25 Nov

As we have studied 1 Corinthians this year and in particular the section on Christian freedom in Chapters 8-10 I have been struck by how these seemingly irrelevant chapters on food sacrificed to idols and Paul’s rights as an Apostle are actually vital for understanding Christian maturity.  In them we see a common progression in the way Christian’s understand the freedom they have through Christ as they mature.


The legalist

Often Christians, in their zeal to please the Lord we have come to know, are tempted to become legalists, especially where we have been converted from a religious background (Christian or non-Christian).  In our zeal to please Jesus we fall into the trap of searching for religious laws that express our zeal and piety.  Sometimes these are irrelevant traditions (like ‘Don’t eat meat on Friday’).  Sometimes they are good things that we turn into laws (‘You must read your Bible every day’,  ‘You must be at all these church events’).  It is these ‘legalists’ who Paul calls the ‘weaker’ brother in 1 Corinthians because they haven’t understood their freedom in the Gospel.

As we come to a greater understanding of the Gospel however we come to see that we are free from the laws and traditions of men.  These things do not save us, our salvation is by grace, a free gift from God. 

Yet, this often leads to another (in fact the opposite) problem:


The libertarian

These Christians revel in the freedom won for them in Christ.  “I am saved by grace, so I’m free to do whatever I want any old time”.  Christian’s with this viewpoint will often say things like: “If it isn’t a sin I am free to do it”.  Often the basic Christian pieties that God gives us for our benefit go from being followed as laws to being ignored (e.g. church attendance, personal and group Bible Study, prayer).   It is sad how many Christians in modern day Sydney seem to be stuck at this point.

However, what 1 Corinthians challenges us to do is to truly understand the Gospel and so move forward and be what you might call ‘free slaves’.


The free slave

The free slave (another phrase for the mature Christian) understands that they have been set free from sin and the law, not to ‘do whatever I want’, but to become a voluntary slave of Christ.  In an amazing turn around they want to use their freedom to serve Christ and others.  Instead of asking: “Is this a sin?  If not I am free to do it.”  They ask questions like:

“Will this encourage others in faith?”

“Will this bring glory to God?”

Then they will voluntarily do things they are not required to do.  In the same way they will voluntarily choose not to do things they are free to do.  In 1 Corinthians Paul uses the example of not eating meat even though that is our right.  Similarly he talks about giving up his rights to financial support.  They key, is that the mature Christian stops worrying about their ‘rights’ and instead gives them up for the good of others.

Ironically, the Christian who understands this becomes even more zealous for Christian piety (Fellowship, Bible Reading, Prayer, Evangelism, Generosity) than the legalist.  However, their zeal is not out of obligation or duty but out of joy and grace.


So, how can we help people (ourselves and others) move from being legalists or libertarians to being free slaves of Christ?  Only by reminding each other constantly of the wonder of Jesus and the Gospel of grace.

 Phil Colgan


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