The Freedom(s) of a Christian

Text: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

St. Paul writes in Romans 8, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”[1] Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he also wrote in 1 Corinthians 9, “Though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.”[2] In Romans it says that we have been set free in Christ from the laws of sin and death, but then in 1 Corinthians it says that we have been made servants of all. So which is it? Are we free or slaves? The answer is yes, both. In 1520 Martin Luther wrote a small booklet titled, “The Freedom of a Christian.” The heart the material is two sentences that seem to contradict each other, yet go together perfectly. First, “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none,” and second, “A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.”[3]

We are at the same time, both free and slaves. In regards to salvation, we are completely and totally free. We are no longer bound by the chains of the Law, the chains which say, “Do this and live.” Instead, Jesus Christ fulfilled the Law perfectly in our place, and then died for our sins. No longer do we live in fear of being punished for our guilt, for Jesus Christ, the Holy One of God who has the authority to command demons to flee, has put away our sins as far as the east is from the west. He has freed us from the works of the Law for salvation so that we may live in love towards God and our neighbor. We have been released from our sin, and yet in love remain subject to neighbor in Christ.

I.

The past few weeks, the Epistle readings have been from 1 Corinthians, which is a rather difficult book. It’s difficult because the reason it was written was to settle the many issues that divided the Corinthian congregation. These issues included leadership, sexual immorality, whether to marry or not, lawsuits among believers, and many other things. Some of them, particularly the one today about food offered to idols, may seem out of date. But rather than let these teachings fall into distant history, God has preserved His Word throughout the millennia for our learning.

So this issue is, what is the big deal about eating food sacrificed to idols? Paul writes, “We know that ‘an idol has no real existence,’ and that ‘there is no God but one.’ For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.”[4] We who have knowledge, who believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, know that idols are nothing. Statues of pagan gods, whether Greek, Roman, Hindu, you name it, are nothing. They are not alive, they are just objects made by human hands. We know this, so what’s the big deal?

Corinth was, much like the United States, a religiously plural society. Pick a “god,” and you could worship it there. Part of the worship of a few particular false gods in Corinth was eating. Mostly that was done in the inner parts of the temples, so only really committed people were involved with that. But, every so often, they would have public festivals were the community was invited into the courtyard and they passed out free meat to everyone, meat that had been sacrificed to whatever “god.” It turns out that these courtyards were also restaurants and gathering spaces, basically like a convention center. So, outside of the free food, the more well-to-do would conduct business there and eat the food, which had been sacrificed, like it was nothing. This could be bad.

The deal wasn’t that some had a stronger faith than others, for all who believe in Jesus are strong in Him, but that not all of them were able to separate the pagan from the true Faith. Think about it this way: Beer is a gift of God. It is a wonderful gift that many like to enjoy. But, what happens when a recovering alcoholic who is a new Christian, sees that his fellow Christians have a habit of getting schnockered every Sunday night? Now, you aren’t necessarily breaking God’s Commandments by having a number of beers, but you may be causing offense to your brother in Christ. Though you are free in Christ, Paul writes, “By your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.”[5] This applies to any number of situations; you can probably pick them better than I.

II.

Jesus said in Matthew 20, “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”[6] He Himself gives us the most perfect picture of Christian life. A Christian life is one of freedom, yes, but also one of service. Our freedom is not just that we can do anything we want, rather it is the true freedom, the peace that comes from sins forgiven. Apart from Christ, our sins hang around our necks like great boulders pulling us down into the ocean. No matter how hard we kick our legs and flap our arms to try and pull above water, it’ll never happen.

Instead of leaving us to drown in the damnation we created, Jesus came to save us. He came to pull us from the depths. And how? By becoming a servant. He came in perfect meekness, perfect humility, to subject Himself to the demands of the Law and in perfect service to His neighbor. This is most especially true in His death on the cross as payment for our sins. By His death and resurrection He has made us truly free and lords of all. That’s what Paul means in Romans 8, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”[7]

You have been bought with a price. You have been purchased with the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ and are set free from sin. So now, as Scripture says, “You were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”[8] These are the freedoms of a Christian: 1) In Christ we are free from the guilt of our sins, and, 2) In Christ we are free to serve our neighbor in love. What does that look like? What does love look like? It could be something as simple as saying hello to someone new on the way out of church. It could be inviting someone to come to church or a Bible study. It could be sharing with your friends that, even when your life goes to crap, you have a Savior that is with you there to life you up with His Holy Spirit. It could be loving and forgiving your husband or wife even when you really don’t want to, because Jesus died for their sins, too.

Will doing any of these good things get you to heaven? No, but by doing so you will have witnessed to the faith, love, and truth of Jesus Christ – and that is exactly why we’re here.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Rom. 8:1–2.

[2] 1 Cor. 9:19.

[3] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 31: Career of the Reformer I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 31 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 344.

[4] 1 Cor. 8:4–6.

[5] 1 Cor. 8:11–12.

[6] Mt. 20:26–28.

[7] Rom. 8:28.

[8] Gal. 5:13.

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