“So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).
“But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:17-18).
“Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another” (Romans 14:13).
“For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).
What constitutes our freedom in Christ? This has been a controversial topic in 2020. Our First Amendment rights, our Second Amendment rights, flags, masks, vaccinations, abortion: we have argued and scrutinized everything, sometimes with passionate anger. So what does the Bible tell us? Jesus said we were set free. Paul’s great declaration that we are saved by grace alone became the rallying cry for the Christians who followed Martin Luther.
The church in Corinth was full of pagans who had left the many gods of their previous worship to become followers of Christ. They had a lot of disagreements and questions! One of the “hot button” issues in the Corinthian church was over eating food that had been offered to idols; was it OK or not? The Apostle Paul used up a lot of ink trying to answer this question for them. On the one hand, he said, I am free in Christ. On the other, because of my freedom, I am the slave of all. Our responsibility now is not to ourselves, but to those we love, to our community, and even to the moral world.
In the secular world partaking of food sacrificed to idols would be termed a “moral decision.” People who are free and take responsibility for their actions make decisions that are moral. We expect people to complete acts because they are morally good. We also expect people to behave morally because they have good intentions. It would never be a good moral choice to do an immoral act for the sake of some imagined positive result. The decisions we make that we might think are our own private business in fact have social consequences. There is no such thing as a sin that hurts no one.
Let’s go back to Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians. He continues to address other problems that are causing conflict and division in their congregation. Then, in chapter 13, he breaks out into a song praising love, in one of the best known and most loved passages in the entire Bible. He explains to his dear friends how to contend with the subjects that drive a wedge between us. He concludes, “For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:9-13).
We see only a part of the total picture. Our understanding is blurred by our self-preservation, even selfishness, and dislike for those who disagree with us. But every Sunday we have the opportunity to confess our sin to God. Having good intentions is not enough, and we often fail to do, or even perceive, what would be the best action in a particular situation. Our Christian friends and family may not see that situation the same way we do and disagree with us or oppose us, but they are still our friends and family. God understands, God forgives. We continue to love and forgive also. And we go into the world with new resolve to be servants of God, guided by faith, hope, and love.