Author: Ron Graham

Sin and Legalism

Liberty in Christ
—The only freedom that can be guaranteed

In Australia we enjoy a level of personal freedom that is the envy of most people in the world. But maybe we take that freedom too much for granted, as if it were guaranteed. Australians don't realise that if they use their freedom selfishly, as a licence to sin, they will become slaves of their sin.

1 There is freedom from sin

All liberty is precious, but political and physical freedom, is freedom merely of the second order. Freedom of the first order is spiritual freedom, and this is transcendent.

You can have freedom of the second order yet be spiritually enslaved. Many Australians are in the grip of that paradox today.

On the other hand, you can be deprived of your second-order freedom yet be spiritually free. This was, for example, the experience of Paul the Apostle when he was in chains (Colossians 4:3 Galatians 5:1).

Jesus said, "If you abide in my teaching, then you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free... If the Son frees you, you will be truly free" (John 8:31-32,36).

This greatest freedom of all can only come from Jesus Christ. It is the only freedom that can be guaranteed, and Jesus is the only authority that can guarantee it.

2 There is no freedom in sin

But notice furthermore that to have this greatest freedom, we must greatly restrict ourselves: we must abide in the teachings of Christ. If we will not submit to Christ's authority, if we will not sign up as his slaves, then we cannot be free. We must then be the slaves of sin.

Enslavement to Satan in sin, and liberty through Christ and his law, are not mere "ideas". They are very real, because Satan and Christ are real persons with real powers, and we all must be under bondage to one of them. The only freedom we really have of our own, is to choose which it will be.

To choose our enslavement is to determine our destiny —either the wages of sin or the gift of God (Romans 6:23). To be free to do that, is to be free indeed, however if we choose wrongly we will not be free but in bondage.

3 There is no freedom to sin

Liberty in Christ is not liberty to sin. We are not free to be fornicators, idolaters, drunkards, etc (1Corinthians 6:9-11). If we have been purchased by Christ, he owns us body and soul (1Corinthians 6:19-20).

Our liberty in Christ frees us from sin, but it does not free us to sin.

Many Christians do think they are at liberty to commit sin. That's why Peter warns: "Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live rather as slaves of God" (1Peter 2:16). Similarly, Paul warns: "You, my brothers, were called to be free, but do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather serve one another in love" (Galatians 5:13).

We are not free to please ourselves

One of the hardest lessons for Christians to learn, is that our liberty does not start where sin ends. We are not free to do every non-sinful thing. Many things are not wrong in themselves, yet we are still not always at liberty to do them.

Paul tells us to be careful that the exercise of our freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak (1Corinthians 8:9). What you choose to do may not be sinful in itself, nevertheless by doing it you could "sin against your brother" (1Corinthians 8:12).

We could take the position that everything that is not sin is permissible. Paul replies, "Everything that is permissible is not necessarily beneficial or constructive. Nobody should seek his own good. Everybody should seek the good of others" (1Corinthians 10:23-24).

There are many matters of conscience and matters of weakness that we should take into account. It is not legalism to expect you to restrict yourself in such matters. For example when drug and alcohol abuse is a serious problem for others, you can hardly cry "Legalism!" when the church expects abstinence from you.

You should gladly restrict your own liberty for the sake of others. If you argue that the thing you insist on doing is not a sin in itself, then you are the one who is adhering to the strict letter of Christ's law and using a technicality to excuse your insensitive and selfish behaviour. You therefore are the legalist.

Liberty and responsibility

It is an axiom that every liberty comes with a responsibility. If we exercise the liberty without exercising the responsibility, then we have abused our liberty. When Christ sets you free, he also makes you responsible..

In this series of lessons we have considered various questions of conscience and circumstance which affect how we act. We have seen that an action right in certain circumstances may be wrong in others. It is your responsibility to ensure that you become sensitive and aware of the circumstances in which you choose to do whatever you do.