Calvary Road Baptist Church

“LIBERTY ON THE 4th OF JULY”

Galatians 5.1

Tomorrow is the 4th of July, the date that commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence, a document that has no legal bearing in our country since it was written and signed before our nation came into existence. However, it is a document that is commonly embraced by American patriots as that which most clearly defines our liberty and who we see ourselves to be. Allow me to set the table for the meal I am about to serve you. One might categorize four types of liberty:

There is familial liberty, which is the kind of liberty a boy wants when he desires to exercise the prerogatives of manhood. The immature want to exercise the prerogatives of manhood while giving no thought to the responsibilities of manhood, while young men recognize that the prerogatives of manhood are only properly exercised by those who also shoulder the responsibilities that accompany manhood. For instance, no boy has any right to demand that he be treated like a man unless and until he begins to act like a man. How do men act? Men support themselves. Men shoulder adult responsibilities. Men do what is needed to be a blessing to others. Men make sacrifices so the women in their lives will not have to, or so the women in their lives are required to make fewer sacrifices. When a boy’s desire for familial liberty reaches a certain point, he does not cause a scene or make demands. Rather, he takes care of himself. Do you object to the house rules of your mother and father, rules they live by and expect others they feed and board to abide by? No problem. Get your own place to live in and buy your own food, pay your own rent, deal with your own medical expenses. The childish, on the other hand, make demands of others while expecting those others to continue supporting them, and see familial liberty as something others should pay for.

Next, there is religious liberty. Religious liberty can be traced to the Protestant Reformation, and though it was slow in coming because of the Reformation, it never before existed anywhere in the world before the Protestant Reformation. The Catholics and the Orthodox never admired religious liberty. Neither did any other religion. Though there were those throughout history who embraced religious principles and ideals that greatly differed from the dominant religion in the region, to do so came at great cost and was opposed by terrible persecution. This is true whether the adherents were Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Waldensian Christians, Petrobrussian Christians, Albigensian Christians, Mormon non-Christians, Jehovah Witness non-Christians, Christians in England known as Lollards and Nonconformists, French Huguenots, or Baptists. In every land, the dominant religion enforced religious conformity with force of arms. Muslims slaughtered Hindus, Muslims slaughtered Christians, and various Christian groups such as Waldensians, Petrobrussians, Albigenses, Huguenots, Lollards and Baptists were viciously persecuted by Roman Catholics, by Lutherans, and by the Church of England. Certain groups took to the Alps in search of physical safety and the avoidance of religious persecution. In England, flight to Holland and Switzerland was made by some, while the New World was the option for others seeking religious liberty, the freedom to practice their religion as they saw fit. Of course, the freedom to practice one’s own religion did not necessarily include the freedom for someone else to practice his religious convictions, as the painting and brief history found in our church’s foyer attest. Religious liberty came about from the efforts of the oldest of the Christian sects, the Baptists, and the only identifiable group of Christians in history who did not think in terms of territorialism.[1] We did not succeed in acquiring religious liberty abroad, suffering harshly for centuries in Europe. In the New England colonies, the struggle to express our own religious convictions also proceeded against brutal opposition. Gradually, however, headway was made, though religious liberty was not fully embraced by all Americans or institutions until well after the United States came into existence. While religious liberty is the offspring of the Protestant Reformation, and has come to be seen as a proper expression of Biblical Christianity because of Baptist efforts, it has been very slow in coming, with much bloodshed. In many parts of the world, even regions where a form of Christianity is the dominant religion, religious intolerance is still the norm. A map has been hung to show you the regions where Christians are presently suffering persecution.

While religious liberty first took root in our land, and led to the highest form of political liberty, it cannot be said that political liberty first took root in the English colonies. Political liberty has been slowly developing over the centuries, and is a direct consequence of the influence of God’s Word on a people. That is one reason why the modern political notion of nation building in the Middle East, envisioning tribal people adopting in a matter of years what took many centuries to embrace in the West, is so naive. The gospel was taken to the British Isles within a century of Christ’s resurrection. The Bible has ever had an impact on that region. By 1215 AD, the barons of King John coerced him to sign a charter known as the Magna Carta, Great Charter in English, limiting the authority of the king over his subjects.[2] That was the beginning of a change in political philosophy that resulted in seeing the government as the servant of her citizens rather than seeing the citizens as the servants of their government, laying a foundation for liberty cherished for centuries by English freemen. That political struggle is continuing to this day, with one political party in our country completely sold on the idea of citizens serving the government, while another party has some followers who hold fast to the notion that leads to liberty, that government must be made to serve the citizens. It was during the mid-1700s that subjects of the British colonies in the New World found their home government ever more oppressive and sought to redress their grievances by making various types of appeals. At first, there was no thought of revolution in America. However, when it became obvious that the British king and parliament were accelerating the erosion of their rights as English freemen, talk of revolution began. Keep in mind that the American Revolution was unlike any revolution before or since. It was a revolution by successful and well-educated men who were attempting by their revolt to preserve treasured institutions and values, not overturn them. It was a revolution led by mature men of prominence and position who had long labored to resolve what troubled them by diplomacy and discussion, not by angry young men that were impetuous and irresponsible. Finally, it was not a revolution that ended in the mass murder of all who opposed the victors, such as took place in the French Revolution and most other revolutions. Our Revolutionary War was different from all others. What did the leaders and participants in the American Revolution want? They wanted political liberty, the freedom to continue exercising their rights under law as English freemen. As they gave speeches, engaged in acts of civil disobedience and resistance, wrote letters of protest, sent lobbyists to England to argue their case, and opposed a King and a parliament across the Atlantic Ocean that they did not feel represented their interests and were forbidden to vote for come election time, British troops were sent in to occupy private homes, to confiscate food, livestock and property, and those troops eventually fired shots at their own civilian countrymen. War broke out. It was a protracted, mostly guerilla, war. The Americans did not fight fair, doing their best to avoid set piece battles, harassing, spying, and sniping. Eventually, mostly because England was preoccupied with matters of empire elsewhere in the world, and with the help of England’s constant adversary France, we were victorious. Our founders had fought for and had gained our liberty. That liberty will be celebrated tomorrow.

Liberty is seen by many as something of great value, while others are too passive to greatly value anything. However, some will go to extraordinary lengths to establish their familial liberty, while others will only complain about their parents. Others, greatly treasuring their religious distinctives, convictions, and even preferences, go so far in some cases as to suffer greatly for them and even to fight for them. What we are most familiar with in the United States, however, is the concept of political liberty, what we conceive of as freedom. It is so important to our countrymen that we went to war to obtain it, have gone to war to preserve it, and apparently will continue go to war to make sure others enjoy some of it. To be sure, living in the real world means that these various forms of liberty are never easily applied to one and all, and never completely enjoyed by one and all. Some parents will grant liberty to one child and resist the liberty of another child. Some will recognize and enjoy religious liberty, while unconsciously and unintentionally denying such liberty to others. Then there is political liberty, so very unevenly applied throughout its brief history, with many of the men who fought to see liberty established nevertheless denying it to the people who served them on their plantations. More than just a sad irony.

As important as these various kinds of liberty are seen to be, each should be recognized as paltry in comparison to spiritual liberty. Consider a few matters before we turn to God’s Word. Though you can always argue for liberties in your home, and take up arms for religious and political liberty, such liberties are never evenly applied or universally enjoyed. Reflect upon these liberties and you will see they are always dependent upon the actions of other people to be fully experienced. In such cases, these kinds of liberty must be fought for in various ways to be apprehended and enjoyed. Yet they are liberties that are treasured, valued, appreciated, and in the case of some people, died for.

Setting aside the family issue as typically requiring little more than a bit of arguing between parents and their children at different phases of life, religious liberty and political liberty are liberties that have been paid for with many lives and a great deal of bloodshed and suffering down through the centuries. Especially in our country, with our July 4th and Memorial Day observances each year (not the sports events, but the parades and marching bands), we convince ourselves that liberty is worth whatever price must be paid to preserve it.

Is that so? Do you really believe that? Do you believe that liberty is worth whatever price is paid to preserve it? Even if the price paid is your life, or the life of a loved one, or the life of your dad? Are you really sure the value of liberty is worth so high a price? Understand that I am not challenging you. I am only asking. Keep in mind that people do not always desire liberty. Some kids would rather mooch off their parents than enjoy the privileges and responsibilities of familial liberty. Most have rather practiced the dominant religion than the religion they honestly believed was the true faith. In addition, in our own Revolutionary War, only one-third of the population stood up for the cause, with one-third being opposed to the cause and one-third having no opinion. That is not even counting the large numbers who fled to Canada rather than stand up for what most of us think was the right stand.

Thus, while we celebrate the 4th of July and Memorial Day, most have not treasured liberty enough to sacrifice for it, just as most have not treasured religious liberty enough to sacrifice for it. Billy actually working to support himself rather than mooch off mom and dad is a whole other matter, is it not?

May I turn the topic to another type of liberty, a vastly more important kind of liberty that can be enjoyed even while one is oppressed and denied political liberty and religious liberty? I speak of the kind of liberty that is so different from the kinds of liberty we have considered thus far that no man can take it from you by force, and no one can deny it to you by any means. I speak, of course, of the liberty the believer has in Jesus Christ. Turn to Galatians 5.1, standing when you find that verse, so we can all read it together aloud: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” The Apostle Paul is writing to Christians in the Galatian churches, most of whom were Gentile Christians. Yet he writes, “and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” This might be something you would expect him to write to Jewish Christians, alluding to their former fealty to the Law of Moses. Yet what Paul writes makes perfect sense.

Every religious persuasion known to man that is not Biblical Christianity is a system whereby favor is earned by obedience to some form of law, be it the Law of Moses, the five pillars of Islam, or the rules associated with Hinduism or Buddhism. Even the atheist, who claims no religious inclinations, is bound to some moral system of rules and regulations whereby he pronounces himself to be a good man. What Paul is insisting on, then, is that anything and everything other than the relationship to God which is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ is spiritual bondage. Only Jesus Christ sets men free from various forms of spiritual bondage. The challenge? The Christian’s challenge is to avoid the natural tendency to slide this way or to slip that way into a pattern that feels more natural to the sinful soul, but which is a departure from the liberty wherewith Christ has set you free. Interestingly, however, though this liberty in Christ is the greatest liberty of them all, a liberty of the soul from sin, a freedom to serve God effectively and efficiently, and a liberty that allows the Christian to mount up with wings of eagles, seems to be treasured by far fewer people than those who will salute the flag or die for religious liberty. Yet the liberty Paul speaks of in our text is so vastly superior to anything related to the 4th of July, or the freedom of religion in a country, that its effects will be felt throughout eternity and not end when you die. This liberty we have in Christ is the greatest liberty of them all.

Consider three things about the liberty in Christ that is the possession of every born again believer in Jesus Christ:

 First, IT IS A LIBERTY YOU NEED NOT FIGHT FOR

 Religious liberty has to be fought for. The Crusades were wars for religious liberty, as were the conquests of the Muslims centuries before, with armies taking the field to overpower their opponents and subjugate entire populations to secure their observances of one religion or another. When the Protestant Reformation took place, the Roman Catholic Church mounted a counter thrust known as the Counter-Reformation. Eventually, all of Europe was embroiled in one religious war or another that lasted for scores of years. Even on a personal level, when jurisdictions are not in conflict, religious liberty still has to be fought for. Do you think Obadiah Holmes was not fighting for religious liberty when he was lashed in Boston on September 5, 1651? Look at the painting in our church’s foyer. Read what happened to him and why if you think religious liberty does not have to be fought for. And what about Adoniram Judson in Burma, imprisoned in 1824 where he almost died. Think that was not a fight for religious liberty to preach the gospel? Then there is our own political liberty. Think our freedom from British oppression could have been secured any other way than by fighting for it? Our nation’s founders tried. For decades, they tried, using every tactic they could imagine. Finally, when properties were seized and civilians were fired on, they had no choice but to fight.

There is no question but that religious liberty and political liberty are liberties that history has shown must be fought for to be possessed. The liberty we have in Christ, however, our forgiveness of sins, our eternal life, our adoption into the family of God, the freedom we have been granted to live for Christ and serve our God, the most important and long-lasting liberty of them all, does not have to be fought for . . . at least not by us. To us it comes as a gift. Not to say the Savior did not have to fight for it. Under constant attack from Satan, opposed by religious authorities who ought to have bowed to Him as their Messiah, finally suffering for the sins of others on the cross of Calvary and then conquering both sin and death, there was a fight for our liberty, but it was a fight we had no part in.

 Jesus paid it all.

All to Him I owe.

Sin had left a crimson stain,

but He washed it white as snow.

 My possession of the liberty Christ gives to His own is the result of my faith in Him and in His finished work on the cross of Calvary for my sins. This is a liberty none of us needs to fight for.

 Next, IT IS A LIBERTY YOU NEED NOT DEFEND

 Religious liberty and political liberty are liberties that must be defended, or they will be lost. For example: In the state of Washington efforts are underway by the same sex marriage advocates to make public the names and addresses of the supporters of traditional marriage, who are threatening their lives.[3] Their goal seems to be to advance their political agenda by stifling the religious and political liberties of their opponents in the state of Washington, since they cannot win when the opposing majority participates in the democratic process. Will people rise up to defend their religious and/or political liberties? They are not rising up in the United Kingdom, or in France, or in Denmark, or in Canada. In those countries, Muslims are advancing Sharia law that will deprive anyone else of the free exercise of their own religion and stifle free speech, thus infringing on their political liberty.

Thus, religious liberties must be defended or they will be eroded by the actions of others. Political liberties must be defended or they, too, will be eroded by the actions of others. What is truly remarkable about the liberty a Christian has in Jesus Christ is that no words or deeds of another person or group of people can deprive any Christian of the liberty he has in Christ. Paul and Silas were thrown in prison in Philippi, yet they continued to rejoice in the Lord. Simon was imprisoned in Jerusalem, yet no one could steal from him his peace of mind and heart. Richard Wurmbrand was in a communist prison for twelve years, yet no guard was able to touch his liberty in Christ. Though you be imprisoned, you can still have liberty in Christ. Though you be enslaved, you can still have liberty in Christ. You can be wrongly accused and framed for something you did not do, all the while still possessing liberty in Christ. No wife married to a bully can be denied the liberty she has in Christ. No man married to a contentious wife can be denied the liberty he has in Christ. No child of unbelieving parents can be denied the liberty she has in Jesus Christ. They can shackle your wrists and ankles, but how does one shackle your soul? They may beat your body, but how does one exercise control over the Christian’s spirit? To be sure, they can take your property, deny you the right to earn a living, and perhaps even turn all your friends and loved ones against you, but no one can come between the child of God and his Savior. Romans 8.33-39:

 33     Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.

34     Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.

35     Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

36     As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.

37     Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.

38     For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,

39     Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 The liberty that the Christian has in Christ, then, requires no fighting by us to obtain it, and requires no struggle by us to defend it.

 However, IT IS A LIBERTY YOU MUST STAND FAST IN

 Do you recognize that it is an illusion to fancy that anyone is free to do whatever he wants to do? The guy who thinks there are no rules that govern his behavior is blind to the reality that he is completely controlled by his lusts. Thus, he has no liberty at all, though he naively thinks he has. Liberty is properly seen as the freedom to do right, not the right to do wrong. Thus, the guy who steals cars and robs liquor stores, who snatches purses or bullies kids at the park, who intimidates women or cheats on his taxes, only thinks he is free to do those things. In reality, he is enslaved.

The same is true with the guy who thinks he has the freedom to work and earn money on Sunday instead of going to church, or who thinks he is far too mature to participate in our church’s Saturday night evangelism. The reality is that everyone is a servant to something, to someone. The guy who skips church, who disses evangelism, stays home on Sunday nights, as not being important enough uses of his time for him to participate in, is in no way exercising freedom. Instead, he is displaying his slavery and putting on exhibition to one and all that he is being inhibited from doing right. How else could the Apostle Paul have labeled himself a slave of Jesus Christ, when he was a Roman citizen and loosed from the constraints of the Mosaic Law? Paul rightly understood that no one is completely free, but all are influenced by other things or other people. Paul was thrilled that he was so influenced by Jesus Christ that he had the liberty to do right, and warned the Galatians not to be enticed by propaganda to give up the liberty they had in Christ. What he urged them to do was stand fast “in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free.” Free to do what? Free to do anything we want? No, that is anarchy, lawlessness. Paul refers to the freedom to do what we were created to do, honor and glorify God. Free to go to church instead of showing slavery to slothfulness and selfishness by staying home. Freedom to evangelize on Saturday nights, instead of showing slavery to bad priorities and a willingness to wallow in the slop trough of sin.

 Am I diminishing the significance of the kinds of liberties that must be fought for and defended, lest they be eroded and we find ourselves a people enslaved to dictators and secularists? Heavens no! However, these liberties are rightly seen to be derivatives of a far more important liberty that is neither fought for or defended, but which the believer must consciously stand fast in.

We celebrate our political liberty once or twice a year as our nation will do tomorrow, while giving necessary thought to it frequently. We celebrate our religious liberty even more frequently, by attending our church and worshiping, and standing for the freedom of others to do or not to do likewise. The liberty we have in Christ, however, can only be exercised by those of us who know the Savior in a sin-forgiving and eternal life-receiving way. Throw us in prison. Burn us at the stake. Torture us to deny our Savior. Attempt to embarrass and humiliate us into denying what we know is right and acquiescing to what we know is wrong.

You cannot take our liberty from us, though there is a danger of us being so foolish that we can be talked into surrendering it. Our task is to stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.



[1] I will define territorialism in this context as the belief that one’s own brand of religion must be practiced in this geographical region, a concept embraced by all other religious persuasions but never observed by or demanded of others by Baptists.

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