The sin of liberalism
It’s futile to be the authority instead of God
As liberalism involves taking away from the Bible it, it is a mindset that comes from the sinful nature; not from the Bible or the divine nature.
Jesus Christ brought liberty and freedom into our world. In particular, His followers have been freed from being slaves to sin and from needing to obey the laws of the Old Testament (Jn. 8:32-36; 2 Cor. 3:17; Gal. 5:1).
Liberalism interprets the bible and Christianity in terms of current ideas and reasoning. This means viewing life through the glasses of humanism where “reason and science” replace “faith” and “licence” replaces “grace”. From this viewpoint, as there is no such thing as sin, there is no need for God’s grace, no need for a Savior and you have licence to live as you wish.
According to this philosophy, you are the authority instead of God. It began when Satan told Eve: “you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). This means that we decide what is right and wrong instead of depending on some authority like the Bible. When there is no authority, people do whatever they feel like, there is no restraint (Jud. 21:25).
The main philosophy behind modern thinking is humanism, which is a world view based on atheism. As there is no deity to follow and trust, humanists can only follow and trust fellow human beings. Humanism believes that human beings possess the power or potentiality of solving their own problems through reason and scientific method. This is an optimistic view that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. For those who believe it to be true, it is in effect their religion.
The major assumption of humanism is that we live in naturalistic world; they see no evidence of the divine or the supernatural. Therefore they deny the God of the Bible and do not believe that the Bible is credible. Consequently, humanism rejects the notions of sin and guilt. They see no evidence of consciousness after death and so reject the possibility of immortal salvation and eternal damnation.
Humanism places trust in human intelligence rather than in divine guidance. This intelligence is exercised through reason and science. They have a strong belief in the theory of the evolution, which is used to explain the origin of life.
Humanism traces its history back to the Greek philosophers such as the Stoics and Epicurians who looked to humans rather than gods to solve problems. This powerful idea is one of the gods of our society.
When humanism is applied to the Bible and Christianity, it destroys the Christian faith. This is not surprising as Christianity is based on God’s revelation to mankind, whereas atheism denies that God exists.
Paul warned, “the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Tim. 4:3-4TNIV). Liberalists are an example of such people because they replace the truths of Scripture with myths. In particular, liberalism attacks the fundamentals of the Christian faith, as shown below.
The Bible: Liberalists use modern social and natural sciences to interpret the bible. Therefore, they believe it was written by fallible human authors and that it contains many errors. They reject a “literal”, historical view of the bible and don’t believe that it is the word of God.
Jesus Christ: Liberalists believe that Jesus was a good example for us and a moral teacher, but He was not God. He didn’t die on the cross for our sins, but his death nevertheless had an uplifting “moral influence on us”. They reject miracles as fantasies of ignorant people in biblical times who did not understand the laws of nature. Therefore, they don’t accept the virgin birth or the resurrection.
Satan: Liberalists believe that Satan is a symbol of evil and does not exist as an entity.
The gospel: Liberalists believe that humanity is fundamentally good, with no sin problem. As there is no sin, there is no need for salvation. They also reject the existence of heaven and hell.
As they deny that Jesus was divine, those who teach liberalism are “false teachers” who bring “destructive heresies” and have “depraved conduct” (2 Pet. 2:1-2). In this case, as they were working within the church, they probably used the words of Scripture but gave them different meanings. Paul devoted a whole chapter to these false teachers (2 Pet. 2:1-22). We are warned to have nothing to do with them because such doctrinal error can spread like cancer (2 Tim. 2:17-18; 3:5).
If God does not exist, we are not accountable for our behavior. Liberalists tolerate sinful behaviour and replace the word “sin” with words such as “crime”, “evil” and “disease” because the word “sin” implies a standard set by God.
For example, sexual immorality in the form of incest was tolerated in Corinth and they were proud of their liberality (1 Cor 5:1-2). They may have thought that grace was a licence for disobedience. God forgives our sin; so we can keep on sinning! But they failed to recognise God’s clear commands against behaviour such as sexual immorality. According to Paul although they claimed to be believers, they indulged in impurity, sexual sin and debauchery (2 Cor. 12:21). The same Greek word, aselgeia, occurs in: “They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord” (Jude 4). Note that in this verse immorality is associated with denying the deity of Christ. Aselgeia characterises pagans and the sinful nature (Gal. 5:19; Eph. 4:19; 1 Pet. 4:3). It is like “the depraved conduct of the lawless” at Sodom (2 Pet. 2:7; Jude 7).
The false teachers of 2 Peter 2 were hedonists. They were shamelessly carousing in broad daylight, with “eyes full of adultery” and appealing “to the lustful desires of sinful human nature” (2 Pet. 2:13-18). They encourage sexual sin by teaching that God-given bodily appetites should not be restrained. Although they advocated freedom, they were enslaved by their sinful behavior, being addicted to sin (2 Pet. 2:19).
The liberalists described in Jude followed their own evil and ungodly desires to pervert the grace of God into a license for immorality (Jude 4, 16, 18). They followed their natural instincts and were not true believers (Jude 19). They did whatever they felt like doing and there was no restraint.
The false teachers of 2 Peter 2 despised authority (2 Pet. 2:10). They recognised no higher authority than themselves. Similarly, the liberalists described in Jude rejected authority and slandered celestial beings (Jude 8). They rebelled against authority and had strong opinions and scoffed at those who disagree with them (Jude 10, 18). They criticize things they don’t understand, such as the Bible.
The Bible teaches that where there is no authority people follow their desires: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit” (Judges 21:25). As the liberalist rejects the authority of God, they make their own rules for life.
Liberalists are tolerant of sin as they refuse to acknowledge sinful behaviour. The Bible also teaches that “sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). Therefore, lawlessness is a characteristic of liberalism.
Responding to Liberalism
After describing the ungodliness of liberalists, Jude urged believers to persevere in the Christian faith: “But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life” (Jude 20, 21). This involves obeying God’s commands (Jn. 14:15; 1 Jn. 5:3).
Teaching the fundamentals of the faith is the best insurance against doctrinal error. When others deserted the Christian faith, Timothy was told to keep the pattern of sound teaching and guard it(1 Tim. 1:19-20; 2 Tim. 1:13-15). He was also reminded, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). When dealing with false teachers he was urged to correctly handle the word of truth. Furthermore, “Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (2 Tim. 2:25-26).
Defend Biblical inspiration. Use the Bible, interpreted within history, as the foundation of logic, not just human wisdom outside the Bible. Whatever the bible says, God says. God used human authors so that using their historical situations, personalities and writing styles, they composed and recorded without error His revelation to mankind.
Recognise sinful behaviour
The Bible teaches that hedonism and lawlessness is sinful. It’s important to name sin as “sin”, rather than accepting it as a part of everyday life. Christian liberty is not license to do as we please (Gal. 5:13). Just because Christ forgives our sins, doesn’t mean that we should keep on sinning so He can keep on forgiving. Paul says “by no means” should we use Christ’s forgiveness and the fact that we are no longer under the Old Testament law to justify sinful behavior (Rom. 6:2, 15).
Don’t live like unbelievers
Liberalism is a natural belief for unbelievers. Paul insisted: “you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they havegiven themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed” (Eph 4:17-19). The thoughts and attitudes of believers should be influenced by their new divine nature instead of their old sinful nature (Eph. 4:20-24).
Believers were also told, “among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for the Lord’s people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place” (Eph. 5:3-4). They are to behave wisely by avoiding drunkenness and sexual immorality (1 Cor. 6:12-20; Eph. 5: 15-17).
Practice Self control
Hedonism and lawlessness are symptoms of lack of self control. Therefore, self control is one of the fruits of the Spirit that is vital in a liberalist world. The believers at Thessalonica were urged to be alert and self controlled; avoiding sexual immorality and controlling their own bodies in a way that was holy and honourable (1 Th. 4:3-8; 5:5-8).
Don’t stumble other believers
In the context of eating food that may have been offered to idols, Paul said, “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Cor 8:9). This means don’t cause those with a weak conscience to violate their strict conscience by causing them to do what they think is disloyal to Christ and therefore sinful (Rom 14&15; 1 Cor 8; 10:23-33). Paul said that he would never do anything that caused another believer to sin (1 Cor. 8:13).
Liberalism is a method of interpreting the bible that comes from the sinful nature and takes away from the Bible. It places the ideas and reasoning of humanism between us and the Bible and puts licence (excessive freedom or liberty) above grace and reason and science above faith. Liberalism makes people the authority instead of God. It is selfish and leads to chaos because it lacks self control. Liberalism is dangerous because it involves sinful thinking and sinful behaviour.
The risk of liberalism comes from our culture. We are exposed to news media, movies, the internet and advertisements that preach humanism, hedonism and materialism. Christians need to be relevant to the culture but not accept its values.
Christians can avoid liberalism by recognizing the limits inherent in God’s word. God has given us the boundaries in which to live, but we need to remind each other of these. In this we need to follow Christ and seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit because it can involve some tough decisions.
Written, December 2007
– The sin of legalism
– Recognizing and responding to legalism
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