“I tell you, my friends, do no fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows. And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God.” ~Luke 12:4-9
Freedom is a gift of God. True freedom is a result of believing God, the One from whom comes justice and truth. It is part of our salvation in Christ and is demonstrated in keeping the law of our Creator and so living as we were created to do.
Innately connected with conscience and with conviction (which two cannot very well be separated), freedom is a characteristic of the child of God. This is because, as God’s own people, we are fundamentally servants to him alone (Leviticus 25:55). We owe obedience to the human authorities over us because our God commands it of us (Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 5:21-6:9; Hebrew 13:17; Peter 2:12-17; etc.); therefore it is that the phenomenon occurs in our fallen environment that we owe obedience to the human authorities over us insofar as they are in accordance with the law of our God, who is also God over those who rule wickedly (Acts 4:18-20; Daniel 1:8; Mark 2:23-28; etc.). Lex rex — the law of God is over all and it is that to which we, by conscience and conviction, may and ought to appeal, both as our ultimate rule of obedience and as our defense. Though so many ignore or deny the ultimacy of God’s defining power, we are free people for we know that we shall stand before the tribunal of Christ after we may, perhaps, have perished under a tribunal of man. But woe to those who pervert justice! (Isaiah 10:1-4)
I say lex rex and the lex I am referring to is the law of God. I do not mean that particular something called “natural law” — which always turns out to be inconsistent and vague, subject to endless interpretations. I mean the law of God as revealed in Scripture, for the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever. ‘Tis true that the whole creation bears witness to the truth concerning God and his power and divinity and that his holy law is written in the consciences of mankind (Romans 1:19-20 and 2:14-15) — but if we read the rest of these chapters (and the rest of the Bible!), it is very clear that we cannot put any confidence in the hearts of mankind to lead us to a true understanding of this “natural law” — if, as so many claim, it was through the vagaries of some sort of “natural law” that God chose to define his perfect justice. Isaiah 44:18-20 makes it very plain that there is little use in appealing to the innate knowledge in mankind for justice or for righteousness or for truth: “They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. No one considers, nor is their knowledge or discernment to say, ‘Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?’ He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, ‘Is there not a lie in my right hand?'”
Our Lord Jesus, while he walked on earth, said: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). What is this? We shall know the truth because, by the working of the Spirit within us, we are unblinded and brought to see and to understand, to believe and to know the truth — the reality — the revealed things (the word of Christ) that belong to us as the covenant people of God. How does this set us free? Why? The more and more that we are sanctified and our hearts are enlightened by the Spirit of Christ, in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden (side note on Colossians 2:3: therefore, one cannot be truly wise or understanding unless he knows Christ), the more and more we will live in accord with reality, rather than in the fog and irrational inconsistency of the unconverted. They are slaves to the darkness, for they love and serve this darkness. Hating the light, since it reveals their sins and inconsistencies, they persecute the free ones, who live as if in the light, living freely before God, the judge of all the world. (Compare John 15:18 et al.)
This freedom of which I speak is not a freedom “to do whatever one wants.” What sort of a “freedom” is this, anyway? It is simply impossible, for mankind has not the power of creation. No one can actually create his environment and bring to pass the thought of his heart. Only God, the Creator of the whole universe and provident Ruler of history has the power to bring to pass the thought of his heart in actuality and reality — i.e. to literally create. And if everyone was to do, within the bounds of reality, whatever they might take a notion to do, total anarchy and chaos would result. What sort of a freedom is this? A freedom to the weak to be downtrodden and a freedom to the strong to oppress. And this is why people submit to tyranny and oppression — it is a safer alternative than the freedom to be lawless.
However, I must note that the more we are sanctified, the more we come to want what is in accord with the character (and thus also the law) of our God and Savior — so, as our desires come to line up more and more with the will of God, we will find that we do come to desire to keep the law of God out of love of it, as much as fear of the Lawgiver. This is no lawless freedom of which I am speaking. It is a holy freedom to live in reality and truth. This is not a freedom that is dependent upon political happenstance, the integrity of ecclesiastical leaders, economic situations, or familial status. This is not a freedom that is grounded upon any human or any human institution or government. It is a freedom of conscience, a freedom to stand upon convictions, a freedom of self-government, a freedom to obey and live in the light (regardless of circumstances) rather than slavishly conforming in fear to what some person teaches or what some political authority demands.
How? Why? Because, ultimately, we stand only before one authority — our Lord Jesus Christ. This is a freedom from fear for those who love the truth — though it leads into many situations where, like Peter sinking in the waves, we often forget and fear what might happen to us in the Lord’s providence. And as Jesus intervened to draw Peter out of the waves (even while rebuking him for his unbelief), so our God will draw us out of all of these situations — though it may be, as with so many of our brothers and sisters, through the portal of death and many other miserable occurrences. Yet, these very things are to the glory of his name on earth. And, for his name’s sake, he always provides strength of faith, assurance of conviction, and the unshakable conscience of a spirit taught of God (Isaiah 48:11). This is that freedom to which I am referring.
Though it be a freedom of heart, it leads to many very tangible results that have been demonstrated again and again throughout history. Wherever the gospel of the kingdom of Christ has gone out and the word of God has been accounted the ultimate authority, wherever truly free people have lived, they have survived the downfall of twisted unjust orders and societies and there some measure of economic and political freedom has also come to exist — because truly free people are self-governed because they themselves do not slavishly depend on any human being or institution to be law for them — including themselves. Free people are submissive people — submissive to their Lord. Because of this, free people do not hear the voice of strangers, nor follow them (John 10:5).
Hence the importance of conviction in the lives of believers. I do not know about elsewhere than where I am currently dwelling — but I know that in my situation at this time, I see a lack of firm conviction in the believers around me who hold to Reformed doctrine (which I think are those closest to the very teaching of the Scriptures). To be sure, I did not say I do not see any evidence of this — but I cannot say that I quite see evidences of a generalized steadfast solidness and stability of trajectory. Perhaps it is because the well-grounded conviction of possessing truth that is such a characteristic of free peoples is tempered by the deep-running currents of tolerance and the relativism of contemporary Western culture — I can only observe what I see.
Surely, our convictions must be guided by the Spirit of God through the Word of God — lest we ourselves simply repeat the sins revealed so clearly in Romans 1 and 2. Surely it is the law of our God that must inform our consciences, for our very consciences can be seared and twisted (1 Timothy 4:1-3). I do not think that there is an empirical test we can perform to tell us whether or not our consciences are more greatly bound by man or by God. It is evident throughout the history of the church and equally so today that many put a blind faith in something other than the word of God, yet believe that they are acting in obedience to God — despite the fact that, upon closer examination of what God has revealed, they are at odds with the Lord of all and actually in disobedience to him. The apostle Paul, himself formerly a zealous persecutor of Christ, addresses this in numerous places, but here is only one reference: “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ…These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” ~Colossians 2:8, 23
Both the questions of if we have convictions and of what our firm assurance of belief holds to is an important matter, for true. Many wise men say that the days are fast approaching when our level of conviction and the depth to which our consciences are held fast by the Word of God will be tested and revealed — on the greatest matters. The days came long ago and are now in full force when we, as believers, are being constantly tested in the smaller matters — how deep are our convictions, really? Is our conscience truly captive to the Word of God? Can we say of this or that in our lives, “I cannot do (or speak) otherwise — examine me by Scripture. If the Word of God says otherwise, I will change. But let me stand at this highest authority. I am convinced that in my actions I will not be shown to be a transgressor of the supreme law. I appeal to it for my vindication.”
Many, many saints before us have said such things — and about almost every practice and custom and belief of theirs. Can we say this? Are we so assured that our lives are reflections of the principles of Scripture? How thoroughly Christian are we?
Let us go to the Word of God with humble hearts and prayer. We don’t always know what we’re looking for and often have no idea of what we’ll be confronted with there — but we must go, willing to be confronted, willing to be convicted, willing to change, if need be, both assisted by the interpretation of fellow believers and directly to the Word, leaning on the Spirit for understanding. The Lord has said that we will find. Therefore, we will. Let us become free. Let us become people of the Book, taught of God, hating what God hates and loving what God loves. Let us become people of conviction.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” ~Psalm 139:23-24