“Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty.” (II Corinthians 3:17)
Legalism, license and liberty – Do you know the difference? Sometimes the differences between the three may be subtle, but when compared and contrasted against each other, the differences are really quite striking.
The manner by which a Christian chooses to live out his faith shows which one of these words will most often be associated with his name. In some cases, all three will show up from time to time in our lives. But as we mature in our Christian faith, one of these nouns seems to show up more in our lives. It’s important, therefore, to recognize their differences and examine what the Bible has to say about them.
Legalism is a term that most of us understand. We see it all the time. Some Christians come to believe that keeping the rules has something to do with keeping their salvation. In other words, a Christian can, by his own efforts, do some work to maintain his salvation. It’s a belief in the incompleteness or unfinished work of the Cross. It cheapens Grace.
The Pharisees were the worst example of just how far legalism can go. They had so many rules that scribes had to follow them around just to keep up with them and write them down. Jesus once said of them, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:27-28)
The opposite of legalism is license. It’s at the other end of the spectrum that one might use to describe how Christians apply their faith. What is license? Living a faith of license comes from a belief that there’s nothing a Christian can do to keep himself out of heaven. Licentious living means that we live without any restraint. It’s exactly how some Christians, for example, justify killing those who practice abortion.
Living with license also cheapens grace. How would a holy, loving God ever condone such a lifestyle of disobedience? The Apostle Paul said it this way: “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!” (Romans 6:15)
Ideally, Christians should choose to live a life of liberty, a life where one is obedient to the Godly standards because of grace and not in spite of it. For example, I don’t attend church out of a sense of duty. I attend church because I love the Lord. I am grateful for what He has done in my life. I look forward to church, to celebrating His goodness and the salvation I enjoy.
The Apostle Paul planted a lot of churches as a missionary. He often talked about living a life filled with liberty. In fact, to a church he formed in present-day Turkey, he once wrote, “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:13-14)
II Corinthians 13:5 says that we should examine ourselves to determine if we are “in the faith.” In other words, what we do with our Christian lives should come from love, not from commandment, not from duty. This standard applies to any dimension of Christian living – tithing, attending church, working in a soup kitchen, praying for a friend – it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that if we do it out of love, we are living life as God intended it to be lived – A life of liberty.Share on Facebook