Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is Liberty

During the entire year of 1976 (the bicentennial), my denomination used a special logo in its publications. Recently, I came across a book mark from that campaign while cleaning out a storage space. It depicts George Washington crossing the Delaware and includes the ‘There is Liberty’ logo and reference: II Cor. 3:17.

When I saw the old, familiar bookmark I wondered, just as I wondered 36 years ago: ‘What does George Washington and the Delaware have to do with this passage in 2 Corinthians?’

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is Liberty (KJV)

My answer to the question is the same as it was then: ‘Nothing that I can see.’

The denomination seems to have co-opted a biblical passage, completely out of context, to support ideas of political freedom and American patriotism. There is nothing wrong with those concepts, but they do not relate to 2 Corinthians 3.

Washington crossing the Delaware

The Context of the Spirit of the Lord and Liberty

Paul’s comments on the Spirit of the Lord and liberty have nothing to do with freedom from political oppression. Instead, he is talking about freedom from the oppression of Old Testament law. He writes that we have a new and better arrangement:

He [God] has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory…will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious?

Paul’s view is that legalism of the letter of the law, including the ten commandments, is destructive; but the new arrangement gives life.

This is consistent with Jesus’ teaching, in Matthew 5, that the letter of the law is inadequate and what matters is the intent of the law, which is treating others fairly and with good will. The rules on murder, adultery, and other issues are clarified to show that what is important is to consider the good of other people; and he even states that we must love our enemies.

Observing the letter of the law will not do. Paul agrees and states that the Israelites’ minds were dull, but Jesus removes the dullness:

But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

Liberty from Legalism

When we read Old Testament laws legalistically, as rules to be followed rather than principles of relating to other people, then our minds are dull just as were the minds of the Israelites at the time of Moses and of the Jews of Paul’s time. A veil prevents us from understanding Jesus’ principles of behavior—to love the Father and to love others as ourselves—and we see only rules, rules, rules.

This is a great burden because legalism is bondage, but such bondage should not be the experience of believers because ‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom!’ And this freedom is freedom from the bondage of legalism.

Jesus is not in the business of heaping burdens upon us. Instead, he gives us this invitation in Matthew 11:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Certain believers constantly demand that other believers follow rules of behavior, but this is bondage and we must refuse the bondage those believers demand of us. Their judgment should not affect us because Jesus is our Lord and he does not burden us with rules.

As Paul realized, ‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.’

What about Paul, Jesus, and George Washington?

Political freedom is certainly a good thing, but this was not Jesus’ mission. Neither was it Paul’s mission. Jesus was dedicated to changing people—not political systems, and Paul followed Jesus in that dedication.

Perhaps the most terrible words in the history of the Church were ‘In this sign [the Christian cross] conquer’. Almost three hundred years after Jesus, Emperor Constantine claimed to see these words in a vision, and it was then that the distinction between politics and the church began to blur.

We should not confuse political freedom with the freedom Jesus gives us; they are not the same. George Washington had nothing to do with the liberty Paul describes. Jesus is not interested in politics but in reconciliation and our treating people fairly on an individual basis.

***

Note: This blog post is my first in cooperation with the Synchoblog blogging community. Other contributors on the topic of liberty are:
Image credit: Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, 1851 via Commons.wikimedia.org
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Have a great day! ~Tim
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22 Responses to Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is Liberty

  1. gallbladder says:

    i agree politics has no place in religion but i still believe many things that were political sparked many events we read in both the OT and NT

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  2. Chas says:

    Tim, this post is so comprehensive that it is difficult to know where to begin in response! God has been drawing me to examine how UK is reacting to various tensions that have their origins outside it. When the Vikings first came to England in about 900 AD, the Anglo-Saxons, having themselves only come there about 400 years, saw them only as pillagers and plunderers, who came and stole and then left again. However, the later waves of Vikings came to settle, because they felt that they had no chance of having land to call their own; they were always subject to the authority of others. Although the Anglo-Saxons must have seen these Vikings as a potential threat, they allowed them to settle among them, because these Vikings did not try to take the Anglo-Saxon’s land, but set to to reclaim less attractive land, such as heavy clay soils which only their iron plows could break up, while the wooden plows of the Anglo-Saxons could not. No doubt the Vikings brought various other skills and trade, which made the lives of the Anglo-Saxons better.

    In the past 15 years, UK has experienced an unprecedented influx of immigration, the vast bulk of which has been from the other countries of the European Union, but although this has resulted in very heavy pressure on schools, healthcare and housing, the response of various British peoples has been one of tolerance. The reason for my putting British peoples is that there are many other immigrant peoples from the former Commonwealth/Empire, who consider themselves to be British, but also e.g. West Indian, Pakistani, Indian, etc. The way that these people were able to settle into British life successfully was that, being a small minority, they tried not to draw adverse attention to themselves, and so ultimately behaved in a British way and tolerated differences in others.

    Where this model of a (fairly) tolerant society has shown signs of fraying has been when groups of people have tried to separate themselves from the rest of society and impose their customs in that area to the exclusions of everyone else. The most notably example of this has been Muslims in the wake of 9/11. Another thing that has caused friction has been the coming of Roma peoples, since they have a long-standing reputation for unacceptable behavior that has gone before them, both here and on continental Europe. In recent months, there has been a rising swell of cases in which British peoples, of all origins, have begun to complain about the behavior of these Roma people, because their behavior does not correspond to that of most (older) British people, because they make noise in the street well into the night, they leave piles of garbage in the street and they are reputed to be stealing from other people. This has had the effect of bringing everyone else more close together, because the Muslim people are being the most open about their resentment of it.
    We can see from this that the minority of Roma people who behave this way are jeopardizing the tolerance that the average British person would otherwise show to their compatriots. We can also see that this minority is behaving in ways that cause other people to suffer: ways that go against what God wants us to do.

    How does this relate to politics? Well, many of the changes in the law, which have brought about a reduction in intolerance in UK during the last 50 years, e.g. equality, legalization of homosexuality, gay marriage and antiracist legislation, have been brought about because either certain Members of Parliament were suffering from that intolerance, or (and this is the case of the more recent laws that have been drafted) because the governing party has seen electoral advantage from bringing in the legislation. Whichever has been the prime driver, it has led to the outlawing of intolerance.

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Thanks for this review Chas. I am somewhat aware of the tensions in Europe regarding Roma and more recently Muslims. In the United States, of course, the influx of Muslims combined with the tensions of Muslim militants abroad has created backlash in some circles, but not in other circles.

      The Roma in the US were mostly settled many decades ago, so there is not as much constant traveling as there used to be. Very little is mentioned of them anymore as social concern.

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      • Chas says:

        Tim, I have just been reading about Jewish people being persecuted in France. Although they make up only 1% of the population, they are victims in about 30% of racial crimes in France Their position is becoming almost untenable, because they are being attacked by the Muslim communities (about 9% of the population) and by the National Front, which is made up mainly of native French and has recently made significant gains in the elections to the European Parliament. The French police seem to be failing in their duty to protect Jewish people there, so their laws that outlaw intolerance need to be upheld and this is in the hands of the politicians. If they fail in their duty, then peaceful protests by people who support liberty may become necessary to draw their attention to their failure.

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  7. Chas says:

    Tim, some further thoughts that come out of a part-reading of Leah Chang’s Free to Be: The first thing that struck me was the definition of Freedom – being free FROM something, whereas Liberty is being free TO DO things, which led me to thoughts about freedom from persecution and liberty of religious belief, which are at the core of the US constitution. That in turn came together with my recent thoughts about the deficient democracies that have come into being following revolutionary change in Iraq, Egypt, Libya and Ukraine. What has struck me is that, in all these cases, they have failed to produce an effective constitution, like that of USA, which had its foundation in Christianity.

    In Iraq, no provision was made to prevent the government being prejudiced against other religious minority groups, and this has led to the Shia dominated government being accused of bias against Sunni Muslims and has resulted in the formation of ISIS, a violent Sunni movement that aims to set up a fundamentalist Islamic state, which would almost certainly be intolerant and extreme.

    In Egypt, there was no provision to protect against changes being made to the constitution without a clear (i.e. 2/3) majority of either representatives, or of the people by referendum. As a result, the first government, the Muslim Brotherhood set out to change the constitution so that they too could make themselves into a fundamentalist Islamic state, and this brought about further revolution and a reversal to the type of military dictatorship that the first revolution set out to bring down.

    In Lybia they too have failed to ensure fairness between factions, so there is still local rule by war-lords, who refuse to accept the fledgling government.

    In Ukraine too, the constitution failed to assure the people in the Russian-speaking eastern region that their interests were being taken adequately into account, while the western region objected to their elected president, who was from the eastern region, being influenced too much by Russia. In this situation, more consideration should probably have been given to whether Ukraine was in fact a viable entity, since there had been strong antipathy between the eastern and western parts as a result of WW2, and Crimea had been part of Russia, until it was given to Ukraine by Kruschev, the president of USSR, in the 1950s.

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      I don’t think any government is secure unless all its citizens are given respect and a voice in the government.

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      • Chas says:

        The curious thing is that it is in this area that laws/rules are important, and the foundation of a good constitution is the bedrock that a healthy society is built upon. If the constitution is right, no other laws to inhibit intolerance should be necessary. When I first realized that it had taken 100 years, from the end of the Civil War, for the former slaves in USA to be given full rights, I was appalled and astonished. How could this be so, when the US constitution said that all men are created equal? Equally, I was baffled when I learned that George W Bush had been elected on a minority of votes. How could this be fair, in a simple choice between 2 candidates, since it implies that one person’s vote is worth more than someone else’s.

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        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Chas, I agree that a good national constitution, guaranteeing rights, and general commitment to it are very important. The fact that African-Americans were denied their rights for so long is a national shame.

          A clarification on Bush being elected on a close minority of popular votes: presidential elections are determined on a majority of electoral votes based on the number of congressional seats allotted to each state. Since ALL states have the same number of senators (2), this gives weight to the smallest states; otherwise the small states would be ignored during the campaigns. Occasionally, this can result in an electoral win with a narrow popular vote deficit. It is a regular matter of discussion in America.

          Secondly, ‘All men are created equal’ does not come from the Constitution but from the Declaration of Independence, which is not a legal document but a notice of intention by the patriots to the British government. But it still should have guided Americans, and it did for some, in regard to slaves.

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          • Chas says:

            Tim, Thanks for your correction to my errors, which show my ignorance about US history. I see now that the all men are created equal came from the Declaration of Independence; It is a great pity for all concerned that it was not included in some form in the Constitution.

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        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Oh Chas! I did not mean this to be a correction of errors; your observations are very valid. I only meant to give a bit of insight into a couple items. You probably know a lot more about the details of American politics than I do of yours.

          In fact, many Americans are likely to make the same comments you did. The electoral college (instead of a straightforward popular vote system) is constantly debated here.

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          • Chas says:

            Tim, it wasn’t taken as a correction as such, I was partly referring to the change that you had kindly made where I had inadvertently put War of Independence instead of Civil War. Our ‘first past the post’ election system is similar in effect to the electoral college system, as the constituencies vary in size, so it is possible, and has indeed happened during the past 50 years, where a government can gain more seats with a smaller proportion of the overall vote. It was recently proposed to update the constituency boundaries to make the size more even, but the minor party in the coalition government would not agree to it, as they gain most from the current sizes (although of course they found other arguments to disguise their motives).

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          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Ha! Ha! Of course, Chas. I had forgotten about you minor typing errors in comments. I frequently wish all comment sections allowed for edits of my comments on other blogs; but alas it often is not so.

            Thanks for the info on your political election system.

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  8. Tiffani says:

    Wonderful post, as always Tim! This passage in 2 Corinthians has become one of my favorites in all of scripture because it captures so many key New Testament ideas in one: the torn curtain symbolizing the power of Jesus’ sacrifice to usher in the New Covenant; the fulfillment of the Law and the transition in which the need for a priest as a mediator is abolished; and the introduction of the Holy Spirit as our guide instead of the letter of the law. So much weight and power in such a small passage (and none of it, as you so rightly pointed out, having to do with political freedom)!

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  9. jesuswithoutbaggage says:

    Thanks Tiffani, I like this passage as well. It is so very rich, and yet it is sometimes misused.

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