The Law of Liberty

Frank replied to Biblical Authority for Acapella Music:

“God clearly teaches that disciples must be students of Scripture (Ja 1:25, Jn 8:31-32).”

I am amazed (yet not amazed) that Frank would use James 1:25 to prove that there is a hidden law scattered throughout the New Testament that needs to be ferreted out by careful Bible study (which only the Church of Christ has been honest enough and diligent enough to discern). Frank uses this passage to prove that one must study the New Testament in order to understand that no musical accompaniment is acceptable to God in worship. Wow! Let’s look at what James wrote in chapter one.

22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”

Churches of Christ (and many churches) like to say that the Word is the Bible. It is not. The Word is Christ (John 1:1). The Scriptures are never referred to as “the word”. Many of the writers report “the word of the Lord”, but the Scripture writers never refer to their writings as “the word of God”.

Back to James’s letter:

“23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.”

What does James mean by the phrase: “the perfect law that gives freedom“? James talked about another law in chapter two:

“8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,”you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.”

James was talking about the Ten Commandments here, found in the Law of Moses. Is this the law of liberty he was referring to? Definitely not. Well what was the law of liberty? Back to chapter two:

“12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom,13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

Evidently it would have to be a law that the Christians James was writing to were very familiar with: a law of freedom and mercy, as opposed to judgement. The Law of Moses, if broken, produced judgement, as any law does. James contrasted this with a “law” that didn’t act like a law at all: instead of judgement it gave freedom and mercy. What law could that be? That “law” was Christ and His sacrifice that forgave us of having broken the ten commandments. That forgiveness that flows from Christ’s cross truly brings us mercy and freedom from condemnation.

James exhorted the Christians not to judge the way the world did: rich people sat up front and the poor sat in the back, but rather to view everyone as forgiven and of equal value in the sight of God. James wanted his readers to treat people the way forgiven people treat others, because they were forgiven.

Now back to James chapter one:

“27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

Wow! I don’t see James encouraging his readers to sift through assorted letters to churches to find hidden rules of authority and silence to find out a new law about the worship assembly that condemns those who haven’t figured it out. No, instead I see once again the same thing Jesus taught every day of His life and especially in His death and resurrection. The mercy of God’s forgiveness through Jesus motivates us to reach out to the poor among us and be merciful.

The hard line Churches of Christ have almost no understanding of the law of liberty. The hard line Churches of Christ are under heavy bondage to a law that brings condemnation and not mercy. How can one tell? Not only by the argument of James in his letter, but also by the attitudes of those who espouse the law of condemnation. They have an attitude of unforgiveness, condescension and pride in almost every discussion of the Bible and religion.

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About Mark

I was raised in the conservative non-institutional churches of Christ and attended Florida College in Tampa, Florida. I served as a minister for 8 years in the non-institutional churches of Christ, and 4 years at a mainline church of Christ in Vermont.
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3 Responses to The Law of Liberty

  1. Frank is right. The Scriptures do contain the Word of God (1 Cor. 15:1-4), which is mentions numerous times throughout the New Testament when seeing that the Word is the Gospel of salvation (1 Pet. 1:22-25) used by the Spirit (Eph. 6:17) written and read via the Apostles and prophets (Eph. 3:3-5, cf. Col. 1:25-26). How then could John speak of the Apostles and himself writing “the word of life” and “the word of God” (1 John 1:1-4, Rev. 1:2-3)? How else would the scriptures be able to make one complete (2 Tim. 3:16-17) and contain the wisdom of salvation (2 Pet. 3:15-16) and contain the Gospel in the prophetic word of the Apostles guided by the Spirit (2 Pet. 1:16-21).

    • Mark says:

      Scott,
      It is important to call Bible things with Bible names. If the Bible never refers to itself as “the Word”, then we are wrong to refer to the Bible as “the Word”. I noticed you refrained from calling the Bible “the Word” in your comment above, yet you seem to think we are in disagreement. You also use scriptures to say what they do not say in your previous comment. No one is contesting that the scriptures contain the apostles writings about the mystery of God, the wisdom of God, etc. We are only saying that there is an absence of New Testament writers calling their writings “the Word of God”.

      • Members of the Church of Christ are those who pointed out to me that the Word and the Scriptures are not exactly the same, but that the scriptures contain the same message. The distinct is between the Word being the Truth whether spoken or written. Yet, the scriptures are specifically that which has been recorded in writing. This was noted in my article in 2007, “Are the Scriptures and the Word of God Two Different Things?” .

        In 1 Corinthians 14:36-37, the Word of God is clearly the message being taught concerning matters of decency and order in the Assembly. Then in the next chapter, 1 Corinthian 15:1-4, the connection is seen again as Paul noted “the Gospel” being “that Word” that he preached “according to the Scriptures”.

        Jesus is the Gospel message as we know that He is the Word (1 John 1:1-4). By that Gospel, we are saved (Rom. 1:16, 1 Cor. 1:18, 1 Cor. 15:1-4). That Gospel message was written in the Scriptures. The Word is in the Scriptures (1 John 1:1-4, Rev. 1:2-3).

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