“Give me liberty, or give me death,” is this not one of the most popular phrases in all of American history? From an early age we embedded it within our very being as Americans. The very foundations for that which we believe as a country drives itself from the understanding that man has liberty, but from a Christian perspective what does liberty mean? Do we derive our understanding of Christian liberty from Scriptures or from America? Do we take time to think about Scripture and our biblical understand of who we are called to be? As Christians we do not derive our understandings of truth from our culture, but from the Word of God alone. This is all the more true when we deal with Christian liberty.
Christian liberty is one of the most beautiful aspects of our faith. And the reasons it is one of the most beautiful aspects is because in it we see that our faith is more than a set of rules. It is a faith built on a relationship with the Savior, lived out in community with other believers, all who come from different backgrounds, different cultures, different life experiences, and different salvific stories. Because we have these different backgrounds we see the faith lived out in slightly different ways, though all built on the solid foundation of Christ alone. In 1 Corinthians Paul deals with these very issues as he works through the difficulties going on within the church in Corinth.
In Corinth we have a church that greatly embraces their liberty in Christ. However, while embracing their Christian liberty they went to the extreme of no longer worshiping God by their actions, but rather satisfied their flesh at the detriment of their brothers and sisters. In chapters 8 -10 Paul puts together a lengthy discourse on what it means to live in Christian liberty. In the course of these three chapters we see that Christian liberty is advanced theology, it is more than embracing an idea that I can do whatever I want whenever I want because I’ve been forgiven by God, but rather it is an understanding that in Christ we have freedom to live out the gospel alone. The beauty of the gospel seen in our liberty is that we can lay it down. It is the fact that we are able to do these things and yet we willingly choose not to for the sake of our brothers and the cause of Christ.
In the text he begins by speaking of simple things as food sacrificed to idols, of course, for us today food sacrificed to idols is an anomaly. We don’t tend to see idols on every street corner. We don’t buy our meat from a butcher that cuts and sells his wares in honor of a god, but we do understand the principle that is at stake in these chapters. Paul is dealing with believers who were flaunting their liberties at the expense of their brothers and sisters.
This is been a charge labeled often at the young restless and reformed movement, a term derived 10 years ago in Christianity Today given to the young ministers being transformed by reformed theology. Most young reformers are products of that movement, and too many degrees we would call ourselves members of it. Unfortunately, for all the good that this movement brought back to our understanding of the grace of God, of our hope in him alone, our love of doctrine and theology, a deep abiding love for the church, and salvation…it also brought with it the un-needed baggage of antinomian Christian liberty.
Antinomian Christian liberty at its core is not reformed theology; rather it is a distortion of the truth. This view of Christian liberty is very much in step with the error that Paul is fighting in Corinth. This view finds itself, though, right in step with the American idea I can do whatever I want and I will have grace before God, a grace that should be free from consequences. Rather than embracing the love of God and out of a love for what God has done in us and through us, seeking to honor and glorify Him with all aspects of our lives and seeking to love our brothers and sisters with grace and hope, this version of Christian liberty seeks only to serve itself. It sees the purpose of the cross not for worship of God but for worship of self. In many ways it embraces an infantile faith. This is especially true when we see those who are called out for their abuse of Scripture and their abuse of the brothers and sisters running right back to their “we have liberty in Christ.” This reveals that there is a misunderstanding of the Scriptures especially in the realm of Christian liberty.
In 1 Corinthians 10:23 Paul begins with the words “all things are lawful.” Maybe some of us have simply stopped there and missed the reality that not all things were helpful for our spiritual walk nor do they build up those around us. Paul wants to remind us that the purpose of our Christian liberty is to serve our brothers and sisters and to worship God. We are called in the text to lay down our liberty when we know it is for the good of our brothers and sisters, for those who struggle with sin, for those who struggle with doubt. We do not flaunt your liberties at the expense of others.
While the vast majority reading this blog may be Americans our liberty at its core as believers is not American. Our liberty at its core is Jesus Christ alone.
He models for us the truth of what it means to live in liberty; to live in liberty according to the gospel is to give up our lives for the good of others. We lay down our rights to serve and love the family of God and reach our neighbors. The call of Christian liberty is to truly love your neighbors and walk with them in the faith. It is to know and see their struggles and to knowingly and humbly lay down your rights to help grow and bless them. Remember our liberty on this earth is but for a lifetime, while our celebration of true liberty in Christ is eternal; a liberty that has set us free from sin and death.
With that in mind let us lay down our rights as we see the day coming when the Lord shall return. So if your brother or sister is struggling with alcohol addiction, with pornography or sexual sins, with anger, bitterness, gossip, do not lead them further into it through your “liberties,” but rather may you build them up through love and prayer. Pointing them and yourself back to the cross were our true hope is found. Where the Lord of the universe who had unlimited authority in liberty gave it all up for our sake and for our salvation.