We are nearing the end of our Gospel Convergence series on the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. I would still encourage you to pick up a copy of the confession and read along with me.
Perhaps it is just the circles that I find myself in, but the word ‘liberty’ almost always conjures up negative connotations in my mind. Cheeky children were always described as ‘taking liberties’. Anyone with loose morals was ‘liberal’. An excessive volume of things was a ‘liberal dose’. In Christian circles anyone with dodgy doctrine was a raving mad ‘liberal’. However, this chapter of the Confession would seek to argue that biblically speaking liberty is a good thing. This begins with Christ’s liberty.
The Confession argues that Christ’s liberty is of utmost importance, and it is difficult to argue against:
The liberty which Christ hath purchased for believers under the gospel, consists in their freedom from the guilt of sin, the condemning wrath of God, the rigour and curse of the law, and in their being delivered from this present evil world, bondage to Satan, and dominion of sin, from the evil of afflictions, the fear and sting of death, the victory of the grave, and ever- lasting damnation; as also in their free access to God, and their yielding obedience unto Him, not out of slavish fear, but a child-like love and willing mind. (pg. 89)
This is the liberty which Christ has won for us in his life, death, resurrection and ascension. While space does not permit a full survey of these truths in Scripture, perhaps some verses would give the reader confidence that the Confession has found these truths in Scripture:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1)
Jesus Christ…gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age (Gal. 1:3-4)
Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death where is your sting? …thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:54-55, 57)
Jesus…delivers us from the wrath to come (1 Thess. 1:10)
There should be a stunned awe whenever we grasp all that Jesus has accomplished for us, and yet there is no way that we can comprehend it all. Our hope is to know the love of Jesus which surpasses knowing (Eph. 3:19). Jesus has won a liberty for us which delivers a freedom never before known, never to be exceeded. These are Jesus’ glorious gifts to us and Christ’s liberty for us.
The Conscience’s Liberty
The majority of discussions on Christian liberty tend to gravitate toward the liberty of the conscience. Christians delight in justifying themselves by claiming a liberty of conscience. Therefore, this becomes one of the most difficult aspects of Christian living to understand correctly.
Nonetheless, it is clear that Scripture (especially in Paul’s writings – in particular see Rom. 14) makes it clear individuals are able to make their own choices. There are indeed matters of conscience. Paul makes it explicit in Colossians:
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (2:20-23)
There are some human precepts and teachings which are fine to abide by, but are not necessary. In fact, Paul’s point in Colossians isn’t that they aren’t necessary but that these human precepts and teachings should not be followed as they were being confused as Christian laws, gospel commands. All that Christians must follow is taught explicitly in Scripture. As Andrew Fuller, an eighteenth century Pastor and theologian wisely promised: ‘Lord, thou hast given me a determination to take up no principle at second-hand; but to search for everything at the fountain of thy word’.
The Abuse of Liberty
Even so, some would then neglect things that are explicitly clear and all in the name of Christian liberty! Paul wryly asks in Romans 6:1-2, ‘Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!’ And so the Confession offers a similar rallying cry – are we to cherish sin in the name of liberty? By no means!
They who upon pretence of Christian liberty do practice any sin, or cherish any sinful lust, as they do thereby pervert the main design of the grace of the gospel to their own destruction, so they wholly destroy the end of Christian liberty (pg. 90-91).
May we all faithfully and seriously search our own hearts to discern any practiced sin or cherished lust, and so avoid the abuse of Christian liberty.