The Apostle Paul and the Apostle Peter both give direct statements concerning the reality and responsibilities of Christian liberty. Combined together, they affirm and command both positives and negatives—

Positives

1. All things (not directly prohibited by Scripture) are lawful. (1 Cor. 10:23)
2. The Christian is called to freedom. (Gal. 5:13)
3. Live as truly free people and use that freedom as servants of God. (1 Pet. 2:16)

Negatives

1. Not all things that are lawful are helpful or edifying. (1 Cor. 10:23)
2. Our liberty is not to be used in a fleshly manner or as a cover-up for evil. (Gal. 5:13, 1 Pet. 2:16)

Paul and Peter were equally as concerned about believers not violating or abusing their Christian liberty as they were concerned about believers walking in and enjoying their liberty.

What is interesting to me is the number of professing Christians today who seem to flaunt their liberty, to make an open show of it to others, and who can be seen publicly displaying their “liberty” in relation to either the use of alcohol, tobacco, or other ethical practices they enjoy. Examples would be the posting on social media their bottles of beer, wine, or hard liquor, in order to show others what they are enjoying or various groups of Christian men gathered together where they share their smokes and strong drink with one another, wanting all to see that they are truly free in such practices.

In either example, it appears their desire is to display their liberty so all will see it; such exhibitions often reflect attitudes of superior spirituality and condescension toward others who aren’t yet as free as they are. There comes across in this a flaunting of so-called Christian liberty and a lack of humility.

Young believers going on Facebook to display their wine or whiskey and thinking its cool to do so–is this Christian humility or pride?

Groups of Christian men (usually reformed Christians) who stand around gleefully, drinking their alcohol and smoking their cigars, exhibiting how mature and free they are–is humility displayed at such times or arrogance?

John Calvin, writing about Christian liberty, said there are two major principles that a proper view of Christian liberty will never violate—

1. Christian freedom is never an excuse for self-gratification—

We must take careful note that Christian freedom is, in all its parts, a spiritual thing. . . . . but freedom is exploited by those who seek to excuse their carnal greed by misusing God’s gifts as they please or who think they cannot enjoy it [their liberty] if they do not flaunt it before men, which is why when they use it, they have no concern for the brothers who are weak.

Today a great many wrongs are committed by this sort of people . . . . when they greedily covet, and insolently parade, and recklessly misuse [their liberties], they are tainted by such vices. Let them renounce, then, their evil greed, their scandolous extravagances, their empty show and arrogance, and use God’s gifts with a clear conscience. Where such restraint is lacking, pleasurable indulgence, even of an ordinary and trivial kind, will exceed all bounds.

2. Christian freedom and love for the weak brother—

This second fault is widespread among many people. These act as if their freedom is neither whole nor complete unless there are others to witness it, use it unwisely and without discernment. By this thoughtless use, they often offend their weak brothers. We must remember that our freedom gains us nothing in men’s eyes, but only in God’s eyes, and that it consists as much in abstinence as in use. Now the people of whom we speak are dangerously at fault in disregarding their brother’s weakness. We should respect his weakness in such a way that no thoughtless act of ours should cause offense. It will perhaps be said that sometimes it is right to show men that we are free. That too is something I concede. But great care is required to steer a middle course so that we do not disdain to show concern for the weak whom our Lord has especially commended to us.

To sum up: ‘We who are strong ought to support the infirmity of the weak and not to please ourselves. But let each of us please his neighbor for his good, so as to edify him’ (Rom. 15:1-2). Again, he write elsewhere: ‘Make sure that your freedom does not become a stumbling block for those who are weak’ (1 Cor. 8:9). Likewise in another place: ‘You, my brothers, have been called to freedom; only do not yield your freedom to the flesh in order to indulge it, but serve one another in love’ (Gal. 5:13). Our freedom is not given to us to the detriment of our weak neighbors, to whom we are bound by love to serve them always and everywhere. It is given so that, having peace in our conscience with God, we should also live in peace with men.
– John Calvin

Other thoughts—

– Liberty is not the same as license; to be free is not to be free and easy; the Christian is not free to please himself but to please God. – John Blanchard

– Liberty is turned into license by self. – Walter Chantry

– Gospel liberty is a liberty from sin, not to sin. – Thomas Hall

– My liberty is controlled by my love for my brothers and sisters. – Jan Kaleta

– Happy is the man who can use Christian liberty without abusing it. – J. C. Ryle

– A Christian is the greatest freeman in the world, yet in regard of love, he is the greatest servant. – Richard Sibbes

All believers who love their liberty in Christ, who champion and claim such liberty–all such Christians should test their professed liberty, not only with Calvin’s counsel, but also with other biblical principles of love, humility, and holiness, such as—

1. Are the examples of my personal liberty truly edifying, both to myself and to others who see me? (All true liberty is to be edifying-1 Cor. 10:13)
2. Do I ever use my liberty in a fleshly manner? (Gal. 5:13)
3. Do I ever use my liberty in any way as a license to sinful choices? (1 Pet. 2:16)
4. Does my liberty produce within my heart and motives humility or pride?
5. Does my view of Christian liberty free me from considering others in love? If so, it is not true liberty but a lack of love.
6. Does my Christian liberty directly help me to be a servant of God and others or a self-indulgent person?

And let us also remember that if we do anything as men-pleasers or men-fearers, then we are not free. If I am afraid to obey God in any area but my fear of man hinders my obedience, then I am not truly free.

– Mack Tomlinson

  1. October 31, 2014

    Thank you. This is a much needed message.

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