The relationship between freedom and law is an intricate one. It is far too easy to have a message on Christian freedom degenerate into one in which Christians are taught they are free to do whatever they want: “no rules equals freedom.” On the other hand, it is far too easy to hear messages on the law of God sound like believers are bound to obey the law in slavish fear: “your obedience earns you a place in this house.” Mistakes on liberty and law often ride tandem.
The alliance of Christian liberty and God’s law is one far too elaborate to summarize in a short post. But, I commend one idea to get the ball rolling: When it comes to Christian freedom and the law, believers are both free from law and free unto law. Getting the right senses of each makes all the difference.
Christian Freedom From the Law
Paul often speaks of the shortcomings and disturbing functions of the law. He reiterates again and again that the law cannot be kept, and thus no one will be justified by works of the law, rather those who rely on them are cursed. Furthermore, rather than suppressing sin in the heart of the unregenerate, the law aggravates their sin causing it to increase. The law not only irritates the sin of unbelievers but it also takes them captive, stands against them, and separates them from God (Romans 7:6).
Because God is a just God, lawbreakers stand squarely under His wrath. They are guilty, dominated by sin, enslaved to Satan, and subject to everlasting damnation. The law, for them, truly is a ministry of death (2 Corinthians 3:7).
Thanks be to God, in this sense, Christians have been set free from the law! The 1689 Baptist Confession says, “The liberty which Christ hath purchased for believers under the gospel, consists in their freedom from the guilt of sin, the condemning wrath of God, the rigour and curse of the law” (21.1).
Christian Freedom Unto the Law
In addition to being set free from law, Christians are also set free unto law. Due to sin, human beings simply cannot obey God. They do not want to obey Him and lack the ability to do so. But, when one is born again, the Holy Spirit establishes new life. Given this new life, a person is now free to run in the way of God’s commandments. That which once looked displeasing due to hostility against the Creator, now appears as it truly is, an easy yoke and a light burden (Matthew 11:30).
The 1689 Confession again, “The liberty which Christ hath purchased for believers under the gospel, consists in their… yielding obedience unto Him, not out of slavish fear, but a child-like love and willing mind” (21.1). Anyone who would claim Christian freedom as grounds for disregarding God’s law “wholly destroy[s] the end of Christian liberty, which is, that being delivered out of the hands of all our enemies, we might serve the Lord without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him, all the days of our lives” (21.3).
It is a great joy to be free from the rigour and curse of the law and free unto obedience to God’s law. This, Christ has purchased for us. And what a freedom it is.