Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Freedom and Liberty

Today I am going to step on the toes of many Christians whose political views I share.  In their love of freedom and liberty, they turn the Constitution and Declaration of Independence into near-biblical documents.  They see the founding of our nation as God's established government on earth.  That is easy to argue away in that God's plan for government and law was as it was established through Moses.  What I want to talk about today is their view that the Bible promises them earthly liberty and freedom from oppression.  It is almost a capitalist version of Liberation Theology.  Today I want to talk about the verses commonly used in their arguments.
For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.  Romans 8:20-21 NKJV
Some say that God promises liberty for God's children (Christians) in this verse.  But we need to look at not just the word "liberty" but the rest of the verse to see what we have liberty from.  When I leave work on Friday, I have liberty from my employer but that does not mean I have liberty in every area of my life.  This is the same concept.  We have liberty from "the bondage of corruption."  What is this corruption we are free from?  This is freedom from the corrupt world.  Not just freedom from government, but from the world itself and even from our sinful bodies.  This verse speaks to that glorious day when we are free from this world of sin and the entanglements of the flesh.  Let's put the verse in its context and the meaning will become clear.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.  Romans 8:19-23 NKJV
Seeing this section in its entirety makes things much clearer.  The section begins with Paul making the comparison of the sufferings of our temporal circumstances to the glorious eternity that awaits us.  Paul then expands on that in that all of creation longs for that day when the corrupt sinful nature that has infected all of creation will finally be wiped away.  Finally, Paul closes by personalizing that message in that we even groan ourselves, longing for the day when our full adoption and redemption of our body will happen.  Yes, this passage is about the freedom promised to us by God but it is not a freedom from earthly government but from our earthly bodies themselves.  This verse is about our eternal freedom from the struggles of this world and in our flesh. 
Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.  2 Corinthians 3:17 NKJV
This is usually stretched into Jesus giving us the spirit of liberty.  It is also used to imply that the Spirit of the Lord brings liberty and freedom in a worldly sense.  Again, all we need to do is to take it in its context to see the true meaning.
Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech— unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away. But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.  2 Corinthians 3:12-18 NKJV
The context is clear.  The freedom Christ brings is freedom from the Law of Moses.  We are no longer under its condemnation.  Paul begins with where Moses had to wear a veil after speaking with the Lord so the Israelites did not see that glory fading.  That same veil that hid the fading glory of God is the same that blinded them to the truth in Christ.  They were bound to the law and all its precepts.  They were bound to blood sacrifice for forgiveness of sins.  Their hearts were blinded to the future salvation through Christ.  This blindness remains in those who adhere to the Old Testament law, as Paul goes on to say.  The contrast Paul gives is that when one turns to Christ, that veil on their hearts blinding them from the truth is lifted as they are no longer bound to the Old Covenant and its precepts.  And this newness of life is expressed in that we behold the eternal glory of the Lord, not fading as it did with Moses, but growing as we grow in the Lord.  Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is indeed liberty, but we see clearly here that the liberty spoken of is that of the Old Covenant. 

Moving along, here we see another verse taken out of context to imply the promise of worldly liberty:
Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.  Galatians 5:1 NKJV
Here is the verse in its context:
Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law.  Galatians 5:1-3 NKJV
Again, this is clearly freedom from the Law of Moses.  The lesson is not one of getting entangled in worldly government oppression but in not entangling ourselves again in the Law of Moses.  Paul is saying not to bind yourself to the Old Covenant that you were freed from in Christ.

There is yet another verse in Galatians 5:
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
In Christ, we are called to liberty.  But what is that liberty from?  Again, let us put the verse in context.
I have confidence in you, in the Lord, that you will have no other mind; but he who troubles you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is.And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution? Then the offense of the cross has ceased. I could wish that those who trouble you would even cut themselves off! 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 5:10-13 NKJV
Again, this is freedom from the law. There was a false teaching going around the Galatians trying to convince them that even though they were under Christ, they were still under the Law.  This is Paul's response.  Paul is clearly telling them that in Christ we have liberty from the Law of Moses. 

Moving along to our next example:
"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed." John 8:36 NKJV
Again, on its face it looks like a verse promoting our freedom, but let us look again at the verse in context.
Jesus answered them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.  John 8:34-36 NKJV
The context is absolutely clear that this is a freedom from sin and not a freedom from government.  Jesus frees us from our sin.

God does give us freedom, but His freedom transcends the temporal freedom we strive for.  Do not cheat yourself from realizing what God has provided us through the sacrifice of His son.  We have freedom from the Law of Moses as our sins have all been paid for with the precious blood of Jesus.  We have freedom from sin where those things that once entangled us no longer have that power over us.  We have freedom to become who God has created us to be.  And we have that hope of our eternal freedom where we will finally be free from our flesh as God gives us our new spiritual bodies.  We have the hope of eternal freedom from sickness, death, sadness, work, oppression, tyranny, and persecution.  Keep your eyes on eternity and the present circumstances will be put in their proper perspective. 

We love to think of America as some planned Christian utopia.  The sad truth is that is not what we are nor were we ever.  We do love our freedom and liberty but even that is not only unique in the world but also in history.  Persecution and oppression are the purifying fires of our faith.  From the Roman persecution that met our newborn young church to the oppression that occurs in most of the world today, yet our faith remains strong.  I understand the yearning for liberty and I understand the desire to fight for freedom.  I think that those are noble things, especially in a nation where the populace is called to participated in its own governance.  We just have to be careful that in our zeal we do not make promises on behalf of God that God has never made.  God never promises us freedom, but God does give us that desire.  Mankind has squandered that freedom in that it felt it could govern itself better than God.  We will never have the freedom we yearn for as long as man rules over us.  When Israel asked for a king, here is God's warning:
And he said, "This will be the behavior of the king who will reign over you: He will take your sons and appoint them for his own chariots and to be his horsemen, and some will run before his chariots. He will appoint captains over his thousands and captains over his fifties, will set some to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and some to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, and bakers. And he will take the best of your fields, your vineyards, and your olive groves, and give them to his servants. He will take a tenth of your grain and your vintage, and give it to his officers and servants. And he will take your male servants, your female servants, your finest young men, and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take a tenth of your sheep. And you will be his servants. 1 Samuel 8:11-17 NKJV
That is God's promise to mankind that chooses man rather than God for governance.  When Jesus returns, we will have that perfect government once again, but even that it is not a blanket liberty. Here is what the Word says:
Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.  Revelations 19:15 NKJV
When Jesus returns, He is not coming to establish a constitutional republic.  He is coming to end once and for all the rebellion of mankind and set up His kingdom.  We will have freedom, but that will be a freedom to do what is right, not to do whatever we want. 

So what of those who fight for freedom today?  That brings us back to the gospel and the God.  First of all, if we are a government of the people, by the people, and for the people then it is the people whose hearts need to change.  We are not called to reach their hearts for the Republican Party or Constitutionalists but for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  You can not expect to change the direction or God's heavy hand upon this nation if the people are still living in rebellion to God.  This message of national repentance must begin in the church and spread throughout the nation.  If Jesus is the Lord of the people, He will be Lord of our nation.  Only when Jesus is Lord of our nation can our nation change direction.  And that brings me to the second and more important point.  If you want a change in government, we are not petition the government.  Remember, our government was instituted by God and is in place because He put it there.  If you want a change, seek Him who has given them their authority and not them only hold it at the behest of God.  Getting on our knees and humbling ourselves before God is the only way to change that oppression we are under.  Sharing and living the message of Jesus Christ is the only way to turn the hearts of the electorate. 

And if we do have a national revival that leads to a national awakening, remember the the freedom we obtain is to do what we ought to do and not what we want to do.  We, as Christians, were given freedom from the Law of Moses but that freedom is to be used for good and not evil.  The same principle applies to civil freedom. If God be so gracious as to grant us that blessing, that gift must be used for good. 
Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men— as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. 1 Peter 2:13-16 NKJV

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