The Bible teaches that Christians are “free” in Christ (Gal. 5:1). This terminology is used when discussing how we were once enslaved or in bondage to sin (Rom. 6:17-18). The concept that Paul is discussing focuses on the idea that as sinners without Christ, we were hopeless and enslaved to sin and its consequences. Now, as Christians with Christ, we have hope and are no longer enslaved to sin and its consequences. But what exactly does all of this mean and what does it look like in real life application?
In this article, I will discuss what being free in Christ does not mean and then I will discuss what it does mean.
BEING FREE IN CHRIST DOESN’T MEAN WE CAN LIVE ANY WAY WE WANT TO
The Bible makes it clear that being free in Christ doesn’t mean that we can live life just any way we want to. Paul says:
“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Rom. 6:1-2).
“For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain” (Gal. 2:19-21).
Some Christians during this time had the idea that the more they sinned, the more they would be blessed with God’s grace. Therefore, the more you sin, the more grace you receive. Paul corrected this erroneous mentality. The apostle Paul points out that someone will not live just “any way” they want to if they really love God and have a relationship with Him (Rom. 6:3-4, 22-23). In fact, the whole chapter of James 2 is practically dedicated to the idea of what it means to have true faith.
BEING FREE IN CHRIST DOESN’T GIVE US A RIGHT TO ENFORCE OUR RIGHTS ON OTHERS
Not every Christian is at the same level of maturity (2 Pet. 3:18; Heb. 5:12-14). Different Christians will possess different levels of knowledge and spiritual understanding (1 Cor. 8:1-4). Therefore, part of being “free” in Christ means looking out for the “weaker” brother (1 Cor. 8:4-13; Rom. 14:1-13). Just because we have a right to do something doesn’t mean we have a right to enforce it upon others.
“If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more? Nevertheless, we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:12).
Instead of enforcing our rights on others based upon our knowledge, we sometimes must restrict our rights for the sake of love and the kingdom (1 Cor. 8:1, 13; Rom. 14:14-22).
“For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13).
Based upon the aforementioned point, some have concluded that if anybody ever has a problem with anything (even if it isn’t wrong), then all other Christians around them must always forfeit their right. However, we will find that this conclusion is not in harmony with the rest of what Paul says. This brings me to my next point.
BEING FREE IN CHRIST DOESN’T GIVE US A RIGHT TO RESTRICT THE FREEDOM OF OTHERS
While it is important to not enforce Christian freedoms on other Christians if it violates their conscience, it is equally important not to restrict the freedoms that Christians have. Paul said:
“And this occurred because of false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage), to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you” (Gal. 2:4-5).
“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1).
“For why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for? So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:29-31).
There is a difference between participating in Christian freedoms versus enforcing Christian freedoms on others. The bottom line is simple: if you have a right to do something, but it offends you, then you don’t have to do it nor should you be forced to do it. On the other hand, if someone else has a right to do something, but it offends you, then you don’t have a right to tell them not to do it or force them not to do it. We do not have the right to enforce or restrict our Christian freedoms on others.
BEING FREE IN CHRIST DOESN’T MEAN WE WILL ALWAYS OBEY CHRIST
Even as “slaves of righteousness” (Rom. 6:11-14, 15-23; 7:5-6), we will still find ourselves constantly struggling with the lusts of the flesh. This was Paul’s great dilemma in Rom. 7:13-25. In this context, Paul is discussing how he knows what the right thing is and wants to do it, but often times he chooses not to. At the same time, he knows what the wrong thing is and doesn’t want to do it, but often times he chooses to do it. He concludes by saying:
“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin” (Rom. 7:24-25).
The debate isn’t over whether or not we should be trying to get everything right ( we should always try to do the right thing); the issue is realizing that in our attempts to do the right thing we will always come short (sometimes unintentional and sometimes intentional). Only in Christ can we come short of His standard and still be found blameless (Phil. 3:9).
SO…WHAT DOES BEING FREE IN CHRIST MEAN?
After looking at what being free in Christ is not, let’s turn our attention to what it means to be free in Christ. Being free in Christ means that we no longer have to worry about the condemnation of sin or the consequence of the law. Jesus took care of that by becoming the “curse for us” (Gal. 3:13; 1 Pet. 2:24; Rom. 10:4).
“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2).
“Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb. 2:14-15).
Being free in Christ means that we will constantly be transforming into the person God wants us to be without condemnation (Rom. 8:1). It isn’t that we will ever maintain the standard God has laid forth. Rather, we will constantly be striving for it.
“Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:17-18).
“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:2).
“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (Phil. 3:12).
– Kevin Pendergrass
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