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"Christian Liberty"

Liberty Blog Spot

          One of the most often misunderstood, misapplied, and misused terms in Christianity is "Christian liberty."  This generic phrase can be used to describe a number of different truths we find in scripture.  However, it can be, and historically often has been, used as a badge of honor for immature believers to flaunt their licentiousness.  So, what do we mean when we talk about Christian liberty?  What does the Bible say about it?  And how should we live in light of that truth?

          There is a lot that could be written on the topic, and space is at a premium, so let me first try to define, what I believe Christian liberty means...and by extension, what it doesn't mean.  One of the most popular metaphors for salvation seen in the New Testament is freedom from bondage or slavery.  In a very real sense, through faith in Jesus Christ for our salvation, we are set free (or liberated) from the condemnation that rightly besets us due to our sin.  Through the finished work of Christ upon the cross, we have been justified (a legal term meaning declared innocent) and the debt for our sins has been paid on our behalf.

          In another sense, we are also liberated from sin's dominion over our lives.  By grace, through the work of the Holy Spirit, we are given a new heart with new desires.  It is this miraculous work of God that enables us to respond to the Gospel call in the first place.  Where our old heart of flesh longed to pursue worldly things, our new spiritually given heart seeks to pursue obedience to Christ as our Lord and Savior.  This doesn't mean (as any Christian can honestly attest) that we no longer struggle with sinful temptations.  Rather, it simply means that worldliness (sin) no longer controls us.  We may still struggle, we may still fall from time to time, but we are free to live lives that glorify God.

          Finally, there is a sense in which, through saving faith in the Gospel, we are set free from the Law.  While the first two aspects of Christian liberty are fairly straightforward, this one requires more careful consideration.  What does it mean to be "set free" from the Law?  Does it mean that I can do whatever I want?  Does the Gospel nullify the former commands of God we see throughout the Old Testament?

          To properly understand how the Gospel frees us from the Law, we need to properly understand why God gave us commands to live by in the first place.  At its most basic level, the Law exists to give structure and order to God's creation.  Without law and order, society can't exist.  God, in his wisdom and goodness, gave us rules to live by so that we, as sinful human beings, might not be completely consumed and destroyed by the effects of sin in our own lives and in the world around us.  In other words, by restraining evil, we could continue (at least for a time) to live as sinners.  In this light, we cannot, on this side of eternity, live outside of the boundaries of the law as our rule for living.

          However, the Law also serves a greater purpose for God's world.  That is to illuminate our brokenness and point us to our deep need for a savior.  When we look at our lives through the lens of God's Law, we can clearly see all of the ways we have fallen short.  The giving of the Law is itself an act of great mercy on the part of God towards mankind.  It is through illuminating our brokenness and condemning our transgressions that the Law ultimately points us to Jesus.  And it is this purpose of the law from which we are set free in Christ.  As believers, we are set free from the law and suffer no more condemnation, because upon the cross, Jesus paid the price for all of our sins...past, present, and even future!  This is why our Savior cried out from the cross, "It is finished!"

          So, how are we to live as believers who have been set free from the condemnation and dominion of sin in our lives?  Well, clearly it would be ridiculous for us to answer that question with more sinning!  That's Paul's entire argument throughout the middle portion of the book of Romans (particularly Chapter 6).  As Christians, we are called to put off our former ways and adorn ourselves as is appropriate for one who is in Christ (Colossians 3:1-17).  As sheep, we are called to look and act differently from the goats.

          At the same time, we are called to live among the goats (John 17:6-19).  This means that we, like Jesus during his earthly ministry, are free to, and indeed should be, cultivating relationships with non-believers...and in so-doing, are also free to partake of all things that are not expressly forbidden in scripture.  As long as we exercise great care and wisdom in doing so.  This means that, for example, I am free to eat and drink whatever I see fit, if in doing so I am being responsible personally and exercising care for the welfare of those around me.  This can be a tricky balance to strike, which is why "Christian liberty" is not an idea that is often as easy to exercise as many like to make it seem.

          The truth is, we have great freedom in the Gospel.  At the same time, we have an even greater amount of responsibility to our Lord, our fellow Christians, and most of all to the world in which we live as ambassadors for Christ.  When you proclaim to be a Christian, what people see when they look at you is what they will undoubtedly think about the Jesus you claim to love and serve.  If your witness to the world is one of hypocrisy, immaturity, and/or arrogance...it's not surprising that people would be put off by the faith you proclaim.  We are free indeed and we should celebrate and revel in that freedom to the glory of God.  It was purchased at a great price...and may we never forget that as well!

In Grace,
Chris Morris

If you missed this week's sermon (or just want to listen again), follow the link below to listen. Or subscribe to our podcast in iTunes.

Part 35 - Church Probs...

Questions discussed in this sermon:

1.  How were doctrinal disputes handled in the early church?
2.  Is sin the same for everyone?
3.  How are we to handle disagreements in the church today? 

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