I recently had the wonderful opportunity to take my eighteen year old daughter to lunch, just the two of us. She graduated from high school a few months ago and is starting college next week. Her mother and I have been consciously trying to allow her more latitude in her decision making process. We still give rudder directions from time to time, but we are trying to let her experience what it is like to be an adult and have the responsibility of making good decisions. That is why I was very blessed by our conversation over lunch. As we were eating she began to make some observations concerning the habits of some of her peers who are born again believers in Christ. She began to ask me about Christian liberties in Christ and how we should view certain conduct or indulgences Christians allow in their lives? The blessing for me is that she was thinking about her life in Christ and how her conduct would affect those around her. The question of Christian liberty is so important that I decided to share with you what I shared with her over lunch.
Some Christians live by a set of rules concerning their conduct. They have a list of do’s and don’ts and if they keep their list they think and feel they are living a good Christian life. There are several problems with that system of Christian living. First, no two people have the exact same list of what constitutes righteous holy living. For example, one Christian may feel going to the movies is okay and another will feel like it is a sin. The second problem with a legalistic set of rules for Christian living is it results in Christians being judgmental of those who don’t have the same list. In other words, Christians judge one another as living holy or unholy by a list of rules they, for the most part, created. Thirdly, and most importantly, living by a set of rules is not in the New Testament. Rules and legalism by the law are not what Jesus said should motivate us to serve Him.
The key to Christian living, doing what pleases God in our lives, is love. The key to determining which Christian liberties are right for me or for you is love. We find this truth in the account of Jesus’ interaction with a Jewish scribe in Matthew 22.36-40. In this passage the Jewish scribe asked Jesus which of the laws was the greatest? What Jesus said to him constitutes the basis for all we do as Christians in this life. Jesus said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22.37-40). Let’s think about what Jesus said here. If I obey these two commands I am fulfilling all the law. That’s pretty powerful stuff. Let’s put it to the test and see what we find. If I love God with all my heart, soul, and mind, I will not want to do anything that embarrasses or offends Him. If we apply that to the ten commandments, it means I will not allow anything in my life to take priority over Him, I will not take His name in vain, and I will desire to worship and honor Him at all times. We can clearly see that if I love God as I should then I will choose my Christian liberties in light of what glorifies Him. I will want my life to reflect His holiness so that He is honored and glorified in me. I will not want to disobey His commands or offend Him with willful sin because I love Him. The law brought obedience to God via fear. Grace brings obedience to God out of love because He first loved us.
Now, let’s apply the same truth to loving others. If I love my neighbor as myself, according to the ten commandments, I will not want to murder him, commit adultery with his wife, or take something that belongs to him. If I love my neighbor as myself I will not want to offend him, hurt him, or in any way hinder his coming to Jesus to be saved or his Christian walk after he is saved. This love for my neighbor will motivate me to regulate my Christian liberties for his benefit. For example, I have the liberty in Christ to drink a beer, however, I know it will affect my testimony in a negative way and may even keep someone from coming to church who needs to hear about the love and grace of God. I have the liberty to eat an evening meal in an establishment known for its scantily dressed waitresses, however, I know it will affect my testimony in a negative way. If I refrain from certain conduct, certain liberties that I otherwise have the right to exercise, it is out of love for my God and others, not some list of do’s and don’ts. Love is the key to Christian liberty. Genuine love for God motivates me to obey His Word. Genuine love for my neighbor motivates me to seek his best, even if that means I have to forgo a liberty that is otherwise okay.
As a concluding thought, consider the example of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 8. The Jews who had come to Jesus by faith and were saved still struggled with eating meat that had been offered to idols. They were offended at the idea of eating any meat that was part of pagan worship. Paul knew he was no longer under the restrictions of the law. Furthermore, Paul knew he could eat meat no matter what it had been used for before he cooked it. Yet Paul had this to say concerning his Christian liberty when it came to eating meat, “Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no meat while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend” (1 Corinthians 1.13). Out of love for his brethren, Paul willingly forsook a Christian liberty that would have hurt someone else. May our Christian liberty be guided and controlled by our love for God and our love for a lost world that desperately needs Jesus. Let us live so as to bring the highest honor, majesty, and glory to the one who loved us first.