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.