Libertarianism And Liberty In Christ

It’s 2012 and another presidential election year is upon us. There was a time when these elections held my interest as I carefully weighed the views of candidates in the primaries and then in the general election before finally casting my vote. That interest eventually evaporated when I finally realized that neither party nor its candidates really had anything remotely related to my interests in mind. It dawned on me that, generally speaking, one party simply wants to extract money from you for promotion of the welfare state, while the other wants to do the same for the promotion of the warfare state. And when you look at President Obama and the probable Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, even that line becomes quite blurred.

Nevertheless the race this year has been very different from previous elections in that there is a libertarian candidate very much involved in the Republican primaries by the name of Ron Paul. That hasn’t happened much in recent history. Sure there have been Pat Buchanans and Barry Goldwaters, but I would say that Paul more closely represents true libertarian ideals than either of those.

My intention isn’t to promote Paul as a candidate for the Republican ticket, but merely to point out the fact that it’s extremely unusual for a man who promotes libertarianism to have received such prominence as Paul has, in spite of the fact that he has yet to win a state primary. His continued presence in the primaries have driven many people to investigate libertarianism and, indeed, to embrace it.

I think many Christians are confused about what libertarianism is. For some reason they seem to equate it with libertinism. A libertine, according to Dictionary.com, is someone who is “free of moral, especially sexual, restraint; dissolute; licentious.” Libertinism then is a philosophy that promotes that kind of behavior. But that is decidedly not what libertarianism is about. Libertarianism is simply the idea that each individual should have the freedom to live however he chooses as long as it does no harm to another person’s life or property. To be sure, under that definition people would be free to pursue many vices, just as many others would be free to pursue a life of Christian devotion. The idea, though, is that no behavior should be outlawed that doesn’t interfere with or harm another person’s life or property.

As a political philosophy I think libertarianism is a great idea. Apparently so did Thomas Jefferson, who said, “Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the law,’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.”

But is libertarianism the best philosophy? Clearly no because many fervent libertarians will, sadly, find themselves cast out of the Kingdom of God. Well why is that? The reason is this:  libertarianism can only allow each individual the freedom to live according to how he or she wills in their own heart. But what is it that each and every one of us wills? Clearly, according to the apostle Paul, it’s to live in rebellion against God:  “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Rom. 3:10a-12)

Pastor John Piper uses an interesting analogy to describe this. Speaking of skydiving he says, “But there is one last requirement for full freedom. Suppose you get to the airport with no obstacle (you have the freedom of opportunity); you have all the know-how necessary (you have the freedom of ability); you look out the door at the tiny clusters of silos and barns and farmhouses a few miles down, and just can’t wait to jump (you have the freedom of desire). So you jump.

“And as you free fall, enjoying every second of it, unknown to you, your parachute is defective and is not going to open no matter you do. Are you free—fully free, free indeed?

“No. What you are doing so happily and so freely is going to kill you. Even though you don’t know it yet, you are in bondage to destruction. It feels like freedom. But very soon the whole thing—all the exhilaration—will prove to be an illusion. In thirty seconds you’ll be dead.”

Jesus called this living our own lives according to our own wills slavery, not freedom. In John 8:34 he says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” Each time we choose to sin we demonstrate that we are not truly free, but are, in fact, slaves. Doomed slaves.

There is only one way that we can truly be set at liberty and that is to have our enslaving sins wiped away by the blood of Christ. “So if the Son of man sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36) This is the only liberty worth having.

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