The liberty which Christ hath purchased for believers under the gospel consists in their freedom from the guilt of sin, the condemning wrath of God, the curse of the moral law; and, in their being delivered from this present evil world, bondage to Satan, and dominion of sin; from the evil of afflictions, the sting of death, the victory of the grave, and everlasting damnation; as also, in their free access to God, and their yielding obedience unto him, not out of slavish fear, but a child-like love and willing mind. All which were common also to believers under the law. But, under the New Testament, the liberty of Christians is further enlarged, in their freedom from the yoke of the ceremonial law, to which the Jewish church was subjected; and in greater boldness of access to the throne of grace, and in fuller communications of the free Spirit of God, than believers under the law did ordinarily partake of.
They who, upon pretense of Christian Liberty, do practice any sin, or cherish any lust, do thereby destroy the end of Christian Liberty, which is, that being delivered out of the hands of our enemies, we might serve the Lord without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.
~ Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 20, Art. 1 & 3
Romans 6:17–18 “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.”
The words “Christian liberty” conjure up in the minds of young people a host of ideas—these often being misguided. Far too many imagine that the liberty of a Christian is essentially a license to sin. Young and old both think that true freedom consists of being allowed to do what feels right. In its most blatant form, the erroneous evangelical idea of Christian liberty is the antinomianism of the time of the judges: “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:20). This is pure lawlessness. In a different way, infiltrating the ranks of even the most conservative of churches, a subtle but foolish version of Christian liberty exists—that we are free to do anything we want, as long as we conform to the norm. Follow the outward standards of the “P.R. culture” on Sunday especially, while clergy are attentive, but then drop the charade and plunge into the secret frolics of sinful fun behind doors. Enjoy any fantasizing thought, pleasurable drink, or entertaining show, without examination of conscience or motive. And if anyone dares to confront, be ready to respond: “Don’t judge me. Don’t encroach upon my Christian liberty.”
Scripture explicitly speaks against such an idea of Christian liberty. “As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God” (1 Pet. 2:16). Sadly, many are doing just that—twisting the doctrine of Christian liberty to use it as a cover-up (or an excuse) for sin. The Deceiver uses false conceptions of Christian liberty to attack young men and women in the church of Jesus Christ. Required and painstakingly necessary is a clear working definition of true, biblical, liberty.
Based on Romans 6:17–18, a proper definition of Christian liberty is spiritual freedom from the cruel slavery of sin under Lord Satan unto the sweet slavery of righteousness under Lord Christ. There are only two spiritual masters that man serves. Every single man, woman, and child is a slave belonging either to Lord Lucifer or Lord Jesus. None are neutral. All who imagine themselves belonging to neither master still belong to the Devil and need salvation. Christian liberty is the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ to rescue you from that dark lord and grace you with the position of friend-servant to the Most High God “who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son” (Col. 1:13).
The biblical concept of liberty is emphatically not the long-standing American notion of having inalienable rights to the pursuit of your own happiness. If such is your concept of liberty, you are yet in bondage to Lord Lucifer. You vehemently deny this because he has exceedingly deceived you to believe that self-seeking is somehow freedom. But this delusion blinds many from the fact of their continuing bondage to Satan. True freedom consists not of doing my own thing and being who I want, but willingly surrendering my soul, body, and life unto him who has rescued me and conquered my heart by his amazing grace. True liberty is the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ “who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14).
To understand true Christian liberty, we must understand the biblical concept of bondage. Under Satan’s power, every human (except one) has been conceived with a sinful nature which, like shackles, binds the heart to sin and only sin. With that idolatrous heart, man might appear to be innocent, but the truth is that his heart is naturally bound by the sinful urge to please self, serve self, and trust self. In this captivity to self-service, men and women use (and often overuse) lawful things such as beer, cigarettes, and smartphones. Additionally, this yoke of self-gratification burdens mankind with unlawful things like pornography and gossip. This inordinate love of self is the very thing that drives mankind to labor in service of Lord Satan.
This captivity includes a pride that insists on self-righteousness. Such pride is like blindness which the cruel lord inflicts upon his servants. Men, women, and children—whether having grown up in a pagan community, raised in a heathen religion, or trained in a Christian institution—are plagued with this self-righteousness. Everyone enjoys accusing others of self-righteousness, but all these who are yet in Satan’s servitude are such blind Pharisees at heart. The worldling insists on being a good person, the Muslim claims he is doing enough to please God, and the confessing Christian truly thinks that his baptism, catechism, knowledge of Reformed slogans, and worship are his righteousness. Many of these continue in their sins privately while laboring with that self-righteous pride in an attempt to conform outwardly to their man-made standards of righteousness. Life involves constant blaming, excusing, and minimizing when conscience or comrade points out inconsistency with God’s law.
And yet the terrible irony is that there is in Satan’s captivity not only the shackles of sin and the blindness of pride but also terrible flagellation. That Slanderer whispers in one ear that you are righteous, and then in the other ear the opposite. “Sinner, sinner, sinner!” his serpent tongue speaks and slashes. “Hell is yours!” that tyrant threatens. “Labor, labor, labor, to make up for it,” that Pharaoh prods. And mankind blindly follows fearfully—guilt’s fear scourging, sin’s shackles remaining, self-righteous pride blinding.
All of this continues until there is true Christian liberty! Christ the Lord comes by his Spirit and rescues us from that bondage! He declares with authoritative words before us and Lord Satan that he has purchased us by his precious blood and righteousness. Satan has no right to hold us in his bondage! Christ cries, “I claim him as mine! I claim her as mine!” And by his Spirit he regenerates us. “He bade the gloomy shadows flee, broke their bonds and set them free” (Psalter 293, stanza 2). He brings us to conscious faith. He takes our wills that naturally want to continue serving self and Satan, sweetly but powerfully bending those souls to choose him. And thus we experience relieving liberation from the wicked lord and, at the same time, the sweet slavery of the Lord Christ.
His Holy Spirit releases us from the shackles of sin and empowers us unto obedience to him. We can turn from addictive sin and serve him in selflessness. Our blindness is healed so that we see our servitude, not as a way to maintain self-righteousness, earn salvation, or escape hell; we understand that our new Master has merited all that fully! Freed from guilt, our motivation becomes enthusiastic gratitude and ardent love. Under Christ’s sweet servitude, we are free—free from guilt’s scourge, sin’s power, pride’s blindness, and any law used to uphold our righteousness. Submission to our Lord is no longer a fearful and dreaded activity, but rather a delight! Now, we look up to Christ and sing, “I am, O Lord, Thy servant bound yet free!” (Psalter 426, stanza 9).
The calling is summed up well with Galatians 5:1 “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” Satan tempts our sinful natures every day, trying to lure us back into his bondage and behave as though we are still under his lordship. But Christ exhorts you to live as you are, in the true freedom he has won for you. Stand fast in your faith, looking to Jesus who has freed you from sin’s captivity. Stand fast in your faith, remembering that your liberty is freedom from self-idolatry unto the sweet sacrifice of self to your Savior.