Mr. P. Abraham
“My freedom stops where the other person's nose begins”, thus goes a saying. Man does not have the freedom to do whatever he likes. Christian freedom is no different. Freedom is bounded by laws and regulations. When Adam was created and put in the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it, the Lord gave him the freedom under certain conditions. “The Lord commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die” (Gen.2:16,17). Right from the beginning, freedom has been given with limitations. God gave the Mosaic law for Israel to live by. God has also prescribed a way of salvation for all those who repent and seek forgiveness. Apostle Peter exhorts us: “Show proper respect to everyone; Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honour the king” (1 Pet.2:16).
As we are pilgrims and strangers in this world, some may think that we do not have to obey the rules of the human government; but Peter tells us that we have an even greater obligation to obey the laws of the land. Christians are citizens of a higher kingdom and have a higher obligation. They should listen to God rather than men, when allegiance to the earthly rulers calls upon them to violate their consciences and standards of God's kingdom (Acts 4:19, 5:29). The unsaved world watches the Christian; therefore, we must abstain from sins, by the power of the Spirit. Our behaviour must be honest, for this is the only way to silence their evil talk. A Christian is free, but his freedom is not licence to do anything he wants.
Freedom of the will is strictly limited. We are free to choose our master. After we have exercised that choice, we are not free. We have become the servant of that master. It is possible for a man to yield to sin, but in such yielding he becomes the servant of that sin. It is impossible for anyone to treat sin as completely under his control, to be indulged in at his will, and to be laid aside at his will. Yielding is yielding, and that means submission to obey the commands of sin. The only way of freedom from the mastery of sin is that of escape through submission to Christ. That submission must be more than an act, it must be an attitude. Or else, we shall be “entangled” again in the defilements of the world; our latter state will become worse than the first. This truth humbles the soul and leaves no room for pride. Once we recognise and obey this truth, we are made free from the dominion of sin. When we abandon ourselves to the Lord, there is perfect deliverance from the power of sin. In all other ways we will ever be slaves of sin.
Christian freedom means living according to the will of God, doing what is right in the sight of God. People who enjoy that freedom live by moral standards and can govern themselves. People without these inner controls have to be governed by an outside force. Liberty exists in proportion to the respect for moral law and the recognition of personal responsibility. Whether a person steals much or little depends on the opportunity; whether he steals at all depends on character.
The freedom which comes to us, who are liberated by Christ, is a freedom which entails responsibility (John 8:32, 36; Gal.5:1). There is no such thing as absolute freedom-for that is anarchy. Too often, liberty has been misinterpreted as licence. False freedom means living according to the impulses of the flesh, or human nature apart from God.
Christianity is relevant to every time and place. Christian principles and standards should permeate every legitimate area of society and seek to avoid things which are not in harmony with Christian ideals.
Freedom in Christ must be used wisely. “All things are lawful for me” was a slogan the Corinthians had coined to justify their immoral behaviour (1 Cor. 6:12). Paul reminded the Corinthians that freedom from the ceremonial laws of Moses did not give them the freedom to sin or indulge in their own selfishness. This would only enslave them to the sin from which Christ had freed them. The only power that should control us is the Holy Spirit. Sin should never dominate our lives; the Spirit empowers us to fight temptation.
“Food for the stomach and the stomach for foods” was another phrase the Corinthians used to justify their sinful life-styles. In their opinion, any physical activity should not affect their spiritual life, just as digesting food did not affect one's spirituality. While the purpose of the stomach is only to digest food, it is not the purpose of the body to commit to immorality. By design, God put restrictions on both eating and sexual activity. Eating to the point of gluttony and having wanton sex outside of marriage violate God's intent and hence are sinful. Paul has exhorted the Corinthians to flee from any temptation to indulge in sexual sin (See Gen.39:1-12).
The body is the instrument for man to serve God and the means whereby he glorifies God. Just as food is necessary for the belly to function, the Lord is necessary for the body to function the right way. It is only as God enables that we can live the kind of life for which we were designed. It is not the stomach, or the physical nature of man that will live on, but rather the spiritual person who is immortal.
The flexibility of law for the Christian is indicated in the phrase “law of liberty” by Apostle James. “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgement will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgement” (James 2:12-13). But this does not mean that there can be careless living or speaking. In fact, the bonds of love produce great caution, for although one might easily live up to the requirements of a specific statement, one can never go beyond the requirements of love. We are to speak and act as those who will be judged, not by the Law of Moses, but by the more severe law of liberty, the law of love written in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. The law of liberty is the law which defines our relationship to God and man, as mastered by love. To speak and do under that impulse is to be free indeed. If that law be disobeyed, judgement based on the law will show no mercy. Love should watch our words and works. If so, we live a life of liberty. If not, we are in bondage. If we express love and mercy toward others, God will show mercy to us. Judgement will be on the basis of principle and practice of love, rather than on any inflexible code.
In his short epistle, Jude has emphasised the fact that those ungodly persons who turn the grace of God into licentiousness are marked out for condemnation. He has also provided several examples of those who were destroyed because of their ungodly life-styles (Jude 4-7).
Paul has made it very clear that, while salvation is by grace alone, if one allows his Christian liberty to become licence, he will no longer have liberty, but will be enslaved to new vices. Thus he will lose the liberty which Christ procured for him on the cross. Thus, Paul's two-fold Christian principle is: (1) Allow nothing that is not expedient, profitable, helpful or advisable in the Christian life; (2) Do not allow yourself to be brought under the power of anything except the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Violation of this principle will cause you to lose your precious freedom in Christ. Freedom of choice will, of course, entail the consequences of the choice.
It will be worthwhile examining what we did with the freedom we enjoyed all these years.
Before our Lord ascended into heaven, He gave the Great Commission to His followers: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you”(Matt.28:19,20). The apostles took this command seriously and travelled to far away places, against heavy odds, to spread the message of the Gospel. We in this country were blessed to receive this message in the first century itself. We have also generally enjoyed the freedom to spread the message of salvation. (When I write this, I am not ignorant of the several instances of persecution from fundamentalist forces.)
We in Kerala effectively hid the message of the Gospel from the rest of the country for several centuries till western missionaries came on the scene. Several individuals and Christian organisations made serious efforts to spread the Gospel message. Thanks to their strenuous efforts, many have been brought to the saving knowledge of the Gospel in many parts of the country. However, large areas and several sections of society are still unreached. Tall claims are being made by many about the large number of people who have come to the Lord by their efforts. Funds are also being collected by many, in the guise of evangelisation, taking undue advantage of their freedom, to fill their pockets. According to the data released by the Census authorities, the percentage of Christians in the country is a pitiable 2.5, though Christians have been present in the country for the past twenty centuries. The remaining 97.5% of the 120 crore population remains to be reached with the message of the Gospel.
Article 25 of our Constitution guarantees every citizen the right to freedom of religion. It states, “----subject to public order, morality and health,---all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practise and propagate religion.” Propagation is concerned with the right to communicate beliefs to another person or to expound the tenets of one's religion, but does not include the right to forcible conversion. The debates in our Constituent Assembly clearly indicate that our founding fathers recognised that conversion was implicit in the propagation of religion. The word “propagate” was deliberately incorporated in Article 25 because conversion is a fundamental characteristic of Christianity. Our founding fathers were not narrow minded and prejudiced against the Christian minority. They understood the Biblical mandate for every Christian. The freedom for genuine conversion is thus guaranteed in our Constitution.
We are free to share the message and project the love and forgiveness of Christ to lead people to repent of their sins. Any person can opt voluntarily for Christ with the freedom basic to humankind. He can honestly admit sin in his life, decide to turn away from sin, do the will of God and become a disciple of Christ, as permitted by the Constitution.
But, what has happened over the years? The term “discipleship” has disappeared from our vocabulary. Like Old Testament Israel, we allow our love of God to be adulterated by going after the gods of this world. We are enticed by many idols such as greed, power and success, serving mammon rather than God. The Christian label that we give ourselves is what we find least in our lives. The ugliness among us so disfigures the face of our Lord Jesus Christ and hides His beauty from the world ---the world that so desparately needs to be drawn to Him. “Discipleship means discipline. The disciple is one who has come with his ignorance, superstition and sin to find learning, truth and forgiveness from the Saviour. Without discipline, we are not disciples.”True discipline is to choose what is right.
Bible is indispensable for discipling believers. A fresh conviction, gripping the entire Church, of the central necessity of Bible teaching for the Church's growth in ministry, unity and maturity, is the need of the hour.
In an attempt to seem more relevant to people in our time, some leaders have chosen to change the message. Gospel has been replaced with a hollow, lifeless, hopeless message created by man. We have missed the mark of presenting the cross of Jesus Christ as the only answer for the marred condition of mankind.
The people who are not rooted in God's Word remain shallow and vulnerable. Those who have accepted the Lord as Saviour and Lord do not grow. There is a dearth of discipled leaders; many “leaders” use their positions for worldly power, arrogant status and personal enrichment. The result is that God's people suffer, Christ is dishonoured and Gospel undermined.
Multiplicity of leadership training programmes cannot solve the problem. Only those whose lives display basic qualities of mature discipleship should be appointed to leadership (1 Tim.3:1-13, Tit,1:6-9, 1 Pet.5:1-3). The answer to leadership failure is better discipleship training. Leaders must first become disciples of Christ. Ability to teach God's Word is a key skill that Paul has included in his list of qualifications for leaders. False teachers should be refuted, rebuked sharply and rejected (Tit.1:13), making use of the freedom we enjoy in Christ.