Christian Liberty

Ever since the fall of man in the garden, natural man has been a slave to sin, but Christ set us free from the bondage of our sin.

There is simply no charity in taxation and government programs. Charity can only be carried out voluntarily through individuals. And will only be carried out to the best it can be through Christians, i.e., through the church. Christians must obediently carry out their obligations to love their neighbor, to care widows and their children, to help the poor, etc. The biblical model for individuals and the church to carry this out can be seen in activities such as gleaning (Ruth 2:7) and deacons (Acts 6:1-3).


Ever since the fall of man in the garden, natural man has been a slave to sin:

None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good, not even one. (Romans 3:10-12 ESV)

Jesus Christ came to set us free from the bondage of our sin:

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.” (Isaiah 61:1 ESV)

This liberty in Christ, however, is not licentiousness; it has a purpose:

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. … For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” (Galatians 5:1, 13 ESV)

The English poet John Milton described Christian liberty this way:

Christian Liberty means that Christ our liberator Frees us from the slavery of sin and thus from the rule of the law and of men, as if we were emancipated slaves. He does this so that, being made sons instead of servants and grown men instead of boys, we may serve God in charity through the guidance of the spirit of truth.

Christian liberty is just like Christian worship; it cannot be confined to the inner, personal realm. It is part of every aspect of life, and must inform our considerations of the more public arenas of government, markets, and civil liberty.

Government Before and After the Fall

Government has existed from the beginning. Before the fall, government took these four forms:

  • God’s governance of man
  • Man’s governance of earth
  • Man’s governance of himself
  • A husband’s governance of his family

Christian liberty is essential to proper governance. Before the fall, man was not a slave to sin and thus was capable of faithfully exercising the liberty of his conscious and thus could submit to God’s governance and properly govern themselves, their family, and creation. However, man needed maturity to govern properly. God designed government to facilitate maturity. Adam and Eve would mature as they submitted to God’s governance, and their children would mature under Adam’s governance of his family. Even creation would mature under man’s governance.

Of course, they (and thus we) failed in this. Rather than liberty, they sought license. Adam and Eve’s license brought about a catastrophic failure in governance. They failed to submit to God’s governance and also failed to exercise self-governance, family governance, and governance of the world.

Post fall, Christian liberty is still essential to governance. However, the two have been sundered by human sin, in two primary ways. First, man sets liberty above governance, resulting in license. Second, man sets government above liberty, resulting in oppression. Both are expressions of man’s bondage to his sin. And lest there be any confusion on this point, license also results in oppression.

God’s governance of man, of course, continues after the fall–He does not suffer from a lack of liberty of conscience. Personal and family governance also continues, however marred they might be. But God did introduce new institutions of governance to address sin in the post-fall world.

The first of these was angelic governance over man. Angels served as intermediaries between God and man:

What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. (Psalm 8:4–5 ESV)

This was the situation until Christ completed His work, part of which was to restore man as the governor of the earth.

The other two institutions of governance introduced were church governance and civil governance.

All Government is Upon His Shoulders

Of course, in church and civil governance and in all the forms of governance, Christ is the King:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:6–7 ESV)

To properly understand civil governance, it is vitally important to understand that because Christ is King over all forms of government that all forms of governance will look very similar. Regarding church governance, I have previously noted:

the PCA’s polity certainly—and I think intentionally—pulls [the laity] in the direction [of striving for the peace and purity of the church]. The first way in which this happens is when we vote and thus select those who will lead us and represent us, i.e., rule us. (By the way, is any of this sounding familiar? As I have studied this, I have been struck by the similarities of the PCA’s polity and the structure of American government. Which should be no surprise given the common reformational and Puritan roots of our nation and our church). 

The biblical guidance for church governance also generally apply to civil governance, to which we shall now turn.

Civil Government and Christian Liberty

What is the focus of civil government? The same as all other forms of government:

to bring good news to the poor; … to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.

This is where many Christians fail in their understanding of civil government. Just because church government should be separate from civil government doesn’t mean they don’t have the same end in mind. Both are under the Kingship of Christ, and He does not have two minds. Christ glorifies Himself in the Trinity and, for some reason we cannot fathom, desires to bring His people into that glory. Thus all forms of government over which He is King, including church and civil government, are designed for this purpose as well. To be sure, different means–or swords–are employed in this pursuit, but the end is nonetheless the same.

I have written how Christian laity should participate in the governance of the church:

But in order to vote responsibly, we should study the peace and purity of the church. We should read the Bible. We should study doctrine. We should make ourselves aware of the issues in the church and the culture that are affecting the kingdom of God. And we should get to know the men whom we are going to vote on and the issues that they occasionally bring to us. And pray for clarity whether God is calling them to the office on which we are voting.

This pattern is not just for the Christian laity in the Christian church, however. It is required of all participants–whether they are Christians are not–in all forms of governance. So in civil government, all participants–voters, government workers, and elected officials–are obligated to inform their understanding of and the design of civil government with Scripture in a way that reflect Christian liberty and the other aspects of Christ’s government. Not everyone will do this, of course–and even Christians who attempt it will do it imperfectly, but all are nonetheless obligated to do so.

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