What does liberty in Christ mean? Are there restrictions to how I exercise my Christian liberty?
Christian liberty means several things. Romans 6 talks quite a bit about our freedom in Christ. It climaxes with the following statement in verse 23: "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Christian liberty is ultimately eternal life in Jesus, freedom from the normal consequence of sin: death.
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But Christian liberty can also be taken to mean freedom from the constriction of the Jewish law and sacrificial system. Romans 3:20 says that "through the law comes knowledge of sin." But the law can only expose sin and make us aware of it. The beginning of verse 20 says, "For by works of the law no human being will be justified," so it is clear that the law can take us to the knowledge of our sin but not do anything permanent about it. The law provided the sacrificial system whereby sin was covered, but the sacrifices had to be made every year. Jesus, on the other hand, shed His blood once for all—there is no need for a repeating sacrifice (see Hebrews 9:18–28). So Christians are free from the stricture of the law and the sacrificial system.
Christians are also freed from the power of sin in our lives. Returning to Romans 6, verse 14 says, "For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace." Christian liberty can mean that we no longer are controlled by sin, but by the righteousness of God (Romans 6:18).
Christian liberty also means that we have been freed to engage in any activity not expressly forbidden in the Bible. First Corinthians 10:23 says, "'All things are lawful,' but not all things are helpful. 'All things are lawful,' but not all things build up." Verse 24 goes on to add the restriction, "Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor." In other words, in exercising our freedom, we must temper our actions with love. Jesus commanded us in John 13:34, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another." Our love for one another will cause us to want to restrict our own behavior so as not to hurt others, or "cause them to stumble." We can go overboard in either extreme with our freedoms. On the one hand, we can be so conscious of our freedoms that we bring shame on Christ and His church by our actions. On the other hand, we can be so careful to avoid this that we become legalistic and invent rules of behavior that are not biblical. Licentiousness on the one hand and legalism on the other are both wrong. We must continually seek the will of God to determine what is the right way to exercise or voluntarily restrict our liberty in each situation.
Our goals as Christians should be to glorify God, build up the church, and draw others to Christ. Our exercise of our freedom must support these goals. Galatians 5:13 sums this up when it says, "For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another."
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