May 27, 2013
i. The liberty which Christ hath purchased for believers under the gospel consists in their freedom from the guilt of sin, the condemning wrath of God, the curse of the moral law; and, in their being delivered from this present evil world, bondage to Satan, and dominion of sin; from the evil of afflictions, the sting of death, the victory of the grave, and everlasting damnation; as also, in their free access to God, and their yielding obedience unto him, not out of slavish fear, but a childlike love and willing mind. All which were common also to believers under the law. But, under the new testament, the liberty of Christians is further enlarged, in their freedom from the yoke of the ceremonial law, to which the Jewish church was subjected; and in greater boldness of access to the throne of grace, and in fuller communications of the free Spirit of God, than believers under the law did ordinarily take part of.
Many evangelicals today claim "Christian liberty" in a way that can mean anything from Enlightenment ideals of individual rights and freedoms to the post-modern ideal of pluralistic relativism. Sadly, this means that "Christian liberty" all too easily becomes a buzz-word for living how I please, according to the way I interpret or apply Scripture--if there is even an effort to attempt at scriptural justification. This is radically different from the "Christian liberty" and "liberty of conscience" expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith in its summary of historic, biblical Christianity.
The first part of chapter 20 of the Confession directs the believer to understand that Christian liberty is "the liberty which Christ has purchased for believers under the gospel." Christian liberty consists of freedom from the guilt of sin, the condemning wrath of God, and the curse of the moral law. We receive this liberty because of Christ's penal substitutionary atonement. But there is much more to the gracious reality of Christian liberty through salvation in Christ: it is being delivered from this present evil world, from bondage to Satan and the rule of sin in our lives. Christ sets us free. In and through Christ we are also freed from the evil of afflictions (our afflictions will now work together for our good!), from the sting of death, from the victory of the grave, and from eternity in hell. Our vast and precious Christian liberty, as purchased by Christ for us, is an impelling motive to worship, and to holy thankfulness!
The Confession points out that there is still far more to the glorious liberty of the children of God. (Rom. 8:21) In Christ, we are blessed with free access to God. We are now freed from our bondage to sin to enter a new and delightful obedience, "not out of slavish fear, but a childlike love and willing mind." We are freed from captivity to sin and misery to a new life of the pursuit of what is good and lovely, pure and noble, holy and happy. The Confession notes that this freedom was true for Old Testament believers, as it is for us in the New Testament era--but even more so for us as we are freed "from the yoke of the ceremonial law." Christ is our perfect and eternal high priest, who has offered the once for all sacrifice. In him we have a "greater boldness of access to the throne of grace", and also experience the person and work of the Holy Spirit in a more full way than Old Testament believers typically did. These are the things that make for authentic Christian liberty!
Dr William VanDoodewaard is Associate Professor of Church History at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary