Friday, July 13, 2012

I Have Freedom In Christ (Part One)

It's time.

Martin Luther once said "If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battlefield besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point."

Now I'm not saying that I'm addressing a heretical doctrine today; far from that. But I do want to address some confusion in the area of Christian liberty. I'll be couching in in bibliophile terms, but it applies to everything else as well: modesty, television, lifestyle, etc. It's an issue that's been going around several different circles I move in; and it's provoked a lot of thought for me.

"You can't judge me. Christians aren't supposed to judge."

"We believe differently. After all, God doesn't call everybody to believe the same thing."

"The Bible doesn't speak to the issues surrounding this particular book. I have the liberty in Christ to read it."

"Christ is grace; we're no longer bound by legalistic rules about reading or anything else. Grace is freedom, and we shouldn't feel guilty for not following a set of rules."

But is grace without "chains" of its own sort? And are we really free to read something if the Bible "doesn't speak to it"? Should Christians never judge? And should we never lovingly point out sin in another's reading choices? All these issues tie into the larger elephant of "Christian liberty". And in this series, we'll be discussing this issue in depth.

Today's issue: The meaning of Christ's grace.


Christ is grace; we're no longer bound by legalistic rules about reading or anything else. Grace is freedom, and we shouldn't feel guilty for not following a set of rules.

The modern church (and the private man) prefers to gloss over sin very quickly. Pastors and congregants are uncomfortable with the idea of an angry God, who would send us to the fires of hell for eternity. Part of this is because the thought of separation from God, (and therefore, all goodness) forever, is too staggering a weight for the human soul to contemplate. But glossing over the ugliness of our shortcomings led over the years to a blindness to our need for a Saviour. Why really commit your life to Jesus? After all, it's just a white lie, just a little lust, just a small item to steal; don't be so hard on yourself. Christ forgives and makes us complete.

Let's pause a moment here.

What a contrast between soft warnings from mainstream evangelicals and the word of God himself spoken through the mouths of his servants of old when Israel turned astray.

Circumcise yourselves to the Lord,
circumcise your hearts,
you people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem,
or my wrath will flare up and burn like fire
because of the evil you have done—
burn with no one to quench it.
-Jeremiah 4:4

The great day of the Lord is near—
near and coming quickly.
Listen! The cry on the day of the Lord will be bitter,
the shouting of the warrior there.
That day will be a day of wrath,
a day of distress and anguish,
a day of trouble and ruin,
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and blackness,
a day of trumpet and battle cry
against the fortified cities
and against the corner towers.
I will bring distress on the people
and they will walk like blind men,
because they have sinned against the Lord.
-Zephaniah 1:14-17

We find no such thing, in historical accounts of God's chastisement, as "little" sins. All sins, whether little or great, are an outrage upon His holiness, and as such, he would not be a holy, or a just, or a loving God to overlook them. A judgment is coming still for those who sin against the Lord, both in this life and in the life to come.
Grace in today's society is often the equivalent of a free ticket to an amusement park. Since it doesn't cost us anything to receive (and we often don't value what we don't pay for) it's a small legality along our way to achieving heaven. And as pointed out above, since we often underestimate our sin, we therefore underestimate the value of its cure. Grace is portrayed as an all-encompassing, warm and fuzzy commodity that every Christian needs. But if our sins aren't serious enough to condemn us eternally, then why do we need Christ's grace save us eternally? Only when we understand the abiding wrath of the Father upon sin, can we hope to glimpse a picture of his abiding gift of Grace.


"Surely the idolatrous commotion on the hills
and mountains is a deception;
surely in the Lord our God
is the salvation of Israel.
 From our youth shameful gods have consumed
the fruits of our ancestors’ labor—
their flocks and herds,
their sons and daughters.
 Let us lie down in our shame,
and let our disgrace cover us.
We have sinned against the Lord our God,
both we and our ancestors;
from our youth till this day
we have not obeyed the Lord our God.”
-Jeremiah 3:23-25

Christ, in his great mercy, doesn't open our eyes to grace before he opens our eyes to sin. That would be cruel--like offering a drowning man a life jacket while telling him there's no real danger. The real cruelty lies not in telling people of their sin, but in hiding from them the extent of God's wrath upon their rejection of Him.

And then, when their hearts are broken from the realization that they have gone astray, God binds up their hearts with His true grace, in the form of his precious Son:

As Jesus fulfilled:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor. 
-Isaiah 61: 1-3

"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1) You cannot have grace without condemnation. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. There was before, but now we are set free by his sacrifice.

Too often, we evangelise or explain our salvation with the concept: "God was going to judge us in his wrath, but Christ offered us eternal life because of his death on the cross."

But this, my friends, is an erroneous idea.

God still judges us. Christ saves us, not from his judgement, but from the penalty of his judgement.  If God no longer judged, then His character would be incomplete: he could not be God, because he couldn't hold anyone to a righteous standard. Psalm 89:14 says: "Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you." Christ himself will also take the throne of judgment one day, though those who have received his grace are also assured of his advocacy.

This post is meant to lay the foundation of Christian liberty: to establish the fact that God's judgement is just as real and relevant today as His grace. That we are not freed from the former through the latter. We are freed from death, not from judgement. But the glory and praise of it is, that Christ's work on the cross can now ensure that we receive the judgement "not guilty." To receive grace, to receive the verdict "not guilty" we have to be judged first as "guilty", so our Advocate can step forward and free us from our penalty and our sin.

Does this mean we are free to do anything? How far does Christian liberty extend, once we accept Christ's grace? And what about the concept of judgement?

Do bibliophiles have Christian liberty to reject the advice of other Christian bibliophiles?

That's all next time. Until then, I wish you thought-provoking reading.

Lady Bibliophile

1 comment:

  1. Dear Lady B,
    Wow! that was very thought provoking!! You had some points I hadn't thought of. Wonderful post!
    Love, Sister


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