There is a sweetness to the sound of the word, “liberty;” a sweetness born from the concepts and ideas embodied within the definition of the word: “the state of being free from oppressive strictures or constraints.”
Liberty is traditionally at the heart of the American ideal, and as Americans celebrate their country, it is not strange that such celebrations becomes a thankfulness for liberty, and a rejoicing in the freedoms we enjoy.
Yet, the idea of Liberty is much older than the United States. It is a concept taught in both the Old and New Testaments And for the Christian, Liberty is a precious idea, one which is at the heart of what Christ offers those He saves.
Inscribed on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia are these words, “Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants Thereof.” The quotation is taken from the Bible, specifically the writings of Moses, about 3,400 years ago. It is to be found in Leviticus 25:10, which is concerned with the year of Jubilee. The Year of Jubilee, which was to occur once every 50 years, was a year in which all property was to revert back to the its original owners, and all indentured slaves were to be set free. Liberty, in that context, meant a freedom from debts, mortgages, slavery, and the like. It was a return to self-sufficiency and ancient heritages.
Many years later, about 2,400 years before the founding of the United States, the prophet Isaiah would write, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, Because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.” (Isaiah 61:1; NKJV)
Jesus, preaching to the Jews, declared that Isaiah was writing about Him, and that in Jesus the prophecy was fulfilled. (cf. Luke 4:18) That is, Jesus saw His mission, in part, to be about bringing Liberty to mankind. The Liberty that Jesus had in mind was neither political, nor financial, but rather spiritual. Man was in bondage to sin, and Jesus came to provide freedom from the constraints of sin. Through His death on the cross, and by offering the forgiveness of sins, He would allow men the opportunity to return to righteousness, and a right relationship with God.
It is worth noting that in both of these cases, Liberty was not analogous to either Anarchy nor Decadence. The Liberty afforded by the Year of Jubilee placed a certain amount of responsibility upon those affected by it. For instance, a slave, suddenly free, would still need to find gainful employment, and a means of feeding himself, lest he, through neglect, found himself once more in debt and in need of again selling himself to pay off those debts. Likewise, the man who came once more into ownership of his family’s property would need to care for that property, lest, through neglect, he be forced to once more sell it.
So too with the Liberty Jesus provided, the man forgiven of sins, freed from his bondage to sin, needs to learn to practice righteousness, walking on the path of righteousness, lest, through neglect, he once more finds himself in bondage to sin, potentially worse off than he was to begin with (cf. 2 Peter 2:19-22).
Liberty is a contextual freedom from bondage and strictures; but it is important to understand which bonds have been removed, and which remain. A man who hears that Christ has set him free, and thinks this means he can therefore do anything he wishes is not understanding the nature of the bonds which have been removed, nor what it was which caused the bonds in the first place. Liberty at the moment does not preclude the possibility of bondage again in the future.
This is why the Apostle Paul, writing through the Spirit, tells us, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” (Galatians 5:1; NKJV) He adds, “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” (Galatians 5:13; NKJV) In a similar way, the Apostle Peter wrote to Christians, “this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men— as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. (1 Peter 2:15-16; NKJV)
Christ sets us free from sin; it would be foolish therefore, having been set free from sin, to think we can thus return to sin, absent consequences. Christian Liberty is not an excuse to sin; rather it is freedom from sin, and the opportunity to serve God in righteousness.
If you would like to learn more about the Liberty Christ offers, the church of Christ invites you to study and worship with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise, if you have any questions, please share them with us through our website: chapelhillchurchofchrist.org
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.