Blog 138: 3.19.1 - 3.19.7

Justin Taylor

Calvin regards the doctrine of Christian liberty as a teaching of primary importance. Without a proper understanding of it, we cannot truly know Christ, the truth of the gospel, or peace within. But people have strong, strange reactions to this teaching, thinking that it is a license to sin or that liberty can be flaunted before those whose consciences are weaker. So Calvin has to refute the abuse while presenting the true doctrine. 

Christian liberty, properly understood, has three facets:

1. A believer's conscience must not turn to the law in seeking assurance of one's justification.
2. A believer's conscience does not obey the law compelled by legal necessity, but rather freely obeys the will of God.
3. Believers are not bound to indifferent things (Greek: adiaphora) but have full liberty to either use them or forgo them.

Without this teaching of Christian liberty, our consciences become in bondage, ensnared in an unholy labyrinth of despair and terror.

Bound up in this discussion is again the role of works in the Christian life. Does the fact that we are no longer under the law, operating with the gift of Christian liberty, mean that works can be cast off? Again Calvin returns to an essential distinction in his theology: a slave interacting with his master is different from a son interacting with his Father. The former is only a relationship of law: works are required, but the slave is filled with fear that he do everything right. But in a family, the Father requires work but graciously loves and accepts the deeds, even if imperfect.

One relevant application for us today: even if we have it right theologically and doctrinally, are we practically and functionally operating as sons before a gracious Father, or are we falling back into the mistake of treating God like our demanding taskmaster?