"David, I have a question. This is the fourth week that you have talked about the old and the new. In examining the old and the new, you have shown us how the Old Testament law was specifically given in God's attempt to gain control of and redirect those Israelite slaves who had just been released from Egypt. I understand that."

"You have shown us that God did not send Jesus to 'fix' the law and make it work through Jesus because it did not work the first time. I understand that."

"You have shown us that Old Testament Judaism and New Testament Christianity have some general similarities, but they are actually distinctly different. I understand that."

"You have shown us that Jesus' thought patterns were distinctly different from the thought patterns of the legalistic Jewish leaders. I understand that."

"But here is my question: what difference does it make? If you look at New Testament teachings as though it were law, you will try to obey God. If you see Jesus as the Savior and a completely new revelation of God's will, you will still try to obey God. Either way you will try to obey God. So what difference does it make?"

That is a very good question! It does make a difference; in fact, it makes an enormous difference. That difference is to be seen in the contrast between legalistic behavior and relationship behavior. Let me share two examples.

  1. Example one: how should Christian husbands and wives treat each other?
    1. Consider two scriptures that give us insight into proper treatment of each other in marriage.
      1. The first was given by Jesus in a sermon in Matthew 7:12, and it applies to all relationships of all kinds--in marriage or out of marriage.
            Therefore, however you want people to treat you, so treat them, for this is the law and the prophets.
        1. That applies to your wife or your husband as certainly as it applies to your neighbor.
        2. In your marriage you treat your spouse as you want to be treated.
      2. The second is given by Paul in Ephesians 5:22-33.
        1. Paul said wives were to:
          1. Be in subjection to their husbands (v. 22).
          2. Respect their husbands (v. 33).
        2. Paul said husbands were to:
          1. Love their wives sacrificially, totally as Christ loved the church (v. 25).
          2. Love their wives as they love their own bodies (v. 28, 33).
    2. Consider legalistic behavior:
      1. The legalist says that the two most important principles in all this are that the husband is the head of the wife and the wife must be in subjection to her husband.
        1. If the wife will simply be in subjection to the husband, the marriage will work.
        2. No matter how the husband behaves, no matter how incapable the husband is, no matter how poor the husband's judgment is, the marriage will work if the wife is in subjection.
      2. The legalist's definition of subjection:
        1. The wife does whatever the husband wants her to do and tells her to do.
        2. The husband is in charge of and in control of the wife's life, decisions, and use of herself, her time, and her abilities.
        3. The wife must therefore have the husband's consent before she does anything--but the husband has no responsibility to consult with his wife about anything he decides or does.
        4. The only exception occurs if the husband attempts to keep her from being a Christian woman.
      3. Spouse abuse has been and continues to be a significant problem in churches of Christ (and in most religious groups that accept the Bible as their spiritual authority).
        1. Many Christian women who never say a word are emotionally, physiologically, or physically abused by their Christian husbands.
        2. Among abusive husbands who are Christians, It is not uncommon for preachers, or elders, or deacons, or Bible teachers to be abusive to their wives.
        3. The tragedy is even greater:
          1. The Christian abuser rarely regards his actions to be abusive.
          2. He has biblical justification for what he does: the Bible says that he must be the head of the wife and she must be in subjection to him.
          3. If she suffers, it is her fault; her failure to be in subjection is responsible for any problem she has in the marriage.
          4. He has no responsibility to treat her as he wants to be treated if she does not comply with his concept of subjection.
    3. Consider relationship behavior:
      1. Relationship behavior understands that treating my spouse as I want to be treated will always be relevant, even in stressful times.
      2. Relationship behavior understands that headship and subjection are not the key concept in Ephesians 5.
      3. The key concepts are the unconditional, sacrificial love and respect.
      4. Relationship behavior understands that a woman perceives love through affection and that a man perceives love through respect.
      5. Relationship behavior never finds justification for either abuse or exploitation.
      6. Relationship behavior focuses on the unending Christian commitment to goodness, kindness, and the best interest of the spouse--not merely the declared rules of the marriage.
      7. Relationship behavior does not create a definition of subjection that serves the husband's purposes and exploits the wife.

  2. Example two: how sexually active should unmarried teens be?
    1. Most of us react to that question in shock--"What a ridiculous question! If they are not married they absolutely should not be sexually active."
      1. Then we would cite numerous scriptures condemning sexual sin.
        1. Exodus 20:14--"You shall not commit adultery."
        2. 1 Corinthians 6:13--"The body is not for immorality, but for the Lord."
        3. Galatians 5:19-21--Those who practice sexual immorality will not inherit God's kingdom.
        4. Colossians 3:5--Consider your body to be dead to immorality.
      2. Fornication and adultery are strictly prohibited.
    2. Consider legalistic behavior of many of our teens, our college students, and our young adult singles:
      1. For several years, many in these age groups have biblically justified being sexually active.
        1. The only way I can discuss this is by being straightforward.
        2. I am not trying to offend anyone by being plain.
        3. But this is the actual reasoning many teens and young adults in the church use.
      2. # 1: There is no sexual sin unless there is actual intercourse--if literal intercourse does not occur, there is no sin.
        1. Anything short of that is not sin.
        2. Anything other than that is not sin.
      3. # 2: Adultery is the primary sexual sin that the Bible condemns.
        1. Adultery is having sexual intercourse with a married person who is not married to you.
        2. While it is sinful to have intercourse with a person married to someone else, it is not sinful to have intercourse with an unmarried person.
      4. # 3: If you are a virgin, it is a sin to have intercourse.
        1. But if you have already lost your virginity, there is no sin in continuing to be sexually active.
        2. Once I am forgiven of the sin of destroying my virginity, I am free to be sexually active.
        3. The sin is in losing my virginity, not in being sexually active.
      5. These conclusions are regarded to be in perfect keeping with the laws of the New Testament.
        1. It is regarded to be in technical compliance with New Testament teachings.
        2. As long as there is technical compliance, there is no sin.
    3. Consider relationship behavior:
      1. God created our sexual natures and desires to be used as the highest expression of commitment in the responsible love of companionship.
      2. Sexual activity without commitment and responsibility easily becomes:
        1. Sexual addiction.
        2. Sexual idolatry.
      3. By its very selfish nature it involves:
        1. Using and exploiting other people for my own selfish pleasure.
        2. Selfishly abusing my own sexual nature to the extent that I can destroy my ability to make a serious commitment in marriage.
        3. Abusing my relationship with Jesus Christ.
      4. Outside the responsible commitment of marriage, sexual activity is an act of passion, not an expression of love.
        1. Its primary goal is personal gratification.
        2. It commonly is pleasure without responsibility or commitment.
        3. It is spiritually destructive to self and an abuse to Jesus Christ.
      5. Read with me Ephesians 5:1-14.
          Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. Therefore He says: "Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, And Christ will give you light."
      6. Loving Christ and understanding the purposes of God in Christ and in us is the greatest single reason for refusing all forms of sexually immoral conduct.
      7. Relationship with Christ will never lead me to participate in or justify sexual immorality in any form.

So you ask me, "David, are you really serious? Are there really Christian husbands that abuse their wives and biblical justify it by saying that they are the head and the wife must to be in subjection? Are there really Christian teens who justify their sexual activity biblically?" I am really serious. And you don't have to go to Nashville or Dallas to discover those situations. They are found throughout our brotherhood.

"Where in the world did Christians learn to reason that way?" They did not have to learn it; they just had to apply it. They listened to the way that we legalistically have proven right and wrong in the church for decades. They have listened and watched as we used proof texts and reasoning in the very same way to prove our case in whatever matter that concerned us. All they did is take the common approach used in the typical church and apply that approach to marriage or to being sexually active outside of marriage.

Though we have not intended to, and though we have rarely realized it, for too many years we have taught that it was more important to keep the laws than it was to live the Christian life. We have even convinced people that being a Christian has little to do with how you live; it has everything to do with what laws you keep. So for almost a decade we have created a generation of our own children who have learned from us how to use the Bible to justify whatever they want to justify. It is just a matter of definition and reasoning.

And that is the difference between the old and the new. And that is the difference in legalistic behavior and relationship behavior. And that is the difference it produces when you look at Jesus and his teachings as law instead of understanding the relationship behavior that God revealed through Jesus.

We want the old to end and the new to begin.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 27 July 1997
previous in series

 Link to next sermon

 Link to other Writings of David Chadwell