John Knox taught resistance to tyrants was essential to the blessings of liberty.
The Blessings of Liberty
. . . appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions. . . .
—The Declaration of Independence (1776)
…and to Him as the Supreme King and Judge, we commit the maintenance of our cause, casting our cares upon Him and firmly trusting that He will inspire us with courage and bring our enemies to nought.
—The Declaration of Arbroath (1320)
“Blessing” is God’s favor or goodwill towards His people. In Adam mankind fell from blessing and righteousness into sin and death. But Jesus Christ in His death bore the wrath and curse of God against sin and so purchased righteousness and life and the blessing for all who trust in Him.
Christs Atoning Death And The Blessings of Liberty
The central blessing that flows from Christ’s atoning death has two critical dimensions:
Forgiveness of sins (justification) and the gift of God’s Spirit (Acts 2:38; Gal. 3:7-14). Anyone blessed of God has the “right” legal standing before God. Sins are forgiven, and the individual is now legally righteous. Further, the person now has the indwelling of the Spirit of God and is united with Jesus Christ in resurrection life (Rom. 4; 6; 8).
The believer now has the Spiritual power to overcome sin and obey God. Every other blessing has as its source and framework this central blessing of the gospel, the forgiveness of sin and union with Christ through His Spirit.
This is true liberty, and it is the root of all other kinds of liberty. The man enslaved by guilt and bound by wickedness can never truly be free. He will be captive to the sins of his past. That means slavishly serving his appetites and lusts. It means running from responsibility and commitment. And booking more time with his psychiatrist as well as asking for more prescription drugs. For some, it means looking to alcohol as a way to forget. And perhaps most importantly, deep inside, his life will inwardly be characterized by fear.
But the man who trusts in Christ is free from the spirit of fear. Instead, he has the Spirit “of power, and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7). He is no longer a slave to sin but an adopted child of God and “free indeed” (Rom. 8:15; John 8:36).
Blessings of Liberty And The Civil Impact Of The Gospel
This new liberty is more than a private matter of the heart or of a man’s right relationship with God alone. The promise of the gospel was always that of blessing for the whole world (Gen. 12:1-3; Gal. 3:8). God plan is to bring gospel blessings upon all the families and nations of the earth.
In terms of these promises, Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, foretold the redemption that Messiah would bring. The consequence of that redemption, he said, would be that God “would grant unto us, that we, being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life (Luke 1:74-75).
This is Scripture’s conception of civil liberty. The freedom to serve God within the sphere of His blessing and under His law without fear of violence or oppression.
There is a direct relationship, then, between the spiritual freedom brought by the gospel and the civil freedom and peace that God wants His people to enjoy. The second depends on the first. Civil liberty flows out of spiritual liberty and out of redemption through Christ.
Liberty As A Divine Blessing
Liberty is a divine blessing. This means it can’t be bought and sold. It can’t be seized with guns or legislated into existence. It flows out of the covenant life of those who trust in Christ and obey His law in the Spirit’s power. The Bible in 2 Corinthians 3:17 says …
“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”
No constitution, form of civil government, or set of laws can secure the blessings of liberty where God’s Spirit is absent. Sometimes God restrains tyranny as an expression of His common grace.
Only the gospel secures liberty. Only faith in Christ can lay hold on the gospel blessing of spiritual freedom. It starts with freedom from guilt and sin and then the gospel sows a future harvest of civil liberty, peace, and productivity under God’s law.
The Blessings of Liberty From An Appeal to Heaven
Of course, as the gospel brings the blessings of civil liberty, it becomes the responsibility of free men to defend that liberty by all means lawful. Paul writes, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1). The apostle is speaking most directly to those false doctrines that tear at the gospel and lead men into superficial moralism and carnality.
But a broader application follows: God wills that His people serve Him without hindrance. Once He has broken our chains, of whatever sort they may be, we fail in His service if we don’t maintain our freedom. This includes our freedom to serve Him. And when we see our liberty slipping away, we sin if we don’t do something about it.
The Tools God Gives Us To Achieve The Blessings Of Liberty
We must begin with true repentance and it starts with the individual. (our own personal repentance) We must turn from our own private sins. It’s imperative that we turn from our sins. So, we cast off all forms of infidelity, pride, self-righteousness, hatred and fear, greed and materialism, drunkenness and drug abuse. We must repent of our own idolatry. And we must turn with our hearts and all that we have … time, energy, strength, intellect, and passions … to the God of heaven. We must confess our sins to God and ask for His forgiveness through Christ.
In every age God’s promise to His covenant people holds true:
If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land (2 Chron. 7:14).
Revival And Reformation
Once we have made our own peace with God, we need to pray for revival and reform. This is both a personal and collective thing. In our private prayers and with our families we must pray that God will move. And that He will change the hearts of senators, presidents, and judges. That God will protect and free the persecuted church. That He will reform His churches in doctrine and practice. We must pray that God will raise up preachers who will declare His truth without equivocation or apology. We must pray that He will strike down all those who persecute His Church and try to subvert His law/word. Our churches need to do the same.
Then we must continue to act. God is not just providential concerning “ends.” God’s providence involves “means.” He uses us. He uses His people. We must evangelize and learn to defend the faith. Our churches must evangelize and defend the faith. Churches must preach the gospel of free grace without dilution. As churches and individuals, we must learn to apply God’s word/law to real-world issues. We need to cut back our screen time as we educate ourselves and our families in history, economics, and the principles of civil government from a Christian worldview. We need to involve ourselves in civil government according to the gifts and opportunities God gives us. Voting in terms of God’s word is essential. Understand, this is responsibility and not just a privilege.
The Blessings Of Liberty That Come From Resistance To Tyranny
Finally, if all this fails, if the enemies of Christ raise bloody persecution against the churches, if they try to take our children, if they forbid the preaching of the gospel, God’s people may need to take further steps. From the Scots’ War for Independence to our own Declaration of Independence, those facing extreme tyranny have argued that the people have the right before God to offer resistance to tyranny: petitions, civil protests, appeals to higher courts, the sanctions of church courts, refusal to submit, as well as flight from persecution.
In the most extreme of circumstances, the people may even take up arms under the leadership of lesser legitimate magistrates. There’s an essential qualification here. God doesn’t sanction anarchy or revolutions of chaos. The Scottish War for Independence, the English Civil Wars, the Glorious Revolution and our own War for Independence were all appeals to God, but they were all led by lawfully established rulers.
The struggle to maintain or regain liberty is a serious business. It requires vigilance. It’s also a long-term proposition. That means it’s a multi-generational, investment and commitment.
Above all, it requires faith in Jesus Christ, who is King of kings and Lord of lords.
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