Law and Freedom
“Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient…” (1 Tim 1:8-9).
Law is good. Yet the necessity of law is built on the fact that people act in evil ways. If everyone loved one another appropriately, for example, there would not need to be a law that said, “Do not murder.” The fact that we all loved one another (if we really did) would preclude any thought of trying to harm one another. It wouldn’t need to be said (cf. Rom 13:8-11). We would all be acting on the basic principle stated by Jesus: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them…” (Matt 7:12).
Christians are not to be law-breakers (while knowing we must obey God before men, Acts 5:29). The reason we obey the laws of the land in which we live is because God told us to do so (Rom 13:1; 1 Pet 2:13-15). Christians are not to be rebels who lead insurrections; we are not going to honor God when we engage in the physical harm of others or what belongs to others. As far as it depends upon us, we are to be at peace with all (Rom 12:18). To this end, we are to pray “for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim 2:1-2). This does not apply only when we personally like those in power or happen to agree with a particular law. If we are to be found going against a law, let it be only for those situations in which man’s law is clearly at odds with God’s will. Even then, let us never be belligerent and cold, but still act with grace and resolve (cf. Col 4:5-6).
Though we will often clash with a worldly culture under the influence of the serpent of old, Christians know that the real enemy is not our neighbor. Fellow human beings are made in God’s image; we ought to love them and seek their salvation. The real enemy is the god of this world who blinds the minds of the unbelieving (2 Cor 4:3-4), who prowls about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (1 Pet 5:8). It’s not ultimately a culture war in which we are engaged, but a spiritual war that requires the armor of God and the sword of the Spirit (Eph 6:10-19). As we engage this war, we do so without employing carnal weapons and worldly techniques. Christ alone is our King and we take our marching orders directly from Him:
“No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him” (2 Tim 2:4).
“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor 10:3-5).
Freedom is also good. Unfortunately, the abuse of freedom requires law. The problem of sin is really based on this abuse of freedom. We relish our individual autonomy so much that we think we have the right to decide good and evil, right and wrong, for ourselves. This was the same problem that got Adam and Eve into so much trouble. The serpent (the real enemy) lied, slandered, and deceived, essentially telling them that they could become their own gods, sit on their own throne, and decide for themselves based on their own authority what is good and bad (Gen 3:1-6). They bit. Then they died.
Abused freedom is costly. This is why we are told, “Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God” (1 Pet 2:14). Freedom does not imply just doing anything and everything we want to do no matter the consequences. Freedom has a context. It has limitations, and sometimes those limitations keep us from doing what will get us into deeper trouble.
“Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.” (1 Pet 4:15-16).
What all of this comes down to is that Christians living in this world are citizens of heaven first (Phil 3:20). Because of who God is and our desire to glorify Him, we will also seek to be the best citizens, neighbors, and workers within our given culture and nation. In so doing, we will be the light and salt the Lord calls us to be (Matt 5:12-14).
“Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.” (1 Pet 2:12).