Chapter 21: Of Christian Liberty and Liberty of Conscience
Are Christians free? How are Christians free? What does this liberty consist in? Are we free to sin?
- 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, 1 and in their being delivered from this present evil world, bondage to Satan, and dominion of sin, 2 from the evil of afflictions, the fear and sting of death, the victory of the grave, and ever- lasting damnation: 3 as also in their free access to God, and their yielding obedience unto Him, not out of slavish fear, but a child-like love and willing mind. 4
All which were common also to believers under the law for the substance of them; 5 but under the New Testament the liberty of Christians is further enlarged, in their freedom from the yoke of a ceremonial law, to which the Jewish church was subjected, and in greater boldness of access to the throne of grace, and in fuller communications of the free Spirit of God, than believers under the law did ordinarily partake of. 6
- John 3:36; Rom. 8:33; Gal. 3:13
- Gal. 1:4; Eph. 2:1-3; Col. 1:13; Acts 26:18; Rom. 6:14-18; 8:3
- Rom. 8:28; 1 Cor. 15:54-57; 1 Thess. 1:10; Heb. 2:14-15
- Eph. 2:18; 3:12; Rom. 8:15; 1 John 4:18
- John 8:32; Ps. 19:7-9; 119:14, 24, 45, 47, 48, 72, 97; Rom. 4:5-11; Gal. 3:9; Heb. 11:27, 33-34
- John 1:17; Heb. 1:1-2a;7:19, 22; 8:6, 9:23, 11:40; Gal. 2:11f.; 4:1-3; Col 2:16-17; Heb. 10:19-21; John 7:38-39
The Children Of God Are Freed From
Oh, brothers and sisters, how thankful should we be to our Lord for the many liberties which He has blessed us with as His children. The Confession mentions ten things which we have been freed from. As His children and followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, we are slaves to no one, but God. Paradoxically, true freedom comes from slavery to none other than Christ. We belong to Him and we are called to walk in freedom (Gal. 5:1). We are under grace and are free, but our freedom does not consist in doing our own will, but the will of the Father and seeking His good pleasure. We were called out of the bondage of sin to walk in the freedom of God and the Gospel.
1. The guilt of sin
When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free
For God the Just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me
To look on Him and pardon me
— Before The Throne of God Above, verse 2.
Christ, our precious Lord and Savior, makes an end of our sin and thereby also end of the guilt of sin. The guilt of sin does not only consist in the psychological terror of breaking God’s Law, but also the moral culpability and responsibility for breaking His Law, for sin is the breaking and transgressing of His Law (1John 3:4 KJV). Christ, our High Priest, “put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Heb. 9:26) and thereby made also an end to the condemnation and punishment of sin for His people. Romans 8:1 declares that there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”. Why? Because of His sacrificial work on their behalf. He has satisfied the wrath of God on their behalf and has been punished according to the demand of the law in place of His elect (Rom. 3:25-26; Gal. 3:10-13).
According to Romans 8:32-34, the reason that no condemnation is possible for the children of God is because of:
- the death of Christ on their behalf;
- the resurrection of Christ on their behalf; and
- the intercession of Christ on their behalf.
These threefold reasons do not depend upon them and are not things done by them. Rather, they are things done for them by Christ. See here for more on Romans 8:34.
2. The condemning wrath of God
Complete atonement You have made
And by Your death have fully paid
The debt Your people owed
No wrath remains for us to face
We’re sheltered by Your saving grace
And sprinkled with Your blood
— Sovereign Grace Music - Now Why This Fear, verse 2.
This is closely connected the first point above. We are free from the guilt of sin and likewise from the condemnation which comes because of sin. Christians will never know the wrath of God. They have been, prior to regeneration, under the wrath of God (John 3:36), but after regeneration, we will have no taste of His wrath. We may be under His discipline, but His discipline is not equivalent to His holy and righteous wrath. We are delivered both from the present wrath of God and the eschatological wrath of God in Hell. The Apostle Paul writes:
1 Thess. 1:10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
Christians are here described as those who (1) wait for the Son from heaven (Titus 2:13) and likewise those who are delivered from the wrath to come. The phrase “wrath to come” was first used by John the Baptist (Matt. 3:7; Luke 3:7) and referred to the eschatological judgment of God. God’s judgment is coming and it is righteous! But Christians, through Jesus, will escape from God’s judgment. This does not mean that Christians will not be judged, for, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2Cor. 5:10), but that we will never be condemned by Christ. We may gain or lose rewards, but we will never be rejected and condemned by Him!
How is it that we may escape from the wrath to come? Because Christ bore the full wrath of God, which was due to our sins, upon Himself. He was punished in our place and in this way we escape from the terrifying wrath of God, which will be released upon all those who have not obeyed the Gospel of our Christ. For all those who are not found in Christ, they are at the present time already under the wrath of God (John 3:36), but once they repent and believe, they will no longer be “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3), but will be called “sons of the Most High” (Rom. 9:26).
3. The rigor and curse of the law
We no longer obey the Law to gain righteousness by it, nor are we condemned and cursed because we do not perfectly obey it. The Mosaic Covenant demanded perfect obedience, but no mere man can render that. Therefore, any least transgression of the law brought the curse of the law (Gal. 3:10). But Christ, for His people, took the curse of the law upon Himself (Gal. 3:13-14) so that we would be justified by faith. The old Mosaic Covenant was a covenant of works (or a mixed covenant, but not a covenant of pure grace), which demanded obedience for blessings (although God always graciously blessed the people) and gave curses for disobedience. Christians, under the New Covenant, are free from both the strictness and curse of the law. That does not mean that we do not have to obey God or do not have obey the Ten Commandments, but it means when we disobey (because we are not perfect) we are not cursed and have a way of receiving forgiveness through Christ.
The Apostle Paul writes:
Rom. 6:14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
We are under grace, not under the law as a covenant of works, and therefore the curses of the law as a covenant of works do no longer apply to us. For more on this see 1689 19:6.
4-6. This present evil world, from Satan and from sin
These three things listed are interconnected and therefore, I will treat them under one heading. These are:
- Freedom from the present evil world
- Freedom from bondage to Satan
- Freedom from the dominion of sin
To belong to this world means to be a slave of Satan and under the bondage of sin. To live in sin means to be under the bondage of Satan and to belong to his world and so on. These things are interconnected and they concern the power of sin from which believers are delivered. Therefore, when I speak of sin, I always have in mind these three things. Some of the things already said above touch upon these points.
We no longer belong to the dominion of sin and Satan (Gal. 1:4; Col. 1:13; Rom. 6:12-14; Acts 26:18), but belong and are slaves to Christ and righteousness (Rom. 6:16-18). Sin can no longer reign in us as it did prior to Christ and the indwelling of the Spirit of Christ. Prior to regeneration, we were children of wrath who “once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2), but now we are by grace seeking to walk in the good works prepared for us long ago (Eph. 2:10). We are set free from the dominion and power of sin to enjoy our freedom to not sin, but rather do that which is right! We are set free from this evil world so that we would be “transformed by the renewal of [our] mind, that by testing [we] may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acce...