“Just because something is technically legal doesn’t mean that it’s spiritually appropriate. If I went around doing whatever I thought I could get by with, I’d be a slave to my whims.” — Eugene Peterson
The refrain, “It’s my right!” rings our everywhere today in our culture. Whether it’s in demand of entitlements or freedom from regulation. Regardless, our “rights” are something that we constantly demand. The quote from Peterson is actually 1 Corinthians 6:12 from the Message. This verse will be the final one that we look in our conversation about freedom and the law. It is used almost always to support the freedom of a person and their use of freedom. Based on Peterson’s rendering we are left scratching our heads as to “why?”
Well, consider the traditional translation from the ESV, “”All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything.“
So, when we read this often we think, “Yes, I can do anything!” This leads us to a place of license. However, Peterson’s rendering provides us with the correct sense. There are things that we should not do because they harm us spiritually. 1 Corinthians 6–9 is a fascinating section of Scripture where Paul lays out many issues regarding freedom. To work through all of it would be too lengthy. So here are a couple of bullet points:
- Paul wants the Corinthians to realize that there is more to life than what they see. Their bodies are going to be resurrected and bought with a price. Freedom is limited by the statement, “So glorify God in you body. (6:20)”
- Freedom is determined by knowledge of God (8:1–2).
- Freedom is limited by concern for the brother’s conscience (8:12)
- The freedom which Paul is directly dealing with is in regards to food laws (6–8)
- Freedom in relation to personal association is doggedly protected (9:19–23)
- Freedom is determined by ones own understanding of the gospel (9:19)
In short, we have no “rights”. We cannot do anything we want because we are constrained by love for our brothers. We cannot do anything we want because we are constrained by love for our Savior. We cannot do anything we want because we are constrained by our desire to glorify God.
However, we are also free to love well. To enjoy the creation. To engage the culture in all its fullness. We are free to “become all things to all people” without fear of condemnation. We are free to speak the language of the common man and to enter into his world.
I think that as we close this conversation about freedom and law we must realize that in Christ we are free. The measure that we use this freedom is direct correlation to our understanding of grace. If we are free, really free, then we can also choose to protect the weaker brother. We are also to help one another grow in knowledge and experience of the gospel.