Christian liberty – two simple words with so many implications. The issue of Christian liberty is a difficult one to say the least. When dealing with it, one can swing to two opposite ends of the spectrum, neither of which is right. We could use it as an occasion to the flesh (Gal 5:13), to fulfil our own desires and use Christian liberty as an excuse to cover it up. Or we could become all legalistic over it, and create many laws that govern the life of a Christian. Christian liberty should be neither of those.
Christian liberty is a doctrine, and an important one at that. It is rooted in the law of God – to love God with all our heart, soul and mind (Matthew 22:37). If we were to successfully keep this Law, we obtain liberty, otherwise, death awaits us. The question is: are we able to do so? Can we by ourselves successfully keep the law of God and merit our own salvation? Romans 3:10, 11 provides the answer: “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.” Ever since the fall of Adam, we have all lost the ability to keep the Law. But there is hope for the elect of God, for Christ, through His atonement on the cross, has kept it for us. Thus, we are now able to keep the Law, and we do so, through Christ alone. The Spirit of God now works in us to keep the Law of God.
We may then ask the question, Why would God give fallen man a Law when He knew they could not possibly keep them anyway (the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai)? Could he not simply save them and have no need for the law? The reason for the giving of the law, which has not changed since then, was not with the intent of saving, but with the intent of instruction. The children of Israel had to learn that they could not keep the law by their own strength, but had to rely wholly on God. And so it is with us today.
Each of us has three offices – prophet, priest and king. As prophets, we are able to seek out and understand the Law of God in the Bible. As priest, we can go directly to God in prayer, through Christ. As king, we are able to be exercise control over our own lives and decide for ourselves what is right and wrong. That being said, this is where we must be cautious. We are only supposed to do so insofar as it agrees with God’s word. This is what Paul means when he states in Galatians to “use not liberty for an occasion of the flesh”. We are not to make excuses for what we want to do and use Christian liberty as a means to get what we want.
How are we able to exercise our offices of prophet, priest and king in our lives? This is through the conscience that God gives to all man. Even the wicked possess these offices, albeit that they are in the service of the Devil instead. They have a corrupt conscience, one that is dulled by repeated sinning such that the sins become the acceptable norm. Our consciences become slaves to the sin which has a deathly grip on our souls. The way out of this is by true and sincere repentance which can only proceed from the grace of God. The only way to maintain a pure conscience is to base it solely on the Word of God, through which it can obtain its enlightenment.
Even so, every man’s conscience differs. In 1 Corinthians 8, we read of people who freely eat of what is offered to idols while some abstain, thinking it to be sin. Is either wrong? No, if their personal conviction is based on the Word of God. It is important to note that we are not to go against our conscience, and do whatever others do, should we have the weaker conscience, as is clearly stated in Romans 14:23 “And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” Conversely, should we have the stronger conscience, let us take care not to stumble our brethren (1 Cor 8:9).
The underlying principle with regards to the issue of Christian liberty really lies with the two great commandments that Christ gave: first, to love God with our all, and second, to love our neighbour as ourselves. Whatever we choose to do in our lives, we ought not to be constantly thinking, “Am I allowed to do this?” or, “Is it wrong if I push my boundaries this way?”, but rather, the one thought that ought to be on our minds is, “Is this the best possible way to glorify and serve God?” True Christian liberty is a part of the Christian life anchored in the Word of God, something that proceeds out of a heart of love for God. It not a list of Do’s and Don’ts, but rather, something positive, as Paul states in the second part of Galatians 5:13, “but by love serve one another”. We use our Christian liberty not as means for our own enjoyment, but for the service of one another, rooted in the love of God and of our neighbour.
On this note, let us always seek to love the saints that God loves so dear, and exercise our Christian liberty for their edification.
Written by: Marcus Wee | Issue 8