There are two competing ideas on personal liberty that inspire two vastly different understandings of the fundamental nature of freedom. One was recorded 2000 years ago and has guided Christ followers from countless cultures through a myriad of history’s most tumultuous moments. The other is comparatively much younger, more culturally constricted, and considerably less charitable.
Woven into the theological fabric of many evangelicals is a national allegiance that syncretistically mutates a more historical theological understanding of biblical freedom into a less demanding variant. For most, I would assume, this is an unconscious theological stance that has become unwittingly assimilated into a larger cultural dogma. A position that naturally evolved from generations of selfless patriotism, national pride and a sincere love for Jesus. For many, this overriding cultural narrative of love for God and country can be as wholesome as apple pie.
And in many ways, it is, but certainly not in all.
What happens when our cultural understanding of liberty (personal rights) collides with a biblical understanding of liberty (personal surrender)? What does it say of our theological understanding of biblical freedom when we litigate in order to stand shoulder to shoulder, barefaced declaring “with arms high and hearts abandoned” that our greatest spiritual liberty is our lawful freedom to assert our personal rights?
It seems that to many of us, whether unconsciously or with great and dark premeditation, we have substituted biblical freedom (being free to sacrifice for others) to a cultural concept of freedom (free to exercise my rights) as a world watches our example in horror. Instead of being known for our leadership in advocating for those on the margins – we speak only and entirely for ourselves. And our boisterous demands are far from being Gospel words of life. Watching the news or thumbing through our social media feeds, we see evangelicals unapologetically declaring,
“You cannot make us wear masks. We have our rights.”
“You cannot stop us from filling our building. This is a free country.”
“Some people are just going to have to get sick and die. I’m sorry, but that’s how it is.”
And so, the body count ticks up as strangers and neighbors alike enter eternity, while we, clinging to our rights, absolve ourselves of any responsibility. To many, we have ostensibly become the soulless minority gleefully advocating for the numbing pain of a speculative herd immunity.
But is this how we are to be known?
What happened to “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10). Or what about the selflessness of, “Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back” (Luke 6:35). Or what about Jesus’ own sacrificial example of, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Shouldn’t our freedom lead us to be the mask wearing ones advocating on behalf of the vulnerable as if to quietly demonstrate that we, “have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer [we] who live, but Christ who lives in [us]” (Galatians 2:20)?
Biblical freedom liberates Christ followers from the endless tyranny and insecurity of “saving themselves” to a gentle and confident security that is able to “give themselves away” on behalf of others. Jesus’ upside-right Kingdom is forcefully advanced only by a counter-cultural movement of otherness as it masks up, spreads out, and looks for ways to bring good news to those who only know death.
When Jesus was asked by the constitutional experts of his day as to what was the greatest law, he instinctively replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” Jesus’ answer was short, punchy and straight to the point. Certainly, no religious pharisee, now or then, would object. After all, this answer could be easily outwardly demonstrated through a multitude of religious trappings which could obfuscate any internal deficiencies. Religious activities have long been a convincing way of masking an unsubstantial spirituality.
And so, without being asked, Jesus offered a second command. One in which a lack of spiritual substance was more difficult to disguise. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt 22:37-40 ESV). Jesus was saying that the proof of the pudding of the first commandment is how we live the second (see 1 John 4:20). The first century legal experts’ theoretical obedience to the first law was exposed as empty and insincere by their lack of empathy toward their neighbor.
So, perhaps, now more than ever, we should let Jesus’ words sink in. Does my love and empathy toward my neighbor discredit or validate the authenticity of our worship? Does my preoccupation for my personal rights and my disinterest toward the welfare of others unmask the true substance of a wanting spirituality? Should we, as evangelicals, have a different reputation among those we’ve been given a commission to serve?
Does God have a better freedom in mind for his people?