Love Over Legalism and Licentiousness


Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:18, ESV)

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.

(1 Corinthians 10:23–24, ESV)

Legalism seeks to win the approval and acceptance of another through right activities, while all the while harboring sin in the heart. Licentiousness swings to the other side and disregards all others in the pursuit of self-satisfaction and pleasure. Right in the middle of the double ruts of legalism and licentiousness lies the spiritual principle of love.

Biblical love originates in the love of God and then emerges in the heart of the believer, and so the actions are not forced and shallow, as they are in legalism. But this type of love is not self-love, but others-directed love. It is a love for God and a love for neighbor.

Because love for the approval of men and love of self are always easier and more satisfying to the the flesh than selfless love of others, legalism and licentiousness are attractive substitutes to many Christians. But Paul cuts through both of these with his words to seek the good of our neighbor.

Yes, our Christian liberty may allow us to do these things, but is it loving? Will it tear another down or will it bring spiritual confusion to an immature Christian? Why not simply give up our freedom because we love people more than our freedom in Christ? To place our own good over and above the good of others is selfish.

But the answer is not to cast off the commandments of God. Yes, Christ has fulfilled the law, but this doesn’t mean that they are useless as a guide for living. Instead, they provide us divine wisdom for living and showing love for others. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.” (1 Corinthians 10:31–33, ESV)

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