Liberty with Limits

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The Good News of the Gospel proclaims unimaginable liberty to us all. We have been liberated from hell. We have been liberated from the stranglehold that sin, Satan, and death once had on us. Tragically, however, many Christians foolishly believe that we are now free to live any way we choose, without any thought for consequences, very much like a teenager hurtling down the highway at twice the speed limit, recklessly confident that no harm will ever come to him or anyone else.

This notion is simply and utterly false! The liberty we enjoy as Christians comes with limits. The Scriptures lay out three classes of inspired instructions for the child of God:

#1. What God has commanded

#2. What God has forbidden

#3. What God neither commands nor forbids

Theologians sometimes refer to the third category— what God neither commands nor forbids—as “things indifferent,” and it is within this category that we must use discernment and prayerfully consider how we are to act. Our liberty must be lived out very carefully in these matters, always taking those within our circle of influence into consideration. Paul cautioned the Christians at Corinth:

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall. (1 Corinthians 8:9-13)

The apostle Paul was addressing a significant issue the Corinthians had hotly debated—whether or not to eat meat that has been sacrificed to idols. You’re probably thinking, “So what does that have to do with me? We don’t have that kind of ‘indifferent thing’ to be concerned about today.” That’s true, but we could very well substitute the question of whether or not a Christian should drink alcohol. Alcohol is not forbidden by Scripture; only drunkenness is prohibited. So, in our Christian liberty, we are free to drink a glass of wine with dinner . . . or a snifter of brandy after the meal. But what if we knowingly tempt or offend a weaker brother or sister in Christ by doing so?

Paul knew the Corinthians had the freedom to eat meat offered to idols, but he was careful to remind the “stronger” saints to be conscious of those weaker around them. The bottom line is this: our liberty must never lead another astray. The term for this principle comes under the heading of “The Royal Law of Love,” where our love for others trumps our liberty. The good of our more vulnerable brothers and sisters in the faith should be much more important to us than our liberty, because we are more concerned about contributing to their spiritual health than about exercising our freedom.

Here is a great way of looking at this issue: for the parents of newborn children, it is often the child who determines whether Mom and Dad will enjoy a “date night.” If the baby is sick or visibly terrified about being left with a sitter, the child rules the night and the parents stay home. When this happens, we don’t resent our baby; we simply respond to the child’s needs and go on with life. In the same way, you and I must not resent those around us who would be blessed by a bit of restraint in our lives.

The key is to always look outward, rather than inward, which is the foundation upon which our Gospel liberty has been given to us. Just two chapters later in the same epistle to the Corinthians, Paul said simply: “No one should seek their own good, but the good of others” (1 Corinthians 10:24).

The supreme example, of course, is found in the life of Christ. All liberty was within His possession, yet He laid down His liberty and His very life for us! Our salvation is not about us; it is about Jesus, and we must always be mindful of how we are putting the Gospel on display to a watching world.

As the nineteenth-century English novelist, poet, playwright, and politician, Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, once said, “Love sacrifices all things to bless the thing it loves.” This was the love that our Savior showed us; may this be the consistent confession of our liberated lives!

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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