Our soft compliance and inaction make a mockery of
our blood-bought liberty.
Liberty and the Lordship of Christ
God the Father is our ultimate authority (Eph 4:6, 1 Cor 8:5-6, 1 Tim 6:15-16). He instituted all human authority and put it all under the feet of Christ (Heb 2:5-8, 1 Cor 15:25-28, Phil 2:9-11, Col 1:15-18). The realm that belongs to Caesar has its lines clearly demarcated, and any trespass is a rebellion against God, because it is claiming that Jesus is not Lord. Pastor and author Douglas Wilson writes the following:
But whenever a creature receives authority from God, whether it be as a king, or a father, or a husband, or a minister, that authority is, in the very nature of the case, bounded and limited. It always bumps into other jurisdictions, both above and to the side…So no creature has absolute authority. And this means that whenever we acknowledge the true authority of a creature, we are in that moment simultaneously acknowledging that there is a place where his authority ENDS. There is no way to grant authority to a creature, biblically speaking, without in the same breath acknowledging the necessity of this built-in limitation. (1)
Masks and a Lesson in Narnian Civics
Samuel Rutherford, the 17th century Scottish minister known for his rigorous defense of Christian liberty wrote the following in his iconic book Lex Rex:
I lay down this maxim of divinity: Tyranny being a work of Satan, is not from God, because sin, either habitual or actual, is not from God: the power that is, must be from God; the magistrate, as magistrate, is good in nature of office, and the intrinsic end of his office, (Rom. xiii. 4) for he is the minister of God for thy good; and, therefore, a power ethical, politic, or moral, to oppress, is not from God, and is not a power, but a licentious deviation of a power; and is no more from God, but from sinful nature and the old serpent, than a license to sin. (2)
Christian philosopher Francis Shaeffer also explored this theme in his writings. In his book A Christian Manifesto, he echoes the sentiments of Wilson and Rutherford.
God has ordained the state as a delegated authority; it is not autonomous. The state is to be an agent of justice, to restrain evil by punishing the wrongdoer, and to protect the good in society. When it does the reverse, it has no proper authority. It is then a usurped authority and as such it becomes lawless and is tyranny. (3)
A Christian Manifesto
We respond to such lawless tyranny by rendering to Caesar what is his and rendering to the Lord what is his (Mark 12:17). And this necessarily includes withholding from Caesar what is not his. Otherwise, we are simply joining Caesar in the same sin. Regrettably, I do not think Christians today notice the authoritarian rebellion against God that has been taking place within our American system of government. Nor do we understand from history how quickly indifference leads to a total loss of liberty. Instead, we blindly submit to our ruling authorities in all matters without considering whether they are acting within their God-given boundaries—as God’s servants for our good (Rom 13:4).
But there is something worse than living under a godless human dictatorship. Our soft compliance and inaction make a mockery of our blood-bought liberty. Although we must never make an idol out of it, this liberty was nevertheless purchased by Christ, and subsequently preserved by those of our nation’s founding who knew their sacrifice was worth it. Surely such a valuable gift should not be misused or squandered. That would mean we do not value this gift as highly as the Giver does. In his penetrating book A Free People’s Suicide, British Author Os Guinness—who observed the American experiment with a great fondness—wrote the following:
A people can be judged as better or worse according to what they love, and their nation can be assessed as healthy or unhealthy according to the condition of what they love. Freedom is unquestionably what Americans love supremely, and love of freedom is what makes Americans the people they are. Thus the present crisis of sustainable freedom raises questions about the health of the American republic that must be taken seriously…Unquestionably freedom is, and will always be, America’s animating principle and chief glory, her most important idea and her greatest strength. (4)
A Free People’s Suicide
If liberty is in fact a gift from God, we have a moral obligation to understand, practice, and protect liberty, not to brush it aside or remain ignorant about it. If genuine love clings to what is good and hates what is evil, we should cling to and cherish a Gospel-centered view of liberty and oppose anything that comes against it, be it godless anarchy or godless tyranny. Here is the Apostle Paul writing to the Galatians:
For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith… And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise… And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
Freedom is a prominent theme of the Gospel. We are sons and daughters, not slaves. But Christ bought this freedom at a great cost, so we must stand against the yoke of slavery in all its forms. Wrath, guilt, and the curse of the law are cruel taskmasters. Men are not much better, and we are instructed not to become their bondservants (Gal 5:1, 1 Cor 7:23). As Christ said, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).
However, this freedom is not license to indulge ourselves at the expense of others (gal 5:13, Rom 14:13, 15:1-2). That would also make a mockery of our blood-bought liberty. But neither is it acceptable to cooperate with whoever is trying to enslave us. It is one thing to be coerced into slavery. It is still another to be fooled into it. We are to “Live as people who are free…as servants of God” (1 Pet 2:16). We’re meant to “walk about in freedom” (Ps 119:45), not with signs of submission strapped to our faces. No, the sons and daughters of the Most High are never to go willingly under any yoke but Christ’s.
Shaeffer had a sober warning for God’s people if we fail to put up Christian opposition against godless tyranny:
If there is no final place for civil disobedience, then the government has been made autonomous, and as such, it has been put in the place of the Living God…because then you are to obey it even when it tells you in its own way at that time to worship Caesar. (5)
A Free People’s Suicide
Determining when it is right to submit or disobey requires maturity and wisdom from the Spirit. It is also a matter of personal conscience, which Jesus, not the state, nor even the church has lordship over (Rom 2:15, 14:4, 1 Cor 4:4). Joe Boot says the following:
Because the legitimate function of the state is to be a ministry of justice under God in obedience to his standards of good and evil, righteousness and justice, the Christian obeys, not simply out of fear of punishment for doing what is wrong, but because of a higher principle – our conscience before God. This conscience before God, saturated in the Word of God and governed by the Holy Spirit, is a critical arbiter in determining when we must disobey the state for violating God’s norms or abandoning its legitimate function. (6)
The Limits of Civil Obedience
If any readers agree with the principles I’ve outlined above, please remember that you agree, because everyone has their line somewhere.
1 Masks and a lesson in Narnian civics. (2020, July 13). Blog & Mablog. https://dougwils.com/books-and-culture/s7-engaging-the-culture/masks-and-a-lesson-in-narnian-civics.html
2 Rutherford: Lex, Rex, or the law and the prince. https://constitution.org/2-Authors/sr/lexrex.htm
3 Schaeffer, F. A. (1982). The complete works of Francis A. Schaeffer: a Christian worldview (Vol. 5, p. 468). Westchester, IL: Crossway Books.
4 Guinness, O. (2012). A free people’s suicide: Sustainable freedom and the American future. InterVarsity Press. Loc 164.
5 Shaeffer. p 491.
6 Boot, J., & Boot, J. (2021, December 13). Blog: The Limits of Civil Obedience. Ezra Institute. https://www.ezrainstitute.ca/resource-library/blog-entries/the-limits-of-civil-obedience/