We have been talking about Israel’s deliverance from bondage in Egypt as a picture of our salvation experience. Today, as we celebrate Independence weekend, we want to take a moment to talk about liberty.
On this day 232 years ago, the Continental Congress of the thirteen colonies voted to approve a complete separation from Great Britain. Two days later, on July 4, 1776, the first two, of fifty-six men, signed the Declaration of Independence. Four days later, on the eighth, members of Congress read the document from the steps of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Afterwards, the Liberty Bell was rung.
Many people do not know that there was an inscription around the top of that bell. It was taken from Leviticus 25:10 and said, “Proclaim liberty throughout the land and to all the inhabitants thereof.” It is appropriate that our nation should begin in such a fashion—for it is the sounding forth of God’s Word that has given us our liberty.
I.) The Basis for Liberty:
Scripture: Psalm 119:45
And I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts.
The Psalmist knew and understood that it is the moral precepts found in God’s Word that grant us liberty. That is why the American experience is unique in all the world. The French have spoken eloquently about freedom, but have never attained it. To this day, they do not enjoy the liberty that we have, even though ours is in decline. It is impossible for a secular nation to have our freedom. It took Christianity to implement what the French theorized.
What most people do not know is that the first shot in the struggle for freedom was fired exactly thirty-five years prior to the ringing of the Liberty Bell. On July 8, 1741, a rather grim looking figure ascended the many steps leading to the raised pulpit in the sanctuary of a Congregational church in Enfield, Massachusetts. Arriving at the Sacred Desk, he calmly laid out his handwritten sermon notes. Hunched over to see in the dim light, he began to read them in a dry monotone without any inflexion of voice or gestures with his arms. Observe his text:
Scripture: Deuteronomy 32:35
To me belongeth vengeance and recompence; their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste.
The message was delivered to religious people who knew the moral precepts of the Bible. They were well taught in both the public arena and in the church; however, they forgot the God of those precepts.
Jonathan Edwards went on to point out to his congregation that apart from Christ we are but “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Dangling over the pit of hell, God says, “their foot shall slide in due time.” The effect upon the Spirit-prepared crowd was astounding. People began to cry out for mercy and to genuinely repent of their sins. This sparked a revival that swept through all of the colonies and caused men to seek the Lord at a time when the formative thoughts of our still-future nation were afoot. In the history books, this revival is referred to as “The Great Awakening.”
I would be derelict in my duty if I did not point out that the people who agonized over their souls in that gathering were far more Christian than most in our churches today, but they knew that they were lost. In a short period of time, many confessed that they were sinners and took up their cross to follow Christ. Would to God we could convince the lost Christians of our day to repent and turn to Christ! There would be a great change in our national life. In those days, even unbelievers defended the moral precepts of God. Today, so-called Christians cannot even agree on morality.
The Psalmist knew that our liberty depends on God’s law.
Scripture: Leviticus 19:18
Observe that we are not to avenge ourselves on another and are not to bear grudges. In another place, Scripture says that we are to forgive one another even as God for Christ’s sake forgives us. Jesus Christ already died to pay for our sins that are far worse than anything that anyone can do to us.
We are commanded to love our neighbor as ourself. What does that have to do with our liberty? Would such love enslave, tyrannize, brutalize, rob, steal, cheat, or do harm to another? I don’t think so! What is the essence of liberty? Is it not the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence? For that to occur we must love our neighbor as ourself. We must practice the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This another way of saying what we just said. It is also a summation of the precepts of God.
Observe the last phrase which says, “I am the LORD.” The word LORD refers to God’s eternal nature. In other words, He never changes and neither do His moral rules. They rest in His character and are the same for everyone, because He is not a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34-35). We are equally responsible before God.
II.) The Responsibility of Liberty:
Scripture: Galatians 5:13
For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.
With liberty comes responsibility. What will we do with our freedom? Will we use it as an occasion for the flesh? There are those who advocate anarchy. They want to do away with all restraints of law placed upon men. They base their belief on the idea that man is completely and inherently good. This is not what the Bible teaches. God insists that man is inherently evil (Romans 3:10). God has therefore ordained human government and civil law to restrain the sin nature of man.
Scripture: Romans 13:1-8
1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. 2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: 4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. 5 Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. 6 For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. 7 Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. 8 Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.
Observe that God enjoins us to place ourselves voluntarily under the authority that He places over us. We may say as many have that we are free spirits and do not have to obey. But God says that we are rebels against His law and will receive judgment. Our liberty should not be used as an occasion for rebellion but rather as an occasion for loving one another.
What is the responsibility of liberty? Galatians says that it is to “by love serve one another.” If we do not practice this, our liberty will soon end.
III.) The Failure of Liberty:
Scripture: II Peter 2:1-2; 19
1 But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. 2 And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.
19 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.
Notice that false teachers had crept into the church even at the time of Peter. The problem was so pronounced that Peter saw fit to address it and warn that many of the saints will follow these deceivers. He continued along this same line through the chapter to verse nineteen. Notice what he said: “They promise liberty..”
How do they do that? What do these false teachers say? They start by undermining the moral rules and precepts of the Bible. They say that the Bible may contain God’s Word, but it also has a lot of falsehoods and errors. They say that some things cannot be taken literally, such as the Virgin Birth, the resurrection of the dead, or the deity of Christ. They say that Bible is an evolutionary work in progress. In other words, it is still changing today. Other common themes are that what Paul said about women was sexist and should be ignored; we have learned through modern science that homosexuality is not really a sin, etc. They say that as we evolve, our knowledge grows and some things in the Bible have to be discarded.
In the end, the Bible says, “They themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.” Their sinful lives bear witness to the truth.
They think they are free, but are slaves to their own appetites. In turn, they seek to justify themselves by bringing others into the same bondage. They are merely little pawns on the chessboard of life moved here and there at the whim of their master the devil. As they become more dominant in the religious life of America, our freedom becomes less and less.
But liberty will prevail!
IV.) The Triumph of Liberty:
Scripture: Romans 8:18-22
18 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. 19 For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. 20 For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, 21 Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.When sin entered into the world, all of creation was brought into captivity and enslaved by the sting of death. As men rejected the precepts of God, they fell more and more into slavery to sin. Then Jonathan Edwards preached a sermon that sparked a revival. Men and women turned to God at the critical moment in history when our country was founded. The United States Constitution became a social contract between God and men for a system of government designed to ensure freedom for all men.
The degree to which we have followed the precepts of God is the degree to which we have been successful. Now as men turn more and more from those godly values, our freedom lies in peril. Bondage to sin seems inevitable along with our loss of freedom.
But victory is on the way! All of creation waits for one moment when the sons of God are revealed in a great and mighty way. When this corruption puts on immortality, then death will be swallowed up in victory (I Corinthians 15:53-57). Jesus Christ will rule and reign and we will be free indeed!
True freedom comes when Jesus Christ reigns. That is true both here and now, and also hereafter. If Jesus Christ is the Lord of our life, we can know real liberty. Christ died to set us free from the power of sin. With Him as our Lord we can have forgiveness for our sins and victory over them as well. If you are reading this and do not know Christ, I urge you to ask yourself what your sin has done for you. God the Son died for you to pay the penalty for your sins. Won’t you let him take charge today?
Next time: The Fork in the Road