Kingdom Rights and Privileges
I used to wonder how my parents felt when I first drove away solo in the family car. Then I watched my own children do the same, and I understood completely. It wasn’t easy watching the ones my wife and I had poured over sixteen years of our lives into take off in a machine that represented almost half our year’s salary.
Alright, so those of you who know my taste in automobiles might accuse me of exaggerating a bit on the value of the cars. Let’s just say this was their replacement cost. My point is, with freedom comes considerable responsibility, and risk.
The freedom we experience in Christ is no different. His grace washes us clean, and becomes the basis for a new ethic. In the first church, this meant some of the Old Testament rules relating to ceremonial purity were no longer binding on believers, whether Jew or Greek. If we bring this principle forward, it speaks to any controversial practice the Bible does not define as sin.
Where do our freedoms and another believers’ conscience meet? The theological term for this subject is “Christian Liberty.” Christian Liberty speaks to how we conduct ourselves around other believers who don’t share our personal opinions.
If a behavior isn’t prohibited by Christ, aren’t we free to participate? Well, yes and no. In 1 Corinthians 10:23 Paul writes, ‘“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up (ESV).’ In other words, even though we have the right to do something because of our freedom in Christ, we might choose to forgo our right for the sake of a weaker brother or sister.
On the other hand, the apostle Paul also writes, “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.” (Colossians 2:16 NIV) If we aren’t careful we will allow others to impose their opinions on us for no reason. It is one thing to forgo our rights in the kingdom for the sake of building up others. For example, we might avoid a practice that is not sinful because it has the potential to lead a weaker believer into sin. Yet, we cannot allow ourselves to become a slave to those who merely want to impose legalism on our lives.
Sometimes it is hard to know the difference between a call to defer our rights and one to exercise our liberty. However, through a study of the scriptures, prayer and careful thought we can learn good discernment.
The main point here is that freedom in Christ requires wisdom as we carry it out on a daily basis. We should not fall into the trap of splitting hairs or creating elaborate systems of conduct. This is one of those places where we should err on the side of not hurting others, even if we aren’t sure our actions are harmful. Then, of course, at some point we have to know when we are being played by those who just want to control us, and exercise our freedom.
We are free, but it does matter how we use our freedom. This is how it is with most any freedom. Nothing is handed to us without responsibility and risk. Oh, and I made it back safely from that first ride in my parent’s car. So did our own children. I hope I can be there when theirs do the same.