There is a move across certain circles of Christianity encouraging people to dig deeper into the Bible and to study what it says for themselves. Through this study, many have grown tired of the manmade traditions by which they have been confined, and are eager to throw off the shackles of those things that are not explicitly spelled out in Scripture. Christian liberty is what it is called, and truthfully, there is indeed a great deal of liberty that God has given to those who believe in Christ.
Why is it then, that in some instances, as these very people begin exploring the vastness of their liberty in Christ, their lives seem to go “off the cliff” both physically and spiritually? And as they plunge deeper into the cavern, you can see them waving banners emblazoned like the flags of revolutionaries with the slogan “Liberty in Christ.” Many times, the reckless tendencies do not appear in the generation that has come to a clearer understanding of Christian liberty. The attitudes and behavior shows up in their children.
There is definitely something wrong with this picture, but where does the problem lie?
Some who are more restrictive among us would immediately fault those who have placed such emphasis on the concept of Christian liberty, and call for a retreat back to the traditions that others have left behind. That would seem to be a logical knee jerk reaction, but it is a response to a problem that has not been clearly identified. I believe there is something far more foundational that reveals the cause of the problem.
Jesus told us that those who believe in Him are those who have been born again. They are the ones to whom God has brought new life and awakened from their darkness. They are the ones whose minds have been enlightened to see the depth of their sin and to delight in a Savior who takes away their sin by the sacrifice of the cross. They are those who have truly experienced the resurrecting grace of God.
Just as there are many evidences that a new little life has come into a home – the crying in the middle of the night, the look of wonder in new eyes adjusting to the world around them, the dirty diapers, and the first steps – there are direct evidences that a ransomed sinner has been brought into the family of God.
An important passage of scripture that points out what I believe is a key characteristic in a believer is Titus 2:11-12, “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;” (emphasis mine).
It is only by God’s grace that the new birth comes to us, and it is this very grace that teaches us to live sober, righteous, and godly lives. When this idea is coupled with the concept of Christian liberty, this grace provides a natural barrier that keeps the believer from carrying their liberty beyond the extent that the Word of God allows.
Jude 1:4 says, “For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.” This verse talks about those who take the grace of God and use it a license for immoral and lawless behavior.
So why is it that these “advocates” for full and complete exercise of Christian liberty seem to go off the rails? To me, the answer is simple. They have never had a true experience of grace to teach them there are limits. They consequently don’t understand the comprehensive nature of God’s grace, and they see it as full permission to do whatever they want.
Bottom line… It is likely they have never been born again. They are not truly children of God. They are still living under the condemnation of God. They are still walking in darkness.
I know that this is a very bold statement, for many times the people who suffer as casualties of a misguided sense of “excessive” Christian liberty grew up in church. They walked the altars as children. They “prayed the prayer” and were even baptized. They were the cute little kids in the Sunday School class whose teachers thought would grow up to be godly, Christian people.
One of the plagues of modern Christianity is a weakened gospel that places more emphasis on an act or decision rather than on a real and vibrant proof of spiritual life from those who profess Christ. This is not saying that the evidence of spiritual life is required for a person to be born again, but rather, the evidence will appear because a person has truly been born again.
When a weak gospel is combined with an atmosphere where Christian liberty is deemphasized and replaced by a mere outward conformity to what tradition deems to be “Christian” behavior, these children often pass themselves off easily as truly being believers by following a set of external rules. They can even give themselves a false assurance of truly being saved.
When their parents begin to “search the scriptures” and test the validity of the traditions they have been taught, and in liberty begin to set aside those traditions that don’t pass the test, they are literally tearing down the very barriers that have lulled their children into a false sense of security. And as their children grow into adulthood, thinking they truly are children of God and recipients of God’s grace, they push the limits of liberty even farther. Then, as described before, their lives sink down to dismal depths in the name of “liberty,” and they find themselves slaves to worldly desires and behavior.
So what is the remedy? What is the way to prevent these reckless and destructive tendencies?
The complete gospel must be clearly preached to our children. We must make the reality of their own sin vibrant and clear. We must teach them of their complete inability to deliver themselves from the just wrath of God. We must point them to repentance from sin and faith in the finished work of Christ. We must show both by our words and by our deeds that the new birth has made a real difference in our lives.
When they come with questions about their salvation, we must not assuage their conscience by pointing them to a decision they made at a younger age. We must urge them to “examine” themselves to make sure they are “in the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5). We must help them understand that salvation is a powerful act of God that will make obvious changes in the way they live, though gradual those changes may be.
So, be wise. It is a grand and noble thing to love the Word of God, and to clearly differentiate between the commands of God and the commands of men. It is a wonderful experience to live a Spirit-filled life of Christian liberty, but the foundations for our children must first and foremost be laid in a solid understanding of the gospel and the grace of God.