Of Christian Liberty and Liberty of Conscience

The gospel of Christ might be summarized like this: “He was bound, so that we might be loosed from our sins.” And this salvation profoundly affects our calling. “You were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13). Part of our service of others is recognizing God’s lordship over our sense of right and wrong.

It is a sad fact: liberated Christians aren’t always good at practicing Christian liberty. We struggle to break free from the hold of besetting sins. Sometimes we even justify sin on the basis of our freedom in Christ. And we are tempted to hold others to the same standards as us even on matters in which they are not bound by Scripture.  This has always been so. But the last several years have made this weakness painfully obvious. Perhaps we don’t even consider Christian liberty to be very important. If you were writing a thirty-three point summary of the faith would you devote a chapter to the topic?

Our failure to practice Christian liberty is a tragic irony since in Scripture freedom is nearly synonymous with salvation—“For freedom Christ has set us free” (Gal. 5:1). Believers have been delivered from sin in order to freely obey God. So we may not allow ourselves to become enslaved again. We need to treasure our freedom in Christ and respect his sovereignty over the conscience.

Treasure Your Freedom in Christ

Christian freedom means at least three important things.

Christ Frees Believers from Sin and Condemnation

Sin advertises freedom but always enslaves. Like how human traffickers often entice their victims with promises of greater opportunities, sin promises life but leads to death (Rom. 6:23). Apart from God’s grace sin reigns in our bodies, making us obey its passions. Jesus said that “everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34; cf. Rom. 6:12, 14, 17, 20; Gal. 4:3).

But Christ has set believers free from sin’s guilt, God’s wrath, and the law’s curse. We live in this “present evil world” but it does not define us. Satan can trouble us but does not own us. Sin tempts us but does not dominates us. Afflictions plague us but only for a little longer. Death and the grave grieve us but Jesus has removed their sting and cancelled their victory. No longer condemned by sin (Rom. 8:1) and barred from God’s presence believers are accepted in Christ and have “free access to God.”

Christ Enabled Believers to Obey God Freely

From the beginning God promised his people that he would deliver us from our enemies that we “might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (Luke 1:74–75). Apart from Christ you can’t do that. Slaves obey only under compulsion out of fear of punishment. God doesn’t want us to serve him like that. The gospel of free grace in Christ says to every believer: “You are no longer a slave, but a son” (Gal. 4:7). Only God’s love for us and our love for him can make our service for him a delight (see Gen. 29:20).

Christ Frees Believers from the Yoke of the Ceremonial Law

Remember that the ceremonial laws were given to “a church under age” (19.3). So “there was a childish and slavish aspect to the tutelage of the law” (see Gal. 4:1–3).[i]

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