“But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.” (1 Cor. 8:12) “[F]or why is my liberty judged of another man’s conscience?” (1 Cor. 10:29b)
Our liberty in Christ was bought and paid for at Calvary. Our freedom to talk to God, and be led by His Spirit into the understanding of His Word, without the imposition of another believer’s interpretation, should not be taken lightly. If, as Paul says, we will all give account of ourselves personally to God (Rom.14:12), we cannot afford to succumb to the temptation to let someone else design our spiritual life for us.
On the other hand, Paul also reminds us that none of us lives or dies to himself (Rom.14:7). This new life of freedom must be lived out in company with fellow believers who are in varying stages of the spiritual growth, as well. For this and other reasons, all things lawful for me may not be “expedient” or helpful (1Cor.10:23). So it goes without question, there will always be legitimate limitations to our liberty that cannot be enforced but should be encouraged. To this end, I offer three such limitations. Our liberty should be:
LIMITED BY LOVE
“Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend. (1 Cor. 8:13)
In chapter eight of First Corinthians, Paul addresses the friction in this particular church between those who are spiritually mature enough to know that meat once offered to idols carried no significance one way or the other to Christian believers. You’re no better or worse before God, he said, if you do or don’t eat it (v. 8). But, at the same time, there were “weak” believers in their midst who just could not bring themselves to eat it, and watching another believer do so, unashamedly, was frustrating to them. For their sakes, Paul, for one, was willing to even be a vegetarian for life, if need be. His love for the brethren was greater than his love for meat. Nothing wrong with the meat (and lots of other “questionable” things), but the truly mature Christian will never encourage another brother or sister to sin against his or her conscience.
LIMITED BY LUST
“…all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” (1 Cor.6:12) “Now these things were ojr exampled, to the intent we should not lust after evil things…” (1Cor.10:6)
It is possible for my liberty to end up costing me my liberty. By this I mean something lawful may move from liberty to unlawful excess. There are things forbidden, or at least frowned upon, by some churches, which are only forbidden in the Bible if they are abused. These indulgences or activities may be permissible, even, in some cases, good and profitable, when kept within the boundary of moderation. It is only when they become excessive and/or obsessive that the blessing is turned into a curse. Once again, the truly mature believer will recognize this tendency in his or her own life, and willingly relinquish short-term liberty for long-term freedom.
LIMITED BY THE LORD
“And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.” (Acts 23:1)
As Paul neared the closing of his life, he was able to say that he had lived his life according to the dictates of his God-directed conscience. You see, in the final analysis, a weak believer’s conscience may (even should) affect my liberty; but no one but God judges my conscience. Only He knows the sincerity of the heart. Jesus, who fulfilled all the Law, refused to be bound by man-made laws (Lk.11:37-39). Offending Pharisees is not the same as hurting a weak brother. For this reason, my liberty must be limited, first and foremost, by the Lord. In some cases, it may lead to abstinence in things that others enjoy; and in other cases, I may exercise moderation in something others’ consciences will not allow them to do. This is why Paul also wrote Romans fourteen.
You and I, as redeemed saints, should “stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free” (Gal.5:1); while at the same time never allowing that liberty to become a license to sin or a hindrance to the gospel or a stumbling block in the life of another believer. Liberty is a great responsibility, one that requires maturity. It should be limited by Christian love, the danger of obsessive lust, but most of all, the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
“Renunciation of what is lawful is legitimate only if the true motive is to please the Lord” — Unknown