Freed from the Law

“Should Christians get tattoos?” “Is it OK for Christians to drink alcohol?” “Are cigarettes OK…and what about chewing tobacco?” If you ever want to see a group of normally tight-knit Christian believers go completely bonkers – and find out just how different their belief systems really are – try tossing one of these “innocent” questions into your next coffee break or car trip together.

Last week, I had the good fortune to listen to an interview conducted by Mark Dever on the topic of Christian freedom; Dever was speaking with Andy Johnson, Mike McKinley and Carl Trueman. I found the hour-long dialog very helpful in addressing the interconnected (and often confusing) issues of freedom and wisdom. Previously, my views on Christian freedom had more or less been defaulting to a memorable syllogism offered by Mark Driscoll:

“Are you free in Christ to smoke cigarettes? Yes. Given the health risks, are you wise in Christ to smoke cigarettes? No.”

Christian Freedom: A Leadership Interview with Carl Trueman, Mike McKinley, and Andy Johnson

To that over-simplified example, then, I would simply say that the Dever interview served to solidify and enhance my understanding that the first question we should be asking is, “Is your decision to smoke cigarettes the most loving use of your time, health and finances?” Consistent with Paul’s admonitions in 1 Corinthians 10:23-33, then, the Christian is called to live free from the law but also to never use his or her freedom to harm another.

The most slippery part of this equation, I think, is hanging on to the tension that occurs when a believer realizes they are free to do pretty much whatever they want to that is not clearly sinful and forbidden, but to exercise that freedom with the restraint that love demands. Reworking The Driscoll Syllogism just a bit, we might come up with something like this:

  • Am I loving others by exercising my Christian freedom in this way?
  • Am I truly free in Christ to do so?
  • Is this a wise way to spend my time, talent and treasure?

If these sorts of questions have ever bothered you or caused conflict with other believers, I would very strongly recommend listening to the entire interview and pointing others to it as well, if nothing more than as a starting point for a profitable (and loving!) conversation.

What was especially encouraging to me was to hear how often the interviewees would return to the point that whenever we, as Christians, get bogged down in details such as these, we have almost certainly stepped away from the larger Truth of Scripture. As Carl Trueman says it so well, “We shouldn’t reduce freedom to a list of do’s and don’ts; the primary freedom of the Christian is freedom from the curse of the law.”

  • Christian Freedom
    A Leadership Interview with Carl Trueman, Mike McKinley, and Andy Johnson

1 Corinthians 10:23-33 (NIV)
“The Believer’s Freedom”
“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. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others. Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience. I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours. For why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for? So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God – even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

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