Psalm 119:45 And I will walk at liberty, For I seek Your precepts. (NKJV)
When talking about Christian liberty, one of the most common questions is “how do you know what falls into liberty, and what doesn’t?” It really boils down to a couple of things. First, is there clear commandment, principle or instruction from God’s Word? Second, is it an “essential” of Christianity and what are the essentials?
It could be argued that any clear command from Scripture becomes an “essential” and in a sense that would be correct but for the purpose of this lesson, we’ll define an essential as a truth, if changed or denied, would constitute a different Gospel, teach salvation differently than found in Scripture or change the essence of who the revealed persons of God, Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ are.
Here are some examples of “essentials”, any one of which, if changed or discarded, would substantially change revealed Truth in Scripture and constitute a different message than what God has given us. This is not a comprehensive list, but one that adequately demonstrates the point:
- Inspiration of Scripture – the written Word of God was supernaturally and divinely orginated although God used created men to “write” it (2Tim 3:16-17; Psalms 19)
- Creation – all things are created except God, and by God as accurately recorded and plainly spoken in Scripture (Genesis; Col. 1:16)
- Sinfulness of Man – created man sinned and sin corrupted God’s perfection creation bringing the curse of sin on all mankind (Rom 3:9-19)
- Substitution – man cannot atone for his sin and spotless, uncorrupted substitute is necessary to pay the penalty of our sin (Heb 10:10)
- Imputation – the righteousness of Christ is imparted to true Believers; the only way that a sinful human can be made righteousness and be in God’s presence (Rom 5:12-19)
- The Person of Jesus – He is the Son of God, preeminent in the universe, the Creator of all, virgin born incarnate man, fully man, fully God, lived/died/rose again
- The Attributes of God – Creator, omniscient (all knowing), omnipresent (present everywhere in all times), omnipotent (all powerful), eternal (no beginning or end; uncreated)
These are the sort of truths that are non-negotiable. To change them would change the very nature of Christianity thus we are not at “liberty” (as Christ-followers) to decide we believe (or not), teach (correctly or not), contradict or speak casually (as if not really important) about such truths. Truth is under attack today, in particular, the very idea that there are ANY non-negotiable (absolute) truths or that truth can even be know (look for an upcoming series on this topic). Christian liberty has become relativistic, changing with the culture to fit the current social mood, popular Christian fad or in a negative sense, the current reigning legalism. To claim absolute truth or non-negotiable Christian beliefs is considered the heighth of arrogance and interolance today.
Essentials don’t steal our freedom;
in truth, they are liberating and give us hope.
For the true Christian, non-negotiable essentials provide us with a common anchor and baseline to measure faith and practice. The non-negotiables are hardly restrictive or legalistic; in reality, they provide us with real freedom and liberty because we don’t have to WONDER what is actually true and what is not. The essentials allow us to proceed in our Christian walk with confidence, assurance and hope.
Because God Said So
The other measure of what constitutes liberty is the simple question of “has God spoken clearly on the matter?” If yes, we are not free to choose our own way, circumstances or not. We must obey God regardless of our agreement, understanding or the cost. For example:
- Don’t get drunk (Eph 5:18)
- Don’t fornicate or commit adultery (Eph 5:3)
- Don’t forsake meeting with your Christian family (Heb 10:25)
- Don’t be divisive (Titus 3:10)
- Don’t steal (Eph 4:28)
- Don’t lie (Eph 4:25)
- Don’t sue your Christian family (1Cor 6:1-8)
- Don’t speak corrupt words (Eph 4:29-31)
If you can find a Scripture that gives you clear instruction, then you are not at liberty to choose a course of action that contradicts the instruction. Scripture may tell you:
- No, don’t do it
- Yes, it’s okay
- You can do it, but only this way
- You can do it with conditions
- Don’t do it unless…
If you find in God’s Word a passage that clearly and specifically addresses your situation or question, then you must do as God says. There is no “liberty” in the presence of plain direction from Scripture.
There is no liberty in the presence of clear command.
Notice I said PLAIN and CLEAR direction. This is where we must exercise some discernment about what truly is plain and clear, and what may just be plain and clear in our own mind. For example, the Bible PLAINLY teaches you may not get drunk. The Bible does not CLEARLY teach it is wrong to have a glass of wine or drink a beer. “Wait a minute Brent! The Bible says [insert your 20 verses here that support your argument]. Any Christian who drinks alcohol is sinning!”. The fact is, there is no Bible verse that commands us to never consume alcohol in any form or any amount, constituting sin if we violate that command.
Getting drunk is not a matter of liberty. Having a glass of wine is a matter for each Christian (“liberty”) to prayerfully and with a Spirit-led conscience to decide for themselves individually. Why? Because we do not have a direct commandment concerning it.
Other common concerns and questions that many Christians seem to think are NOT a matter of liberty but in truth, we have no Biblical commands for:
- Choice of schools (public, private, Christian, home)
- Clothing (women in pants?)
- Hair (long, short, none)
RESIST THE URGE TO SEND ME YOUR “PROOF” THAT THE BIBLE DOES HAVE SPECIFIC COMMANDS ON THESE MATTERS. If you’re still in that mindset, you’re missing the point. Yes, the Bible may have passages that have helped lead YOU to the fully convinced conclusion that smoking a cigar or sending your child to public schools is wrong. However, that is a conclusion you have drawn NOT from a Bible verse that says “thou shalt not partaketh of thine tobacco” because the verse doesn’t exist. There are verses about your body being the temple of the Holy Spirit and your Christian witness in front of others. Those verses may have convicted YOU that smoking a cigar is wrong. That is a matter of liberty that you are fully convinced about (a lesson is coming in this series about “fully convinced”). THAT’S GREAT! Follow your conscience but don’t bind YOUR conviction on others in the matters of liberty (absence of a clear command). That dear friends is LEGALISM, plain and simple.
If you are of the opposite conclusion (it’s okay to smoke a cigar), don’t you bind your conclusion on others either and don’t be a stumbling block to weaker Christians. That dear friends, is LICENSE, plain and simple.
Are there specific commands that tell us exactly what every Christian should believe concerning these things? No. Are there principles to consider about each of them. You bet. Principles are what guide our final decision in the matters of liberty and that is where we will pick up tomorrow. We’ll consider some principles that help us in the quest for Godly liberty and then we’ll finish the series over a couple more days by looking at how Paul instructs us to exercise our liberty.
Lord God, Help us to know about the true liberty found in Christ. Help us to know how to enjoy it, how to let others enjoy it, and to know the difference between liberty and essentials. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Application: Liberty in Christ is one of the greatest blessings God has provided. It frees us from the bondage of religion and men, it frees us from fear, it allows us to enjoy a life of freedom in Christ. It is not a license to sin or abuse other’s liberty. In order to enjoy our freedom and allow others to enjoy theirs, we must learn what Christian liberty is from Scripture and how to properly exercise it.
James 1:22 – But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (NKJV)
- What is the most obvious Bible truth you have learned today?
- What change in your life needs to be made concerning this truth?
- What specific thing will you do today to begin that change?