Real Love and Real Liberty (Part 3) by Phil Johnson

Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Galatians 5:13-14

Having explained how our Liberty is for the good of others, Paul then continues to show how our liberty is for the growth of the gospel and the glory of God.


A second way to get the maximum spiritual benefit from our liberty in Christ is to use it for the advancement of the gospel. Paul stressed the evangelistic benefits of Christian liberty. For him, freedom in Christ was an important tool that needed to be employed for the growth and furtherance of the gospel, and he did this conscientiously: “I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved” (v. 33).

This is actually an extension of the first principle. We should use our liberty for the good of others. And one of the greatest ways we can seek others’ welfare is to govern our behavior in a way that will make the gospel as clear and as attractive as possible.

Paul elaborated on this same principle a chapter earlier:

Though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, 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 not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).

Of course the apostle Paul was not merely looking for the favor of men. In Galatians 1:10, he wrote, “Am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” When he says in 1 Corinthians 10:33, “I try to please everyone in everything I do,” he certainly isn’t advocating any adjustment to the gospel to remove the offense of the cross. He wasn’t condoning ear-tickling preaching.

Indeed, he says, “I do it all for the sake of the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:23). His goal was to advance the gospel, not adapt it to the tastes of his audience. So this has nothing to do with the kind of compromise that is frequently labeled “contextualization” nowadays. Paul is talking about sacrificing his own liberty for the good of others and for the growth of the gospel. He would not sacrifice the message, but he would sacrifice himself to win people to Christ. He would give up his liberty completely—even become “a slave to all”—if that would promote the spread of the gospel.


Having said all that, Paul makes clear that the ultimate purpose for Christian liberty and the highest end to which we can apply it is for the glory of God. “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Here’s the most important of all lessons about Christian liberty: Everything we can lawfully do may be done and should be done for the glory of God. A parallel passage in Colossians 3:17 sheds even more light on the principle: “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” In other words, every activity you can legitimately thank God for, you should do in the name of Christ and to the glory of God. That is the very pinnacle of Christian liberty.

Those words (“do all to the glory of God”) are familiar. But have you ever thought about the sweeping extent of that commandment? It’s saying that every non-sinful activity of our lives is an occasion to give God glory. Every breath we take, every task we perform—all of life is to be lived with God’s glory in view.


There’s an interesting paradox associated with true liberty in Christ, and Paul states it explicitly in 1 Corinthians 9:19: “Though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all.”

That’s every Christian’s responsibility as a free person. Christ has liberated from sin and redeemed us from the law’s condemnation. Although free, we are now slaves of a different sort—captives under a new, joyful bondage. We are “servants [diakonos] of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:6, NASB). “Having been freed from sin, [we] became slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:18). We are now “slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart” (Ephesians 6:6). We have given up the yoke of the law and the bondage of sin, but we are now slaves of Christ.

Even though His yoke is easy and the burden is light—even though God Himself supplies the strength by which we render our service—it is nonetheless portrayed in Scripture as slavery. As Christ’s willing slaves, we voluntarily restrict our own liberty for others’ sakes.

That is precisely what Jesus Himself modeled and encouraged. “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35).

No liberty is absolute. Everyone is enslaved to something and free from something. In the words of Romans 6:20-22, “When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.” Christian liberty is not anything like moral autonomy. Don’t ever get the idea that you freedom in Christ means you are free from responsibility or out from under authority.

But real freedom from sin means enslavement to righteousness. That freedom will finally reach full fruition in heaven, when at last we will be able to obey the will of God without any inclination to do otherwise.

Pulpit Magazine – August 2013

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