the flesh instead of the Spirit who excuse it in the name of Christian liberty. If anything it is said concerning it by way of admonition, the individual who admonishes is accused of being legalistic and of not believing in the liberty which we have in the Lord Jesus Christ. The danger of the error of lasciviousness we have already touched upon. If, as a Christian, you commit the error of lasciviousness, you could well start to live a life in the flesh. But perhaps even worse is the danger that it means to other people.

The Value of our Testimony

Turn with me, please, to Paul's first Corinthian letter, chapter 8, verse 9. Speaking of the liberty that we have in Christ, the apostle said:

I Corinthians 8:

9But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.
10For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol's temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols;

Yes, Friend, it is possible for us to be so full of our sense of freedom in Christ that we are oblivious to the damage we may do by not being careful about our Christian testimony. Whether we like it or not, there are weak Christians who are observing us, and they see us do certain things which we could argue until we were blue in the face did not hurt us, but they do hurt them. Paul said that we are capable of destroying their testimony and their life in Christ.

Not a Cloke of Maliciousness

Turn with me, please, to the first epistle of Peter, chapter 2, as I suggest to you another danger which is related to the error of lasciviousness, and which people oftentimes do not realize. The apostle was speaking about the freedom that these individuals had in Christ. It related not only to their freedom of spirit, but to their new outlook in relation to their slavery because some of them were slaves. In verse 16, he said they had been made free:

I Peter 2:

16As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.

This word cloke could be translated “pretext.” The suggestion is that some individuals use the liberty they have in Christ as a pretext for doing evil—as a pretext for yielding to the lusts of the flesh. I have heard people say, “Ha, there is nothing wrong with that. Don't you know I am saved by grace?”, as if salvation, free and costless, gives them an opportunity to walk in the flesh instead of in the Spirit.

The Error of Lovelessness

Avoid the error of legalism. Avoid the error of lasciviousness. And let me suggest to you that you avoid the error of lovelessness; this is an error which nearly everyone is capable of committing. Some commit the error of legalism. Some commit the error of lasciviousness. I would like to suggest to you that both oftentimes commit the error of lovelessness. It seems that regardless of which error we make, we may find lacking any real love in our hearts for those who differ with us.

Lovelessness in Jesting

This lovelessness takes two forms. Turn with me, please, to the book of Romans, chapter 14, and notice what the apostle has to say in verse 3:

Romans 14:

3Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.

This chapter is talking about questionable things. Here is the legalist. He says, “I don't believe in doing that and I will not do it.” How does the person who borders on the area of lasciviousness respond to that? Well, we are told right here. He despises the legalist. This word despise involves the idea of jesting. I am going to say of the individual who has a distorted idea of his liberty in Christ that his attitude toward the legalist may be one of jesting, and it grieves me. I have seen this attitude of jesting; I have heard expressions of jesting. I have seen some sincere souls who believe in taking a stand; whether they were right or wrong is beside the point. They took a stand for what they believed to be right, and I have heard folk who felt that they understood the meaning of liberty in Christ laugh at them and make fun of them.

A thing that concerns me tremendously in our day is the way we cast this word legalism around. We point an accusing finger at a person who believes in any kind of discipline and say, “Ah, he is legalistic; he doesn't know anything about freedom in Christ.” That is what the Spirit of God said would happen. Don't despise a man who takes a stand. Don't jest about him. Recognize that he may be weak; he may be misinterpreting certain things; but if he is a child of God, you have no right to be jesting about a stand that is sacred to him.

Lovelessness in Judging

Notice the other form that this lovelessness takes. First, you cannot say that the love of God is prompting you to make fun of someone who believes in standing for something. The other form that this lovelessness takes is found in this same verse. Look at it again:

Romans 14:

13Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way.

Notice the other form that this lovelessness takes. First, you cannot say that the love of God is prompting you to make fun of someone who believes in standing for something. The other form that this lovelessness takes is found in this same verse. Look at it again:

Romans 14:

13Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way.

There you have the other word. First jesting, then judging. Where people who have a distorted idea of their liberty in Christ make fun of individuals who try to live a disciplined life, individuals who try to live a disciplined life oftentimes are just as guilty in the other direction. They judge everyone who does not measure up to their standards. One is just bad as the other, and it grieves me. I have heard that sort of thing, too. I have heard individuals speak about a person' s relationship to Christ in terms that literally made me shudder because I think they were playing fast and loose with sacred things. I have heard individuals who, after looking at a person's life and seeing something that he was doing that they themselves would not do—oh, they would not dream of doing it—say, “He hasn't got any more religion than that piano right there.” What they meant was that because he did this, that, or something else—I am not bothering to name the things—he could not possibly be saved. Beloved, the love of God does not prompt a statement like that. That is the error of lovelessness of which probably all of us are guilty and which we ought to recognize as sin and confess to the Lord.

The Correct Attitude

What is the happy medium? What is the correct attitude? You don't want the pendulum of your experience to swing toward legalism. You don't want it to swing toward lasciviousness. What is the happy medium? If you will look at chapter 14 in the book of Romans and notice the paragraph which begins with verse 5, we will let the Scripture speak for itself without any comment or explanation:

Romans 14:

5One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.
6He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.
7For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.
8For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's.
9For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.
10But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
11For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.
12So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.
13Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way.
14I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
15But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.
16Let not then your good be evil spoken of:
17For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
18For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men.

Conclusion

The last verse sums up the whole matter. If you follow the advice that is given in the paragraph which I have just read, you will be acceptable to God and approved of men. Beloved. let us be careful that we do not fall into the error of legalism, the error of lasciviousness, or the error of lovelessness as we do what we feel God expects us to do.


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