Holding Fast to Your Christian Liberty

Do you ever feel like other people are better Christians than you are? Maybe they read their Bibles more, give more money to the church, pray more for others, are involved in church ministry, do more good deeds, or never seem to do anything really sinful. It’s easy to get discouraged when we start comparing our own Christian walk with other believers we know.

One of the big reasons this happens is that humans are geared to think that keeping rules is how we are right before God, and they are actually correct about this (see Lev. 18:5; Luke 10:25–28). The problem is that no one can keep God’s laws perfectly. This is why Jesus came: we need his perfect righteousness and perfect sacrifice to be counted to us through faith in Christ so we can be declared justified before God.

Some Christians can add requirements that the Bible doesn’t dictate.

Still, Christians are often prone to think that they will be closer to God by keeping certain rules and living certain lifestyles. The problem with this is that some Christians can add requirements that the Bible doesn’t command, or they may consider certain lifestyle choices to be more spiritual than others. What is a Christian to do when it comes to knowing how to live according to God’s word in this world?

The Westminster Confession of Faith gives us excellent counsel in this area in its chapter, “Of Christian Liberty and Liberty of Conscience”:

God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in anything, contrary to his Word; or beside it, if matters of faith, or worship. So that, to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands, out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience: and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also. (WCF 20:2)

Look at the phrase, “or beside it.” With these words, the Westminster Confession of Faith reminds Christians that they are not bound by any “doctrines and commandments of men” that are not found in God’s word. It is also true that believers must be considerate of their neighbors, not causing them to stumble (Rom. 14:13–23: 1 Cor. 8:7–13). The sixteenth-century pastor and theologian John Calvin reminds Christians to use their freedom responsibly and lovingly:

Nothing is plainer than this rule: that we should use our freedom if it results in the edification of our neighbor, but if it does not help our neighbor, then we should forgo it (The Institutes, 3.19.12)

Christians may also add unnecessary rules by taking a Bible verse out of context.

Sometimes well-meaning Christians add unnecessary rules by taking a Bible verse out of context and making it say something it doesn't mean to imply. When the Bible tells us to “rejoice always” (1 Thess. 5:16) and “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17), does that mean we should stay up all night to praise God and pray and never sleep? The verses do say “always” and “without ceasing.” Of course, this is not what Paul means. He wants Christians to consistently rejoice in and pray to the Lord as they go through life. When making decisions in life, we must always wisely look at the whole counsel of Scripture and seek to interpret a passage’s meaning in its proper context.

For another example, some people have mistakenly believed that women shouldn’t braid their hair based on 1 Timothy 2:9-10 and 1 Peter 3:3-4:

Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. (1 Tim. 2:9-10)

Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. (1 Pet. 3:3-4)

During the time period Paul and Peter wrote their letters, some women spent excessively long hours braiding their hair into very intricate styles, which caused them to put an inordinate amount of time into their appearance for the sake of their hair being a status symbol. Paul and Peter were exhorting women not to be vain and overly concerned with their appearance but rather to focus on the beauty that comes from an obedient heart devoted to loving God and their neighbor. They weren’t saying that women can’t ever braid their hair, wear gold or pearls, make wise purchases of quality clothing, or improve their appearance in appropriate ways.

We should not impose restrictions on Christians where God has given his children liberty.

Christians have great liberty of conscience in many aspects of life. This includes the vocations they choose, where they reside, how they spend their money and time, whether they marry, how they raise their children, what attire they wear, and how they go about growing in the love and knowledge of their Savior.

If Christians do decide to get married, the Bible does instruct them to marry a fellow believer (1 Cor. 7:39; 2 Cor. 6:14). Every Christian has different gifts, abilities, and circumstances, and these differences produce wonderful fruit in many beautiful ways in God’s kingdom.

We cannot know what is in the hearts of fellow Christians as they seek to honor God in their daily lives, and we should not impose restrictions on believers where God has given us liberty. Although it is human nature to do so, we also should avoid comparing ourselves with other believers and thinking that they are better than we are—or that we are better than they are—for whatever reason, since all of us are sinners in need of God’s grace in Christ.

Christians should always seek to keep all of God’s commands in his word, even though they shall do so imperfectly in this life. May we enjoy our freedom in Christ while practicing godly behavior in all we think and do, always seeking to grow in holiness to the glory of Jesus our King.

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Le Ann Trees is managing editor of Beautiful Christian Life.

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