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Christian Liberty

Christian liberty is an important, practical subject in the New Testament. The basic principle is this: the Christian has been set completely free from every kind of bondage to do the will of God. Those who were idol-worshiping Pagans have been set free from their bondage to Satan. Those who were Jews are no longer under law but under grace (Romans 6:14). As those who are under grace, we have been liberated from the requirements of the Law, and every other "yoke of bondage" (Gal. 5:1)An understanding of grace leads to liberty for the indwelling Spirit to act in our lives; "the perfect law of liberty" (James 1:25). When we are enjoying the liberty we have been brought into, our communion with God and our service for Him will be totally unhindered. 

Legality and License both tend to Bondage. As those who have been set free, we need to be aware that legality is a hindrance to the working of the Spirit of God in our lives (Rom. 7). Whether we were formerly a Jew come out from legal bondage, or a Gentile come out from other forms of bondage (Gal. 4:8-11), we are not to be entangled with legal bondage. The Law is not our rule of life. We are to "walk in the Spirit" (Gal. 5:16) and so fulfill "the law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2). We have liberty to practice those things that that were prohibited by the ceremonial parts of the Law, but that doesn’t mean God's moral standard has changed one bit. We must understand that license can be just as detrimental to liberty as legality. "What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid." (Rom. 6:15). Moral sins in the Old Testament are still sins today. Confusing liberty with license leads a person into bondage; not bondage to the Law, but bondage to the flesh. We must understand that we have been"bought with a price" and our bodies are "the Lord's" (1 Cor. 6:13, 20). Therefore, total liberty for the Christian can only be enjoyed by total submission to the Lordship of Christ. A nice example of this is a kite. To fly a kite, you throw the kite up in the air on a windy day. You might think "ultimate liberty" for the kite would require you to cut the string. But if you cut the string, the kite will fall straight to the ground. It is when the string remains firmly attached, anchoring the kite, that it can achieve its full liberty and soar high in the sky. In a similar way, the Christian can enjoy true liberty, not by casting off all restraint, but by offering himself as a living sacrifice; which is our reasonable service.

Christian Liberty is Regulated by Love. The Christian enjoys full liberty from every kind of bondage, but there is a danger to be selfish in the practice of that liberty. We must consider our responsibility toward our fellow believers. Christian liberty has to do with taking off the "chains of thought" that once bound us. We may have been liberated from those beliefs and superstitions, but our brethren may not be on the same page. A person's conscience is calibrated by what they know or believe to be true. If a person believes that working on the Sabbath is sin in God's sight, then it goes against their conscience to work on Sabbath. If a person believes that eating food that was sacrificed to idols is wrong, then it goes against their conscience to do it. It can be very difficult for them to see others do what they think is wrong, and to reconcile it in their mind. In Rom. 14:10 the "weak brother" is warned against condemning his brother who has liberty in these things, and the "strong brother" is warned against belittling his weaker brother for his superstition. It can be a real privileged to help our weaker brother come into his full Christian liberty; but is cannot be done roughly by scorning them or forcing them against their conscience. We must consider that our brethren coming out of a legal background may have extra-biblical convictions, and it would be harmful to them if we flaunt our liberty before them. We must consider that our brethren coming out of a Pagan background may be struggling with superstitious notions about things, and it could be harmful if we flaunt our liberty before them. This great subject of the regulation of Christian liberty is taken up in Rom. 14:1 - 15:7 and in 1 Cor. 8, 10.
  • In Romans the awareness is with regard to extra-biblical convictions imported from Judaism.
  • In 1 Corinthians the awareness is with regard to superstition imported from Paganism.
The Trauma of Liberty for Jewish Converts. There were a great number of things that were prohibited in the Old Testament; unclean animals, garments of composite fabric, unwashed hands, etc. For example, godly Daniel would not eat Nebuchadnezzar's meat. This meat wouldn’t be an issue for a Christian. There were also certain holy days that had to be observed, such as Sabbaths days and feast days. These things are now perfectly acceptable for Christians to enjoy. This however was very difficult for the Jew to accept. The Lord gave Peter - the apostle to the circumcision - a special vision three times over regarding the lifting of Jewish dietary restrictions. From Peter's response we see just how shacking this change really was. "And Peter said, In no wise, Lord; for I have never eaten anything common or unclean. And there was a voice again the second time to him, What God has cleansed, do not thou make common" (Acts 10:14-15). The trauma of Christian liberty became a point of attack for Satan, who raised up Judaizing teachers to leverage the weak consciences of Jewish converts to bring them back under the law! Paul's dogged defense against the efforts of the Judaizers is proof of how successful this attack was.

Defending against Judaizing. In the book of Galatians we find the Apostle Paul defending the gospel of the grace of God. Judaizing teachers had come into Galatia trying to bring God's people under legal bondage. In Gal. 5:1 he exhorts us to "stand fast therefore, and be not held again in a yoke of bondage" because "Christ has set us free in freedom" from the demands of the Law. By the time we come to 1 Tim. 4:3 we find that the Judaizing teachers had progressed to Asia, where they were "forbidding to marry, bidding to abstain from meats, which God has created for receiving with thanksgiving for them who are faithful and know the truth." The book of Hebrews was written to Jews that had made a profession of faith in Christ, and was intended to completely deliver them from Judaism. In Hebrews 13:9 the apostle says: "For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein."

The principles that regulate Christian liberty. In his epistles, Paul takes up a number of exhortations relative to Christian liberty. There are many dangers connected with it, and he devotes a number of chapters to the subject.

First of all, in 1 Cor. 8-10 we have many of these principles unpacked:
  1. Is it profitable? "All things are lawful to me, but all things do not profit."
  2. Could I become addicted? "All things are lawful to me, but I will not be brought under the power of any."
  3. Does it glorify God? "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatever ye do, do all things to God’s glory."
  4. Could it stumble others? "Give no occasion to stumbling, whether to Jews, or Greeks, or the assembly of God."
In Romans 14 we get a thorough examination of this subject. He refers to those who understand their Christian liberty as "strong" and those who are still in a measure of bondage to the ceremonial requirements of the law as "weak". The danger for the weak brother is to condemn the strong because he interprets those liberties as license to sin. The danger for the strong is to belittle the weak, because he can see that the convictions are unscriptural and unnecessary.

Paul goes over several important principles with regard to Christian liberty, and the problems that can come up between the "strong" and the "weak". First of all, the strong could harm the weak if they were to flaunt their liberty in the face of one to whom such actions run against conscience:
  1. A weakened conscience. Their conscience could become weakened by seen another believer living at odds with it. They could interpret our liberty as license, and be tempted to go against their own conscience in other areas.
  2. A wounded conscience. Their conscience could be wounded because they think we are walking in sin carelessly. It could discourage them.
It is possible to be technically right, but fail to have a Christ-like spirit. Paul goes on to explain three things that must be considered along with Christian liberty:
  • We are each individually responsible to the Lord for our actions .
  • It might not be sin to us, but it if it goes against our weaker brother's conscience it is sin to him (not of faith).
  • To have a knowledge of the Christian faith is good, but to have love for our brother is better. 
  • We should we willing to sacrifice our Christian liberties for sake of our brother's conscience, after the pattern of the meekness of Christ.
Important note. To be clear, we are not talking about things that are morally unclean, but things that are ceremonially unclean. Liberals have the idea that something is only wrong if it is wrong to me. In short, that is every man "doing that which is right in his own eyes". God's moral ways never change. Fornication is wrong. Homosexuality is wrong. Murder is wrong. In 2 John 9-10 we find that any denial of fundamental truth precludes reception among believers. But "meat and drink" are non-vital things. Though working on the Sabbath was wrong for a Jew under the law, it ceases to be wrong when he converts to Christianity.

In summary, we find that proper Christian liberty is not having a careless attitude about my conduct. Instead, it is having a proper understanding of grace.