By Mike Ratliff
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1 ESV)
There is some confusion in our day about the Biblical term, “Christian Liberty.” I have heard all sorts of definitions for it. One that stands out in my mind is the insistence that it has freed the Christian from all restrictions on drinking alcohol, what music a Christian listens to, what books a Christian reads, what movies a Christians watches, even what ‘sexual orientation’ a Christian “chooses.” In other words, this definition says that salvation has no bearing on one’s fleshly pursuits. Is this Biblical or is it just another form of Gnosticism? Let us see.
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.” They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:31-36 ESV)
Jesus true disciples are made up of only one group of people. This group consists of those who abide in Him. These know truth. This knowledge of the truth “sets them free.” After a defensive remark made by the Jews to whom He was speaking, our Lord links freedom or liberty to whether a person is a slave to sin or not. Let us never forget my brethren that genuine salvation in Christ is liberation. He has set His people free. This liberation is not social, political, or economic improvement despite the fact that many believe the opposite. Genuine Christian liberty is the state of being free from the law as means to salvation, from the power of sin, and from superstition.
Christians have been set free from the law as a system of salvation. Think of the 5 Solas and Ephesians 2:1-10. Sola Fide tells us that we are saved by grace through faith and not by keeping the law. We are justified by faith in Christ (Romans 3:19; 6:14, 15; Galatians 3:23-25). Each believer has access to God because they have peace with Him (Romans 5:1,2). This access and peace with God is assured because each genuine believer have been accepted and adopted in Christ. This “position” in Christ does not now, nor will it ever, depend on what the believer does and does not do. This Christian walk is not one unto perfection, but is one taken a step at a time in light of being forgiven.
All believers were once lost in their trespasses and sin. Prior to regeneration, a person’s heart is unable to obey God or conceive of His truth. His ways are not understood by the unregenerate. The fallen human being may indeed want a right relationship with God, but the only avenues they can try, which all fail, are through disciplines of obedience, ritual, and asceticism. These works of the flesh are the means through which those without God’s righteousness go about “seeking to establish their own” righteousness (Romans 10:3). No matter how good one becomes at this it is never good enough. Also, no matter how religious these people are, there are always wrong desires in their hearts (Romans 7:7-11; Philippians 3:6). However, God looks at the heart first. The law’s work is to arouse, expose, and condemn the sin that permeates our moral lives. This makes us aware of its reality and consequences (Romans 3:19; 1 Corinthians 15:56; Galatians 3:10). The New Testament clearly teaches us the futility of treating the law as a system of salvation, and seeking righteousness by it. This futility is the bondage to the law from which Christ liberated us.
Our Lord also liberated us from sin’s dominion (John 8:34-36; Romans 6:14-23). Each genuine believer has been regenerated and made alive to God through union with Christ in His death and resurrection (Romans 6:3-11). God changed their hearts. Now their heart’s desire is to serve God in righteousness (Romans 6:18, 22). In contrast, sin’s dominion involves not only constant acts of disobedience, but also a constant disregard for God’s moral law. This disregard rises sometimes to resentment or even hatred towards it. The genuine Christian, however, being changed in heart, motivated by thankfulness for the gift of grace, and energized by the Holy Spirit, is “not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit” (Romans 7:6).
Superstition is intrinsically evil. Genuine Christians have been set free from it. This would include heresies such as Gnosticism, which teach that matter and physical pleasure are evil. Christian liberty sets the believer free to enjoy as God’s good gifts all created things (1 Timothy 4:1-5), provided we do not transgress the moral law, nor hinder our own spiritual well-being or that of others (1 Corinthians 6:12, 13; 8:7-13).
Christian liberty has set the believer free from bondage to the law as a system of salvation, from the power of sin, and from superstition. It is not an excuse for fleshly pursuits that hinder our spiritual growth or our Christian testimony. We are not free to be self-focused and selfish as we walk through this life. No, our freedom is the means through which we walk through each day on the narrow difficult path of discipleship as we abide in Christ.
Soli Deo Gloria!