What does that bring to your mind? Perhaps you’re thinking of those facebook debates over the Christian’s use of alcohol or arguments over personal standards. Perhaps it conjures bitter memories of judgmental Christians and legalistic churches.
What if, when we thought of Christian liberty, it brought to mind ideas such as “love,” “God’s glory,” and “service”?
Sadly, this isn’t typically how we frame the topic of Christian liberty – but it’s exactly how the Bible frames it. I fear that, in our discussion regarding Christian liberty, we jump straight to the application and ignore the overarching biblical principles that are designed to govern and regulate our exercise our Christian liberty.
First of all, what is Christian liberty? It is the reality that, because of Christ’s obedient life and sacrificial death, we are no longer bound by the legal demands of the Mosaic Law. Christ fulfilled the Law and has brought us in union with him. Now, we serve the law of Christ, the perfect law of liberty (James 1:25). Christian liberty is, without a doubt, a wonderful truth.
But Christian liberty has some qualifications. New Testament passages about Christian liberty come with both a warning label and an instruction label: Peter warns we must be careful not to use our Christian liberty “as a cover-up for evil,” but rather as “living as servants of God” (1 Pet 2:16). Paul warns that we should never use our freedom “as an opportunity for the flesh,” but rather as an opportunity to lovingly “serve one another” (Gal 5:13). In short, if you’re using your Christian liberty for your own benefit and not the benefit of others, you are abusing your liberty. You’re ignoring both the warning and the instruction.
Scripture not only describes Christian liberty as an opportunity for service, but also as an opportunity for gospel witness. In 1 Cor. 9:8-23, Paul rejoiced in his Christian liberty because it gave him the opportunity to give up certain rights that are prescribed “in the Law of Moses” (v. 8) in order to more effectively share the gospel. Paul says, “though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them” (v. 19).
Finally, my Christian liberty must be exercised out of a commitment to God’s glory. Romans 14 states that, no matter what conclusions we come to regarding areas of Christian liberty, we must do so “in honor of the Lord.” My Christian liberty is not for my own sake, it is for the sake of the One who both freed me and bought me.
My Christian liberty must be governed and controlled by my love for God, his Gospel and his people. Without these, my exercise of Christian liberty will be governed by only one thing: my love of self--which will inevitably result in using my Christian liberty for “an opportunity for the flesh” and “a cover-up for evil.”
Why is it, then, that most of our discussions about Christian liberty are not governed by a love for God, his Gospel and his people? Too often, we ask, “what does my liberty let me do,” instead of asking, “what does my liberty let me forfeit?” We are fueled by nothing more than a desire to enjoy some particular activity without being judged by others.
Now, to be sure, because we have Christian liberty, we are commanded not to “pass judgment” on others in regards to amoral, non-scriptural issues, neither are we to allow others to pass judgment on us (Col 2:16). It is indeed the tendency of sinful humans to “pass judgment” on those with the looser standards and to “despise” those with the stricter standards (Rom 14:3). The reality of our freedom in Christ demands that we treat one another with grace and peace.
But if I reduce my Christian liberty to a mindset that says, “I have the freedom to enjoy this, so stop judging me and mind your own business,” we are dangerously close to abusing that liberty, if we aren’t abusing it already.
By writing this, I’m not trying to poke at any particular “hot-button” issue of Christian liberty. I just want to make a simple point: If I don’t prioritize God’s glory over my own, if I do not value his Gospel above my agenda, and if I do not consider the growth of the church as more important than my own personal happiness, then I cannot trust my own conclusions regarding areas of Christian liberty. If my thought process never moves beyond, “the Bible never says I can’t,” then I haven’t matured enough in my Christian walk.
Instead, we must always be thinking, “Which decision would most honor my Lord?” “Which decision would remove barriers to the gospel?” “Which decision will edify and strengthen my brothers and sisters in Christ?” Are you asking these questions when you determine your personal convictions regarding the “hot-button” issues of our day?
A heart of love must come before a celebration of liberty. Christian liberty is not an invitation to “chill out and stop being so uptight about stuff.” It is not an invitation to make your life more fun and enjoyable. It is not an invitation to “stick it” to your legalistic upbringing. It is an invitation to use your freedom for the glory of God, the good of others, and the growth of his church. And if that doesn’t sit right with you, ask you yourself why.
Aaron Berry earned both his undergrad and MA in Bible at Bob Jones University and most recently completed his MDiv at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary in Allen Park, MI, where He and his wife Hanna, currently live with their two children, Brooklyn and Joshua. He also serves as the Director of Recruitment at DBTS and is a pastoral assistant at Inter-City Baptist Church. You can follow him on Twitter @AaronMBerry
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