by Jeff Hagan
There is a familiar phrase among Christians that goes something like this, “As believers we are set free, however, that freedom doesn't mean we can do anything we want to do.” But I ask, “If we aren't free to do what we want, how free are we?” That's not freedom, if it is it's a strange kind of freedom.
Scriptures state some pretty radical things and most of us aren't aware of just how radical they are. Related to freedom Paul says a couple of interesting things, “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean” (Romans 14:14, ESV). And in 2 Corinthians 3:17, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (ESV).
Free to Sin?
Some voice their double standard regarding freedom similar to this, “Well absolutely we are free, but we aren't free to sin. It means we are free to not sin.” Now this sounds very pious and righteous, and there is definitely something to the sentiment. As a matter of fact, I now have the freedom to do some rather good things that I could never have done before salvation. I can love more, be kinder, forgive, and I sin less often than I use to. There's a sense where doing wrong can cripple us with bondage, while being free to live in God's will brings legitimate freedom.
But on the other side of the coin, if that freedom doesn't include the freedom to not obey, then it isn't true freedom is it? Let's look at something else Paul said, “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence” (Galatians 5:13, NRSV). You see, he didn't want them to use their freedom in that way, but the very fact he said this shows they could have. They were free.
What About Our Witness?
Here's an extremely common Christian response to freedom that is actually detrimental to our freedom, “We have to be extremely cautious with the issue of freedom, if not people will just take advantage of it.”
Whenever people say this I think to myself, and want to say, “What in the world are you talking about? That makes absolutely no sense, taking advantage of freedom by actually being free? That's not freedom, it's just a different type of bondage.”
Another thing we do is offer “freedom with one hand and take it away with the other.”(1) We love being able to tell Christians they are free – however, if they exercise that freedom it will damage their witness.
1 Corinthians 8:is a favorite go to verse for this, “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble” (ESV). Instead of exegeting what that passage is actually talking about, those who like to choke out freedom use it as weapon of condemnation. I think that the misinterpretation of that verse has created more bondage in the Church than we could ever imagine. Steve Brown wrote, “We have taken away from Christians everything they could possibly enjoy because, in their enjoyment, they might hurt their witness.”(2)
If we go to the context of that verse, which is what one is suppose to do, we find out it's dealing with sacrifices made to the idols of pagans in a pagan culture. After the sacrifice the meat was taken to the local market and sold. Sometimes Christians would buy that meat, and the concern was whether or not Christians should be taking the meat and cooking it up for themselves. Paul said that a Christian was free to do this. However, due to some of the more uptight Christians (it's significant to notice he didn't speak of unbelievers) possible being offended, it would be better to just eat something else instead of possibly having another believer get all bent out of shape - “even though the Christian remained free and the idols remained nothing.”(3) Even given this possibility, Paul would not, and did not, make it a command to be followed. He simply prompted people to be considerate of other believers.
This brings me to a question: Do you know a single unbeliever who has stayed away from the faith because a Christian didn't act as pure and righteous as they thought the Christian should have acted? Now I'm fully aware they will call us hypocrites, but I think that most times that's just covering up some other reason. In reality what continues to destroy our witness is “pretense not freedom.”(4)
You know what would be a breath of fresh air? If Christians would just be honest to their unbelieving friends and admit they screw up sometimes but that God is still for them, not against them. Even though we mess up as much as anyone, God's love and forgiveness remain. If we were actually that honest I think many more people would be attracted to the Church.
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