“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor- 1st Corinthians 10:23-24 RSV
What is Christian freedom exactly?
Most Americans tend to see freedom as a God-given right to do what we want to do when we want to do it. Freedom means making our own rules and forging our own path in this world. Freedom is being unrestricted by tyranny and oppression. Because those definitions are relatively squishy, we all get to decide for ourselves what is and is not tyrannical and oppressive. Most human beings (myself included) tend to define anything we don’t like or want to do as tyrannical and oppressive.
When the word freedom is preceded by the word Christian all of a sudden freedom becomes less cut and dried. Anyone walking in step with the Holy Spirit knows deep down inside, Christianity was never intended to be an “anything goes” kind of a deal. Christians are commanded to live a life of holiness (1st Peter 1:16). God’s definition of holiness inevitably places constraints on what we do and don’t do (Colossians 3:1-14, Hebrews 12:14, James 1:21, 2nd Corinthians 7:1, Ephesians 5:3).
It’s also true, Christianity was never intended to be a straight-jacket of legalistic does and don’ts. Freedom is critical to Christianity because without it all the joy, beauty and fun of being in relationship with the living God is sucked out of the Christian experience. We are left with a cold, powerless religious shell that sucks for everyone.
It’s also critical we understand legalism rarely happens in a vacuum. Oftentimes legalism is a reaction to a Romans 6:1 approach some believers take towards sin and grace. There are Christians who sincerely believe sin is no big deal because God’s grace will abound no matter what.
How we parse this one out matters.
It matters because how we choose to use (or abuse) our Christian freedom will determine how we live. How we live will determine whether or not we make a positive impact or a negative impact on our little corner of the world. The footprint we leave on this world ultimately determines how much or how little we please the Lord and how many people we take to heaven with us (Matthew 25:14-30, 1st Peter 1:15-16, Jude 22-23, 2nd Timothy 4:1-3).
Truth-be-told Christians are healthiest, happiest and most wise when we focus more on can and should rather than do and don’t in Christian walk. Paul says it like this:
I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive- 1st Corinthians 10:23
Christians CAN do anything. We can sin. We can lie. We can skirt the edges of morality. We can treat people like garbage. We can look at porn. We can go against every bit of wisdom found in the Bible concerning relationships. We can behave like absolute idiots. We can run our perfectly good lives into the dirt if we want to. If stupidity and bad choices are our jam we have the freedom to pursue that course with our whole heart and soul. God will be disappointed but He will not put up a lot of roadblocks. We might get a warning from a friend, hear a sermon that convicts or read a scripture that stings. We will feel guilty for a season but eventually our consciences will simmer down and we will feel perfectly fine with our choices. As much as God loves us and wants the best for us He will not stop us from doing what we want to do because He’s a gentleman and we have been gifted with freewill.
Freewill means freedom.
When Christians choose to sin willfully there are consequences and not one of them is pleasant or life-giving. We can do anything. However, all the things we can do but shouldn’t do create pain for ourselves and others, bondage and spiritual strongholds. A stronghold created by Christian due to willful premeditated sin is always much harder to break. A non-Christian who sins out of ignorance and later repents will have a much easier time getting free of whatever stronghold was created by their sin. Its critical New Testament believers understand there was no sacrifice in the Old Testament for intentional premeditated sin (Leviticus 4:2-24, Leviticus 5:15-18, Numbers 15:22-28). Like the Israelites, Christians live in a conventual relationship with God (Luke 22:20, Hebrews 8:6-8, Hebrews 9:15). One key difference between the Old and the New Covenant is the New Covenant designed to remove the power sin has over us, the Old Covenant could only cover the guilt of sin. Christians are not slaves to sin (Romans 6:6-22). Purposefully sinning in a conventual relationship expressly created to remove the power sin has over us is stupid.
Stupid has consequences.
Paul says this about Christians and willful sin:
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery- Galatians 5:1
The truly beautiful thing about being “in Christ” is that we have the freedom not to sin. We can choose to say “no” and avoid the pain and misery of sin by choosing to do what we should do with our lives (2nd Peter 1:5-9, Colossians 3:1-17, Ephesians 4:1-32)