Liberty in Christ

“If ye continue in my Word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” —John 8:31,32

THE DICTIONARY DEFINES liberty as ‘exemption from slavery, bondage, imprisonment, or control of another’. It is also described as ‘freedom of conscience’. The Greek words used by the New Testament writers with respect to the freedom or liberty of the followers of Jesus have essentially this same meaning. In the world, the principle of liberty has a wide variety of application. There is civil liberty, political liberty, individual liberty, and personal liberty.

However, to know the dictionary meaning of the words liberty and freedom, and to know their application in human relationships, does not in itself explain what it means to be ‘made free’ by the truth, and to enjoy ‘liberty in Christ’. For example, liberty, the dictionary tells us, is to enjoy exemption from imprisonment; but our liberty in Christ does not guarantee that we will never be literally imprisoned. Indeed, throughout the age many of the Lord’s faithful disciples have been permitted to languish in prison, not a few of them even dying there. Jesus, who promised that the truth would make his disciples free, foretold that many of them would be cast into prison.—Matt. 24:8,9; Rev. 2:10

Liberty is also freedom from slavery and bondage, but the true followers of Jesus are not free from all slavery and bondage, for they are bondslaves of Jesus Christ, and in the days of the Early Church, many of them were actual slaves owned by earthly masters. (Gal. 6:17, Wilson’s Diaglott) Jesus said to those who would become his disciples, “Take my yoke upon you.”—Matt. 11:29

Of one who is in bondage to others for any reason, the expression is often used, “His soul is not his own.” From the standpoint of human standards such an one certainly does not enjoy liberty. Yet to the Christian, the Bible says, “Know ye not that … ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price.” (I Cor. 6:19,20) Slaves are bought and sold.

Liberty is also, the dictionary says, ‘exemption from control by another’; but as Christians we do not enjoy this exemption, for we have voluntarily put ourselves under the control of the Lord by accepting the headship of Christ. Liberty is also ‘freedom of conscience’, and yet the Christian’s conscience will not permit him to say or do anything that is contrary to the will of his Head, Christ Jesus. For the conscientious Christian this is not a mere theory or platitude, but a serious reality which often checks the desires and plans of their flesh.

Those who, through consecration, have voluntarily taken Christ’s yoke are held in restraint by it. Others may plan their lives to suit their own fancies. They can decide where and how they will live, and whom they will choose for their special friends, with the thought only of getting as much satisfaction and enjoyment out of life as possible. But dedicated Christians are restrained by the ‘yoke’ of Christ from doing this. They have been ‘bought’, and belong to another, even Christ, and they can do only as he wishes. These cannot say, “I’ll go where I want to go.” If their surrender is complete they can say only, “I’ll go where you want me to go, dear Lord.”

Christian Liberty

It seems evident that liberty in Christ is something quite apart from the ordinary human concept of liberty. When Jesus said to those who believed on him, that they would know the truth and that the truth would make them free, they replied, “We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?” Jesus’ answer to this question was, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house forever: but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” (John 8:32-36) The thought here is clear. Our liberty in Christ is freedom from control by the great taskmaster, Sin. This taskmaster is referred to, in Romans 6:6,7, as the “body of sin” which is to be destroyed as a result of Christ’s crucifixion and our crucifixion with Christ. Paul explains that being crucified with Christ means that we are “dead,” and those who are thus dead, he says, are “freed [Margin, ‘justified’] from sin.” In verse 12, Paul admonishes, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.”

To be free from the taskmaster, Sin, does not mean that sin has been destroyed in our mortal body. It simply means that we have been made free from the penalty of sin, which is death. It means that by divine grace we are not condemned because of our unwilling imperfections so long as we bend every effort to keep the body under and bring it into subjection to righteousness. We are not to continue willingly in sin “that grace [forgiveness for those sins] may abound.” (Rom. 6:1) Indeed, should we take this attitude of willfulness, grace through Christ would cease to abound. We have not been freed from the struggle against sin.

A Yoke of Bondage

Paul wrote, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Behold, … if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.” (Gal. 5:1,2) Here it is clear that Paul is referring to the Law Covenant as a ‘yoke of bondage’ to those who were deluded into thinking that they were under obligation to adhere to its ordinances after Christ made an end to the Law by his death. Paul wrote, “I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole Law. Christ has become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the Law; ye are fallen from grace.”—Gal. 5:3,4

In verse 13 of this chapter Paul writes, “Brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty as an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.” Here, also, the liberty referred to is freedom from the condemnation of the Law. And again Paul warns that this does not imply the right to give loose reign to the flesh. The Christian’s struggle against the weaknesses of his fallen nature is to be just as energetic as though he expected to gain perfection and God’s approval by his own efforts. Selfishness is basic to all human weaknesses, but instead of serving and catering to self, we are to serve the brethren, even to the point of laying down our lives for them.

Peter also wrote on the subject of Christian liberty. We quote: “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: as free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.”—I Pet. 2:13-17

The Law of Liberty

The Apostle James spoke of “the perfect law of liberty.” (James 1:25) The New English Bible translates this, “The perfect law, the law that makes us free.” In this lesson James speaks of one who looks into a mirror, then goes away and forgets how he looks. Such a one he compares to those who are hearers of the Word, and not doers. So his admonition is to look into the perfect law of liberty, or the law that makes us free, and continue therein, not being forgetful hearers, but doers of the work called for by the perfect law.

This is the thought of our text. Jesus said that if we continue in his Word, we will be his disciples, will know the truth, and the truth shall make us free. The words of Jesus, his commandments which outline the will of God for his people, make up this perfect law, and it is obedience to this law which makes us free from the law of sin and death—hence it is the law of liberty. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.”—Rom. 8:1

Jesus said to his disciples, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:34,35) Jesus’ love for his disciples and for the world motivated him to lay down his life that they might have life. His law for us, therefore, calls for the laying down of our lives for one another. Thus, accepting the provisions of his love, we are made free from sin’s condemnation, and as yokefellows with Jesus become the servants of one another. In doing this we enjoy personal liberty only within the confines of the divine will.

Love’s Restrictions

A Christian’s conscience is regulated by his understanding of the truth concerning God’s will. Since there are varying degrees of understanding, there will be different views among the Lord’s people as to what is right and what is wrong. This has always been true among the brethren, and will continue to be until the last member passes beyond the veil. There are certain details of conduct which constituted tests of love in the Early Church and which are no longer issues among the brethren; but the viewpoint of the apostles in these matters can, and should, serve as guides for us, even now.

One of the points of controversy in the Early Church was whether or not it was a sin to eat meat which had been offered to idols. Paul’s approach to this problem was Christ like, and wholly in keeping with the perfect law of liberty, the law of love. In explaining his viewpoint and practice he emphasized that each individual’s conscience is governed by the depth of his knowledge concerning God and his will.

We quote the Apostle Paul, who wrote: “As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. For though there be [those who] that are called gods whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be [false] gods many and [false] lords many,) but to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him. Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with the conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better [Margin, ‘have we the more’]; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse [Margin, ‘have we the less’]. But take heed lest by any means this liberty [Margin, ‘power’] of yours become a stumbling block to them that are weak. For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; and through thy knowledge shall the weak brother’ perish, for whom Christ died? But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.”—I Cor. 8:4-13

Here is an excellent example of self-sacrifice in the restraint of liberty. In this case the liberty referred to is freedom from the power of superstition, a freedom that is gained through knowledge, a knowledge that while there are many heathen gods to which idols are ascribed and worshiped, actually there is but the one true and living God. This being so, the offering of meat to a lifeless idol, which represents a nonexistent god, in no way affects the meat, so no harm, morally or otherwise, can come from eating such meat.

But Paul pointed out that the liberty of action resulting from knowledge should not be used if its use would cause a weaker brother to stumble. The lesson is that there are conditions under which it is best voluntarily to refrain from doing what would be the most pleasing to ourselves, even though it would be right, in order to be of greater service to others. This simply means that the liberty of action which we attain through a knowledge of the truth should not be considered more important than the spiritual welfare of our brethren. We cannot insist on exercising our own liberty—regardless of the effect it may have upon others—and still be pleasing to the Lord.

Liberty in Christ is a freedom from the condemnation of sin based upon believing in Christ, and obeying his commandments, of which love is the prime factor. Its emphasis is not on liberty of action. Indeed, the Christian’s personal liberties are often curtailed by the law of love, for love is a daily laying down and giving up, a continual foregoing of our own preferences so that others might be blessed. Those who have taken the Master’s yoke have no liberty to go in any direction other than the way in which he went, and the way in which he leads us.

Paul wrote, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” (II Cor. 3:17) Here, again, the reference is to freedom from the blinding and condemning effects of the Law Covenant. (vss. 15,16) The Spirit of the Lord is the Spirit of truth, and where the truth is received, believed, and acted upon, it brings liberty from the bondage of sin, even as Jesus taught.

The liberty of Christ is a freedom from fear. “There is no fear in love,” John wrote, “but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” (I John 4:18,19) Our faith enters into this liberty, for we are made free from fear in proportion to our trust in the promises of God, as they pertain both to the present and to the future. We might well be tormented by fear with respect to the experiences of tomorrow unless we can believe that the Lord is caring for us, and will supply all our needs.

How thankful we should be for the truth which has made us free from the bondage of sin and death—free from the hampering and depressing influences of error and superstition, and free to lay down our lives for the brethren! As we continue throughout the years of our lives with their opportunities, joys, and trials, let us endeavor to restrain self that we might the better serve the Lord, the truth, and the brethren.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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