The Bible on Freedom

When religious people speak of “freedom” they usually have reference to spiritualfreedom. This is the freedom that one obtains from the bondage of sin and of Satan (John 8:34; 1 John 3:8; Hebrews 2:14-15). This type of freedom is obtained by knowing and obeying God’s “truth” (John 8:32; 1 Peter 1:22). Paul explained this process in Romans 6. One is “made free from sin” (v.18) through baptism and its prerequisites of faith, repentance and confession (Romans 6:3-6; 10:9-10; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38). This freedom from sin can be enjoyed by anyone willing to meet these conditions. This includes men, women, Jews, Gentiles, bond or free(Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11). Yes, even one who is a slave in the physical sense can be free in the spiritual sense. Paul said to the Corinthians, “Were you called while a slave? Do not be concerned about it; but if you can be made free, rather use it” (1 Corinthians 7:21). God desires that every sinner be set at liberty from their spiritual bondage (Isaiah 61:1; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). The gospel is preached to this end (Luke 4:18; Isaiah 42:7).

God On Physical Freedom: “Be Not Slaves Of Men

God certainly wants us to be free from spiritual bondage but He also wants us to be free from physical bondage. Paul said to the Corinthians,

Were you called while a slave? Do not be concerned about it; but if you can be made free, rather use it. For he who is called in the Lord while a slave is the Lord’s freedman. Likewise he who is called while free is Christ’s slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men” (1 Corinthians 7:21-23).

There are two important points here. The first is that one should not be concerned if he was converted while a slave. As noted above, one can be a slave and also be a Christian (see also 1 Timothy 6:1-ff). This word “concerned” is used in Luke 10:40 in the sense of concern to the degree of distraction or hindrance. Thus, the slave should not be so obsessed with his social circumstance that he fails to live faithfully as a Christian. However, Paul twice made another point that is equally important. He said that one should be free if he can (v. 21). He then outright commanded, “do not become slaves of men” (v. 23). Many people over the centuries have found themselves helplessly under the control (often godless and abusive control) of other people. Paul’s instruction here is that this condition be avoided if at all possible. One can serve God under the condition of the indenturedtype of slavery that is described in the Law of Moses. However, one cannot serve God and “serve men” at the same time. As Jesus taught in Matthew 6:24, one cannot simultaneously serve “two masters.” As we will see later in the study, the Pharaoh of Moses’ time literally prohibited the Jews from worshipping God. He abused them, stole their labor and killed their baby boys. This was an intolerable and godless form of slavery.

The apostle Peter also had something to say about physical and personal freedom, and quite ironically it is in the context of instructions about compliance with civil law. Peter wrote:

Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men— as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God” (1 Peter 2:13-16).

We often use this passage to make the point about the role of civil law and our responsibility to obey it. However, we rarely emphasize the first two words of verse 16 — “as free.” Perhaps these words are often glossed over because free people have no real need to focus upon these words. However, they provide context. Given the recent political and cultural developments in our country we may now need to more particularly consider these words.

After instructing readers to “submit” to civil authorities Peter reminded them that this “submission” to government did not constitute subjugation. God did not intend for Christians and others to be enslaved by civil authorities. He does not authorize government to rob us of our God-given liberties. As noted from 1 Corinthians 7:23, we are not to be the “servants of men.” This includes the men who serve in human governments. We are not to be the “servants” of civil government. We are taught to respect and obey God-ordained government but we are not to become its slaves.

According to descriptions found in both Romans 13:1-4 and 1 Peter 2:13-14, God-ordained government is government that performs the God-ordained function of punishing evildoers and praising those who do what is right. Very few governments operate according to this divine mandate so the concept may seem strange to many people. According to the Bible, the scope and purpose of a God-approved civil government is actually a very limited one. Limited government is a biblical concept.

While reading Albert Barnes on 1 Peter 2:16 I noticed these good comments:

“They were not to submit to the chains of slavery; not to allow their consciences to be bound, or their essential liberty to be interfered with; nor in their subjection to the civil magistrate were they ever to regard themselves otherwise than as freemen. As a matter of fact, Christianity has always been the friend and promoter of liberty. Its influence emancipated the slaves throughout the Roman Empire; and all the civil freedom which we enjoy, and which there is in the world, can be traced to the influence of the Christian religion. To spread the gospel in its purity everywhere would be to break every yoke of oppression and bondage, and to make people everywhere free. It is the essential right of every man who is a Christian to be a freeman – to be free to worship God; to read the Bible; to enjoy the avails of his own labor; to train up his children in the way in which he shall deem best; to form his own plans of life, and to pursue his own ends, provided only that he does not interfere with the equal rights of others – and every system which prevents this, whether it be that of civil government, of ecclesiastical law, or of domestic slavery, is contrary to the religion of the Savior.”

The Loss Of Freedom In Our Time: Some Warning Signs

Many of us have grown up so accustomed to freedom that we simply assume that we will always be free. However, history proves that freedom is actually a very rare and precarious thing. Over the course of human history there have been billions of people who have either never experienced freedom or they had it for some period of time and then lost it. Even today in China, North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba and other countries, hundreds of millions of people live under the oppressive control of communist governments and fascist dictators. Even those in the USA face occasional threats of losing essential freedoms. We are actually witnessing this threat right now as a result of the recent elections which have again empowered political progressives and control freaks who wish to regulate every aspect of our lives. The liberal politician Rahm Emanuel famously said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” Emanuel’s statement made news not because of the novelty of the concept, but because of his brazenness in openly admitting his political strategy. As we shall see later in the study, the “new” Pharaoh of Exodus 1 shared this view about a “crisis” and he used it to enslave the entire Jewish nation. The “crisis” was the drought that impacted Egypt, Canaan and other “countries” over “the face of the earth” (Genesis 41:56-57). This crisis brought Jacob’s household to Egypt in order to obtain food. The new Pharaoh took advantage of their plight and reduced them to slavery. The most recent “crisis” to be exploited by would-be slave masters is the latest corona virus (Covid-19). Many federal, state and local authorities have used this crisis as an opportunity to rob essential liberties from citizens. Governors and mayors have arbitrarily closed businesses, forbidden people to freely worship, restricted travel and made foolish and ineffective mandates. Freedom is very difficult to acquire and maintain and it is very easy to lose. Millions have died for it. Those who have the good fortune of enjoying freedom should never take it for granted.

Freedom is lost when someone or some group of people gain control over other people and exploit them. This is usually done in the form of slavery. Powerful wicked people (including wicked governments) take control of weaker people and force them into service. Enslaved people have no power of self-determination. Their lives are controlled by their masters. Those who refuse to cooperate are typically either propagandized or tortured into compliance.

It may seem strange to those of us who simply wish to live free, but there are always certain people who take great pride and pleasure in controlling other people. They constantly look for opportunities to limit the speech of their detractors and regulate their behavior. As noted above, they often exploit various crises to empower themselves over others. In politics they often masquerade as “liberals” or “progressives” but in actual ideology they are usually socialists and marxists. The cruelest of them idealize power and they seek to acquire it over others by any means necessary. The naive ones have fooled themselves into thinking that they are simply smarter than the average person and that the world would be a much better place if everyone would simply conform to their worldview. Such people are usually not as smart as they think they are and their think-tank philosophies and the restrictions that they would impose upon others are not even workable in the real world. It becomes quite dangerous when mere idealists and theoreticians gain control of our freedoms.

Good laws and good government can protect weak and vulnerable citizens from such foolish and wicked people. It has worked effectively in the past. Wise leaders, legislators and judges support wise and sensible laws and policies. They also block the harmful ones. By “good government” I mean the God-ordained government that I described above. Sadly, socialist progressives sometimes take control of government. Freedoms quickly begin to erode when this happens. Solomon wrote, “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; But when a wicked man rules, the people groan” (Proverbs 29:2). We often think of slave “masters” as being those who obtain control of others by means of brute force. However, the large majority of slave masters have been agents of corrupt governments. They can be found in all countries and cultures.

Some Lessons From Egypt: A Tale Of Two Different Administrations

As I mentioned before, an area-wide drought caused Jacob to send his sons to Egypt for food (Genesis 40-50; Acts 7:11-12). This process resulted in Jacob and his sons reuniting with Joseph. They learned that not only was Joseph not dead, as Jacob had been led to believe, but that he was alive and doing quite well as an administrator in Egypt. Joseph had interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams and was appointed by Pharaoh to manage the seven years of plenty and the seven years of famine. During the first seven years Joseph oversaw the collection and storage of grain in preparation for the the seven years of famine. The drought was in its 2nd year by the time Joseph’s brothers arrived in Egypt (Gen. 45:6).

Genesis 47:13-26 provides details as to how grain was dispensed to needy Egyptians during the seven years of drought. The needy people first used their money. When their money ran out they sold their animals in exchange for grain. When their animals ran out they sold their land and themselves for grain. This was the origin of the 20% flat tax. It should be noticed that Joseph did not forcibly enslave people. He did not force the people to sell their property. He exchanged goods for their property and their voluntary labor. By allowing the people to keep 80% of their produce he allowed them to rebuild their personal wealth.

The book of Genesis ends with Joseph’s death. The book of Exodus opens with a change in administration. A “new” king arose in Egypt who did not know Joseph (Exodus 1:8). One of the ways that this king was “new” was in his attitude towards the Jewish people. The former Pharaoh was kind to Jacob and his household (Genesis 47:7-12). The “new” king was cruel and tyrannical. He took advantage of one past crisis and one imagined crisis to enslave the Jewish people. The past crisis was the natural disaster of a severe drought that brought the Jews to Egypt in the first place. Political leaders often take advantage of natural disasters to amass power and control. The imagined crisis was the fear of the Jews forming alliances with Pharaoh’s enemies and rising up against Egypt militarily. Pharaoh took advantage of the situation and forcibly enslaved the Jewish people. He placed “taskmasters” over them and put them to hard labor. The people lost their land, the fruits of their own labor, their religious freedoms, their freedom of movement and even the lives of their little baby boys (Exodus 1-2). God saw the oppression of His people and sent them a deliverer (Exodus 3).

Freedoms That Are Commonly Lost

Personal Property — We have a God-given right to own property. Peter told Ananias and Sapphira that they had the freedom to own property and they had the right to sell it and use the money as they deemed good and necessary (Acts 5:3-4). Their sin was not in owning or selling property; it was lying about how much they had given to God (v. 3). Early saints had their property “confiscated” (Hebrews 10:34). During Gideon’s time, Midianite and Amalekite raiders regularly destroyed their produce to the point that the Jews were “impoverished” (Judges 6:1-10). Gideon was forced to thresh wheat “in a winepress” in order to hide it from the Midianites (v. 11).

This type of oppression is often practiced by governments in the form of excessive taxation. Paul said that we are to pay taxes, but we need to occasionally be reminded of why we are to pay taxes. Paul told the saints at Rome, “For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending to this very thing” (Romans 13:6). For what “cause?” To what “thing” does government attend? The context plainly answers this. As noted above, God “ordained” the purpose and function of government, and that is to punish evil doers, praise those who do what is right, and provide an atmosphere in which people can “live quiet and peaceful lives in all godliness and reverence” (Romans 13:3-4; 1 Timothy 2:2). This is why we are to pay taxes. We are to pay taxes for the reasons given by God. Taxation beyond this becomes punitive and confiscatory and a violation of God-given liberties. Incidentally, God nowhere authorizes governments to exact taxes for funding things like abortions and sex-change operations.

Fruits of One’s Labor — Slavery is a terrible thing. It is cruel and demeaning and robs one of the fruits of his own labor. God designed work to benefit the worker. Because of his sin, Adam’s work would become more difficult, but even then his labor would still be to his own benefit. It would require sweat but Adam would still eat bread from that sweat (Genesis 3:19). The bread he produced was his own bread. Paul argued that farmers had a right to their own produce (1 Corinthians 9:7). After condemning theft, Paul told the Ephesians to work for their own sustenance and that they might also “have something to give to him who has need” (Ephesians 4:28). These things are possible only if we are able to keep the fruits of our labor, whether in the form of money or in goods. Paul also addressed this principle in 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12; 2 Thessalonians 3:8-12 and 1 Timothy 5:8.

1 Corinthians 16:2 commands us to give to the church (in service to God) as we have prospered. We “prosper” from personal labor, including working “with our hands” buying and selling products, or even investments in the labor of others (Eph. 4:28; James 4:13; Matt. 25:27). We only have these funds to give in support of the works of the Lord’s church if they are not confiscated from us by godless men.

In 2 Corinthians 9:10, Paul argued that meeting one’s personal obligations in working and giving will result in one’s still being able to eat and have an even greater ability to further give (v. 10). [Note that the “gospel-of-health-and-wealth” advocates often exploit and abuse this passage. However, the planting and sowing principle is a matter of natural divine providence. One reaps what he sows (Galatians 6:7). What is true in the natural world is also true in the spiritual world. Paul’s point in 2 Corinthians 9:10 is that what one gives does not reduce or inhibit his his ability to survive and flourish and to give even more.] This cycle of giving and acquiring wealth is possible because of what God designed, both in the way of man, the economy and in nature.

Theft of labor has recently been practiced in a new way. Governments have used the Covid “crisis” as grounds to arbitrarily shut down certain business that it deems non-essential. I say “arbitrarily” because some businesses, such as liquor stores and abortion clinics, were allowed to stay open while others were closed. I have been shocked to see how this has been tolerated. As noted above, work is a personal obligation placed upon us by God. This means that we are free to work. Government mandates do not supersede God’s mandates. Government has no right to arbitrarily close certain businesses.

Slavery (and its modern equivalent of unreasonable and confiscatory taxation) dispirits its victims and it violates the God-given model of economy.

Movement — God told the apostles to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). The apostles did this (Colossians 1:23). The execution of this plan required freedom of movement. Given the determination of their enemies and the general character of the Roman government it is quite remarkable how much freedom of movement first century apostles and Christians had. Of course there were some exceptions (Acts 5:18; 12:4; 16:24; 24:27; 28:30; Philippians 1:7, 13).

Christians are taught to assemble upon the first day of the week in order to observe the Lord’s Supper, sing, pray, study and give (1 Corinthians 11:18-33; 14:15-26; 16:1-2; Acts 20:7). This requires freedom of movement.

Speech — People are quick to cite the US Constitution as proof of our right to free speech. However, God gave us the right of free speech long before the framers wrote the First Amendment. Free speech is coded within our DNA. Like freedom of thought and movement, free speech is an exercise of free agency. We are made free agents by God’s design, after His own likeness (Genesis 1:26-27). Humans naturally aspire to be free. We were made to be free.

First century political authorities told Peter and John and other apostles that they were no longer free to preach the gospel. They did not comply with that order (Acts 4:18-20; 5:28-29). They were threatened, imprisoned and even beaten but they continued to preach the gospel of Christ. God intends for the gospel to have free course throughout the world. Christians are to pray to that end (2 Thessalonians 3:1). In order for that to happen its ministers must be free to speak. Free speech is an essential liberty. We must not allow it to be taken from us.

Religion — Freedom of religion is our greatest freedom. Again, it is not necessary to cite the 1st Amendment in defense of this right. Freedom of religion is a right given by God. We have the freedom to do whatever God teaches us to do. God desires to be worshipped.

Some people make the quibble that worship is not commanded in the New Testament. They ignore the obvious fact that worship is only approved if it is genuine. Worship passages are worded so as to accommodate that fact. For example, John 4:23-24 does not command worship. However it does tell us that the Father “seeks true worshippers” and in order for one to be a “true worshipper” he “must” worship God “in spirit and in truth.” The point is that God is not pleased by people who engage in mere formality and contrivance and have no honest desire to glorify him (Colossians 2:20-23; Matthew 15:7-9). What we do know is that it is sinful to fail or refuse to properly glorify God (Romans 1:21, 32).

True religious freedom is actually a very rare condition. Both history and present circumstances throughout the world demonstrate this fact. Millions of people throughout history have either been forbidden to worship or they have been forced to worship according to the edicts of the state. Tyrants and marxists hate and fear religion because it promotes free thought, free speech and free conduct. It is very hard to control and manipulate people with a Biblical worldview. Even political progressives of our time are terrified by such people. As I mentioned earlier, the Pharaoh of Exodus banned religious worship. Some Roman emperors did the same thing to Christians. Even today, many countries forbid Bible-based worship. Americans may think that it can’t happen to them, but look at how some state governors capitalized on the Covid-19 virus to exert power over churches and worship assemblies! It can indeed happen and it can happen quickly.


Freedom is far more fragile than we might want to believe. Like Peter and John, we must simply say NO when would-be tyrants or governmental officials make policies that infringe upon our essential liberties. The theft of liberties is quite methodical. One unnoticeably disappears, then another one, until finally they are gone and we are at the mercy of our controllers. Sadly, many control freaks gravitate to government because they know that government has the most potential for controlling the most people in the greatest ways.

The Bible tells us to pray for civil authorities (1 Timothy 2:1-2). That prayer should be that governing authorities do their God-ordained job and grant us our God-ordained freedoms. We should also boldly defend and protect our liberties. Paul was quite assertive about his rights as a Roman citizen. After being illegally beaten and imprisoned, Paul was released from a Philippian prison and asked to quietly leave. He refused. He openly condemned their assault upon his liberties and demanded to be publicly escorted out of the prison (Acts 16:36-37). We must be as bold as Paul in defending our liberties.

—Tim Haile

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