A Christian is someone who is willing to sacrifice his liberty for the sake of Christ and for the sake of others. In fact, a Christian really has only one true liberty—the freedom not to use his liberty if he wants to. The Apostle Paul said that he knew this, because what Christ taught had convinced him. He became a man who obeyed Christ’s authority and took a firm stand for liberty.
“…when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ” (1 Corinthians 8:12). Paul was addressing the Corinthian Christians here. They had made the mistake of trying to apply the general truth of Christian liberty to what was essentially sinful. Their self-centered desire for permission to sin revealed a complete absence of love and respect for their Savior. Paul therefore warned them to “…take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak” (1 Corinthians 8:9).
Only a Christian knows what true freedom is. Anyone who indulges in sin is really living in bondage and isn’t free at all. Whatever isn’t of Christ is sin. When the Spirit of God deals with sin, He zeroes in on our desire for independence which masquerades as freedom. Paul knew that independence must be exploded out of a Christian so that there will be only liberty instead.
An alcoholic or drug addict isn’t free. Anyone bound by any kind of habit is in bondage. The only ones who know what it is to truly be free are the children of God. And we’re to love and appreciate our freedom, not so much concerning our liberty to do things that may excite or please us, but more so by experiencing the freedom we can enjoy because we don’t have to do them!
But it’s possible to exercise our Christian freedom in a way that will bring us into bondage. We could use the freedom to drink alcohol to the point that our mind is so much under the influence of it that our judgment is impaired. Then we can’t think rationally, and we are no longer free. We can even get so addicted that we absolutely have to have it. That’s not freedom—we’ve been brought under its power instead. What fools we are when we use our freedom in a manner that will bring us into bondage. Then we’re no longer free!
“All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any” (1 Corinthians 6:12). There are some things we have liberty to do if we want to. But we must also take into consideration whether they’re really to our advantage, and if they might cause damage to others that will harm them. If that’s the case, how much better it will be for us if we don’t do them, since they’re not to our advantage or anyone else’s—even if what we want doesn’t break the law. We don’t have a right to even do what’s legal or innocent if it won’t be to the advantage of our own best interests or those of others.
Some Christians have exercised their freedom in a way that will bring them into bondage. Therefore, even though all things are lawful for us, we won’t allow ourselves to be brought under the power of anything that could put us in bondage, because we love the freedom we’ve received through the power of Christ. We have the freedom to not do things that can cause destruction.
All things may be lawful to the Christian, but that doesn’t mean that all will benefit. Christ never did what didn’t help others, and we shouldn’t either. Christians are free, but only for doing good—through love. Since all things are lawful for a Christian, he won’t be under the power of anything evil. If this wasn’t true, he’d be in bondage, not liberty. We must therefore consider doing good for the sake of others. Paul said that all things were in his power, but he wouldn’t let any of them have power over him.
We also need to consider the kind of effect the various actions we take will have on our inner life. What intelligent person would do things just because they’re legal, without taking the results of doing them into consideration? When the wisdom and love of the Holy Spirit are permitted to guide us in what we see and experience, we can have a favorable influence on others by our example, and hopefully they’ll act accordingly. The Corinthians were completely lacking in their sense of responsibility. Did they totally forget that it was the Lord Who gave them liberty, and that all power is to be used for His glory?
Anything that deprives us of self-control will cause us harm. We must therefore avoid such things, even when they’re lawful in themselves. If we try to maintain our liberty, we limit how we can use it. But those who surrender their power of choice will no longer be free. They will be brought under the power of what should have been in their power. It is therefore possible to become the slave of liberty itself. There is one, no-nonsense fact concerning the use of both liberty and power. No one should dare to forget that, if we don’t act responsibly concerning our use of our liberty and its power, it will certainly bring some form of destruction.
“…I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.”1 Corinthians 10:33