Christian Liberty

FFF 9:6 (June 1963)

Christian Liberty

Gordon Reager

Liberty is one of the priceless blessings of the Christian Faith. Its importance cannot be minimized in the individual life of the Believer or in the collective testimony of the Church.

Man in his unregenerate state possesses a passion for liberty that is an evidence of sin and rebellion against God, because this desire for what he calls “Liberty” is but to do his own will and to go his own way. This is the very essence of sin. His passion for liberty proves that he does not have it. The Lord Jesus said, “Whosoever committeth sin is the servant (slave) of sin (John 8:34).

Liberty and Salvation

The Lord Jesus, as the great Liberator, came to deliver from such bondage. His mission was “to preach deliverance to the captives” and “to set at liberty them that are bruised” (Luke 4:18). His Gospel proclaimed liberty, and wherever it is preached today, bondage and tyranny cease. All who believe this message enter into the priceless heritage of liberty. It is the liberty of grace possessed by faith in Christ. When the truth of the Gospel is believed and Christ is received, the soul is truly set free and God’s word is experimentally true, “If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” In Christ there is a present and positional deliverance from the penalty and burden of sin; a progressive and practical deliverance from the power and passion of sin, and finally, a prospective and perfect deliverance from the presence of sin.

The believing sinner is also set free from the law, both as to its bondage and condemnation. The sentence question, as well as the sin question, is settled once for all. He no longer lives as under its compulsion, but now set free through faith. He pleases God, not because the law compels, but because love constrains and grace conquers.

Finally, the believer rejoices in deliverance from Satan’s power and bondage under which he has groaned as a helpless captive until set free by a mightier power. Thus, Salvation and Liberty are inseparably joined. It is one of the sweet fruits of Calvary purchased for us by the obedience and suffering of Him who as the Hebrew Servant said, “I will not go out free.” Those who enjoy it sing:

“My chains are snapt, the bonds of sin are broken
And I am free.
O, let the triumphs of His Grace be spoken
Who died for me.”

Liberty and Self

The pathway into the practical enjoyment of this glorious freedom is clearly set forth in Romans chapter 6. There can be no such enjoyment until one is set free from Self. Here is the secret of proving in continual experience that which God intended for us through the death of His Son. It is realized on the basis of identification with Christ in death, burial, and resurrection. This was affected Judicially in God’s sight when Jesus died and rose again. Experimentally it became ours the moment we believed. Symbolically it is publicly displayed in baptism, and Practically it is reckoned as true by faith and realized in our lives by the power of the Holy Spirit as we yield ourselves to God as those that are alive from the dead (V. 13). Thus, we enter into the divine purpose of our “being freed from sin” that we might become “servants of righteousness and servants to God” (V. 18, 22).

Both in its initial reception and in its daily realization, Christian liberty is a liberty of grace. The same grace that sought and found us, and set us free at conversion, alone can keep us free day by day from the entanglements of sin, the enticements of the world and the temptations of the wicked one. Such liberty is through the process of death and by the power of resurrection. It is freedom from Self as well as from Sin and Satan. By union with Christ in death and resurrection, there is a fourfold liberty: first, the Old Man (Self) is deceased; second, the Old Monarch (death) is deposed; third, the Old Master (Sin) is destroyed; finally, the Old Marriage (the law) is dissolved (Rom. 7). Blessed liberty!

Liberty and Sonship

Now we enter into the positive teaching of liberty. God does not merely bring us out; He brings us in. He would have us more than servants; He would have us sons. Thus LIBERTY is closely associated with Sonship. We receive more than remission; we revel in regeneration. We are more than pardoned criminals set free from the penalty of sin and the power of Satan; we are brought into the freedom of the Father’s House. His presence is our Home. Christian liberty is filial liberty — the liberty of the sons with the Father. As such, we enjoy the warmth of the Father’s love, the secrets of the Father’s heart, the assurance of His loving care, and the prospect of His eternal Home. We have liberty of access, able at all times to draw near, because we have received the Spirit of sonship whereby we cry, “Abba, Father.”

Liberty and The Spirit

This brings us to another most vital aspects of our subject, that is, the work of the Holy Spirit in relation to liberty. The work of Christ for us in providing freedom from sin and bringing us into sonship would avail nothing apart from the Holy Spirit. He is the Spirit of sonship and has come into our hearts because we are sons of God (Gal. 4:6). Liberty and the Spirit are inseparably linked in 2 Corinthians 3:17, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” Only in the measure that the Spirit has His way in our hearts and lives will true liberty be known and enjoyed. This is also true collectively.

This is a principle that demands careful attention. We must not reverse the order. It is incorrect to say that “where there is liberty, there is the Spirit of God.” It is sadly possible that our professed liberty is but the exercise of self-will, and what we may term “liberty” should be rightfully called “license,” and is foreign to the leading of the Spirit. What sad results have been witnessed as a result of failure to distinguish between the two! What differences would be realized in our gatherings for worship and for the ministry of the Word if this truth were more fully understood and put into effect! Such occasions would result in God’s being glorified and His people blessed and enriched, instead of being sent away in a state of discouragement and confusion. Let us make sure that the liberty in which we boast is the fruit of the Spirit’s presence and power in our midst and not the subtle desires and promptings of the flesh.

Liberty and Submission

True Christian liberty is never divorced from obedience to the Word. There is an inseparable link between Liberty and Submission. James refers to the “Perfect Law of Liberty.” This perfect law must be the prevailing principle which governs our lives. What we claim as our rightful liberty does not allow us to have our own way, seek our own desires, or exert our own will. Much professed liberty today savours of insubjection to the Word, and is prompted by mere emotionalism and an evident display of the flesh. Our lives are to be governed now as they will be judged hereafter by this perfect law of liberty. We need to look into this law constantly in order that our lives will be lived for His glory and for the blessing of others.

Liberty and Service

Long ago, God declared His purpose in the redemption of His people, “Let My people go that they might serve Me.” If we have experienced Liberty for Service, there must consequently be Liberty in Service. Paul insisted on this all through his ministry to the Church and to the world. He would not sacrifice it for gain or popularity of any kind. All man-made restrictions hinder and mar this fruitful and priceless liberty. The true servant still demands it today. In sacrificing this, one readily sells his conscience and his fellowship with God. 1 Corinthians 7:22-23, is still the guiding principle in all service: “For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s freeman; likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ’s servant.” “Ye are bought with a price; be ye not the servants of men.” Liberty is the blessed fruit of redemption. While it must not be abused or used as a license for disobedience to divine principles, it is a priceless treasure never to be relinquished. It is manifested both positively and negatively. There are times when the servant of God claims his right to say “yes” as exercised before the Lord. Again, with a similar exercise, he may be constrained to say “no.” He should allow the same rights to his fellow-servants.

Such God-ordained liberty is the death blow to human interference as to one’s service for the Lord. All man-made restrictions hinder and mar such exercise. The Master delights to use variety in selecting both His servants and the service given to them. He desires variety without Variance, Diversion without Dissention, Choice without Conflict. We dare not usurp the prerogative that belongs to the Master Himself and seek to dictate to another. This leads to criticism and often to ostracism; furthermore, it results in a triumph for Satan and a hindrance to the work of God. Many a true and humble servant has groaned under such bondage, even to the extent of being forced to give up that which the Lord laid to his hands. Unless it can be clearly and unmistakably proven that one’s service is in absolute disobedience to the Master’s command, let us keep our hands off, and not be guilty of the ruinous practice of robbing one of God’s faithful servants of the joy of doing his Master’s will with an honest motive and heart. Let us carefully guard against the practice of destroying this blessed liberty divinely given to those who, whether in a great way or a small way, seek to serve the Lord Christ. The true Servant covets this blessing above many.

Liberty and Substitutions

We have already suggested that license can be a dangerous substitute for liberty. We have a subtle foe who seeks to pervert the blessings God has provided for us. Often legality takes the place of liberty. Rules and prohibitions are enforced that bring us into bondage. The Spirit is grieved and displaced by human ordination; sectarianism appears, man assumes pre-eminence, and human tradition is substituted for truth. We must be on guard as to such legalism. If given an inch it will take a yard and creep in insiduously. If it does, it will rob us both individually and collectively of the joy of liberty, and bring us into the misery of bondage. The conventional religion all around is legalistic in its principle. The flesh, which is still in us, is unregenerate and therefore legalistic in its attitude. Legalism has, all through history, robbed the Church of liberty, power, and blessing. Unfortunately, in our Assembly fellowship this same danger exists.

This often leads to another danger. There is a reaction, and some, while refusing to be bound by human tradition, go to the other extreme which results in a fleshly Liberalism, another sad substitute for true liberty. Anything goes! Some will acknowledge no restraint or barrier, using the excuse of liberty for the extremes that are brought in, to the sorrow of many. This results in a broken wall of separation from the world as well as in a broken spirit in the Assembly. Such is most grieving to the Lord, and only leads back to that from which God in His grace has brought us out. It is a death blow to godly simplicity and order that should characterize those who profess to gather unto the Lord’s Name.

We need to be on guard. Satan always has a substitute, and whether it is License, Legality or Liberalism, all are destructive to scriptural liberty. Paul in his day, warned against the two extremes of ritualism and rationalism. The first brings in human authority and regulation; the second defies all divine authority and allows the individual to express himself in any way he chooses. He will not be bound and his mind is lawless. Both types are the product of the flesh; they can be found in every Assembly. True Christian liberty is the antidote for both extremes. These must be judged in the light of the Cross. Let us beware of a counterfeit liberty, a device of Satan. However fair and plausible it may appear, it will only bring dishonour upon the Lord and His testimony and add to the confusion.

Liberty and Its Safeguards

There are three safeguards given in the Word to qualify and control our liberty. First, it is not to be used as an occasion for the flesh (Gal. 5:13). Second, it is not to be a stumbling block to others (1 Cor. 8:9). In this connection Paul also adds, “All things are lawful … but not expedient.” Third, it is not to be used as a cloak of maliciousness (1 Pet. 2:16). The first is Selfward, the second Churchward, and the third Worldward. We are to use God-given liberty carefully and in the fear of God. In relation to Self it will destroy selfishness and result in loving service for other Saints. In relation to the Church, it will produce a sympathy for the convictions of others. In relation to the world, it will be manifest in subjection and lead us to honour all men.

Let us seek to appropriate and enjoy this wonderful blessing of Christian liberty. It is but a foretaste of what awaits us at His coming. The liberty of grace is the pledge of the liberty of glory. “Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21). We shall then enter into eternal liberty in all its fullness and perfection. Lord, hasten the glorious Day!