“And I will walk at liberty, for I seek Your precepts.”
~ Psalm 119:45 ~
Of all the gifts of God, the Lord’s promise of liberty must be among the greatest. In Christ’s Kingdom there is liberty, a special kind of freedom not enjoyed by those outside of his body. What is this liberty? The Bible explains.
Liberty from Sin
When Christ came and established a new covenant he freed us from sin. The Scriptures say so many times – Romans 6:6-7: “…knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. 7 For he who has died has been freed from sin.” Romans 6:18: “And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” Romans 6:22-23: “But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.”
In Christ we have been liberated from sin, but this in itself implies several things about the nature of our Christian Liberty.
- We are freed from the consequences of sin – Romans 6:23: ‘For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
- We are freed from the guilt of sin – Hebrews 9:13-14: “For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, 14 how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”
- We freed from the sinful nature – Colossians 3:9-10: “Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, 10 and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.”
Liberty from the Mosaic Law
Through Christ in the New Covenant we have liberty from sin, and second to this the Bible talks about liberty from the Law of Moses. As Gentiles living in the 21st century it’s impossible for us to appreciate this liberty like a Jew in the 1st century. Remember what Peter said to the Jewish Christians when they tried to impose the Mosaic Law on the Gentiles? Acts 15:10: “Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?” The Apostle Paul says the same thing to the Gentiles at Galatia when they also determined to digress to the Old Law. Galatians 4:9: “But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage?” The Old Law was a kind of bondage or slavery. It was impossibly complicated and impossible to keep. It was designed to exploit the weakness of the human nature without offering any lasting consolation. The Law promised salvation but it did not itself offer salvation. The Law condemned sin and convicted the sinner. It confined all under sin so that sin was made to flourish (Galatians 3:22, Romans 5:20).
In Christ, this burden is lifted and the law is fulfilled. Paul says in Romans 8:2: “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.” So he says in Galatians 5:1: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” With the incoming of Christ’s Kingdom the whole body of ceremonial and Levitical laws was annulled. In Christ there is liberty from sin and liberty from the Law.
In the Bible there is another kind of liberty very different from these two. This liberty is not necessarily unique to New Testament but its given special consideration in the New Testament.
God does not always offer a precise precepts or patterns concerning a certain spiritual subjects. On these subjects where God is silent we are at liberty to use our own judgment according to our own conscience based on our own biblical knowledge. There is a liberty in that we are permitted to make these kinds of decisions without fear of fault so long as we don’t offend God or the Church.
There several places in the Bible where this liberty extended. Meats offered to idols is the epitome of this liberty. Gentiles in the 1st century were accustomed to the pagan practice of cooking their meats as an offering to their gods. For many Gentiles, eating meat was mentally and emotionally inseparable from the practice of sacrificing the meat. 1 Corinthians 8:4-9 explains this situation. “Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one. 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live. 7 However, there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse. 9 But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak.”
Christians were free to eat meat, so long as it didn’t offend their conscience or the conscience of another Christian brother. Romans 14:2-4 goes on to explain how this liberty should not be the root of division. “For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. 3 Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. 4 Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.”
Our consciences will not always agree, and that’s okay so long as one does not cause the other to stumble. Libertyin these situations is not a license to do whatever we want; it’s the responsibility to make conscientious decisions with one another’s best interest at heart. So Paul says in 1 Corinthians 8:13: “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.”
Other areas in the Scriptures offer similar liberties.
- Concerning drinking, drunkenness is a sin, but drinking alcohol in moderation is a liberty left to the individual conscience. Sometimes its inconsequential, often it’s not. That’s why Paul says in Romans 14:21: “It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.”
- Concerning our giving, God has granted us liberty to make our own decision on how much we will put in the plates Sunday. He says so in 2 Corinthians 9:7: “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.” Unlike the Law of Moses which commanded tithing (giving 10%) at various times, Christian liberty allows for us to give more or less depending on our conscience.
- The observance of Jewish holy days was another liberty left to the individual conscience. Romans 14:5: “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.” With the passing of the Mosaic Law, observing the Jewish holy days mattered much more to the Jews than it did to God. Liberty was allowed on this subject on the condition that each one would be fully persuaded in their own mind. The freedom to choose was not to be abused. Decisions of the conscience were still very serious decisions.
Just like liberty from sin and liberty from the Mosaic Law, this liberty in Christ means something specific and it means only what God says it means. We are at liberty to make conscientious decisions on spiritual subjects where God does not make them for us. This particular liberty becomes important on many modern subjects, such as home schooling vs. public schooling, birth control, military service, holidays, and a number of other sensitive issues. These all are issues of the conscience that should be considered carefully through the lens of the Bible.
What Liberty is Not
Christian liberty is an elemental principle in the New Testament, it is central to the gospel, it’s fundamental in our salvation, and still it is very misunderstood. Too often liberty is stretched to mean so much more than the Bible teaches. For many in the Christian world, liberty refers to a freedom of choice that did not exist before the Christ. It’s the idea that God’s salvation is free from conditions and that we are free to pursue and worship God each in our own way. This ideology teaches that Christian Liberty makes more accommodations than were extended in the Old Law. It says that God allows his people to take more liberties than he did before. It teaches that the Christian experience can be personalized to fit your individual preferences, and that liberty excludes legalism. This idea on liberty is simply an illusion. It’s very popular, it’s very appealing, but liberty of this kind does not exist in the Bible.
Liberty and Law
The Law of Liberty (James 1:25) eliminated the Mosaic Law, but the way we understand God’s laws remains the same. The way God establishes law remains the same. The way in which God communicates his expectations remains the same. The consequence for complicating or contaminating God’s laws still remains the same. For example, we learned from Nadab and Abihu that when God says to do something one way, he excludes the alternatives (Leviticus 10:1-2). We learned from Uzza that good intentions cannot make right what God says is wrong (2 Samuel 6:7). We learned from King Saul that obedience is better than sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22). Whether in precept, principle, or pattern God’s way is the only way. Like Paul says in Galatians 5:13: “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”
Understanding liberty and law appropriately has tremendous implication in the Church. In Christ, we have far fewer laws, but the consequences for breaking the law remains the same. In Christ, we are free from sin, but we are not free to sin. In Christ we are free from the Law of Moses, but we are not free from law. In fact, sometimes the Law of Liberty has tighter constraints than the Law of Moses. Six times in Matthew 5 Jesus explains how he expects more in the New Testament than was expected in the Old. For example, he says in Matthew 5:27-28: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” That’s not greater liberty that’s less liberty.
By Christ we are liberated from sin, we are freed from the Mosaic Law, and we free to make conscientious decisions on issues where God does not clearly convey his will. We should appreciate this liberty for what it is, but not abuse by making it something it is not.
I am a member of the Riverside Road Church of Christ in Ozark, MO, where I share the responsibility of teaching and preaching with several other men. In my secular work, I am a professor at Cox College in Springfield, MO, in the department of radiologic sciences and imaging.