By David Cloud - November 8, 2006

Updated November 8, 2006 (first published September 9, 1998) (David Cloud - Way Of Life)

1 CORINTHIANS 6:12-13 -- "All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body."

1 CORINTHIANS 10:23-24 -- "All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not. Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth."

These verses are frequently misused today by those who desire liberty to fulfill their carnal desires. These would have us believe that the apostle Paul is saying the Christian has liberty to wear immodest clothing and watch indecent movies and romp near naked at the beach and listen to wicked rock music and to fellowship with anyone who says he "loves Jesus" regardless of his doctrinal beliefs, etc.

Is that what the Holy Spirit through Paul meant by the statement "all things are lawful unto me"? By no means! Obviously there are limitations on the Christian's liberty. The New Testament Scriptures, in fact, put great limits upon our "liberty." We are not free to commit fornication (1 Cor. 6:16-18; 1 Thess. 4:3-6), nor to be involved in any sort of uncleanness (1 Thess. 4:7), nor to fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness (Eph. 5:11), nor to be drunk with wine (Eph. 5:18), nor to allow any corrupt communication to proceed out of our mouths (Eph. 4:29), nor to allow any filthiness of the flesh or spirit (2 Cor. 7:1), nor to be involved in anything that has even the appearance of evil (1 Thess. 5:22), nor to love the things that are in the world (1 John 2:15-17), nor to befriend the world (James 4:4), nor to dress immodestly (1 Tim. 2:9), etc.

What, then, did the apostle mean? He meant that the Christian has been set free by the blood of Christ, free from the wages of sin, free from the condemnation of the law, free from the ceremonies of the Mosaic covenant, but not free to sin, and not free to do anything that is not expedient or edifying.

Paul explains himself perfectly in both passages. In 1 Corinthians 6:12-13, he uses the example of eating meat. In 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 and 10:23-28 he uses the example of eating things that have been offered to idols. In all such things like that, the Christian is free, because these are matters in which the Bible is silent. There are no dietary restrictions for the New Testament Christian as there were under the Mosaic Law. We do not have to fear idols; we know they are nothing. This is the type of thing Paul is referring to in 1 Corinthians, if we would only allow him to explain himself in the very context rather than attempt to put some strange meaning upon his words that would fill the Bible with contradiction.

Paul addresses exactly the same thing in Romans chapter 14. The Christian is free from laws about eating and keeping holy days (Rom. 14:2-6). We are not to judge one another in these matters, because these are matters on which the Bible is silent in this dispensation. This does not mean we are not to judge anything and that we are free to do whatever we please. When the Bible has spoken on any issue, our only liberty is to obey.

The contemporary philosophy is contrary to the entire tenor of the New Testament writings and is an appalling perversion of these passages.


In the two passages in Corinthians Paul gives four tests to determine whether the Christian should allow a certain thing in his life:

(1) Does it bring me under its power?

(2) Is it expedient?

(3) Does it edify?

(4) Does it help or hinder my fellow man or does it cause him to stumble?

Again, these are tests that are applied not to sinful things which already are forbidden to the Christian, but to things the Bible does not specifically address.

The sincere application of these tests to things commonly allowed in the world of contemporary Christianity would put a quick stop to many practices. Rock music does bring people under its power; it does not spiritually edify; it is influenced by demons (a simple study of the history of rock music will confirm this) and is not therefore expedient for the Christian who is instructed to be sober and vigilant against the wiles of the devil; it appeals to the flesh which the Christian is supposed to crucify.

Immodest clothing, such as shorts and bathing suits, does hinder our fellow man by putting before him a temptation to sin in his thought life; it does not edify those who see us clothed in such a fashion; it does cause others to stumble.

Ecumenical relationships between those who believe sound New Testament doctrine and those who do not, hinders my fellow man and causes him to stumble by confusing him about what is true and what is false Christianity, by giving him the impression that doctrine is not important. Such relationships are not edifying because they weaken the believer's spiritual discernment and zeal for the faith once delivered to the saints.

The Bible says we have liberty in Christ, liberty from eternal condemnation, liberty to serve God and to enjoy our unspeakably wonderful salvation in Christ. It does not say, though, that we have liberty to do whatever we please with our lives or to do anything that is not expedient or edifying.

The apostle Paul had such a low view of "personal liberty" that he was willing to forego the eating of meat for the rest of his life if he thought that such eating would offend his brother or cause his brother to stumble in any way (1 Cor. 8:13). He did not have the idea that he was in this world to live as he pleased.

Contrast this apostolic view of Christian liberty with that which is so popular today. Those who are consumed with their "liberty" will not forego even highly questionable things for the sake of glorifying Christ and edifying their fellow man. When confronted with such things, they become puffed up and lash out against a straw man they call "legalism."


Dear friends, beware of this trap. It is a slippery slope. Once you have begun to fight for your "liberty," where do you stop? If you accept the lie that the very concept of drawing a line for Christian standards is "legalistic," that the emphasis of the Christian life should be upon "liberty," you suddenly have no boundaries. We have seen repeatedly that there is no stopping. Those who enter this path are on a backward, downward slide.

At first the women fight for the "liberty" to wear loose pants, but soon they are wearing tight pants. They fight for the "liberty" to wear loose-fitting shorts, but soon they are wearing shorter and tighter ones. They want the liberty to miss some church services, but soon they are missing many. They want the liberty to bob their hair, but soon they style it like a man's. They want the liberty to listen to jazzy praise music, but soon they are addicted to contemporary hard rock. They want the liberty to watch some questionable videos, but soon they are watching R-rated ones and beyond. They want the liberty to fellowship with those who are "evangelical," but soon they are fellowshipping even with those who have a false gospel. Or at least they become sympathetic with and defensive of those who are doing such things.

You do not lose anything by holding the strictest line of Christian standards in this present evil world, but you have much to lose if you loosen those standards.

One thing those who let down their standards often lose is their children, to the world.

"For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; ONLY USE NOT LIBERTY FOR AN OCCASION TO THE FLESH, but by love serve one another" (Galatians 5:13).

"As free, and NOT USING YOUR LIBERTY FOR A CLOAK OF MALICIOUSNESS, but as the servants of God" (1 Peter 2:16).

"While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage" (2 Peter 2:19)