As the end of the year approaches, most people are thinking about the cultural and practical aspects of the Christmas season: vacations, presents, decorations, food and the like. Amongst Christians, at least, hopefully there is a greater degree of thought and emphasis on the incarnation of Christ. Those of us who are libertarian Christians can take this opportunity to discuss what the incarnation teaches us about liberty. Setting aside the fact that there is scant evidence for thinking that Jesus was born in late December, regardless of when he was born, let’s consider why he was born. Why did God come into the world as a man?

NT Wright (and a number of others) have demonstrated that the primary reason Jesus came into the world was to bring the Kingdom of God. In other words, Jesus came to reverse the Fall and to restore God’s reign, over God’s people, within God’s creation. Jesus is the Second Adam (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:45-49) and the eternal Davidic king (cf. Jeremiah 23:5-6, 30:9 ; Isaiah 9:6-7 ; Matthew 21:9), and the main reason for his incarnation was to claim his rightful throne over not only Israel but over all creation, and in so doing to vindicate and glorify the Father. So if the first reason Jesus came into the world was to bring God’s kingdom, that necessarily means that the incarnation utterly invalidates all rival claims to ultimate and final power over the lives and societies of men (namely those of the state: the only human institution which asserts such a power). The incarnation therefore heralds the fact that the true King has arrived, and it isn’t Caesar.

The salvation of sinners has a secondary (though obviously essential) role; God’s reign is restored in, through, and by the salvation and ultimate glorification of the Church. An old street preacher I once knew used to say that Christians aren’t better than anybody else, but we are better off. All of mankind is by nature enslaved to sin (Psalm 51:5 ; Ephesians 2:1-3) and at enmity against the Creator (Romans 1:18-32), but Jesus sets us free from that bondage.

… Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Revelation 1:4-6

Through the cross, Jesus has freed us from the chains of our sin, and has made us into his pure and holy people. The incarnation is thus a rescue mission to free us from our three-fold spiritual enemies: the world, the flesh, and the devil. Christ has overcome the world (John 16:33), he has freed us from sin and enabled us to crucify our sinful ways (Galatians 5:24), and he has conquered the devil who once ruled us as a cruel master. What’s more, by going into death and rising again, Christ is the guarantee that we also will rise from the dead into new life (1 Corinthians 15:20-23); he has freed us from the need to fear death.

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.
Hebrews 2:14-15

But the liberty that Jesus brings isn’t just about the afterlife; it has a profound impact on our lives now. That’s because regardless of ones’ background or origins, no matter how foolish or evil they may be, Jesus has ransomed us from the futile ways of the past. As such, Jesus realigns our hope back to God.

And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
1 Peter 1:17-21

Much more could of course be said about the purposes for which Jesus came into the world, yet liberty is undoubtedly at its core.

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Luke 4:16-21

Yet contrary to the messianic expectations prevalent in Second Temple Judaism, the liberty he was concerned with wasn’t primarily earthly-political; Jesus took it as a given that Caesar was on the throne of Rome, and to the disappointment of many, he made no effort to overthrow that state of affairs (cf. John 18:36-37). And yet instead, he overthrew a far more powerful enemy than Caesar. By setting his people free from sin, Satan, and death, Jesus has disarmed the greatest of tyrants (cf. Colossians 2:13-15). Because of the gospel, both earthly oppressors and oppressed can be enlightened to the fact that they have alike been enslaved to their own evil.

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
John 8:31-36

The inauguration of the Kingdom of God thus demands that all lay down their arms against God and one another, repent of the evil they have embraced for their entire lives, and instead cling to the spiritual freedom that is offered through the gospel. When this happens, the root cause of earthly-political tyranny and oppression –- sin –- is annihilated, the state is made obsolete, and people find their freedom by submitting to the One for whom they were made and through whom all things exist (Colossians 1:15-20). So this Christmas season, may we remember that true liberty doesn’t ultimately come from utility, or an ambiguous natural law tradition, or philosophers, or the Founding Fathers, or even from Austrian economics. Genuine, eternal liberty comes from the Author of Life, who has set us free from sin and its power to live free for his glory and for our joy in his eternal fellowship.

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Psalm 16:11

For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.
1 Peter 2:15-16

 

*All Scripture quotations taken from the English Standard Version (ESV)

  • Abalone

    So, let me see if I have this right–our liberty comes to us from a deity who requires absolute submission to him. Hmmm.

  • Random Classical Liberal Guy

    God does not require absolute submission (hence free will) but liberty comes from God because without God there would be no universe.

  • Abalone

    It apparently matters to one’s appreciation of irony whether one
    approaches the question as Christian first or libertarian first. To
    a naturally libertarian temperament there is an inherent contradiction
    in welcoming the authority of any entity (“any” includes deities) over
    any other entity, especially oneself, that is, in willingly becoming a
    servant. Then, for the servant to go so far as to claim that this
    alleged liberty comes from the very entity exercising said authority
    over him…, hence my comment.

    As for liberty originating from government, maybe or
    maybe not, but it is the government that asserts the right on our behalf
    and assures it. Without that, at least here in the earthly realm,
    liberty is but a lovely notion.

  • The Punisher

    I think you’re slightly missing the point…or maybe aren’t aware if you’re not a Christian…

    Authority can be legitimate or illegitimate, but that doesn’t make authority in and of itself evil, per se.

    Do you respect and obey your father? Why or why not? I would suspect that if your relationship with your father is good and healthy that you do what you can to please him, respect him and obey him. But if your father was a cruel man or you had a bad relationship then that love and respect would not be there.

    If you work at a job, does your boss have legitimate authority over you in a limited sense?

    God allows us to choose to have a relationship with him or not. He does not force himself on us.

    Furthermore to be a servant does not necessarily negate liberty or freedom if one chooses to be a servant freely as opposed to forcefully. If I contract with another party to be, let’s say their butler, then you could say I am their servant, but I am still free because I chose to contract myself to the other party – hopefully for the benefit of both.

    And finally I would have to respectfully disagree with your assertion that governments assure liberty in the earthly realm. History up until the present has shown exactly the opposite. Governments only breed tyranny.

    But if the King is a perfect being free from doing anything evil and the subjects are also made free from doing evil then what does that “government” look like? Do there need to be men with guns standing ready to do violence? No, because nobody has it on their heart to do anything evil. Would there need to be copious amounts of laws, rules and statutes on the books to keep people on the straight and narrow? No, of course not because nobody would ever think to break any law to begin with. I think you can see, both from a libertarian or Christian point of view, that in light of these things, words like “king”, “kingdom”, “servant”, “subject”, etc all tend to take on drastically different meanings than what we are accustomed to.

  • Random Classical Liberal Guy

    Technically if you are employed you are welcoming in the authority of another entity over how you spend your time. As long as you are consenting there is not problem from a libertarian perspective from becoming a servant.

    To use the same analogy to claim that your financial liberty (the ability to sustain yourself) comes from your employer would not mean that you were not free to spend that money in what you please. All you are doing is recognising who provided you with the ability to spend that money. The two ideas are not contradictory.

  • Abalone

    I thank you and Random Classical Liberal Guy for your thoughtful responses. A few months ago I stumbled on a piece on whether “libertarian Christian” was an oxymoron and got curious as to if and how the two might be reconciled, hence my further readings. The best I had so far been able to glean is that one might be able to rationalize being a servant in the realm of a deity while libertarian in the earthly realm despite the tension of maintaining such an unsettling contradiction by differentiating realms. Apparently, you two aren’t at all unsettled. So, onward…

    What I’m recognizing in your posts is a differentiation of legitimate and/or willing hierarchical relationships, which seems consistent with the authoritarian vs non-authoritarian approaches that are familiar in parenting and management styles. I would not suffer easily an authoritarian father or boss. (Likewise hierarchical deference towards me.) I respected and loved my father dearly without ever (past childhood, that is) a hint of obedience expectation on either of our parts. Likewise my style as a manager was collaborative and collegial, never directive. Parties were, effectively, equal professionals, only with different decision-making responsibilities. People are different, though. If both parties have authoritarian temperaments, a command transaction would be viewed as natural. Given the conditions of legitimacy and willingness mentioned here, I can see where some libertarian subordinates accustomed to authoritarian relationships might not chafe.

    As must be obvious by now, I am not religious. I have long recognized an inherent disconnect with Christianity given certain elements of my temperament, first and foremost being my libertarian bent (the other two being rationalist and utility-thinking), hence my curiosity about how others might find compatibility where I find inconsistency. I am always interested in learning from those with different views. I appreciate the opportunity to bounce this off of you.

    WRT the role of government in liberty, I take your point about government not reliably assuring it. I had in mind, however, the U.S., which does make an effort at assurance for its citizen via the Bill of Rights and the court system. It may be imperfect (and it may reduce liberty with the other hand) but it’s all we have. My intended point was that no OTHER entity but government has an enforcement arm here on Earth.

  • Random Classical Liberal Guy

    Thank you for being open minded.

    The main point is that a voluntary submission to a deity is not against libertarian values. All libertarian values say is that such decisions should by voluntary. I agree government is the only thing with an “enforcement arm” as far as private property and contracts I agree. But that means needs to be exceptionally limited.

    As far as you being a rationalist and therefore atheist. Whilst I respect that position consider that the universe/multiverse must have had an original creator. Which atheists deny, many cannot provide an alternative theory of how a universe/universes can be created without a creator. Many of Jesus’ actions are possible scientifically if Jesus is a fifth dimensional being with the form of a human being. As Jesus was meant to be God such a thing is not impossible.