Am I Actually Free? 1 Corinthians 10:23-33

            Within the context of contemporary society, liberty is something that is constantly on my mind. I live in a world where I am forced to pay out a certain percentage of my paycheck for the pursuit of national welfare. I am forced to insure both my vehicle and my person. I live in such a world that neither the unborn nor the elderly have the freedom to live. The world in which I live has such intensive regulations, that I cannot readily begin a small business without first going bankrupt. Liberty is something desired by all people, but truly achieved by few.

In this moment, I want to conduct a short thought experiment. Let’s close our eyes together and think about what it would be like to live in a world that was absolutely free. Regulations and laws would exist only so much as they promoted the freedom of the individual. If there also existed a world where everyone exercised wisdom, there would be no need for laws at all. There would be no regulations on small businesses, no speed limits, no mandatory insurance and virtually no taxes. Each individual would be responsible for his own welfare and the welfare of his family. He would be free to worship as he saw fit, to pursue education and to work (or not work). Each man would bear the consequences for his own action. These thoughts, though, are fantastical. We live in a world that is riddled with imperfection. It maintains the curse that was sown with Adam’s sin. We have rebelled against God, and as rebels in this fallen world we cannot achieve true liberty. We have made ourselves slaves to sin and slaves to each other. Wisdom does not define men, and so regulations and laws are produced by those in power.

Now, let us turn our attention to the holy scriptures. Within these scriptures there are laws and regulations. More than that, there is a story. There is a story of a God who created mankind in freedom and in His very image. Mankind, after being created free, used his freedom to rebel against God and to make himself a slave to sin and to his own kind. Throughout time, God has been redeeming mankind and the fullness of this redemption can be found in Jesus Christ of whom it was written:

“Christ has liberated us to be free. Stand firm then and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery.”[1]

This morning I want to ask a simple question to those who have been freed by Christ. For what do we use our freedom? Do we use this freedom for personal gain on this earth, or do we use this freedom to honor God? Since we are still wrapped in our sinful flesh, what does it mean that we are free in Christ?

“Everything is permissible,” but not everything is helpful. “Everything is permissible,” but not everything builds up. No one should seek his own good, but the good of the other person.

Eat everything that is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience’ sake, for the earth is the Lord’s, and all that is in it. If one of the unbelievers invites you over and you want to go, eat everything that is set before you, without raising questions of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This is food offered to an idol,” do not eat it, out of consideration for the one who told you, and for conscience’ sake. I do not mean your own conscience, but the other person’s. For why is my freedom judged by another person’s conscience? If I partake with thanks, why am I slandered because of something I give thanks for?

Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for God’s glory. Give no offense to the Jews or the Greeks or the church of God, just as I also try to please all people in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, so that they may be saved.[2]

Everything is permissible

When I read through scripture, and I mean the whole of scripture, it seems clear to me that God’s ideal for human existence is unbounded freedom. Without mankind’s fallen nature or sinfulness, there would be no need for laws of any kind because people would be perfect in their wisdom. They would make correct choices. Christ, in His death, dealt with sin for those who believe in Him.[3] My fallen nature will die when this body of mine dies.

In Christ, we receive a certain freedom because the hold that sin had on us was broken as Jesus took on Himself the penalty for that sin. With the world the way that it is, I want to be clear on this: freedom cannot be found in human politics, it cannot be found under human government and it certainly cannot be found in either science or religion. Freedom can only be found in Jesus Christ!

At this point in the text, Paul is addressing the question as to whether or not believers should eat meat that has been sacrificed to false gods. He answers, telling them that everything is permissible. I think Paul understood better than many do today that the Gospel is not a mode of enslavement, but is instead an avenue into liberty. In fact, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only way that any human being can truly be free.

Everything is permissible.

Paul doesn’t leave his answer there. Even though Christ has conquered sin, as people we must still deal with this fallen nature that we were born into. We must deal with this fallen nature until these bodies of ours die. We are no longer subject to the power of sin, but we are also not perfect in our wisdom and we are certainly not perfect in our reason. There still must exist a written moral law by which each one measures his action. Paul continues by saying that not everything is helpful or profitable.

So, we are free people in Christ, but it remains that we are each slaves to our own fallen nature. The freedom that we have received in Christ is only beneficial so long as we recognize and follow after God’s moral authority. If we choose to use our freedom to sin, it is worth nothing to us or to others.

For others’ sake

So, for me, all things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial. In high school, I had a friend who thought it a sin to consume pork. When I was around him I had a few options, and I really love ham sandwiches. Being free in Christ, I had the option to eat a ham sandwich whenever I wanted. After all, had Christ not declared all things clean? I could have chosen to not ever eat with this friend, so that I could enjoy what I loved, or I could choose to eat something else while this friend was around. The most beneficial thing for me to do while I was with this particular friend was to abstain from the consumption of pork. In essence the wisest course of action is for me to subject myself to the stricter moral convictions of others, for their sake (that they may be saved) and for the sake of God’s kingdom.

This idea has some interesting implications for us as we live within today’s western culture.

  1. We must follow the moral convictions that God has given us in scripture, else our freedom becomes worthless.
    1. Because we are free, though, there is grace when we are not perfect.
  2. When thinking about the consumption of alcohol or the use of tobacco and marijuana, even if some might believe these to not be sinful, perhaps we should abstain for the sake of others (that they may be saved) and for the sake of God’s kingdom!
  3. When it comes to following the political laws of our nation, we should submit ourselves for the sake of the nation (that its people may be saved). Christians ought to be the best citizens![4]
    1. We are blessed to live in a nation where we have a say in the constant development of the law of the land.
    2. If the law of the land contradicts God’s moral standard, then our responsibility is first to God’s moral standard.
  4. Christian freedom can either be used selfishly and in vain, or it can be used unselfishly and for great gain! My freedom means that I can deny myself if I so choose.

For God’s glory!

All of this being said, we must realize that there is something deeper than law that guides the actions of the Christian: “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for God’s glory.”

Question of sinful flesh

In this life, I am a slave because I am still bound by this sinful flesh. I believe our freedom will come to fruition as we experience the fullness of the eternal life that God has gifted to us. In this age, we must do our best to give no offense, trying to please all people in all things, not seeking our own profit, but the profit of many, so that they may be saved.

A word on freedom

            Thinking on this freedom, I realize that it can only be found in Christ. There is no other way by which people can be free. We spend so much time fighting for liberty on this earth that so many people miss the true source of freedom. I hope all of those reading have the freedom that I write about, oh so often.

[1] Galatians 5:1 (HCSB)

[2] 1 Corinthians 10:23-33 (HCSB)

[3] Mark 3:28

[4] Refer to Romans 13

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