Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Freedom or Liberty?

                 Today is a day we, as a nation, celebrate the freedom we have. We gather around our barbeques, we spend the day with our families and friends, as a free nation, a people set free from tyranny. So many lives have been sacrificed for our freedoms. But today, as a Christian, I celebrate a different kind of freedom. The freedom that I have been given through Christ Jesus, who suffered and died so that I could live a life free from the bondage of sin and death, a freedom from religion, and the chains of the law that bound me and held me down. For whom the Son sets free is free indeed! (John 8:36)
                As I was pondering on these freedoms that I have, I also thought about the liberties that I have been given; I was reminded of a passage of scripture that was written by Paul the Apostle. In 1 Corinthians 10:29-33, Paul talks about liberty. Freedom and liberty are two very different words, and that is where the Lord is taking me today. God speaks of the freedom that He came to give us in Isaiah 61:1, and Paul speaks of liberty in 1 Corinthians 10:29-33. Two words that we get mixed up, and can easily make us and our fellow brothers and sisters stumble.
                Jesus speaks of the freedom that He has given us in John 8:36. He was speaking of the freedom from the requirements of the law which we are unable to keep. He was telling us that we are free because we believe in Him, and because of His sacrifice we no longer are chained, but free to live with God, and for God.  We no longer have to keep the whole law, because He has done the work for us, and we have free and unhindered access to our Father in heaven. The freedom that Jesus gives us means that we are no longer a slave, we are no longer bound by obligation, but we are free. Free to have a relationship with God the Father without all the ceremony and pomp. But a relationship that gives us uninhibited access to the Holy God. Paul, on the other hand, speaks about liberty. “True liberty is living as we should and not as we please. Liberty is to do or to omit things having no relationship to salvation.” (Lexicon/ Concordance)
                Paul explains what liberty is to look like in the Christian. Being the preacher to gentiles, Paul was called into question many times by the liberties that he took. Many of us Christians have also been called into question for our liberties as well. There is a debate going on within the body in regards to our individual liberties. Some say that we should abstain from all aspects of alcohol, other say a glass of wine is good for you and there is nothing wrong with it. My husband and I just had this conversation last evening, and both have different views on the matter. So, should a Christian, who knows who God is, who knows the freedom and the liberty that we have in Jesus Christ, abstain from drinking of any amount? Or should they smoke? Or should they be able to go to a bar and listen to a band play? Questions that are asked a lot and no one really seems to have a solid answer. So, I found myself asking God, and seeking what He has to say about the matter.  
                What you are about to read is merely my opinion based upon what God has shown me in His word. We shall all stand before God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ and each person answer for his own self. I am not in any way telling you what is right or what is wrong; you have to search that out for yourselves, and let God speak to your heart concerning this matter. I am only going to relate to you what I have learned for my own personal conscience.
                “Conscience, I say, not for your own, but that of the other. For why is my liberty judged by another man’s conscience? But if I partake with thanks, why am I evil spoken of for the food over which I give thanks? Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense, either to the Jews or the Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.” 1 Corinthians 10:29-33
                Conscience that is what the whole subject of liberty comes down to. The question that I was faced with today was whether or not I was willing to sacrifice the conscience of a brother or sister in the Lord who may be weaker in the faith, and not understand the liberty I have in Christ Jesus. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 8:4-13 that if we eat food offered to idols and our brother who is new to the faith sees us, it may cause him to stumble, it may cause him to sin.  Now, today we don’t have many issues with eating meat that might have been offered to idols, well, not that we are aware of anyway. But our issues today are with alcohol, smoking, various kinds of music we might listen to, what we watch on TV, etc.
                We all have a conscience, each person, whether unbeliever, new believer or someone who has been walking with the Lord for 20 years- we all have one. And what I learned today was that we are all responsible for the conscience of our brothers and ourselves. One commentary I read stated that just explaining your liberty will do nothing for that person who does not have the same understanding of your liberty. It has to become a personal conviction before his conscience is truly altered. And the fact is that it may never happen. That person that sees you at church, and in your bible study group, who listens to you and learns from you, and then sees you walk into a bar on Friday evening may never fully understand the liberty that you have. It may cause them to sin, and to stumble in their own faith. Do we really believe that is what God desires?
                Matthew Henry explained it best when he wrote, we should not “do anything that may be a means to pervert any members of the church from their Christian profession or practice. We should not so much consult our own pleasure and interest as the advancement of the kingdom of God among men. A Christian should be devoted to God, and of a public spirit. Nothing must be done against the glory of God, and the good of our neighbors connected to it. The tendency of our behavior should be for the common good, and the credit of our holy religion- that should give us our direction.” (Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible)
                Paul said that he pleases “all men in all things, not seeking his own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.” (vs. 33) Paul was not stating that he sought to please all men by doing as they requested, no, he sought to please God first. What he means is that through his daily walk, he was mindful of his brothers, and sisters in the Lord. Paul did not seek his own, but always sought the good and the salvation of others. Our liberties should not get in the way of another man’s walk. If we are doing something that we know may stumble our brother or sister in the Lord, should we not let go of our desires and our liberties for the sake of that member of the body of Christ?
                This is a very touchy subject within the church, and there are many different views and opinions on it. But I have to look at what the Lord God is asking of me, and then I have to look around at my brothers and sisters and do what is best for them, and ask myself if stumbling my brother and possibly sending him into sin is really worth that one beer I had at the local pub?
                As we go about our day today, celebrating the freedoms we have in Christ, let us be mindful that our freedom is from sin and death, freedom from the chains that once held us down. Let us not allow our personal liberties to cause those who have been set free to become slaves to sin again. As Paul says, let us also say, “not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.” (vs. 33)
                (**Just a little note, I don’t drink alcohol- I have and at one time was addicted to it. I use it as an example for us today who may be struggling with others or even our own liberties. I have no issues with or against any Christian brother or sister who may enjoy a beer or a glass of wine occasionally. To each his own conscience. I have enough to answer for in regards to my own conscience, I don't need to be answering for anyone else!)