Liberty is in Christ and it includes freedom from the Old Law and circumcision, Gal. 5:1ff. Of course, this includes the very real freedom from sin and its penalty. Because of God’s grace through OBEDIENT faith (Rom 1:5; 16:26; 1 Thess 1:3; Jas 2:14ff), Christians are set free from any system of works which requires perfection. “3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Rom. 8:3-4. In Christ, we are truly free; we are free indeed.
—-But liberty is not absolute as it can’t include a liberty to sin against God: desiring to sin would not be the right spirit, Rom 8:5,6. God has not set us free to sin against Him. Instead He says, “But through love, serve one another”, Gal. 5:13. Sin harms others because it’s contrary to the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself”. Therefore liberty ends at the point of sinning against God and others.
Liberty includes some things that a Christian holds as a matter of faith to God. Romans 14 gives the examples of eating meat sacrificed to an idol and to the holding of special days. Concerning this, Paul says, “5 Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God” Rom. 14:5,6. These liberties represent personal and private expressions of faith. These personally held liberties cannot be forbidden or legislated against by the church.
—- But these liberties cannot be exercised to the harm of others.The observance of these liberties is limited to private observance because opinions vary and they will be highly divisive. “For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.” Rom. 14:15. An obvious conclusion is that to bring personally held liberties into the church and to impose them contrary to another man’s conscience is not walking according to love. Paul said, “19 So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. 20 Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. 21 It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.” Rom. 14:19-21. Loving others and the pursuit of unity in the church trumps any right we have to exercise our freedom. Liberty ends at the point of dividing the church.
What is lawful, is not always “profitable”. Paul says in 1 Cor. 6:12 and 10:23, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything….All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.” How can something be lawful but not profitable? Two things. The liberty becomes your master and Paul says, “I won’t be mastered by anything.” And second, it is not edifying. If the liberty is harmful to the spiritual condition of self and/or others, the liberty should be shelved. Paul was more interested in saving souls and in doing what was profitable to the spiritual growth of the church than he was in practicing his liberty. If the lawful thing enslaves and does not edify, then it is unprofitable and is not allowed in the church to be practiced.
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