Many of us have spent time in forms of Christianity that are very strong on rules and slavery and very weak on grace and freedom. By “rules and slavery” I refer to the imposition of man-made rules by which sanctity is measured. There was the law of the “quiet time.” There was the (usually) unspoken law against smoking and drinking alcohol. Then there are rules about television, about clothing, and the list could go on.
The first aspect of the freedom of the Christian, is the unique, normative authority of the Scriptures (sola Scriptura) as confessed by the churches. The second aspect of Christian freedom is liberty from the tyranny of human opinion. Rules are inevitable. They are necessary. Church orders are unavoidable but they must remain subordinate to Holy Scripture. They must serve Scripture. They must have some Scriptural foundation. One of the great errors of the medieval church is that the church reversed that order. Scripture was subordinated to ecclesiastical authority and rules (e.g., monastic rules) proliferated.
Grace, on the other hand, liberates. Grace, in the nature of things, is given freely to sinners. Where sin abounded, grace abounded more. Grace brings freedom to helpless captives. Christ did not die for his people because they were good or even because he foresaw what they would do. He obeyed, died, and was raised for us with the knowledge of what we really are by nature, after the fall: sinners, rebels against God. Nevertheless, for Christ’s sake, God has freely loved us in Christ and lavished his favor upon us, made us alive, given us faith, and united us to Christ.
As recipients of such rich and richly undeserved favor freely given we are free. Because it was freely given it was not earned. Because it was not earned it cannot be kept. We do not “keep” it. Grace keeps us. In that case, we are free from the tyranny of human expectations at least when it comes to approval from God. This is not antinomian counsel. Because we have been freed from the shackles of the demands of the law, for acceptance with God, we are free to obey God’s law, in the Spirit (who gave the law!), in Christ, in gratitude.
We are also free to push to the side purely man-made laws and rules, when they conflict with God’s Word. Arguably the sorts of rules that prevail in some forms of American fundamentalist Christianity may once have had a purpose but such rules often become disconnected from their original purpose and take on a life of their own.
One of the great blessings of the Reformation is that it not only delivered us from the tyranny of purely human (ecclesiastical) tradition. It also delivered us from the tyranny of informal rules. No one has to drink or smoke. Wisdom may dictate that abstaining is the best course of action but whether one does or doesn’t isn’t a matter of righteousness (conformity to God’s law) but wisdom and freedom. You might not approve of the sorts of people with whom one associates. People didn’t always approve of the sorts of people with whom our most Holy Savior associated.
Once more, freedom is not license to sin. It is license to serve Christ, to walk by the Spirit but it is for freedom that we have been redeemed.
Originally published in June, 2013.