Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Freedom From is not Freedom To

Benjamin Franklin is probably most famous for his role as one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America. This fame, among other honors, earned him the placement of his image on the US hundred dollar bill. However, Benjamin Franklin did many other things that made him a major contributing figure on the much broader world stage. For example, what most people don’t know is that he was America’s first Ambassador to France, which was probably our most important ally in the early years of America’s founding. France played a key role in assisting the Colonists in their successful quest for freedom from Great Britain in the Revolutionary War. The resulting freedom from Great Britain gave the Colonists the opportunity to restore certain freedoms that Great Britain had denied. But the initial freedom from Great Britain though military victory was not what secured those certain freedoms that were being denied by Great Britain. Only after Franklin and the other Founding Fathers codified those freedoms into the rule of law, were those freedoms ultimately secured. It is important to note that the initial freedom from the rule of Great Britain was very different from the freedoms that were later secured by the rule of law.

This same reality of differing types of “freedom” exists with great confusion in the Church today. There are many preachers and Christians who advocate for a brand of “Christian liberty” that sounds very much like a freedom to lawlessness. Yes, the Bible speaks rather explicitly about our freedom from the law. But, there is a big difference between freedom from something and freedom to something. Our Freedom from the law was meant to secure our salvation apart from the law. God never intended for us to enjoy a freedom to willfully violate that law. After all the law was representative of God's holy nature.

For a great illustration of this difference, let’s return to Benjamin Franklin’s example as an Ambassador to France. An American Ambassador is the person who officially represents the United States of America to the country to which he or she is assigned. For that function, they are relocated to live in the host country of assignment during their term of ambassadorship. The host country typically allows the ambassador control of specific territory called an embassy, whose territory, staff, and vehicles are generally afforded “diplomatic immunity” in the host country. Diplomatic immunity is an exemption/freedom from all of the laws of the host country. The diplomat is granted this protection in exchange for assuming the risk of serving in a foreign land. Therefore, an Ambassador can never be prosecuted in the host country. They have freedom from their law.

But, does an Ambassador’s freedom from the law mean that they have freedom to willfully violate the law? Of course not. An Ambassador has immunity from being prosecuted under the law. But, should they intentionally abuse their immunity, they risk expulsion from the country and/or severe repercussions upon their return to America as a terrible representative. Freedom from the law is not a freedom to intentionally violate it. It is also not a freedom to poorly represent your country. In fact, the freedom granted to Ambassadors is meant to cover unintentional transgressions not necessarily intentional ones. This is probably the clearest picture of what the Bible means by declaring that Christians are free from the righteous law of God. In fact the Bible declares that we, like Franklin, are “ambassadors.” 2 Corinthians 5:20 says, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” As God’s Ambassadors, we are immune to prosecution under the law, but we must still faithfully represent God in all His righteousness and holiness. That is why we are called to be holy as He is holy. We were never called to be lawless because our King is not lawless.

The Bible speaks about our freedom from the law in several places. However, it never speaks in terms of God-granted permissibility to do anything we desire. Below is a sample of some of those passages. Examine the nature of each of these verses to determine whether they are liberating unto salvation (freedom from) or whether they promote lawlessness (freedom to):

  • Romans 7:6, “But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.”
  • Romans 8:1-4, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
  • Galatians 3:23-26, “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.”
  • 1 Peter 2:16, “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.”
  • Galatians 5:13, 16-18, 24, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another…But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law…And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

On this subject, there is another passage of scripture that is often abused by those who advocate for the lawless brand of Christian liberty. The passage is 1 Corinthians 6:12 which reads, “‘All things are permissible for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything.” Look closely and you will see that the fragment, “All things are permissible for me,” is in quotation marks. Paul is quoting someone else, not himself. Paul is actually exposing this quote/fragment as a destructive cliché. Paul was not proclaiming a new-found ideal of spiritual lawlessness. Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church dealt with many pagan behaviors that were being used by the enemy and tolerated by the church that he had planted there. He was warning against their unwise behaviors, not excusing them. He was urging them to stop living by clichés but live by the leading of God’s Spirit. In the very context of the verse, Paul goes on to say that lawlessness is not the standard, but helpfulness and Spirit control are. We exchange our service to the law for our service to God. We are not free radicals untethered from a Holy God. We are servants of the most Holy God. That is a far cry from merely “All things are permissible for me.” Paul exposed that intentionally violating God’s laws and God’s preferences were the root cause of this church’s problems. And, later in chapter 5, Paul advised the Corinthians on how to excommunicate those who refuse to repent from lawlessness. That does not sound like Paul was in favor of the brand of “Christian liberty” unwisely preached today via the twisting of his words.

For those who unwisely advocate for this lawless brand of liberty we must ask a few questions. What limits such liberty? Is unlimited freedom truly freedom? Isn’t unlimited freedom truly anarchy? If all things are permissible, is rape permissible? Is demon worship permissible? Is anything not permissible? Hopefully you see the ungodly slippery slope in this misguided interpretation. Like the Colonists, in order for our freedom to be secured, we must be ruled - ruled by God.

True Christian liberty is simply freedom from the law, not freedom to willfully ignore and violate that law. True Christian liberty means that as God’s Ambassadors to the world, we are immune from prosecution under the law (Romans 8:1). And, since we are His servants and Ambassadors, our King does not approve of any activity that does not represent Him well. God never intended us to be free to do anything that He looks unfavorably upon. For us to do so would make us terrible Ambassadors of the One we call the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Freedom from is not freedom to

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