Another great quote from J.I Packer’s lecture series The Holy Spirit and Ourselves, this time on the nature of genuine holiness versus legalism:
The Christian world at present is beginning to pull out of an epoch – the best part of two generations so far as I can discover the history – during which tremendous stress has been laid on what I call the taboos: don’t do this, don’t do that, don’t do the other. The taboos were imposed for the sake of maintaining Christian holiness, but there were two things wrong with them. First, they didn’t come directly out of the Scriptures. They came out of the private ideas of some persons as to what was involved in not being conformed to the image of this world – and the ideas of those persons were, at best, dubious. It’s human rules rather than divine ordinances that were being imposed there.
A second thing that was wrong with the sets of rules was that the essence of holiness never was – and still isn’t – a matter of abstinence (not doing things). That was the Pharisaic mistake. The essence of holiness is to bring forth the fruit of the Spirit as described in Galatians 5. The only justification you can ever give for abstinences of this kind is to make room for the fruit of the Spirit. You sometimes have to clear a place for a new thing to come into your life, and you do sometimes have to lay aside something which you’ve been deeply into in order to make room for the new thing.
That means for each of us there still is a question as to whether we should indulge in this, that, or the other or maintain the old abstinences, but we make the decision in freedom. If we decide not to do this, that, or the other, then we make that decision because we believe that by this particular abstinence we shall make room for the fruit of the Spirit to grow in our own life. That’s the only justification for these abstinences, because they’re not things that are denounced as sin.
In the communities where I move around these days, different Christians are doing different things. Some are teetotal, and some are not. Some don’t dance, and some do. Some don’t go to concerts or theatres, and some do. And in these things, brothers and sisters, we ought to accept each other, not to doubtful disputations. This is the same sort of difference described in Romans 14 between the vegetarian and the man who eats meat. We ought not to judge our brothers in these matters. It’s for each of us to make sure that we don’t leave in our lives things that are going to obstruct or hinder our growth into Christlikeness.
God has given us many things richly to enjoy, and it’s for us before the Lord to make our own decision as to what we can and should receive from Him with delight, because it’s really re-creative for us, and equally to make the negative decision that we’re not going to judge our brethren if they make different decisions. Rather, let us pool our experience and share with each other why we do what we do, thus being accountable to each other. That’s rather important because we can easily fool ourselves with the things which we allow ourselves; we ought to take steps to ensure that doesn’t happen. But beyond that, let us affirm each other’s freedom to enjoy God’s good gifts and to live according to those disciplines which we find right and helpful for us, and in these things indifferent not to make rules for other people.