by Mike Ratliff
For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one–who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. (Romans 3:28-31 ESV)
Antinomianism: The doctrine or belief that the Gospel frees Christians from required obedience to any law, whether scriptural, civil, or moral, and that salvation is attained solely through faith and the gift of divine grace.
I grew up as a Southern Baptist, however, I was not a Christian until January, 1986 a few months after turning 34. After that, my wife and I were members of 5 different SBC churches in the Tulsa, Oklahoma City, and Kansas City areas. I am sure that not all SBC churches teach the exactly the same thing, but the ones we were part of definitely discounted the Law of God. Sadly, I think that most of the antinomian teaching out there is centered in a misunderstanding of what is meant in Sacred Scripture by the term Christian Freedom.
As he was saying these things, many believed in him. So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:30-32 ESV)
What did our Lord mean by this? Who will know the truth? Only those who are truly His disciples or who are “for real” disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ will know the truth. Notice that this freedom our Lord is speaking of comes as the result of knowing the truth. Is our Lord telling us that if we know Him that we can ignore the Law or is this something much deeper?
I was a software developer and programmer for many years as well as a network engineer. Now I work as a database administrator. In each of these functions we run into problems which demand a solution. One of the skills I have had to develop over the years is that of a problem solver. There are times that a problem is so complex that it takes several days if not weeks to solve. When I have one like this it can also mean that if I don’t solve it then we will have larger problems in some very sensitive areas in our organization. Therefore, the pressure is on to solve the problem as soon as possible, but also to be very careful to do it correctly.
There have been times when I am working on a problem when it seems as if no matter what I do I cannot solve it. I try everything (I think) and nothing works. It can cause one’s hair to turn gray along with affecting appetite and the ability to sleep. When I am in that mode I have become a slave to the problem. There are times when I think I have the problem solved, but it turns out that it still isn’t right. I thought I had broken free from the slavery of the problem, but I haven’t. I am still a slave. However, what usually happens is that I force myself to set it aside as I do something else like walk or go to lunch. It is amazing how easy it is to see the error in my problem solving after I set it aside and come back to it after not working on it for a little while. In any case, I solve the problem. I have broken free from the slavery of the problem.
While the problem remained unsolved I was a slave to it no matter what else I may be doing. However, once the correct solution is found then freedom comes. Freedom comes from knowing the truth. There is no freedom apart from knowing the truth because slavery to the problem goes on and on until the right solution is found.
What was Jesus telling the Jews who had believed in Him? He was telling them that they must listen to Him so that they would know the truth and that this truth will set them free from the tremendous religious problems they have created for themselves through their legalism. Christian freedom has to do with finding the truth in Jesus Christ and being liberated. However, some take that “idea” and run with it. They go too far. They say things like, “Well, I’m saved and, boy, the Lord’s going to take care of me so I’ll just do what I want to do.” This is Antinomianism. Are there boundaries to our Christian Liberty or Freedom?
“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything. (1 Corinthians 6:12 ESV)
Ah, you see, there is a danger there in taking our Freedom too far. We can become enslaved to the flesh. I contend that most Christians are so enslaved to their flesh that their spiritual acuity is next to nil. Many misinterpret Romans 6:14, turn to self-gratification and simply become more and more enslaved to their flesh.
For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:14 ESV)
My brethren, this must be understood if we are to become the Spirit-filled believers God desires. Sin is not something with which we can trifle. If their sin does not bother a person then there is problem if that person professes Christ. Being free from sin does not mean that we are free from the actuality of it. Being free from sin means that the penalty for it has been paid by Christ. All in Christ have died in Him. Each of them was crucified with Him. However, they still live because of God’s quickening of them at salvation. Christians must take the truth of their newness of life with all of their sins atoned for and learn to walk this life in the reality of mortifying their sin in actuality.
Another aspect of our Christian Freedom or Liberty is that we are free from the ceremonial and dietary portions of the Law. That stuff was all fulfilled in Christ. However, we must remember that there are weak and strong Christians. The stronger Christian’s conscience is clear of guilt for doing things like eating what was called unclean in the Law. However the weaker Christian’s conscience still condemns him or her for this sort of thing. This is where the stronger Christian should park their freedom or liberty for the sake of their weaker brethren. Yes we are free, but we should also should work to not offend.
Coming from the Southern Baptist “tradition,” I still have a problem seeing the drinking of wine or beer as sinful. I struggle with this because my conscience is still very much geared to how I was brought up and lived for many decades. However, I know that the Bible does not say that drinking wine or beer is a sin. I know this. What it does say is that we should never do anything in our freedom that may cause a weaker brother to stumble. If my drinking wine would offend another Christian then I must abstain. The sin in drinking wine is to violate the conscience of a weaker brother. The sin is to damage our testimony. Therefore, we must take the high road.
We are free, but we must not give offense. We must maintain a clear conscience before God. Our freedom or liberty should never get to the place where we exercise it to the wounding of another believer. We must never use our freedom to hurt other people.