Pondering Christian Liberty

I have been involved in a couple of discussions recently where the topic of Christian liberty came up. While it was not the point of the conversation, it definitely became a factor in the arguments presented on both sides of the conversation.

I have been giving a lot of thought since then to the concept that we call “Christian liberty”. I want to share with you some random musings that have passed through the old noodle during that time. Feel free to analyze, criticize or transdemogrifize (ht to all “Calvin and Hobbes” afficionadoes) what I present.

For the sake of the conversation, I am classifying anything that is not clearly stated or principalized in the Bible as a matter of Christian liberty. I believe this is consistent with what scriptures teach about the concept as well as being relevant to the context of the discussions I referenced earlier. I am not going to share the details of those conversations as I do not want their substance to become the point of this discussion.

1.  Rarely does someone on the negative side of an issue see it as a matter of “Christian liberty”.

By “negative side” I mean when they look at an issue, they see the endorsement of that issue to be a sin. In the debate presented in the Epistle to the Romans, they would be the ones who view eating meat sacrificed to idols as being sinful.

Someone in this position may have arrived at their position through a process of experience, thought, prayer or influence of other believers. For them, even though the Bible may not clearly mandate that the issue at hand is right or wrong, it is a matter of clear morality. Often the process that led them to their point of view has been so dramatic that they even become passionate about their position, not understanding why someone could see it differently, i.e. a matter of conscience or Christian liberty.

I would imagine that most, if not all of us, find ourselves on the “negative” sides of issues at times. I think we would do well in such cases to remember that if the Bible does not specifically give a prohibition or mandate, either through command or principle, that it is a matter of liberty. This does not mean that we would be required to compromise our belief in such cases, but it should lead us to realize that someone on the other side of the issue may not be necessarily wrong.

2.  Those who are exercising their Christian liberty should give great care to make sure they do so legitimately.

I jokingly told a friend recently that my definition of a “legalist” was “someone who preaches against something that I enjoy doing”.

The concept of Christian liberty must be applied with a spiritual, not carnal, balance. The flesh can easily come into play on both sides of this coin. Those who use the reasoning of enjoyment and derivation of pleasure to justify an activity may indeed be guilty of walking in the flesh. If a believer is going to exercise their right of liberty, they should make very sure that what they are doing does not violate the moral mandates of scripture, hinder their walk in the Spirit or provide for the temptations of the works of the flesh.

While some have rightly pointed out that those on the negative side can become legalistic and pharisaitical in their opinions, the same pitfall must be avoided on the side of freedom.

3.  The ultimate test of the rightness or wrongness of anything is the glory of God.

Let me give a good illustration of this. I have actually known people who felt that it was absolutely wrong for a Christian musician to practice or use any type of sound equipment. Obviously they had no scriptural basis for this argument, only their opinion that any attempt to improve one’s “sound” was an effort to exalt self instead of God.

While it would be easy to ridicule this position as being uninformed (not to mention hard on the ears), I would have no basis whatsoever for saying that they were sinning by believing this way. If their intent is to glorify God, then they should do so with a clear conscience. However, it would be just as wrong for them to judge what is in the heart of another musician who may practice hard and use a microphone, believing that God deserves their best effort.

My point in this illustration, is that we cannot judge what is in another’s heart in matters of Christian liberty. We can only examine our own motives to see if they are pure where the glory of God is concerned. I should let God be the judge of others. If I am abstaining from an activity, I should do so to the glory of God. If I am participating in that activity, I should do so to the glory of God. If either my abstinence or my participation fails to give glory to God, I should reexamine my motives as well as the activity.

As I said, these are just some random thoughts on the matter. I would be greatly interested to hear the wisdom of the reader on this subject.


14 responses to “Pondering Christian Liberty

  1. Hi Gordon…some excellent comments there.

    Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting on my post about the anniversary of my dad’s homegoing. You’re right; Greater vision is terrific!

  2. Gordon,
    Great thoughts, and writing. I am in agreement with you. Sometimes it seems there are a lot of Christians who want to claim freedom for anything they do.
    Out in the country if I need to spit, I spit. However when I go to town or into the city, or even driving down the road I need to watch if, when and where I spit. I still have the same freedom, but that freedom has responsibilities, and I think you bore that out quite well.
    Sorry for the spitting analogy.

  3. Pingback: Walking With God Today 07/29/08 « …WINGS AS EAGLES…

  4. It’s all a matter of “principle.” At least in how we define principle or in whether we agree on the principle or the application of a generic principle to the specific act. Prohibitions and mandates are more readily agreed upon, but principles become very sticky.

  5. Hi, Cindy. It’s always good to hear from you.

    Bro. T.A., that is actually a great analogy. Thanks for sharing that.

    Don, I would be inclined to agree with you. In fact, I think you are further clarifying one of my points. If we find that applying a principle to a matter is a sticky problem, then that may be a good indication that the matter is indeed a matter of Christian liberty.

    One benefit that I have derived from blogging is the exposure I have received to the way that other Christians view things. While there are some principles that appear to me to be very clear with no wiggle room at all, some other believers see it entirely differently than I do.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

  6. Thanks for your recent comment at my blog.
    Hope you and family are doing well this summer.

    The realization of God’s grace in my life has freed me from much debate that I once participated in.

    What you said is so true: “…we cannot judge what is in another’s heart in matters of Christian liberty.”

    God bless you, Gordon. Thanks for the post!

  7. Good article. I should never allow my liberty to become a stumbling block to others. You may remember the man in Canada who didn’t think it was a sin to eat pork, but would not so he could still witness to his family in Pakistan who believe it was wrong to eat pork. Someone said to me recently that it didn’t matter what people thought as long as they were right with the Lord. Paul never allowed his liberty to hinder the work of God. Keep up the good articles.

  8. You have no right to say these things! (grin)

    Great article and comments Preacher. I’m sure it’s a shock to know we have the same understanding in this.

  9. Vicki, it is wonderful to have confidence in our standing in grace isn’t it?

    Daddy, I do remember that situation. In fact I shared it in a sermon recently.

    KC, I just figured I would take the liberty! (hehe)
    I figured we would be of a kindred spirit in this matter.

  10. I have a lot of opinion about this topic, but will keep my comment brief!

    As has been noted, those who are on the negative side generally do not consider it a liberty issue, but a sin issue. That makes it more difficult for them to acknowledge that those who disagree with them “could be right.”

    Those on the “positive” side tend to denigrate the other side and denounce them as legalistic. They have trouble acknowledging that someone might genuinely believe it is a Biblical principle.

    The challenge for Christians on both ends of the spectrum is to develop a sense of grace that allows each other to disagree over the NATURE of these issues, not just the issues themselves.

  11. I often that that when the scripture defines sin as knowing the right thing to do and not doing it(Jame 4:17), it communicates that we all really “know” what to do on a personal level.. even if we won’t own up to it.

    I think that legalism enters in when we espouse to “know” what others should do.. of course this does not apply to the main and plain of scripture.. but dos cover what is not clearly communicated in the bible.

  12. The challenge for Christians on both ends of the spectrum is to develop a sense of grace that allows each other to disagree over the NATURE of these issues, not just the issues themselves.

    Cameron, that is a great summary of what I was trying to say in this.

    KB, that is an excellent point concerning the entrance of legalism.

  13. Gordon,

    Sorry I am late to this conversation. There have been some good comments following these great thoughts on Christian liberty.

    If you don’t mind I’ll add some thoughts by way of testimony. Many years ago, my wife and I swore off R-rated movies. (The last R-rated movie I watched was Saving Private Ryan. We refuse to watch because it becomes a stumbling block to the younger people in the church we serve and so in order to maintain a consistent line of integrity, we simply do not watch. The young people have respected that decision. I know it won’t cause young people not to watch movies that may be filthy but it maintains that consistency.

    However, the most flack we have received has been from adults. “All the good movies you miss!” “It isn’t a sin to watch R-rated movies!”

    No it isn’t a sin at all; but you can so cloud the great gamut of R-rated movies, that if we watch an R-rated movie that may actually be really good (say, an R-rated movie of historical fiction with realistic wartime violence) by our use of liberty in that area a young person may follow our example and perceive that it is OK to watch an R-rated movie with teen sexuality.

    So, in this area, we choose not to exercise our liberty. But having not watched R-rated movies in so many years, to be honest, I haven’t missed watching. Thanks for letting me share!

  14. Tony, thanks so much for sharing. For some reason your comment wound up in my spam folder. I apologize for that.

    The approach you are taking in this is one that I believe to be fully consistent with what the Bible teaches on the matter. You are refraining from watching these movies out of a desire to honor God, yet you do not impose an unnecessary burden of bondage upon someone who may see it differently.

    Thanks for illustrating (in my opinion) exactly how we should approach such issues.

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