What is True Christian Liberty?

by Mike Ratliff

25 ὁ δὲ παρακύψας εἰς νόμον τέλειον τὸν τῆς ἐλευθερίας καὶ παραμείνας οὐκ ἀκροατὴς ἐπιλησμονῆς γενόμενος ἀλλὰ ποιητὴς ἔργου, οὗτος μακάριος ἐν τῇ ποιήσει αὐτοῦ ἔσται. (James 1:25 NA28)

25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of freedom, and abides there, being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (James 1:25 translated from the NA28 Greek text)

Liberty – ἐλευθερία – eleutheria – freedom, generosity, independence. Freedom is presented as a distinctive blessing of the economy of grace which, in contrast with the OT economy, is represented as including independence from legal restrictions and rules of life (1 Corinthians 10:29; Galatians 2:4; 5:1, 13). In contrast to the present subjection of the creature to the bondage of corruption, freedom represents the future state of the children of God (Romans 8:21; see also vv. 20, 23). The perfect law of freedom (referred to in James 1:25 [above]) is the freedom of generosity, seen exclusively in James 2:12, 13, when the Judge shows his generosity in proportion to the mercifulness of the believers on earth.

Slavery or bondage – δουλεία – douleia – servitude, dependence; the state of a δοῦλος or doulos, a slave. That state of man in which he is prevented from freely possessing and enjoying his life; a state opposed to liberty. In NT used only figuratively (Romans 8:15, 21; Galatians 4:24; 5:1; Hebrews 2:15).

1 Τῇ ἐλευθερίᾳ ἡμᾶς Χριστὸς ἠλευθέρωσεν· στήκετε οὖν καὶ μὴ πάλιν ζυγῷ δουλείας ἐνέχεσθε. (Galatians 5:1 NA28)

1 For this freedom Christ freed us, therefore, stand fast and be not held again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1 translated from the NA28 Greek text)

Galatians 5:1 is often used by some to teach a version of Christian liberty that is not biblical. There are some who teach that this liberty, which is for all genuine Christians, is a freedom to ignore God’s moral Law. This is a form of antinomianism. Those who teach this are giving license to believers to sin. This is not what Paul and James were talking about when they spoke of freedom in Christ and the law of liberty.

The two definitions above for “liberty” and “slavery” were adapted from the Lexical Aids to the New Testament by Spiros Zodhaiates. When we study the Word of God, in order to obtain the correct biblical interpretation of a passage such as Galatians 5:1, we must remember to always maintain context. This will give us the correct meaning of a passage. It is quite an easy thing to rip a passage of scripture out of context in order to support any teaching. However, the saints of God are edified by listening to the prophets of God as they rightly divide the Word of Truth, not by them being cool or culturally relevant. What is the proper contextual interpretation of Galatians 5:1?

The Epistle of Galatians was written by the Apostle Paul to the churches in the region of Galatia. He was responding to the very real problem of some Judiazers who had come to the region teaching the gentile Christians there that in order for them to be truly saved, they must also keep the Mosaic Law. They were saved by grace through faith to be sure, but their justification depended upon them also keeping the Law. This included things like being circumcised. This Epistle was written to address this error.

Paul’s thesis, therefore, was that for the gentile Christians in Galatia to mix their Christianity with Judaism in order to be justified is a step into slavery or bondage. This is why he exhorts them to “stand firm” in the freedom of Christ. He tells them that they must stay where they are because of the benefit of being free from the law and the flesh as a way of salvation is the fullness of blessing by grace. The statement, “For freedom Christ has set us free,” speaks of the deliverance from the curse that the law pronounces on the sinner who has been striving unsuccessfully to achieve his own righteousness, but who has now embraced Christ and the salvation granted to him by grace. This is exactly what happened when Martin Luther came to faith. He had been attempting perfection to please God all by his own efforts. It almost drove him mad. Then God saved him and he was set free for freedom by Christ.

Paul compares the act of a Christian submitting to the teaching of the Judiazers as becoming burdened by or entangled again with a yoke of slavery or bondage. Paul contends that to pursue the yoke of the law as a means of salvation was actually a yoke of slavery. On the other hand, our Lord Jesus Christ tells us to reject this yoke and take He yoke upon us.

28Δεῦτε πρός με πάντες οἱ κοπιῶντες καὶ πεφορτισμένοι, κἀγὼ ἀναπαύσω ὑμᾶς. 29ἄρατε τὸν ζυγόν μου ἐφ’ ὑμᾶς καὶ μάθετε ἀπ’ ἐμοῦ, ὅτι πραΰς εἰμι καὶ ταπεινὸς τῇ καρδίᾳ, καὶ εὑρήσετε ἀνάπαυσιν ταῖς ψυχαῖς ὑμῶν· 30ὁ γὰρ ζυγός μου χρηστὸς καὶ τὸ φορτίον μου ἐλαφρόν ἐστιν. (Matthew 11:28-30 NA28)

28 Come to me, all who those who have become weary and are burdened, and I will give rest to you. 29 Take up my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am humble and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my load is light. (Matthew 11:28-30 translated from the NA28 Greek text)

This is a very good description of true Christian liberty or freedom. To submit to Christ as Lord and learn from Him by immersing ourselves in His Word, is to find true rest. He is gentle and lowly in heart and those who take on His yoke find rest for their souls. This is a yoke of slavery as well, but slavery to Christ as Lord is true freedom. It is liberation from the law as a means of salvation, from the power of sin, and from superstition.

Therefore, instead of trying to determine what things Christians can do in their liberty and freedom while ignoring God’s moral Law, we should be seeking the true liberty of total submission to the Lordship of Christ, learning from Him by digging into His Word and listening to godly preaching and teaching. Genuine Christian ἐλευθερία is found only in being a true δοῦλος of Christ by taking on His yoke and learning from Him.

23 Ἔλεγεν δὲ πρὸς πάντας· εἴ τις θέλει ὀπίσω μου ἔρχεσθαι, ἀρνησάσθω ἑαυτὸν καὶ ἀράτω τὸν σταυρὸν αὐτοῦ καθ’ ἡμέραν καὶ ἀκολουθείτω μοι. 24ὃς γὰρ ἂν θέλῃ τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ σῶσαι ἀπολέσει αὐτήν· ὃς δ’ ἂν ἀπολέσῃ τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἕνεκεν ἐμοῦ οὗτος σώσει αὐτήν. 25τί γὰρ ὠφελεῖται ἄνθρωπος κερδήσας τὸν κόσμον ὅλον ἑαυτὸν δὲ ἀπολέσας ἢ ζημιωθείς; (Luke 9:23-25 NA28)

23 And he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life on account of me, this one will save it. 25 For what profits a man having gained the whole wold, but loses or forfeits himself? ” (Luke 9:23-25 translated from the NA28 Greek text)

This is true Christian Liberty.

Soli Deo Gloria!

7 thoughts on “What is True Christian Liberty?

  1. I live in the Bible belt and that comes with many pluses and minuses. A minus is that so many people are the product of decisionism rather than having been truly regenerated (2 Cor 5:17). When I’m out witnessing, people routinely excuse their sin by saying, “There’s freedom in Christ!” When I ask them to explain that phrase, I usually hear a paraphrase of “it’s ok to sin because Jesus will forgive me.” As you’ve posted, I explain that it’s freedom FROM sin, not freedom TO sin. If there’s no freedom FROM sin, then has Christ really done a work in you? Then we’ll go through Way of the Master and/or Scripture.

    Thanks for pointing out from Scripture what true Christian liberty is!

  2. I was just talking with a dear sister in the Lord about this barely an hour ago. The freedom we have in Christ FROM the bondage of works righteousness! The relevance and value of the gospel for Christians, the reminders of the Lord’s Supper – Christ has redeemed a people as trophies of His grace, we are not our own. Anyone born by the Spirit of God will hate his own sin more and more and be humbled by the obedience and provision and sufficiency of the life and death of the Lord Jesus. The Christian will seek to honor the One who died in His place, not live and love the sin that once ruled over him.

  3. Amen Mike!
    Clay, what part of the south are you from? I’m in AL, and I know exactly what you are saying! In my witnesing I have found it’s more effective to pass those tracts titled, “Repent or Perish” rather than “Are you a believer”, which still is a good tract, but I found most of them replying back saying, oh yeah, I am a believer, etc.

  4. Pingback: What is True Christian Liberty? | GalatiaU

Comments are closed.