The following is a hypothetical discourse in which a die-hard “Christian libertarian” is challenged by the biblical standard…
My dear friend! It’s always good to see you, but as you can plainly see, you caught me in the middle of doing one of my favorite things in the world. Of course, I can tell by the troubled look on your face that you’re spiritually grieved by what I’m doing, but frankly it can’t be helped. As a Christian, my conscience is clear in this matter, so I’m completely free to do this. And I don’t have to stop doing it just because you are positioned from a vantage point that sees it as detrimental or sinful in some way.
You don’t believe I have this liberty? Doesn’t it say as much in the Bible? As a Christian, I’m a “free man” (I Corinthians 9:19; I Peter 2:16; Galatians 5:13), and “all things are lawful” for me (I Corinthians 6:12; 10:23). Nobody can put me under some “yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). When I indulge in more worldly activities, I just make sure I do it “in the name of Jesus” or “for the honor and glory of God,” and then it’s completely blessed. (Colossians 3:17; I Corinthians 10:31). The only law I have to worry about is the Christian “law of liberty” (James 2:12), and not your personal rules and regulations.
See? There are numerous passages in the New Testament that prove that I have an exemption from your contrary preference concerning my behavior.
Funny thing, though. You still look… skeptical.
I sense some hesitancy on your part to fully embrace this practice of “Christian liberty” with a clear conscience. What’s the problem? Oh… I see. You think I might be taking those supporting Bible verses and yanking them out of their context? All right, all right, I hear you. I’m not afraid to back up a bit and take a closer look. It won’t change the basic point, though. If you’re free in Christ, you’re free indeed! (John 8:36). But go ahead and flesh out the broader context, if you want.
Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bond slaves of God. — 1 Peter 2:16
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. — Galatians 5:13
Yeah, okay, I get it. In those verses, Peter and Paul are both explaining that our freedom in Christ doesn’t mean we’re COMPLETELY free to do whatever we want. But I never said “Christian liberty” meant freedom to sin. That’s ridiculous! Obviously we aren’t free to lie, cheat, steal, kill, fornicate, etcetera, etcetera…
I’m talking about being free to do certain secular, more “worldly” things like… well, ahem. I mean, I can’t really give specific examples, can I? As soon as I start rattling off a list of carnal activities that fall under “Christian liberty” then I’m sure to divide the sympathies of the Church. Some of us will say “Amen!” — but others will be quick to cite their objections based on personal experience or their favorite Bible proof-text. That’s the problem with these kinds of “Christian liberty” lists. They tend to create controversies within the Church that, like it or not, have brought negative connotations to the worldly activities in question. In the end, this negativity might make a Christian think he has to abandon any and all controversial liberties for the sake of peace and the common good!
That’s why we need to quit making lists and telling other Christians what they can or cannot do. We shouldn’t let those legalists and modern-day Pharisees ruin a brother or sister’s personal enjoyment, whatever that might be. There are far too many judgmental Christians with their minds in the gutter telling us we can’t do these things in good conscience, and trying to make us feel guilty about it. They don’t have that right. That’s legalism. It’s unbiblical, uncharitable and graceless.
What’s that? There are other Bible passages you want me to look at? Really? You’re like a biblical PEZ dispenser, my friend. Oh well, go ahead. What else you got?
But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak… If food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble. — 1 Corinthians 8:9, 13
Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. — 1 Corinthians 8:12
For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. — 1 Corinthians 9:19
Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way… For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. — Romans 14:13, 15
Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.” — Romans 15:2-3
Whoa. Okay. Well, these verses are clearly arguing that my Christian liberty has some very specific limitations. They’re saying that despite the spiritual freedom I have in Christ, there are parameters of its practical application that must be calibrated to each situation and completely subservient to a greater expression of sacrificial love to God and others around me. Like it says, “Even Christ did not please Himself.”
Fine. I get the point, my friend, but come on! Meat sacrificed to pagan idols? That archaic example doesn’t work in the 21st century. And even if this principle can be rightly applied to current so-called “controversial” issues, how am I held responsible for someone else’s worldly weakness? I don’t know why I can’t enjoy certain things in this world just because some poor guy associates that activity with his sinful past or with some connection to spiritual error or confusion. That’s his personal problem with idols, not mine… right?
Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he? — 1 Corinthians 10:19-23
Yikes. That seems to be a rather extreme position by Paul, but I admit it’s a sobering thought to contemplate. It’s certainly not my intention to offend the Lord by siding with a demonic connotation, but I understand what the apostle is saying. Basically, we as Christians should be concerned about the appearance of evil. But then again, it isn’t a formal list set in stone for some Christian “law enforcer” to hammer me with, either. It’s a more elevated, Spirit-led awareness on my part that can bring spiritual peace instead of turmoil to those around me. In other words, I need to constantly be aware of those “idols” that others might be susceptible to and act accordingly so I don’t cause them to fall into sin.
Now that I think about it, I guess that’s what Peter meant when he wrote:
Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation. — 1 Peter 2:12
So yep, you’re right, my friend. I stand corrected. I guess it really is a “walking in love” issue or a “Christian witness” issue that should ultimately guide my behavior. In other words, “Christian liberty” is not some intrinsic, overarching right or biblical loophole to passionately pursue to the detriment of my Gospel witness.
As conscientious believers, our default position should always be closer to subjection to righteousness, not some personal autonomy that pushes the bounds of our liberty. I mean, it’s still very important to know that we aren’t slaves to legalism, but more importantly, we need to remember that we are still slaves in a godly, profitable way. We are now slaves to righteousness and namely, slaves to Christ Himself (Romans 6:18-22; I Corinthians 7:22). And that shouldn’t be a burden at all because His yoke is easy and light (Matthew 11:30).
So I get it. You made your point, but I’m sure you’re gonna show me some more biblical principles to drive it all home, aren’t you? Uh, what’s that? You have a couple of quotes from Bible teachers to sum it all up?
“In this age in which so many are so concerned about avoiding legalism, this is what I’ve noticed: we are free all right, but very few Christians use their freedom for spiritual purposes. Instead, the majority of Christians use their freedom from written rules and laws to indulge their flesh and to fulfill their selfish desires. Because there are very few written rules and regulations, and because there are no human taskmasters standing over us threatening to beat us or stone us to death if we don’t live right, we tend to live as selfishly as we think we can get away with…
“We don’t want anyone telling us what to do or how to live our lives. We don’t want anybody limiting our freedom. But the truth is, we are free, all right, but only to live holy lives that honor and glorify God from top to bottom… If you can’t imagine Jesus getting involved in your activities, then those activities are not for Christians” (Philip A. Matthews, The Limits Of Christian Liberty).
“It should not take a doctor of divinity to notice that Scripture consistently celebrates virtues such as self-control, sober-mindedness, purity of heart, the restraint of our fleshly lusts, and similar fruits of the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work in our lives. Surely these are what we ought to hold in highest esteem, model in our daily lives, and honor on our websites, rather than trying so hard to impress the world with unfettered indulgence in the very things that hold so many unbelievers in bondage” (John MacArthur, Beer, Bohemianism, and True Christian Liberty).
“Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (Paul the Apostle, II Corinthians 7:1).
Wow. Okay. That’s the bottom line, isn’t it? It’s very convicting, too… We’ve been called to holiness and that should be the driving desire that constantly overrides our fleshly pursuits. We are all under obligation to Christ, to the Gospel, and to one another. I guess instead of clamoring to be Christian libertarians, we should gladly be slaves to righteousness.
Hey, seriously, my friend… Thank you so much for taking me to task and showing me the Bible’s powerful guidance on this matter. I didn’t realize how selfish and defensive I was about some of my favorite, um… preoccupations. I’m truly sorry I spiritually upset you with what I was doing earlier.
Yep. I get it now. Deep down, I guess I’ve always felt a little uneasy about being the kind of Christian who was strong enough to enjoy the world more freely than others. No doubt I love my freedom, but I need to remember how that affects the poor souls around me with their various hangups. From now on I’ll just do all my favorite “worldly stuff” in private, away from unbelievers, or a weaker sister or brother like you. You know, keep it down in my basement where no one can see it and get their nose out of joint….
Huh? What’s that? Whaddya mean that’s not supposed to be the takeaway? Oh, good grief. Are we starting this conversation all over again?!