What do you do when you and a fellow believer have a disagreement about what is the right thing to do? What do you do when the Scriptures do not address the exact problem you’re experiencing?
One truth to remember is that while the Scriptures may not tell you everything you want to know, they tell you everything you need to know. For example, if you want to know who you should marry, you can reasonably know that your spouse should be a fellow believer, men marry women, and the marital bond is for life. Other categories, while still important, are left up to grace and providence. And where better could they be?
But we must also remember that freedom is never to be abused. The Christian does not have a libertarian freedom, defined as freedom to do anything and everything. We know that physically makes no sense. Are you free to fly or breathe under water? Planes and snorkels are artificial. Neither are you free to live in total freedom from God's law. You can try, but it is an artificial existence.
The Christian is free, but our freedom is gospel freedom.
The Confession begins, The liberty which Christ has purchased for believers under the gospel, consists in their freedom from the guilt of sin, the condemning wrath of God, the severity and curse of the law, and in their being delivered from this present evil world, bondage to Satan, and dominion of sin, from the evil of afflictions, the fear and sting of death, the victory of the grave, and everlasting damnation: as also in their free access to God, and their yielding obedience unto Him, not out of slavish fear, but a child-like love and willing mind. All which were common also to believers under the law for the substance of them; but under the New Testament the liberty of Christians is further enlarged, in their freedom from the yoke of a ceremonial law, to which the Jewish church was subjected, and in greater boldness of access to the throne of grace, and in fuller communications of the free Spirit of God, than believers under the law did ordinarily partake of.
Too much talk of Christian freedom sounds too much like what we can get away with. Are you free to drink alcohol? Of course; there is no law forbidding it. But your freedom is not freedom to make another stumble. Surroundings matter more than ever under the gospel. Love matters more than ever.
Key to this discussion is the glorious truth that we are free because Christ became a curse for us. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). He died to set us free, therefore, our freedom came at a cost. Part of the gospel is that while it cost Christ his life, it is given freely, without price. When you are determining, in your Christian freedom, what to do, begin every problem-solving session by being reminding who purchased your freedom for you. He is the one to please with your freedom.
Your freedom should not be used to walk back into the darkness from which Christ saved you. If we are free from bondage to sin and death, we are fools to think we can continue to play with it. Sin is not just a bad habit or a series of mistakes. Sin is bondage, chains, and ultimately, death in a prison cell. To continue in sin is to have the prison doors blown wide open only to walk into the one across the street.
And for the Christian, our freedom is even greater than those under the old covenant. The hundreds of Mosaic laws, which were expansions on the ten commandments, which were expansions on the two most important commandments to love God and to love neighbor, bound the Israelites with a great burden.
We should not think that our freedom is a burden like that of Israel. John tells us, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:38-39).
Because we have the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God, we are free in ways that the saints of old were not. They were bound to rules and regulations. God’s promised Spirit now dwells among us, freeing us from the laws that looked forward to this time.
The Confession continues, God alone is Lord of the conscience, and has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to his word, or not contained in it. So that to believe such doctrines, or obey such commands out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring of an implicit faith, an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience and reason also.
Christ continually rode the back of the Pharisees for adding to the law of God. They taught their own commandments as if they were as divinely given as the ones given to Moses (cf. Matthew 15:9). “There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy” (James 4:12).
In fact, following any law in an attempt to earn merit from God is sin. It is a very different thing to follow his law to please him. After all, the law itself only increased sin; the law did nothing to atone for sin. No law can do this. As Paul writes, “These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Colossians 2:23). To demand anyone else, including yourself, follow any law and think it redeems is to misunderstand the purpose of Christian liberty.
There is one more part of Christian liberty which deserves greater attention. What do we do with the argument that because we are free in Christ, nothing is really sin?
To that we will turn next time.