“For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13 KJV).
The natural tendency of anyone liberated from the necessity of keeping a list of rules to get to heaven is the extreme of “I have the right to do anything” without regard to anyone. When I was a much younger man registering to vote for the first time, I remember listening to a congressman’s campaign speech explaining the limitations of our rights as citizens. He said, “My right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins.” In other words, the militancy of demanding our rights — always a popular theme both from the pulpit and the public platform — must take into account something more than ourselves — namely, our neighbor. Jesus addressed this very concept with an expert in the OT Jewish Law, who asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25 NIV). Jesus asked him to respond to his own question. The expert said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself” (10:27 NIV). “You have answered correctly, Jesus replied. Do this and you will live” (10:28 NIV), in other words, you will “inherit eternal life” (10:25 NIV). But, as the all knowing Messiah, Jesus knew the OT mindset of His interrogator. He knew no one would actually keep the Law by force of will by their own choosing. And, this not even accounting for the need for forgiveness for our untold failures of not keeping that Law. Unsurprisingly, Jesus’ attacker “wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29 NIV). The Parable of the Good Samaritan was Jesus’ response. A traveler on his way to Jerusalem was attacked, stripped, beaten, and left “half dead” (10:30 NIV). A priest, and later, a Levite simply “passed by on the other side” of the road (10:31,32 NIV). But, a Samaritan, who was despised by the Jews, “took pity on him” (10:33 NIV) and “took care of him” (10:34 NIV). Remember, Samaritans traditionally returned that hatred to the Jews. Jesus asked, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” (10:36 NIV). The expert correctly replied, “The one who had mercy on him” (10:37 NIV), to which Jesus responded, “Go and do likewise” (10:37 NIV). Jesus was saying, “You say you ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ (Leviticus 19:18 NIV), but you really only ‘love those who love you’ (Luke 6:32 NIV), and not this Samaritan. This expert in the OT Law was being reminded of our unending necessity to love our neighbor.
But, we who claim to have been brought into the Christian liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, need also to be reminded of our unending necessity to love our neighbor. Jesus, directly after Judas Iscariot went out to betray Him, said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34 NIV). Why was it a new command, if it was already stated in the OT? Jesus was saying it was new, because, apparently, it is a new thought for us. We are not to consider our neighbor as only those who love us. That was the same old mistake Jesus was attempting to correct with the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Samaritans were not children of some lesser God, but were created to expect the same love all men owe to one another. It is an entirely unreasonable expectation to consider Christian brothers and sisters only as our neighbor. If that is so, we should feel the Christian liberty to pass on the other side of the road, just as the priest and Levite did. If Jesus meant our love for one another means to martyr ourselves, as He did, for everyone’s benefit, then few possibly have ever achieved such a goal. More properly, He was explaining His upcoming death on the cross, when He said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13 NIV). To which He added: “You are My friends if you do what I command” (John 15:14 NIV). This business of Christian liberty is not about just what we want to do, but about Christ “who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose” (Philippians 2:13 NIV). If the question still remains, “What about my Christian liberty?” then are we not more concerned about ourselves than to “serve one another” (Galatians 5:13 NIV)? Are we not then demonstrating ourselves to be under the influence of someone other than the Holy Spirit?
Q: Some say Christian liberty is the “right to do anything” (1Corinthians 6:12a NIV), but does that give you the privilege to do anything clearly unbeneficial?
A: No. “I have the right to do anything, you say — but not everything is beneficial [Greek, sumphero, expedient, profitable, good]” (1Corinthians 6:12a NIV). Why would anyone demand it their right to do anything unbeneficial or wrong, unless it is only a clever, libertine argument to justify sin? We may be created with the ability to sin, but that is not God empowering us with the right to sin. Christ did not die to empower us to do whatever we want; instead, “Christ is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (1Corinthians 1:24 NIV). The Gospel is not the right to do as we please; but, “it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16 NIV). The two together Christ and the Gospel of Christ are the empowerment to be saved, which is diametrically opposite of just doing as we see fit. The great benefit of life is the opportunity to be saved by Christ. Every good thing resulting from salvation would properly be classified as “beneficial” (1Corinthians 6:12 NIV). All of the vast world of “beneficial” is indebted to Christ. To argue anything less is to degrade both Christ and life.
Q: Even if you could say, in Christian liberty, “I have the right to do anything” (1Corinthians 6:12b), would that give you the right to be mastered by anything other than God?
A: No. “I have the right to do anything — but I will not be mastered by anything” (1Corinthians 6:12b NIV). A disciple can only have one master. “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24 NIV). Why would a Christian argue for the right to be mastered by anyone other than God? “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey — whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness” (Romans 6:16 NIV). We have been created with the moral capacity to choose or reject God; but obviously, to reject God is not the reason for our existence. God does not require the existence of evil to be God. He existed before evil, and when He puts away evil, He will continue to reign in righteousness. “1 After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, 2 for true and just are His judgments. He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries. He has avenged on her the blood of His servants. 6 Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns” (Revelation 19:1-2, 6 NIV).
Q: If I insist, “I have the right to do anything” (1Corinthians 10:23b NIV), how can it still be Christian liberty, when we are clearly being destructive of the kingdom of God?
A: It can no longer be Christian liberty. “I have the right to do anything — but not everything is constructive” (1Corinthians 10:23 NIV). To build a better world can only be accomplished through Christ. If my actions are not constructive to the kingdom of God, then I must be using my efforts destructively. We must align ourselves with Christ’s kingdom. “Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters” (Matthew 12:30 NIV). “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18 NIV). What holds us together must be stronger than what pulls us apart. Only the Spirit of God can bind together the Church. “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1 NIV). Paul and Barnabas disagreed so sharply about whether to bring John Mark along on their next missionary trip — since he had deserted them on their last attempt — “that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus” (Acts 15:39 NIV). It is our Christian liberty to have opinions about Scripture, but not to elevate it to “quarreling over disputable matters” (Romans 14:1 NIV). Quarreling not only destroys the unity of the brothers and sisters, but destroys the Church “for whom Christ died” (Romans 24:15; 1Corinthians 8:11 NIV).
Q: Should we always insist on our Christian liberty to be considered correct about every issue?
A: Only the Spirit of God can persuade us, when we can correctly forego our privilege to be considered right about any issue. “1 Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge” (1Corinthians 8:1, 11 NIV). Remember, the issue is not whether we are considered correct about our opinions, but whether we are exercising love to our brothers and sisters. Even when we earnestly “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (Jude 1:3 NIV), we must not lose sight of love. Doctrinal battles will inevitably be lost in the Church because correctness of doctrine was valued more than love. Such was the fatal mistake of the Pharisees. “You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:24 NIV). Christ will not judge us for our doctrinal correctness so much as our love for His Church. We may be wrong about the letter, but right about the spirit of the matter. “He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant — not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2Corinthians 3:6 NIV). Seek the most important thing first — love — and God’s Spirit will set in order the second things in their place. “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1Corinthians 13:13 NIV).
Q: Is it our Christian liberty to agree to disagree about matters of faith and practice?
A: Unless ours is the only opinion in the Church, then differences will inevitably exist. The Roman Catholic Papacy declares the infallibility of the Pope, when they say he speaks ex cathedra. In contrast, Protestants protest that tradition and hold to the infallibility of the Scriptures, where Christ said, “Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth” (John 17:17 NIV). Interpretation of Scriptures is now the battleground for the Church, where the writing of the 27 books of the New Testament (NT), their preservation, and their canonization with the agreement that they represent the New Covenant or NT, was formally the Church’s role in Church History. And throughout, in God’s Providence, “He has not left Himself without testimony” (Acts 14:17 NIV). In these NT times, Christ is the great revelation of God to man, as the Word of God (John 1:1). “1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom also He made the universe” (Hebrews 1:1-2 NIV). Disciples specifically regard the Scriptures as the bedrock of faith and practice. “16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2Timothy 3:16-17 NIV). We may disagree about interpretation of Scripture, but we should remember what Joseph said to Pharaoh’s chief cup bearer and chief baker, “Do not interpretations belong to God?” (Genesis 40:8 NIV).
Q: Should our Christian liberty promote Christian unity?
A: It should. Good people may disagree about what builds up or edifies the Body of Christ, but we should endeavor not to disrupt the Spirit of unity of the disciples. “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14 NIV). Knowing the often difficulty of maintaining unity, disciples should value the benefit of sharing “like precious faith” (2Peter 1:1 KJV) with one another. As in marriage, a local assembly of disciples should strive together in words, actions, and prayer to walk in agreement. “Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so” (Amos 3:3 NIV). Sharing a common fellowship with brothers and sisters is a privilege. “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity” (Psalm 133:1 NIV). Should it be strange that different opinions may take place in the Body of Christ, when true “unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God” ultimately results in “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13 NIV)? It is not an oppressive burden, but our Christian liberty to be unified in Christ by the Holy Spirit, without regard to race or condition of service. “For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body — whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (1Corinthians 12:13 NIV). Racial distinction, servitude, and gender labels disappear in Christ. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28 NIV). Christ’s high priestly prayer directly before His betrayal and crucifixion addressed the protection and prosperity we gain through Christian unity. “11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to You. Holy Father, protect them by the power of Your name, the name You gave Me, so that they may be one as We are one. 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You. May they also be in Us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me” (John 17:11, 21 NIV).
In summary, Christian liberty is really about our freedom to be like Christ, not exercising the right to do as we please. “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:14 NIV).
For a better understanding of the basis of our Christian Liberty, see Christian Liberty – Part 1