Liberty in Christ
Billy W. Moore
"Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." (2 Cor. 3:17) This passage is often quoted by those who stress the liberty we have in serving Christ. They construe liberty to mean whatever they want to do in religion, whether it is authorized in the inspired scripture or not, and they criticize those who would in any way teach so as to restrict their liberty.
W. E. Vine says the word here translated is "eleutheria" and means freedom. It is used ten other times in the New Testament. It is used of the freedom disciples had to eat meats 0 Cor. 10: 29); of the liberty Christians have from the old law of bondage (Gal. 5: 1, 13, 14); though false teachers arose to spy out this liberty (Gal. 2:4). The new covenant is called the "law of liberty" (Ja8. 1:25; 2:12). In every generation there are some who promise liberty, while they themselves are servants of corruption (2 Pet. 2:19). Paul spoke of the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Rom. 8:21), and Peter said even though we are free we are not to use liberty as a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God 0 Pet. 2:16). What is the liberty we have as the servants of Christ. Certainly there is liberty from the bondage of sin and liberty from the old covenant. But does this liberty entitle us to bring into our worship, teaching, work or lives that which is unauthorized by God? Are there any restrictions or restraints on this liberty that prevails "where the Spirit of the Lord is"?
The Liberty of Christ
Surely no disciple of Christ would expect greater liberty than that which was given unto Jesus, our Lord and Master. Was the liberty of Jesus restricted? Hear him, "He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day. For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: Whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak." (John 12:48-50). So, the teaching of Jesus was restricted to what the Father said unto him. Not only was his teaching restricted, his work was also restricted. "I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and ye do that which ye have seen with your father" (John 8: 38). "My meat is to do the will of him that sent me",(John 4:34). "Lo, I come to do thy will, 0 God" (Heb. 10:7). Jesus refused to go beyond this restriction. When the mother of James and John sought the right and left hand places in the kingdom for her sons, Jesus said, "to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father" (Matt. 20:21-23). Even though he would be king in his kingdom, he would not go beyond the restraint his Father had placed upon him. Now, my friend, if the liberty of Jesus was restricted to the Father's will, should we expect to have a greater liberty when we serve him?
The Liberty of Angels
Angels are greater than men. They are above us. (Heb. 2:9) The angels of God do not enjoy an unrestrained liberty. While I understand that angels are not preachers of the gospel of Christ, yet if they were to preach, their preaching would be restricted to the gospel that was preached by the apostles (Gal. 1: 8) The work of angels is also restricted: "And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day" (Jude 6). Peter says, "God spared not the angels that sinned" (2 Pet. 2:4). The freedom of the angels is restricted by the Father in heaven. Do men have greater liberty than angels?
The Liberty of the Holy Spirit
When Jesus ascended to heaven the Holy Spirit was sent from the Father unto the apostles to teach them all things, to bring to their remembrance the things Jesus had taught them, and to guide them into all truth. (John 14:26; 16:13) But Jesus said, when the Spirit comes "he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak" (John 16:13). Even the Holy Spirit was not at liberty to speak anything but the words of the Father. (I do not mean to imply that the Spirit would have wanted to speak anything different.) Surely disciples of Christ do not have freedom beyond that of the Holy Spirit.
The Liberty of Prophets
In time past when God spoke unto the fathers by the prophets (Heb. 1:1), those prophets were restricted to speak the word of God. Peter said, "Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" (2 Pet. 1:21). When the enemies of Israel tried to bribe Balaam to curse the children of Israel, Balaam said, "If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more" (Num. 22:18). Though he loved the wages of unrighteousness, he said, "Must I not take heed to speak that which the Lord hath put in my mouth? ...All that the Lord speaketh, that I must do?" (Num. 23:12, 26).
Micaiah the prophet said, "As the Lord liveth, what the Lord saith unto me, that will I speak" (I Kings 22:14). Unto Jeremiah the prophet the Lord said, "Thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak" (Jer. 1:7). Indeed, the prophets frequently spoke falsely unto Israel, but God said, "they speak a vision OF THEIR OWN HEART (emphasis mine, BWM), and not out of the mouth of the Lord.... I have not sent the prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied. . . . The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream, and he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully" (Jer. 23:16, 21, 28). The prophets were not at liberty to speak whatever they desired. They were restricted to the speaking of God's word, and when they spoke otherwise they became false prophets and were condemned by the God of heaven. Do we have greater liberty than the prophets?
The Liberty of the Apostles
The apostles had liberty in Christ. Paul spoke of his liberty and charged brethren to stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free. But this liberty did not give them license to teach what they want to teach. When the Spirit revealed the word of God unto them, they spoke that word. Paul said, "Now we have received the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual" (I Cor. 2:12-13). The liberty of Paul did not permit him to teach anything but that which he received "by the revelation of Jesus Christ" (Gal. 1: 12). When men today begin to talk about, "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" and conclude that this gives freedom to teach or practice something other than that which is taught in the gospel of Christ, they are wrong! They misunderstand liberty in Christ.
The Liberty of Christians
The early Christians had liberty, and so do we. "Only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another" (Gal. 5:13). This liberty does not permit us to teach another gospel. (Gal. 1: 6-9) We must "speak as the oracles of God" (I Pet. 4: 11). We must not "think of men above that which is written" 0 Cor. 4:6). This means our liberty is bound or restrained by the written word. We must abide in the doctrine of Christ. (2 John 9) Our teaching must be restricted to that which is written. For this reason we have long called upon men for "book, chapter and verse" which would authorize that which is taught or practiced.
We have liberty in worship, but such liberty is restricted to worshipping God in spirit and in truth. (John 4:24) We cannot bring into our worship anything our heart desires and still expect to please God.
We have liberty in our work for God, but we cannot bring into the work of the church that which the Lord has not authorized. The work of God's people is restricted by that which is taught in his word. Jesus came to do the will of the Father in heaven. Certainly our doing must be in harmony with his will.
Surely none think that our liberty is greater than that of the Son of God, of angels, of the Holy Spirit, of the prophets or the apostles. Yet, if our teaching, practice and worship are not restricted by God's will, then we would possess a greater liberty than they possessed. Who can believe it?
How Liberty is Abused
Men in denominational circles have long abused this "liberty" bit. Those who teach sprinkling for baptism say they have liberty. But they are substituting their will for the
Lord's will. Baptism is a burial (Rom. 6: 4; Col. 2:12). Sprinkling is not baptism, and those who practice it and call it baptism, under the cloak of liberty, are transgressing the doctrine of Christ.
Our digressive brethren brought the instrument of music into Christian worship, not because "it is written," but because they felt they had liberty to do that which was not expressly forbidden. You have heard the cry, "But the Lord did not say not to use it, so we have liberty to use it if we want to."
In this generation brethren have brought all matter of things, from human institutions and sponsoring churches to recreation, entertainment, and money making ventures. They doubtless feel that they are justified in bringing these things into the work and practice of the church. They have "liberty" and wig not be restrained by a "thus saith the Lord." They think we are legalists because we question their innovations. They think we are restricting their liberty in Christ. Even if their practices were justified by liberty in Christ (which they are not) they would be condemned for such. Paul said, "Take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to them that are weak" (I Cor. 8:9). So, If those of us who object to church support human organizations, centralized control, church sponsored recreation, etc. were weak in the faith, then those who force things upon us would be guilty of their liberty become a stumbling block others. Either way they go they are wrong. There is no refuge for them in the liberty have in Christ Jesus. They have the doctrine of Christ. They are not restricted by that which is written, and be judged accordingly.
Truly, in Christ we have liberty or freedom: freedom from the bondage of sin, freedom from the law of bondage, freedom from the doctrines and traditions of men. But our freedom is restrained by the will of the Father in heaven. When we go beyond his will in teaching, worship, practice or in our every day living, we cannot justify ourselves before him with a cry of "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty."
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XV: 16, pp. 10-12