Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Our Freedoms Under God

We all cherish our rights.  This is especially true in America where we have our founding documents declaring that we have rights granted us by God by virtue of us being His creation.  Many of us fight long and hard to maintain the rights framed in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution, believing that they are inalienable and above our government's God-given authority to interfere with.  Today I want to talk about what the Bible says about our rights. 

I think a good place to start with our discussion is where we spent some time last week.  Let us see what God says about the purpose of government.
Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor. Romans 13:1-7 NKJV
While this passage is usually directed at Christians in their relation to government, I believe it can equally be applied against government and establishing its limits.  Governments are established by God to reward good and punish evil.  Therefore, we can conclude that we have a right to do good.  Keep in mind that this is for doing good in God's eyes. It is not meant for all of us to good in our own eyes (as seen in the corrupt nation described in Judges), but we are to do right in God's eyes.  If God has given the right to do good, then God means what is good in His eyes not our own.  That means that we have the right to preach the Gospel, to pray, to worship God as the Lord leads, to be generous with our money, to read the Bible, and to do all the good works described in the Bible. 

We also see from this verse that we do not have a right to not pay taxes.  Many people try to argue regarding the Constitutionality of paying taxes and some even have tax protests. Irregardless how one may feel as to whether or not the government has given itself the right to collect certain taxes, we as Christians have an obligation to pay them.  And if you do believe that you are not really required to pay, then have your protest but accept its consequences.  If Daniel faced the consequence of praying when ordered not to, who are we to resist the government's penalties for something much more trivial as taxes.  Which one of us (including myself) has not opted to pay cash for a service to specifically get around paying sales taxes.  The more I think about it though, the more I see that as actually being a sin.  If the Bible tells us to pay taxes to whom they are due (whether or not we like it), we are to pay them. 

Another verse often used to relate Christians to government is the other verse I touched on last week. 
And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men. "Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, "Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? "Show Me the tax money." So they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, "Whose image and inscription is this?" They said to Him, "Caesar's." And He said to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." Matthew 22:16-21 NKJV
What I want to glean from this passage is the last section that we are to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's.  And what is God's?  There are things regarding our lives that are not subject to earthly government.  First of all, our soul's are under the jurisdiction of God.  That is why we have a freedom to worship God (or even to worship false gods).  God will hold idolatry against us, but the government can not.  I say this because God gives us the freedom to choose to follow Him and the government has no authority to interfere with that.  Forced conversion to Christianity does not make Christians.  God knows that and so should governments.  Conversely, a government that forces us to worship another God is also guilty of going against God's law.  Under God, we have the right to choose God or to not choose God with the repercussions for that decision being fully realized at judgment. 

What is also under God's jurisdiction is our lives.  Government, while having the right under God to execute people for evil acts, has no right to allow the slaughter of the innocent under their protection and authority.  We were created in the image of God with our days numbered and known by God.  Taking life for no cause is a violation of the Providence and Law of God.  Even King David, a man after God's own heart, was not allowed to build God's temple for the innocent blood he shed while king.  Under God, unless we forfeit that right by our actions, we have a right to live.  As God has formed us in the womb, that right is applicable from conception. 

Another thing under the authority of God is our minds.  We are commanded to take each though captive for Christ.  If all thoughts are to be taken for Christ, there is no place for government to ask you to think or believe a certain way.  Our thoughts and ideas of our own providence and are called to be directed to Jesus. Government has no right to tell us what to believe not only in terms of faith, but in whatever other things we choose to believe, ideas we choose to develop, or opinions that we may have.  The right to freedom of thought is impossible without the freedom to express those views.  We have the right to express our ideas.  This needs to be so because God gives many of us wisdom in many areas and issues and those ideas given by God are supposed to be shared. To limit one's speech, is to limit one's thoughts.  God has also called many of us to preach the Gospel and to speak out against sin.  Those are impossible without freedom of thought and expression.

Another right we have under God is the right to private property.  This is evident in the commandment not to steal or covet your neighbor's property.  It is also evident from the Levitical penalties for theft.  If there is no private property, there is no theft.  While not explicitly stated in Scripture, that right is assumed by the penalties against unlawfully taking the property of another.  Even King David paid for the threshing floor that was ultimately used to build the Temple of God.  Under God, we have a right to private property.  And with that right to property, we have the right to use such property as the Lord leads. 

I also believe in the Bible that we have the right to defend ourselves and our property.  Exodus 22 tells us that if a thief is killed in the commission of a crime, there would be no guilt for his bloodshed.  We can defend our property and our lives legally under God, but morally under Christ there it is not so cut and dry.  I do not believe that the law of grace allows lethal force to be used for things such as theft.  The line where it changes from loving your enemy to defending your life is one that I think is a matter of conscience and circumstance.  I believe that with that right to self defense, there must be a right for us to have the means of self defense.  With that in mind, I do believe there is a right to keep and bear arms.  If God has given us a right to defend ourselves, the government does not have the authority to take away the means by which we can defend ourselves. 

I think we can see that many of the rights we enjoy are either given or as a result of a right granted by God.  Rights granted by God are not under the jurisdiction of man and so we have no obligation to follow them.  Understand, though, that while governments may abuse the authority granted by God, they still have that authority.  That said, we must be like Paul, Daniel, and various other prophets, apostles, and martyrs who accepted with all faith the penalty given by willfully disobeying worldly systems by following God rather than man.  We must take that example and exercise our rights granted by God with the understanding that there may be consequences before man and with the faith that God will work it for good.  

We also have to understand that these rights are granted by God and can be taken away by God.  God has used tyranny as judgment many times in the Bible and while those tyrannical governments are not godly, they are used of God to exact his judgment.  God sent many enemies to oppress Israel at various times in her history.  From the Philistines to the Babylonians, Israel was humbled many times for their sin.  It always took national repentance in order to restore the liberty granted to them by God.  We must never be so proud to think that our rights are above God's sovereignty.  God can and has withdrawn those freedoms for chastisement and in the cases like the Roman persecutions as means for growth.  We must also understand that we can forfeit those rights by our actions.  If we murder someone, we forfeit our right to life.  If we steal, we forfeit our freedom and our property. 

And, finally, we must recognize that the rights bestowed upon us by God come with responsibility.  We have the freedoms not to do what we want to do, but to do with we ought to do.  We have no right to sin or live unrighteously and perfect government would punish those sins while allowing righteous works.  We must accept the responsibility that comes with those rights or risk forfeiting them.  We have a right to choose what God we follow in order to freely follow the True and Living God.  We have a right to free speech in order to preach that Gospel and share with others the wisdom God has given us.  We have a right to exercise our religion in order to spread the Gospel and worship our God.  We have a right to private property so that we can be generous with what God has given us.  We have a right to self defense to come to the defense of the helpless.  We have a right to life to live out the life God has for us, to step in the steps God has ordained for us in His service and for His glory.  Our rights, while blessing us, are ultimately for the Glory of God and for the spreading the message of the Gospel.  If we understand that responsibility we will enjoy that precious gift of freedom God has given us no matter how our present circumstances appear.  Cherish that freedom God has blessed us with!
For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  Galatians 5:13 NKJV

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