The doctrine of Christian liberty is strongly connected to Christian freedom’s concepts. In Christ, freedom involves freedom from the conventional law, release from sin and Satan’s domination, and freedom from the dominance of others over the Christian’s conscience.
The Pharisees were considered masters of controlling others’ consciences, introducing regulations and ordinances to the Sinai laws to blind men’s consciences. Christ addressed them on several occasions (Matt 23:1ff, 15:1ff). Romans 14, 1 Corinthians 8–10 and the complete Galatians book highlight Paul’s teachings on Christian liberty.
But what is Christian liberty? It is a theory that rejects legalism, which refers to men’s practices and the belief that following the law is what saves us, tends to keep us safe, or puts us in such a light that God saves us. Alcohol consumption, insurance, television, children’s education, technology use, women’s clothing choices, youth camps, music preferences, and political views are current topics involving Christian liberty.
Christian liberty teaches that we are saved solely by grace and faith in Christ. This doesn’t point to the fact that Christian liberty makes us insensitive to sin; rather, it provides us with the true desire to cope with sin. We have to deal with sin properly. We confront our darkest sins due to their destructive nature, and we wish to eliminate them from our lives and the lives of those around us as we love our neighbors.
There is no doubt that Scripture should be the final judge of these decisions for believers, but the dilemma of liberty emerges when artificial norms and viewpoints outside of Scripture take on the role of the law in matters of church unity, membership, and regulations.
The Christian liberty doctrine is required for the “strong” to be patient and to sacrifice for the “weak” and for the “weak” to be generous and polite when it comes to the “strong” ones. The Gospel and the Law both point to the notion of Christian liberty as a foundation for developing unity in the church: “Unity in essentials, liberty in non-essentials, charity in all things”.
Seeing how Paul dealt with questions of Christian liberty in each church context is informative in terms of Law and gospel theology. Paul utilized the foundation of the Law to determine whether or not the behavior was virtuous and the Gospel to preach the delicate balance that must be maintained in allowing liberty to all.
Christians in Corinth were being persuaded to eat Gentile meats dedicated to idols. Paul corrects the problem by referring to the Gospel and Law. Paul emphasizes that the strong understand that there is only one God and idols are meaningless. As a result, eating meat offered to gods is not inherently sinful.
On the other hand, the weak brother, who believes it’s bad, must not be lured to eat against his conscience by the strong brother’s example. As a result, the strong should be willing to give up liberty to help the weaker brother.
Paul, to provide spiritual good for others, presents himself as a self-denial example. To preach to others, he does hold the right since he is an Apostle just like the law requires; but he disregards that liberty so that no one can condemn him for having any personal motivations. Furthermore, when he is with Jews, he observes their food rules and customs to not let these minor details obstruct his ability to preach the Gospel to them. He treats Gentiles the same way and feasts on what they eat.
In the end, Paul recognizes that the Law has cleansed all things for the Christian but keeping others’ spiritual welfare in mind. Due to this, he is ready to forego rightful privileges to proclaim to the Gospel. Since the New Covenant has sorted the Sinai rules for the Christian regarding what is necessary, non-essential, and how charity behaves, the entire Gospel allows him to sacrifice his behavior.
As a result, the Law under the Gospel instructs Paul on what is right and wrong while the Gospel compels him to deny himself or the benefit of others. He understands that while it’s legal to eat anything, not everything is profitable to do for the sake of teaching the Gospel to others. At the end of 1 Corinthians 10, Paul summarizes his working concept of the Gospel and the Law.
Having one exception, the dilemma in Rome is similar to the challenge of Christian liberty in Corinth. Paul obliges both the weak and the strong in Rome to respect each other’s freedom. The strong must abstain from drinking alcohol, consuming meat, or doing something that would lead the weak to sin against their “weak” conscience. As for the weak, they must not criticize the strong for exercising their freedom on non-essential topics as outlined by Scripture.
Both are invited to live in Gospel liberty and unity, denying themselves for the sake of each other. Each of them must recognize that everything not of faith is rendered a sin, and they must show each other the same patience and compassion as Christ shows them—since everyone lives and dies for the Lord!
If a church decides to practice Christian liberty within the confines of Christian freedom, that’s when they’ll be able to achieve unity. Whatever is considered lawful or otherwise by Christians should be taught to the church. God intends that the strong and the weak eventually agree on what is in accordance with God’s Law. This eliminates the stumbling stones of false beliefs that undermine unity and conscience. It also removes the impediment to Christian unity posed by the previous transgressions between the Jews and the Gentiles.
Our Final Thoughts
Now that you’re well versed on what is Christian liberty, you know what is right in the eyes of the Gospel and Law. We should let God’s work in other people’s hearts move at His pace, not us. The accurate understanding of the Gospel and the Law is the key to Christian and church unity and moving the church’s mission forward.