21 The True Nature of Christian Freedom
Calvin considered the basis of Christian freedom to be justification by faith. The believer is no longer under the curse of the law. Instead, believers have been justified by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Christian freedom consists of three parts: 1) righteousness cannot be found in the law, but only through Jesus Christ;
2) believers voluntarily obey the law;
3) the knowledge that believers are freed from the bondage of “things indifferent,” adiaphora (matters not regarded as essential to faith, leaving the believer to do as he likes with regards to these matters).
In 3.19.3, Calvin references Galatians as the basis for his first point. Paul teaches that “through the cross of Christ they are free from the condemnation of the law, which otherwise hangs over all men, so that they may rest with full assurance in Christ alone.” (pg 836) The law reveals the way in which Christians should live, but cannot condemn us. “...where consciences are worried how to render God favorable, what they will reply, and with what assurance they will stand should they be called to his judgment, there we are not to reckon with what the law requires, but Christ alone, who surpasses all perfection of the law, must be set forth as righteousness.” (3.19.2, pg 835)
Calvin’s second point states that if we are believers, we will want to obey God’s law. Our obedience to the law is not required in order to gain salvation, but is a natural expression of our salvation. God’s law is a gift that shows us how to live in order to obey God’s will. His law helps us to understand God’s will and purpose for our lives. Our obedience to the law is an expression of our gratitude for God’s grace given to us in Jesus Christ. “…all our works are under the curse of the law if they are measured by the standard of the law! But if, freed from this severe requirement of the law, or rather from the entire rigor of the law, they hear themselves called with fatherly gentleness by God, they will cheerfully and with great eagerness answer, and follow his leading.” (3.19.4, pg 837)
The third point deals with adiaphora or “things indifferent. “ We are not free to sin, but we have been called by the grace of God to righteousness and holiness. However, we do have freedom when it comes to “things that are of themselves indifferent. “ The believer is free to do as he likes with regard to eating, drinking and clothing. “…we are not bound before God by any religious obligation preventing us from sometimes using them and other times not using them, indifferently.” (3.19.7, pg 838) We are not bound by the traditions of man. However, liberty is to be used responsibly. Do not overuse this freedom so as to offend others. On the other hand, don’t overuse this freedom for the sake of self-indulgence. The purpose of this freedom is so that we can pursue God, not sin.
What does Calvin understand by Christian freedom?
Christian freedom describes our new life in Jesus Christ. God’s moral law, expressed in the Ten Commandments, is the expression of God’s will. It tells us how God wants us to live, in relation to Him as well as to one another. We will grow in God’s grace as we obey God’s law and will out of gratitude for the wonderful gift of salvation. This frees believers to love others, which is our motive for Christian living and the expression of our union with Christ. Instead of seeking independence from God, believers seek in all things what is God’s will and the good of their neighbor. This is our liberty in Christ.
According to Calvin, we do not need to exercise our liberty in order to enjoy it. Without making a list of “do-this” or “don’t do-this”, how do you suggest that we examine each of our many choices in our very blessed lives to determine if we are making choices that are best for the kingdom or best for us?