by Mark Beliles and Stephen McDowell
Jesus’ Ideas on Liberty
Why did Jesus come into the world? There are many answers to this question. He came to seek and to save those who are lost, He came to destroy the works of the devil, and He came to establish the Kingdom of God, to name a few.
Man lost his ability to be self-governed when he disobeyed God. This led to external governmental tyranny. Christ also came to restore to man the potential of being self-governing under God. As mankind begins to be self-governed, it will have an effect on the external government’s operating on his life. Jesus came to not only bring internal salvation, but also external political freedom.
After Jesus had risen from the dead and before He ascended into heaven, He gathered His disciples together. “And so when they had come together, they were asking Him saying, ‘Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:6-8).
Of what type of kingdom were Jesus’ disciples speaking? They were speaking of an external kingdom. For centuries the Hebrew people had read the prophecies of Scripture declaring that a Messiah would come and set up His throne and deliver the people from bondage. While Jesus walked on the earth, many of His followers thought He would set up His reign at any time. They even tried to make Him King. His disciples did not understand how His Kingdom was going to come. While they had not seen it established during Jesus’ ministry on earth, surely now that He had risen from the dead, He would restore the Kingdom. That’s why they asked Him this question.
Jesus did not deny that an external expression of the Kingdom would come. In fact, He said that times and epochs would follow (which we can look back upon today) that would contribute to the establishment of the Kingdom and the extension of external and internal liberty “to the remotest part of the earth.”
The “power” for this external establishment of liberty is the “Spirit of the Lord”; therefore, Jesus emphasized the receiving of this “power” through the baptism of the Holy Spirit. He knew the inevitable result of internal liberty would be external liberty.
God’s Pathway to Liberty
God’s pathway to liberty is from the internal to the external. God’s desire is for an external expression of His Kingdom on earth. Yet it must first begin in the heart of man, and then it will naturally express itself externally in all aspects of society.
The Bible reveals that “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (II Corinthians 3:17). When the Spirit of the Lord comes into the heart of a man, that man is liberated. Likewise, when the Spirit of the Lord comes into a nation, that nation is liberated. The degree to which the Spirit of the Lord is infused into a society (through its people, laws, and institutions), is the degree to which that society will experience liberty in every realm (civil, religious, economic, etc.) Christ came to set us free (Galatians 5:1,13). Spiritual freedom or liberty ultimately produces political freedom. External political slavery reflects internal spiritual bondage.
Christianity’s method of change is the same for nations as it is for individuals. As Christians, we are gradually transformed as we apply the truth of His word to our lives.
Dr. Augustus Neander reveals in his 1871 book, General History of the Christian Religion, how Christianity has historically brought about change in various nations of the world. Neander writes: “Again, Christianity, from its nature, must pronounce sentence of condemnation against all ungodliness, but at the same time appropriate to itself all purely human relations and arrangements, consecrating and ennobling, instead of annihilating them … That religion which aimed nowhere to produce violent and convulsive changes from without, but led to reforms by beginning in the first place within – whose peculiar character it was to operate positively rather than negatively – to displace and destroy no faster than it substituted something better …”
Christian reforms within a nation do not begin with external or violent means (quite a contrast to Marxist/Communist reforms we see today), but they begin within.
In dealing with unbiblical situations in the nations today, we must remember that reform begins within, and as we remove the bad we must simultaneously substitute something better. A government-controlled and funded welfare system is unbiblical, yet the solution is not to pass a law that immediately eliminates civil government support of the needy. Individuals and churches must begin to fulfill their God-given responsibility in this area (substitute the good) as we remove the role of our civil government.
Neander goes on to say: “Yet Christianity nowhere began with outward revolutions and changes, which, in all cases where they have not been prepared from within, and are not based upon conviction, fail of their salutary ends. The new creation to which Christianity gave birth, was in all respects an inward one, from which the outward effects gradually and therefore more surely and healthfully, unfolded themselves to their full extent. It gave servants first the true, inward freedom, without which the outward and earthly freedom is a mere show, and which, wherever it exists, can be cramped by no earthly bond, no earthly yoke. The apostle Paul says, ‘He that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s freeman.’ …”
The reason the American Revolution succeeded is because it was based upon biblical principles that had been sown in the hearts of the people for generations – the people had been prepared from within. The external social change of communism will ultimately fail. (Those living under a communist regime will tell you it has already failed.)
Before Christ, God provided civil government for His people by external law interpreted by judges and prophets. Through Christ, God released the “Law of Liberty” into society through the cleansed hearts of men. God now leads the self-governing Christian by the internal law written on his heart interpreted by the Holy Spirit. This does not mean that the Old Testament law is done away with, but that man can now carry out the law, for God has empowered us to do so. It is still true that the more a nation applies His law, the more that nation will prosper and walk in liberty. The degree to which a people apply the law personally will be reflected through their governmental institutions, for the law flows from the heart of man out to the nation.
Three Vital Foundations of a Christian Nation
Since liberty begins internally, the first step in making a nation Christian is to change the heart of man. This includes not only the conversion of men to Christ but also building virtue and morality into the heart of the people.
There are three vital foundations of a Christian government. These apply to all other institutions as well. These foundations are:
1. Religion – Christianity or Faith in God and His Word
2. Morality – Christian Character
3. Knowledge – Biblical Worldview
These are the spirit or power of a Christian nation. All three of these are necessary for the foundation of a Christian nation.
As we work to see that the “Spirit” within the people of a nation is Christian, the natural result will be forms of government, educational systems, economic systems, etc. that are Christian. This follows from the principle of power and form, for every external form is a result of an internal power.
America’s form of government began as Christian. This flowed out of the Christian power within the hearts and minds of America’s founders. They recognized this form of government could only be properly run by a godly people.
John Adams, the second United States President, said: “We have no government armed in power capable of contending in human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.”
The founders saw the best support of government was the freedom to worship God and obedience by the people to His precepts. George Washington stated: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to a political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who would labour to subvert these great pillars of human happiness …”
He also said: “I now make it my earnest prayer, that God would have you, and the State over which you preside, in his holy protection … that he would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind, which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy nation.”
If the people of a nation lose their virtue, their downfall is inevitable. Sam Adams, the Father of the American Revolution, said: “A general Dissolution of Principles and Manners will more surely overthrow the Liberties of America than the whole Force of the Common Enemy. While the People are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but when once they lose their Virtue they will be ready to surrender their Liberties to the first external or internal Invader … If Virtue and Knowledge are diffused among the People, they will never be enslaved. This will be their great Security.”
When Israel was virtuous, they were invincible, but when they lost their virtue, they fell to invaders. This is true of nations today.
From the principles we have studied, we know that it is not enough for a nation to copy some external form of government to secure liberty, but that the external form must flow out of the principles of liberty within the heart of the people. Many nations in the world today have copied America’s form of government, yet without the same Christian spirit that gave birth to that form, freedom, prosperity, and stability have only been short-lived.
We must also remember that changing the letter of the law to correct problems, without dealing with the spirit in the people’s hearts, will usually result in worse tyranny than existed before the attempted correction. (Examples in the United States include 14th and 17th Amendments.)
A test of a nation being Christian is not that all who formed it were Christians, but that its form of government is Christian, which of necessity means its power is Christian. This means that the principles and ideas upon which it is based are biblical.
This article was taken from Principles for the Reformation of the Nations by Mark Beliles and Stephen McDowell. Published by Providence Press, it is a workbook for Christians who desire to apply their faith to the transformation of society. (See page 19 for special ordering information).