A Gospel-Centered Church Understands the Place of Christian Liberty

Erik Raymond —  February 7, 2013

As I continue working to establish and emphasize a Gospel-Centered DNA in our church I find myself fielding many questions concerning what being Gospel-Centered is as well as what it looks and feels like. In other words, people want to have it defined and demonstrated. In this series of posts I am trying to provide some basic consequences of a church that is centered upon the gospel of Jesus Christ. Since these are implications of the gospel taking root I believe that they can be true in our context at Emmaus Bible Church (Omaha, Ne) as well as somewhere on the other side of the globe. The gospel transcends zip codes.

In my first post I argued that:
1. A Gospel-Centered Church has a tone and character of grace.

Moving right along now I turn to the area of Christian Liberty.

2. A Gospel-Centered Church understands the place of Christian liberty.
Christians have Christian liberty (1 Cor. 9; Rom. 14-15). This means that we have the freedom in Christ to enjoy many created things without fear of condemnation. We understand that created things can neither commend nor condemn us before God (Gal. 4.8-9; Col. 2.8, 2.2-23; 1 Tim. 4.1-8). Therefore, as Christians we have the privilege of freedom to enjoy various aspects of creation without fear of judgment.

There is another side to this freedom: the freedom to set aside our liberty for the sake of the gospel. In 1 Cor. 9 we read that Paul’s big priority is gospel advancement. Every argument pivots on him wanting to see the gospel speed ahead (cf. 1 Cor. 9.15, 9.19, 9.23). In Romans 14-15 Paul does not want to assault the consciences of the weaker believers by partaking of his liberties. He doesn’t want them to stumble (sin, by doing something that their conscience would forbid).

In both cases Paul’s true freedom is not in what he can enjoy but what he can freely give up. He is not a slave to the weak, the Jews, the Greeks, or anyone else. He is a slave of Christ and a servant to all. This is for the sake of the gospel.

As is often the case, we can go from one extreme to the other with regard to liberties. On the one hand the legalist would say that it is sin to partake of these created things, that God would not be pleased with us if we do them. This is different than saying it would be sin for them to partake. One is a matter of personal conscience (of the weak) and the other is matter of binding the consciences of everyone else (legalism). Because we want holiness amid a world with sin in it we may fall off the gospel ledge and into the realm of Platonic Dualism seeing all creation as bad, condemning us before God. In the pursuit of pleasing God we impugn the Creator of all things.

On the other extreme a Christian may elevate his or her liberties to a place of prominence. This is a promotion that they cannot bear. In this instance they become known for their absolute enjoyment of their liberties. If another Christian is not on the same page in terms of Christian liberties then they will blow them up for being immature and legalistic. Instead of being considerate of another’s weakness for the sake of the gospel they only consider their liberties. I have seen this among a few patches among my young (ish) Reformed brothers. We are so happy about liberty, not being legalistic, and the enjoyment of the creation that we forget the Creator and how the gospel is the priority.

When the gospel comes to town and we are truly gospel-centered we remember that the true beauty of having liberty is both the freedom to enjoy them in light of the gospel and to lay them aside for the sake of the gospel. This is why Paul can say on that nothing should be refused but that everything should be received with thanksgiving (1 Tim. 4.8) and that he would be ok with never eating meat again (1 Cor. 8.13).

This is not duplicity, it is gospel-centered flexibility. It is understanding the place of Christian liberties and the priority of the gospel. It is being gospel-centered.

I’ll deal with the rest of my list in the days ahead:
3. A Gospel-Centered Church wants to deal with racial issues.
4. A Gospel-Centered Church prioritizes discipleship.
5. A Gospel-Centered Church prioritizes church-planting.
6. A Gospel-Centered Church works hard to build gospel allies.

Erik Raymond

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Erik has been writing at Ordinary Pastor since 2006. He lives in Omaha with his wife and kids while pastoring at Emmaus Bible Church. Follow regular updates on Twitter at www.twitter.com/erikraymond

12 responses to A Gospel-Centered Church Understands the Place of Christian Liberty

  1. Thanks, really appreciate your series on this. I grew up in a pietist church, have run with some who are more antinomians, … ditches on both sides of Grace, still learning to walk free in the middle.

  2. Would you say that when Paul talks about “being all things to all people” that he is talking about restricting his liberty, rather than expanding it?

    • Without trying to be cute I say both. He is exercising it by restricting it. He can flex in either direction because he is free.

    • I believe Paul knows he is free to use his freedom to fit his situation. He is free to immerse himself in culture to love other people and be interested in all peoples interests that are not sinful because he loves people. So his liberty is as narrow or as expansive s love requires.

  3. 1 Cor 10:23 really jumped to mind in this context:

    All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.

    The passage that follows the verse seems to point right at gospel-oriented behavior, both toward believers and unbelievers. The section is punctuated with:

    Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God….not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved.

    To me, Paul is saying essentially that the right understanding of liberty lies at the heart of a gospel-focused life, either individually or as a community of believers. Maybe it’s obvious to most folks, but I found it exciting to see the direct sort of cause-and-effect in this passage of Scripture.

    Thanks for your posts. There’s much to chew on.

  4. Good write Erik. Thank you!

    Having traversed on both sides of the ditches (as Ethan calls it) in my past, I have found Paul’s word in Romans 14:7 “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” as the benchmark for my liberties in Christ. Its seems far too many Christians are far too focused on what “liberties” they can enjoy, when Paul clearly tells us to focus our living on what will pertain to our righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. That being the case, I find my liberties are not necessarily a simple list (written in stone), but rather a dynamic thing that can be circumstantial or seasonal – but always governed by and for the sake of the Gospel.

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