Friday, September 05, 2008

Guidance in Christian Liberty

I'll get back to federal theology and the covenant of grace in the next post, but I wanted to write a post on Christian liberty. According to Scripture, "where there is no law, there is no transgression" (Rom 4:15), and "in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men" (Matt 15:9; Isa 29:13). Christians have God-sanctioned liberty to do anything that doesn't violate God's law revealed in Scripture. The Bible doesn't forbid card playing, going to the movies, drinking, dancing, going to the beach, smoking, sleeping in, watching TV, taking naps, eating really good food, skydiving, vacationing, mixed swimming, reading novels, etc. All of these activities fall under the category of "Christian liberty" and thus may be done without sinning. However, the Bible also urges Christians to be wise and moderate in their behavior. Here are four principles that must always guide the Christian in his exercise of liberty:

1. Love for God. Sometimes "liberty" is used for a cloak for idolatrous self-indulgence. Everything in creation must be used for the glory of God, and Christians must take care that they don't turn their liberties into opportunities for idol worship. 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." 1 Timothy 4:4 says, "For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving." 1 Peter 2:15-16 says, "For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God."

2. Love for the brethren. It is true that no one may bind the Christian's conscience with man made laws, but concern for the welfare of fellow saints must always deeply effect a believer's decisions about how to live. Out of love for the brethren, a Christian must do what he believes will edify his fellow believers and prevent them from stumbling into sin. Galatians 5:13 says, "For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another." 1 Corinthians 8:9 says, "But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak." 1 Corinthians 10:23 says, "All things are lawful," but not all things are helpful. "All things are lawful," but not all things build up."

3. Love for the unconverted. A Christian should regulate his liberty by its effects upon unbelievers and he should choose behaviors that are likely to win some to the gospel. Christians should refrain from cultural offense and from participating in activities that society believes are sinful. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 says, "19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings."

4. Watchfulness over one's own soul. Sin remains in the heart of every believer, though not every believer struggles with the same remaining sin. Therefore, if a Christian judges himself weak and prone to temptation through various liberties, he is obligated to refrain from practicing those liberties. Romans 13:14 says, "But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires." 1 Corinthians 9:23-27 says, "23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. 24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified."