by Elgin Hushbeck
A recent Global Christian Perspectives focused on the subject of rights and during the discussion the claim was made that liberty is not a biblical concept (@ 35:45). Personally I found this to be surprising. I believe liberty, and the nearly synonymous freedom, goes to the very heart of the Bible’s message. God created us with the ability, not just to react, but to make choices, the most important of which is whether or not we choose to love and serve him.
Then there is the verse that on the Liberty Bell: Leviticus 25:10 “Set aside and consecrate the fiftieth year to declare liberty throughout the land for all of its inhabitants. It is to be a jubilee for you.” Why bother declaring liberty throughout the land if liberty was not important?
In the New Testament Paul writes in Galatians 5:23 “For you, brothers, were called to freedom. Only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity to gratify your flesh, but through love make it your habit to serve one another.” 2 Cor 3:17 says “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Lord’s Spirit is, there is freedom.”
The defining event of the Old Testament is the Exodus, where God brought his people out of slavery, and in fact a state of slavery is pretty much the opposite of liberty. The defining event of the New Testament is the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus by which we are set free from the bondage of sin (Romans 6:7), and brought into the liberty spoken of in the verses above.
Now perhaps some will counter with Roman 6:18 “And since you have been freed from sin, you have become slaves of righteousness.” This is true. The freedom we have in Christ is not a freedom to do whatever we want. As Paul says “Should we go on sinning because we are not under Law but under grace? Of course not!” (Romans 6:15).
But it would seem that many are uncomfortable with liberty. If people are free to make choices, they might make choices that we disagree with. They might choose to do something other than what we think they should.
The history of both Judaism and the Church is full of those who have sought to create a whole range of new rules to limit people’s freedoms. Thus, over the years Judaism, surrounded the 613 laws of the OT with thousands of additional laws. Christians down through the ages have also had a tendency to add new rules that Christians should follow such as prohibitions on drinking, smoking and dancing.
This problem of seeking to limit freedom has afflicted both the right and the left. But in recent years those on the left have begun to push a new form of legalism. Not only do they seek to add a series of religious rules and regulations that we should follow as Christians, now they want to put the power of the government behind their rules and force everyone to follow their new legalism under threat of violence. If any should object to the phrase “threat of violence” here, they are neglecting that this is what government does. If you do not believe this, just say no to the government and see what happens should you resist.
For me, this is a real problem. Galatians 5:1 says “The Messiah has set us free so that we may enjoy the benefits of freedom.” Liberalism seeks to put us again under a yoke of a law of their making. They justify this claiming that they are only seeking to legislate biblical principles, such as helping the poor, or that the Bible demands 100% of our money and that justifies a high rate of taxation.
Yet I would argue that there is a significant difference between voluntarily choosing to give to the poor because you seek to follow the teaching of our Lord on the one hand and having the state automatically take money out of my paycheck that I do not see, so they can spend it on programs I am unaware of to help people I do not know.
The studies on giving and happiness are clear. There is a reason conservative tend to give more of their time and money to charity than liberals. In addition they are as a general rule happier. As Christians do we have an obligation to help the poor? Of course we do. But the fact that we, as followers of Jesus, have an obligation does not mean that we should make this a function of the state, funded by taxes, which at least in the United States are paid by an ever decreasing number of the people. In the United States, for example, for the bottom 40% of those filing income tax returns, the income “tax” is actually a source of income rather than something they pay, as they get more money back in refunds and credits than they actually paid in.
Then there is the problem that the government makes what would have been a gift of charity and an expression of the love of Christ working through us, into an entitlement that is demanded. These entitlements often build a dependence that is itself a new form of bondage.
As such I do not believe that our obligations as Christians should be transformed into mandates from the state. To do so makes a mockery of the liberty that God has given us and is often detrimental to all involved.