One of the principles in evangelical churches that is often taught is that of “Christian liberty.” This is a wonderful doctrine that should be known throughout the hearts and minds of all true believers.
It is unfortunate that the average church member will not find a middle ground in this area, nor will many pastors or elders. The usual suspects for why this is the case are 1) legalism, or 2) liberalism. Let me explain and then give a few examples.
The road of Christian liberty often splits. The first road is often considered the HIGH road, and it is walked by well meaning believers. They believe they have the right to define what Christian liberty. However, this is not where they stop. They also believe that they have the right and the God-given responsibility to determine what is right AND what is not right for other believers.
The second road too often leads down a path that leads to the attitude, “Don’t judge me. I can do anything I want to in Christ.” This path invariably will lead to liberalism and destroys the testimony of Jesus Christ.
As you read these thoughts, consider what DOES NOT define Christian liberty.
- Christian liberty is NOT the dictates of a pastor or an elder board. If a pastor is preaching or teaching principles for life as though they were solid doctrine, then you must beware. Teaching principles and practices as if they were the foundation stone of the apostles and prophets is the quickest road to legalism and a sure sign that you are attending a church governed by a dictator rather than a loving shepherd.
- Christian liberty is NOT the ability to demand other brothers and sisters agree with my stand on an issue that is NOT clearly defined in Scripture.
Two simple definitions as they pertain to Christian liberty –
- Legalism – Excessive adherence to the law that manifests itself by forcing others to obey what the Scriptures do not explicitly teach. Such a position is based on a worldview that is rules-centered rather than being Christ-centered.
- Liberalism – Excessive lifestyles that supposedly allow a Christian to live any way they wish to do so. This philosophy is defined and supported by a worldview that is man-centered rather than Christ-centered.
Both of these positions are wrong. I want to give a few examples after sharing this excellent excerpt from www.GotQuestions.org.
“Question: “Christian liberty – what does the Bible say?”
Answer: Christian liberty is found in the Bible in several concepts. For example, liberty for the Christian can mean that he or she has been freed from the penalty of sin by faith in Jesus Christ (John 8:31-36; Romans 6:23). Also, Christian liberty can refer to being freed from the power of sin in one’s life by daily faith in Jesus Christ as Lord of one’s character and conduct (Romans 6:5-6,14). In addition, Christian liberty can mean that Christians are freed from the Jewish Law of Moses in that the Law only “exposes” sin in one’s life but cannot “forgive” sin (Romans 3:20-22).
Finally, Christian liberty can mean that Christians are freed in respect to such activity that is not expressly forbidden in the Bible. Therefore one can feel free to engage in such activity as long as it doesn’t “stumble” or “offend” another Christian (Romans 14:12-16). Most of these activities revolve around social “do’s” and “don’ts, such as whether or not to wear certain kinds of clothes, make-up, jewelry, tattoos, piercings, and/or practicing certain things, such as smoking, social drinking, recreational gambling, dancing, or viewing movies or videos. As the passage in Romans 14 says, these things may not be strictly prohibited by God’s Word, but they can be bad for one’s spiritual growth or Christian testimony and can cause other Christians to stumble.
Furthermore, Christians who tend to vigorously promote such liberties can sometimes fall into a loose lifestyle of undisciplined living, while, on the other hand, Christians who tend to vigorously limit such liberties can sometimes fall into a legalistic lifestyle of being defined by what they are “against.” So, it is wise to seek God in prayer and His Word to determine whether or not a particular activity is actually forbidden in Scripture. If it is, it should be avoided. If it is not forbidden, then we should seek to determine how the activity reflects on our reputation as Christians and whether it will help us or hinder us in representing Jesus to unbelievers around us, whether it edifies them or not.
The ultimate goal for the Christian should be to glorify God, edify fellow believers, and have a good reputation before unbelievers (Psalm 19:14; Romans 15:1-2; 1 Peter 2:11-12). “For you brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13). (emphasis mine)”
Here is the reality of life as a true believer. It is NOT easy being a Christian for the world clamors for our attention. The world demands that we look like them in every way, but they do not do this because they love God and His commands.
The world demands our undivided loyalty because they HATE Jesus Christ. When the world sees a true believer, it is like a massive thorn that has been jabbed under a person’s fingernail. The life of a true believer is called to bring conviction to the ungodly. We do not speak of being arrogant or haughty toward those who do not believe for we have nothing of which we can boast.
However, we have been chosen, by the Most High, with our calling being to be predestinated and conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. Simply put, the world should be seeing Jesus Christ in us. He is the hope of glory.
Now, let us consider a few examples –
Ultimately, Christian liberty is the understanding that my liberty starts and stops with what is clearly defined in Scripture. If there is an explicit command for us to obey, we must obey. If there is an explicit principle for life, then we are called to follow the principle. If the principle governs the motives of our heart, but not our methods, then we are free in Christ to follow the choices before us.
However, that freedom stops at the end of your nose and mine. Christian liberty is not free to assault the choices other believers make. If you make a decision that does not affect me or cause me to stumble, then enjoy the freedoms you have in Christ.
We may look at some of these areas later in the series, but for now I will use a personal illustration. I do not partake regularly of any kind of alcohol, but I have in the past. We have used it to flavor meat while it was cooking. I have swallowed a lot of cough medicines that have alcohol as an ingredient. I do NOT believe that I am forever condemned for having done so.
On the other hand, I have NEVER been drunk or lost self-control for what I have taken has been in moderation. For this, I am thankful to the Lord. It does not make me a spiritual person for having not been drunk versus a brother or sister who has succumbed to drunkenness. If we are in Christ, we are BOTH forgiven.
If I invite a brother and his family to dine with our family and I know one of their family members have struggled with alcohol in the past, my Christian duty and responsibility will refrain from offering it to that person. My Christian liberty does NOT allow me to be a stumbling block to him or her while we are fellowshipping together. I am free to follow the dictates of the Holy Spirit in my life AS LONG as it does not cause another to fall into sin.
As I have stated previously, when I was growing up in various churches, we heard all manner of “sermons” about long hair on men, pants on women, the dangers of Christian contemporary music, going to movies, or drinking alcohol – just to name a few. While these messages may have been well meaning, they only served to bind brothers and sisters to a defined set of standards that were man-made, and not ones established by Scripture. More often than not, such “sermons” are the result of too little time studying the Word to understand what it means in its own context, but are the result of using Scripture to prove a point being made. Scriptures were either misquoted or misunderstood in order to put other believers under a bondage that nobody can obey.
While the areas of Christian liberty are myriad, here is another example. Many denominations demand women wear their hair up, or that men have to wear suit and tie to church in order to be of service, or that families have to uphold the same standards as the pastor and his family in their normal weekly lives.
When we served in Liberia, West Africa, we saw the futility of many Christians who felt as though they were bound to what they had been taught – by the western missionary from a western society trying to force a western perspective on people for whom Christ died.
Too many times, I have seen African churches singing western songs (most had no clue what the words meant) while sitting in a western style church setting and feeling inferior to others attending because they did not have the money to wear western style clothing.
Missionaries may mean well, but if the focus is on making those in foreign countries to look, smell, talk, and act just like us in church, then we have failed miserably in directing, teaching, and discipling those precious brothers and sisters to focus on Christ, and to focus on Him ALONE.
In the west, legalism has driven many from the protection of fellowships across this land and into the arms of those who demand liberalism be what defines the church. If you were to ask many who have gone to Bible college, what they remember about college life, many would have no hesitation to share all about the rules that they learned. They can probably remember the demerits they earned for breaking man-made rules, but few would probably begin by telling you how much closer they grew to Christ. What a sad commentary!
Pastors and teachers, we are called to be an example to the believers. We are called to be shepherds of the flock and protect those for whom Christ died. We are not called, nor do we have the right or the responsibility, to be dictators. We have no business setting standards or principles for life that are not found in the pages of Scripture.
Do NOT place yokes or chains of bondage on those who are in Christ. Romans 8:1 is clear, “Therefore, there is now NO condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Let us conclude with this –
What is the chief end of man?
The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. This is where Christian liberty MUST begin AND end.
More thoughts to come —