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Saturday 16 July 2022

Liberty Does Not Mean What You Think

Liberty Does Not Mean What You Think

Perhaps no word has been used, abused and broken like ‘liberty’. It has noble beginings. It was the cry of the oppressed in Scripture, it was the cry of the Baptists in the 17th century. But it was twisted out of shape by others, as it was the cry of the wicked French revolutionaries that unleased chaos on France and Europe and it is the cry of many socially wicked movements today as well. It is misunderstood by many in the Church and society today, and it is becoming the dominant catch cry of the right wing political movements at the moment, but not necessarily always in the right way. The modern concept of liberty has historically been part of the leftists revolutionary movements of the enlightenment. But liberty has been twisted, abused and misused from what it is supposed to mean. 

If you look in the Scriptures you will see that liberty is used in two main ways: liberty from debts or liberty from slavery, which were often overlapping concerns in the Old Testament. These ideas are then attached in the New Testament to the Christian idea of liberty in Jesus Christ, who releases us from our debt of sin and slavery to sin. 

To gain a strong understanding of the original use of this term you can read Michael Hudson’s book “…and forgive them their debts…”, where he shows in some detail that the origins of liberty were freeing people from their debt masters. Much of the Bible is dedicated to advocating for this form of liberty, and many people miss this. To understand how this concept is developed in the New Testament and how it should be understood by Christians we can turn to the example of the 1689 London Baptist Confession of faith:  

“Chapter 21. Of Christian Liberty and Liberty of Conscience

1. The liberty which Christ has purchased for believers under the gospel, consists in their freedom from the guilt of sin, the condemning wrath of God, the severity and curse of the law,[1] and in their being delivered from this present evil world,[2] bondage to Satan,[3] and dominion of sin,[4] from the evil of afflictions,[5] the fear and sting of death, the victory of the grave,[6] and everlasting damnation:[7] as also in their free access to God, and their yielding obedience unto Him, not out of slavish fear,[8] but a child-like love and willing mind.[9]

All which were common also to believers under the law for the substance of them;[10] but under the New Testament the liberty of Christians is further enlarged, in their freedom from the yoke of a ceremonial law, to which the Jewish church was subjected, and in greater boldness of access to the throne of grace, and in fuller communications of the free Spirit of God, than believers under the law did ordinarily partake of.[11]

2. God alone is Lord of the conscience,[12] and has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to his word, or not contained in it.[13]  So that to believe such doctrines, or obey such commands out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience;[14] and the requiring of an implicit faith, an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience and reason also.[15]

3. They who upon pretence of Christian liberty do practice any sin, or cherish any sinful lust, as they do thereby pervert the main design of the grace of the gospel to their own destruction,[16] so they wholly destroy the end of Christian liberty, which is, that being delivered out of the hands of all our enemies, we might serve the Lord without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him, all the days of our lives.”[17]

If you were to ask most people today what ‘liberty’ or ‘freedom’ meant, they may argue that it means to be free to live how you want. Free to do what you want. Free to identify how you want. To be absolutely free in how you live in every way. Even many Christians would subscribe to such a perspective with varying versions of "Christian" Libertarianism (an oxymoron if there ever was one). But this is not how the Scriptures or the Church have traditionally understood liberty.

Liberty is freedom from debt, it is freedom from the debt of sin, slavery to devil and death, to be free to live according to God's commands in the light of his word and in the light of your conscience. It is a freedom to do what is right and not be enslaved by the things in this world that would direct you otherwise. This is freedom. This is liberty.

Secular forms of liberty can basically be summarized as varying justifications for putting your sexual organs wherever you want in contradiction to God's commands. Secular liberty is debauchery. Note what Baptists would have thought about this: “They who upon pretence of Christian liberty do practice any sin, or cherish any sinful lust, as they do thereby pervert the main design of the grace of the gospel to their own destruction, so they wholly destroy the end of Christian liberty…” Those who seek to justify liberty to make sin allowable ruin liberty. This is exactly what happened in the West. Liberty got disconnected from its biblical boundaries and has become libertinism, wickedness and perversion.

If you understand liberty as the French revolutionaries understood it, or how perverted sexual liberation movements understand it, then liberty does not mean what you think it means, and to disconnect it from it’s original meaning and intentions is to ruin it and return people to the very slavery Christian liberty was designed to save them from. This is exactly where we are as a society.

[1] Galatians 3:13

[2] Galatians 1:4

[3] Acts 26:18

[4] Romans 8:3

[5] Romans 8:28

[6] 1 Corinthians 15:54-57

[7] 2 Thessalonians 1:10

[8] Romans 8:15

[9] Luke 1:73-75; 1 John 4:18

[10] Galatians 3:9, 14

[11] John 7:38-39; Hebrews 10:19-21

[12] James 4:12; Romans 14:4

[13] Acts 4:19, 29; 1 Corinthians 7:23; Matthew 15:9

[14] Colossians 2:20, 22-23

[15] 1 Corinthians 3:5; 2 Corinthians 1:24

[16] Romans 6:1-2

[17] Galatians 5:13; 2 Peter 2:18, 21

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