“None of your beeswax.”
That childhood phrase got thrown my direction more than a few times — sometimes deserved. But as a grown-up follower of Jesus, I often feel a similar sentiment from fellow believers. If I speak up among Christians about an area — either personal or corporate — that I feel needs correction, I expect to receive a “back off” vibe for my judgment. I was reminded of this after reading the backlash to Joshua Rogers’ recent post.
I grew up in a generation of believers that emphasizes freedom in Christ and rails against legalism. This is good. If we learned anything from the Pharisees, it’s that legalism is a deterrent to truly knowing God. And I really appreciate the emphasis on heart change rather than behavior modification; through my faith in Jesus, my salvation is by grace alone.
But the Apostle Paul warns believers not to misapply this grace when he says: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2). Using grace as an excuse to sin is almost certain proof that we don’t really understand grace, nor have we truly received it.
Within the scope of grace, we have some freedom to make individual choices in how we practice biblical principles, especially those for which no specific scriptural mandate is given. Regarding these “gray areas,” I may hold different convictions than another believer, and that’s OK. However, this doesn’t mean I should always keep my mouth shut when I feel prompted to challenge their attitudes or behavior.
As the church, we are actually called to keep each other in line. Hebrews 3:12-13 says, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” We have permission to call each other out in love for the good of the body of Christ.
A Closer Look at Freedom
When a fellow Christian says something that makes us feel bad about our behavior, lifestyle or choices (for example, in TV and other entertainment), it can be easy to seek to justify our behavior through the blanket “freedom in Christ” clause and dismiss the voice of correction. But this is both unbiblical and unwise. Instead, Scripture tells us we should prayerfully and humbly take their concerns to heart. To determine a rightful application of what “freedom in Christ” looks like in various circumstances, consider these principles:
Freedom in Christ should be used to benefit others, not ourselves.
Loving God and others is a foundational principle of the Christian faith. In Galatians 5:13 Paul says, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” While it’s tempting to use our freedom as permission to do whatever we feel like, our priority should be serving others. This may mean forgoing something I feel is fine for me to do or watch so that I don’t set a bad example for another believer.
Freedom in Christ should not be used to excuse sin.
When I get that “back off” response after I have offered loving correction, many times it is a defensive reaction because real sin is taking place. The freedom God offers us is always outside of sinful practice, because submitting to Him is the opposite of living in sin. 1 Peter 2:16 says, “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.” And even if what you’re doing isn’t expressly sinful, is it dragging you down by turning your thoughts away from what is true and honorable? Could it lead to sin? Could it lead others to sin?
Freedom in Christ should be used with discernment and self-control.
In 1 Corinthians 6:12, the verse I referenced earlier, Paul says, “’All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be enslaved by anything.” It should be a red flag when our “freedom in Christ” takes the form of excess or worldly living. Looking less like the world — not more like it —is the mark of the mature believer. While technically I am not forbidden from doing anything that is not expressly sin, it does not mean that doing these things will benefit my spiritual health or build up the body.
The Path of Correction
Proverbs says a wise person heeds correction. I, for one, need it. Like the time a mentor recently challenged me to spend less time on social media because of sinful attitudes and responses she saw it stirring up in me. Or when my husband asked me not to watch a popular reality TV show many of my friends watch because he believed the bawdy content was unhelpful to my spiritual life.
Yeah, I feel a little (or a lot) defensive when someone calls me out on my sin — potential or actual — but in the end, I have found that honestly evaluating and heeding such correction leads to health and life. There may be judgments or criticisms from other Christians that are misguided, and I will need to shake those off. However, I think most corrections are worth considering.
And if I’m unsure about whether something is permissible for me or not, I can use the three criteria above to evaluate whether I’m using my freedom in Christ appropriately. When I’m using that freedom to serve God, serve others and draw closer to Christ, I have nothing to be ashamed about.
Copyright 2019 Suzanne Gosselin. All rights reserved.