What is Christian Liberty?

by Mike Ratliff

25 But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. James 1:25 (NASB) 

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 It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1 (NASB) 

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, “It was for freedom that Christ 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.

28 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 (NASB) 

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 And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must 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 for My sake, he is the one who will save it. 25 For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? Luke 9:23-25 (NASB) 

This is true Christian Liberty.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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