Christian Liberty (2)

We discovered in our previous article that it is difficult to define the scope of Christian liberty. We recognize that there is an area of our Christian calling in which the individual Christian must determine for himself whether a thing is good or bad. One Christian may decide it is bad for him, while another Christian may deem it proper. Since it is not clearly defined, it gives rise for debate and sometimes severe judgment of fellow Christians. On the one hand, a Christian may become overly cautious. We quote from John Calvin’s Institutes, Book III, Chapter 19, page 134,

In the present day many think us absurd in raising a question as to the free eating of flesh, the free use of dress and holidays, and similar frivolous trifles, as they think them; but they are of more importance than is commonly supposed. For when once the conscience is entangled in the net, it enters a long and inextricable labryinth, from which it is afterwards most difficult to escape. When a man begins to doubt whether it is lawful for him to use linen for sheets, shirts, napkins, and handkerchiefs, he will not long be secure as to himp, and will at last have doubts as to tow; for he will revolve in his mind whether he cannot sup without napkins, or dispense with handkerchiefs. Should he deem a daintier food unlawful, he will afterwards feel uneasy for using loafbread and common eatables, because he will think that his body might possibly be supported on a still meaner food. If he hesitates as to a more genial wine, he will scarcely drink the worst with a good conscience; at last he will not dare to touch water if more than usually sweet and pure. In fine, he will come to this, that he will deem it criminal to trample on a straw lying in his way . . . When men are involved in such doubts, whatever be the direction in which they turn, everything they see must offend their conscience.

Then there is the other side of the picture, permissiveness. Calvin also warns that things which are in themselves neither right or wrong may be used wrongfully.

Certainly ivory and gold, and riches, are the good creatures of God, permitted, nay, destined, by divine providence for the use of man, nor was it ever forbidden to laugh or to be full, or to add new to old and hereditary possessions, or to be delighted with music, or to drink wine. This is true, but when the means are supplied, to roll and wallow in luxury, to intoxicate the mind and soul with present, and be always hunting after new pleasures, is very far from a legitimate use of the gifts of God. Let them therefore, suppress immoderate desire, immoderate profusion, vanity, and arrogance, that they may use the gifts of God purely with a pure conscience. Institutes, Book III, chapter 19, page 136.

Since the question of Christian liberty comes to the foreground in a special and personal way in the life of a young person, we do well to investigate this aspect further.


We may well ask: why does the question of Christian liberty come to the foreground so often in the life of a young person? Isn’t it interesting that the examples given by John Calvin in the 16th century are still a burden to parents regarding their young people: dress, wine, leisure time, music, etc. Why are they so sensitive in relation to youth? 

Part of the answer has to be that youth advocate change. Young people like what is different. Certainly, the styles (or lack of it) of clothing, music, entertainment, all prove that the clever manipulators of the youth culture are taking advantage of this fact of life. This has been true for every generation. The difference is that the present generation has the time and money to take full advantage of it. Young people want their own marks of identity, and the way to get them is to accept the latest fad in order to stay one step ahead of grandma who is bound to catch up. 

This puts young people in the forefront of the conflict. As soon as something new comes along, young people are psychologically ready to grab it. Look around you: long hair, thick soled shoes, grubby washed off denim pants, the baggy look, rock music, sports cars, and on and on. When young people grab these things, they force themselves to face a moral question, is it all right? Usually the older generation shouts, no! The young people say, yes! The area of change produces this area of conflict and moral evaluation. In forming these moral judgments, we have to discern as to what is sinful and what is included in Christian liberty. 


In addition to the fact that young people like change, we must also observe that they like change en masse, they want to accept the new together with their friends. In psychology this is called peer identity. We cannot help but be amused by the cliché of youth, “Do your own thing”; yet they are so afraid to be a little different from their buddies. This was forcefully pictured in a cartoon. A young bearded fellow was sitting on the side of the highway strumming his guitar, his bare toes projected from beneath his flared jeans. He had a sign, “I’m doing my own thing.” Soon you realized that in the distance the cartoonist drew another one doing the very same thing, and farther and farther in the distance you could see up to half dozen, all exactly alike, each bearing the same sign. How true! Perhaps you parents have tried the same tactic I have as a minister. If everyone is doing his own thing, why isn’t it easy today for fellows to have their hair cut reasonably, so they can be distinguished from a girl? Why cannot Christian young girls wear skirts and bathing suits that at least cover them decently and not flaunt their bodies with the latest nude look. Be different! Yes, they will be different from mom and dad, but not from their own generation. 

The point that is so important here in connection with the place of Christian liberty is this: what is their generation? We cannot isolate the entire question of dress, entertainment, sports, drugs, etc. from the character of this generation. There is no doubt in my mind that the present generation is more hell bound than the former one. Each generation is getting morally worse; we believe in the development of man in sin, don’t we? This generation is getting close to the end and may produce the last generation of which Christ said, “It will be Like the days of Noah,” Matt. 24:37-39. If you want a sobering description of our present generation look up II Peter 2 and read it. 

It is not difficult to point out distinct features of the youth culture of our day. Consider rebellion: they are driven by a passion to throw off tradition, they laugh at the morals of their parents and the past generation, they justify their evil ways by erecting the barricade called “generation gap.” Morals are relative, times change; therefore all is well, we just act differently, pooh on parents, preachers, teachers, and anyone over twenty. Try lust: the morality of the youth of the world stinks, they wallow in their sexual license worse than animals, and they call this sexual liberty. Think of pleasure: television is by and large a spoof on life and everything sacred; what a mockery! Look at the sports craze. Yes, this is the Pepsi generation which has a lot to live. The gals are spurred on, “You’ve come a long way, baby!” How about sensationalism? Young people like to wow people, especially adults. They want you to look at their grubby clothes; it’s their revolt against rich materialism. Why those bold zippers on the jeans and blouses? They want you to say, Wow! You wince at their loud music: it’s their way of saying, “Stay away, we’re feeling our way to utopia.” 

We can be sure that God’s judgment rests upon such a generation. Why has venereal disease become epidemic? Because God has a way of demonstrating that the wages of sin is death. Why are so many young people ruined by drugs? Because God is not mocked Why do broken homes, divorced couples, abandoned children, follow modern marriages? Free love has its price. Why the increase of the occult and Satanism? Because the end of such a path is complete rejection of God and a worship of the devil. 


In this setting, the quotation of John Calvin is very important. Let us quote it once more,

They say there are things indifferent: I admit it provided they are used indifferently (emphasis mine j .k.). But when they are indulged in luxurious profusion, things which otherwise were in themselves lawful are certainly defiled by these vices. Institutes, Book III, chapter 19, page 136.

Our young people are surrounded with many things that seem indifferent in themselves, but when considered in light of the powerful movement called the “Youth Culture,” they cannot be viewed as indifferent. Here we face the important question of identity, if we dress and act like the modern youth who dress and act out of rebellion against God and violate all things morally required in His Word, we have a different situation. Our young people may well ask, do we use some of these questionable things indifferently ordefiantly. The latter use is sin. 

One thing that gives us reason to be thankful to God for our young people is that God gives to them a conscience. 

Surely, young people within the sphere of the church have a sinful nature that is drawn to the enticements of the world. From this point of view they like to go along with the “youth culture.” It sounds exciting to assert their independence. They like the life style of this generation, it seems so carefree. 

But, they have more than that. They have a regenerated heart and a soul that has received instruction from the Word of God. Their conscience is bound to that Word of God. True covenant young people cannot get away from that. They are often torn between the temptations of the flesh and the clear mandates of the Word of God. This is the precious difference. God has made them different from the generation that is heading for destruction. 

Here is the important point. Because young people have their sinful nature, which is drawn to ways of sin and the pleasures of the world, they would like to be able to go along with the times and not have a guilty conscience. They would like to have parents, preachers, teachers, tell them it is all right, that they may join in the fun of this age, because this is their Christian liberty. 

If we give this to them, the results will be devastating. 

We owe it to our young people to guide them in discerning what belongs to Christian liberty and what doesn’t. Never may we give them the liberty to sin against God. Never may we call the wrong way good. 

Next time we will consider, D. V., how young people and adults can work together to evaluate Christian liberty and use it properly.