Freedom or Liberty in Christ: 2 Corinthians 3:17
Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. (NKJV)
Let’s spend some time discussing whether we have freedom in Christ or liberty in Christ. Why? Because despite popular opinion the words mean two entirely different things. Freedom by definition means this, the quality or state of being free such as: the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action; liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another; the quality or state of being exempt or released usually from something onerous; and/or unrestricted use. Whereas liberty is defined in this way, the quality or state of being free such as: the power to do as one pleases; freedom from physical restraint; freedom from arbitrary or despotic control; the positive enjoyment of various social, political, or economic rights and privileges; and/or the power of choice. These two definitions can be simplified in this way: freedom means doing whatever you desire because it is your “right or privilege,” whereas liberty is the responsible use of freedom under the rule of law without depriving anyone else of their freedom.
Since these two words have two different meanings why do we use them so interchangeably. And the answer to that lays in a document written in 1775 during a very chaotic time in America, the Revolutionary War (where the American colonies were seeking their independence from Great Britain). This document, the Declaration of Independence, has become the standard by which those seeking to obtain freedom (primarily political freedom, which might involve religious freedom) basis their thoughts. In this document the authors, a committee of men with Thomas Jefferson being the one who actually put the words on paper, wrote these words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
We understand without being told what having a right to “life” and a right to “liberty” mean. We know that having a right to “life” means that your life cannot be taken from you arbitrarily, in other words life is a sacred and can only be taken for certain valid reasons. We know that a right to “liberty” means that we the right to live free from oppression and the evils of the tyranny. However, it is the third right that causes us problems and has ultimate led to a misunderstanding and misuse of the words freedom and liberty. We mistakenly believe that the right to “the pursuit of happiness” gives us the right to do whatever we want so long as it makes us happy.
However, nothing could be further from the truth, because that is not what the writers of the Declaration of Independence meant at all when they wrote about the right to “the pursuit of happiness.” In fact, when the phrase “pursuit of happiness” is used in constitutional law it means this: personal freedom, freedom of contract, exemption from oppression or invidious discrimination, the right to follow one’s individual preference in the choice of an occupation and the application of his/her energies, liberty of conscience, and the right to enjoy the domestic relations and the privileges of the family and the home.
Now that we understand a little about the differences between freedom and liberty, and how we came as a society in general to be so mixed up on their meaning, let’s then look at how we can put his new understanding to work in determining what Paul is telling us in 2 Corinthians 3:17. Most of your newer translations will translate the Greek word that Paul used (eleutheria) as the word “freedom” for the very reasons that we have already discussed. However, in ancient times and at the time of the translating of older translations, such as KJV (King James Version) and its updated version NKJV (New King James Version), the words freedom and liberty were not used interchangeably. Therefore, when the translators chose an English word that best fit the meaning of the Greek word used here they chose liberty, for all the reasons that we have already discussed.
The liberty, then, that comes through faith in and devotion to Christ rescues and sets people free from the guilt and slavery of sin (2 Corinthians 3:7-9; Romans 6:6, 14; 8:2 Ephesians 4:22-24 and Colossians 3:9-10) and from the power of and control of Satan (Acts 26:18; Colossians 1:13 and 1 Peter 5:8). There are two things that we need to understand about this liberty that we have been given.
- True liberty begins when you accept God’s forgiveness, enter a personal relationship with Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12 and Ephesians 1:7) and receive the Holy Spirit. You continue to experience this liberty from spiritual slavery through the power of the Holy Spirit living within you and through obedience to the Spirit’s direction (Romans 8:1; Galatians 5:18 and John 15:1-11).
- This state of being free that has been provided by Christ is not a freedom for you to do whatever you want to do whenever you want to do it (1 Corinthians 10:23-24), but rather it is the liberty to do all that you should do (Romans 6:18-23). The fact that you have been set free must never be used as an excuse for questionable behavior, to cover up evil, or to justify conflict with other followers of Christ (James 4:1-2 and 1 Peter 2:16-23). Christian liberty, therefore, frees people to do what Christ desires and to serve God (1 Thessalonians 1:9) and other people (1 Corinthians 9:19) in ways that God determines are right (Romans 6:18). You have become Christ’s slaves-and even more, his willing servants (Romans 1:1; 1 Corinthians 7:22 and Philippians 1:1)-living to honor God with the Spirit’s help and enablement (Romans 5:21 and 6:10-13).
Therefore, the answer to the question posed in the title: Freedom in Christ or Liberty in Christ? And I think we can all agree that liberty in Christ is the best way phrase it. Why? Because we have been set free from the bondage of sin not to do whatever we want whenever we want to do it, but we have instead been set free to judiciously exercise our freedom to better the kingdom of God. In other words, we put aside some of our rights and privileges in order that those around us will have the opportunity to be liberated for the bondage of sin.
Today’s Bible Readings:
Zechariah 10-11, Revelation 18, Psalm 146:1-10 and Proverbs 30:33
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