(A Kingdom Perspective)
On this 4th of July we celebrate our independence, we celebrate our freedom as Americans. I am grateful for this God-given grace and towards those that have and continue to uphold our American freedom! Happy Independence Day!
In my opinion, being an American is an amazing blessing. However, there is no freedom like the freedom found in Christ our Lord. After receiving Christ, prisoners have declared themselves free while still in physical chains, even citizens of oppressive countries have declared the same, the spiritually oppressed that have been set free sing freedom songs “I am free!”
I am proud to be an American. However, I take greater joy in knowing that I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven. When Jesus said “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36), it is a truth that reaches every part of our being – we have been made free by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). However, when the words grace and freedom are used interchangeably it can lead to confusion or wrong thinking. Understanding the difference will sharpen our thinking, compliment our transformation, and advance our maturity as disciples.
I consider myself blessed to have the grace of being called a Christian and the freedom to live like one. It is wise to consider the difference between freedom and grace. Freedom is not grace, but freedom comes from grace.The (abbreviated) theological definition of Grace is - getting what you do not deserve (Grudem), it is to receive a gift that is realized without merit.Freedom is the “state of exemption from the power or control of another” (Webster 1828).Using both terms in a sentence may read like this, “By God’s saving grace, we are free from the power or control of sin.”
I have heard many professing believers describe the activities that they participate in, what they consume, how they dress, the entertainment they choose, or the way that they live, as grace. These are all products of freedom – and in many cases they are referring to freedom from a works based religious system. In some cases, once the person is freed from the yoke of legalism, they erroneously translate their shift from works to grace as “freedom to sin” or as some would call it “libertinism.”
“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love” (Galatians 5:13).
Freedom To Error
Our freedom allows us to make decisions on our own and on occasion those decisions will lead to error. Under the New Testament Covenant of Grace we have freedom to error, before you tear your garments and shout out heresy, please read the context. We have freedom to error in the sense that if we miss the mark / commit error - the throne of Grace does not close off on us. Without this freedom we revert back to a system of works. Error in an instant or error for a season does not cut us off – God knows who we are and He delights in helping us grow. After error we continue to have access to the presence of God, to find help in our time of need – to bring us to genuine repentance (Hebrew 4:16).
Unfortunately this idea of Freedom to error (make mistakes) is misinterpreted as “I can do whatever I want.” You can hear it in the undertone of this culture’s sayings, “do you and I will do me,” “do whatever makes you happy,” or my favorite [sarcasm]“only God can judge me.” These attitudes are only recipes for arrested spiritual development.
God did not give us sin by grace. He does not give social alcoholism, cohabitation, profane entertainment, promiscuity, and the like – these things come from a misapplication of freedom. God, by His divine grace has given us power over sin. We have the power to overcome the lure of sin. We have the freedom to walk away from it and the grace to seek God’s pardon when we “miss the mark.”
“Grace is not simply leniency when we have sinned. Grace is the enabling gift of God not to sin. Grace is power, not just pardon” (Piper).
Mercy Is Present
When believers claim that overt-willing-continuous sin is their right by grace, they are wrong. What they are speaking of is their freedom to make decisions based on their own will and not God’s. When the immediate consequences of sin are not present they feel as if it is proof of their “grace”, but what they are really experiencing is the effective mercy of God. When a person is consistent at living how they please under the pretext of grace, what is sustaining them is God’s enduring mercy (Psalm 136).
Mercy is not getting what we deserve – sin deserves consequences. When we error, God in His Goodness displays all the attributes of His Love, especially longsuffering, patience, and slowness to anger. When He displays Mercy towards us it sustains the freedom that we have to access to the Father by Grace to seek forgiveness.
“God’s Grace convicts when we sin and gives us the desire to confess and forsake our sin” (DeMoss, Grissom).
Freedom Has Responsibility
As I mentioned earlier, “I have heard many professing believers describe the activities that they participate in, what they consume, how they dress, the entertainment they choose, or the way that they live as grace.” For the most part I will not argue with what a believer understands they can do with their freedom. The argument is that freedom is not grace; rather it is product of grace. Like all freedoms, Christian Freedom has responsibility.
The Apostle Paul responding to the Corinthian church said, ““I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive” (1 Corinthians 10:23).
Our practice of freedom should be both beneficial and constructive – it takes a responsible and selfless person to live up to this kind of freedom. Freedom is not always abstaining; it is engaging with prudence. Freedom is not isolation; it is being in community with dignity and decorum. Freedom is not operating in fear, but it is as the Apostle Paul has stated, “power, love and self-discipline” (1 Timothy 1:7), emphasis on “self-discipline.”
True Freedom is
God welcomes sinners into His Kingdom; His intentions are to transform them from the inside out. This transformation inspires us to use our freedom for the glory of God. The Lord is patient and long suffering in this process. God is not looking to exclude anyone who sins, because that would require excluding everyone; we all fall short (Romans 3:23). His desire is to save, by grace, whoever believes on Him (John 3:16). Believers are not perfect, sinless individuals, but they strive to live in their freedom with discretion and responsibility.
When believers live with freedom, discretion, and responsibility the world is intrigued. This intrigue inspires them to inquire or draw near to God. Sadly, it has been said’ “why become a Christian, if they are no different than us.” For the most part, the world understands that Christians are living, breathing human beings that are also capable of mistakes, what is being implied by “they are no different than us,” is that they don't see the God of the Bible reflecting in their lives.
The irony is that some will elect to live in a bubble as a means to prove that they
are the light of the world. This is not necessary; believers have the freedom to enjoy this life just like anyone else. But maturing believers will strive to do so with discretion and responsibility.
Again, true freedom is not using grace as a cover for sin, but it is living free, enjoying life, partaking in all that is good and knowing the proper limits. This includes the freedom to wisely elect the “activities that [we] participate in, what [we] consume, how [we] dress, the entertainment [we] choose, or the way that [we] live” – yet we do so without being controlled by any of them. Grace will give us the freedom and desire to glorify God in all things.
“All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any” (1 Corinthians 6:12).
Webster’s Online Dictionary 1828
DeMoss, Nancy Leigh, Grissom, Tim Seeking Him: Experiencing the Joy of Personal Revival. (2009). Chicago: Moody
Grudem, Wayne, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Bible Doctrine: 1994, Grand Rapids: Zondervan
NIV Study Bible, 2011, Grand Rapids: Zondervan.