What Is Liberty’s Value?

We need to raise an important question about liberty.

The question: does liberty have inherent value?

We can define the difference between “inherent” and “instrumental” value as whether something has value in itself, or only has value in as far as its utility makes it valuable. So things that have “inherent value” are intrinsically good, while things that have “instrumental value” are only good in as far as you use them for good.

Most modern conservatives and (ironically) progressive liberals think liberty has intrinsic value, which makes the ability to choose even bad things an objective good. Conservatives and progressives might define the parameters of liberty differently, basing their understanding of liberty on fundamentally different assumptions, the end results of both sides end with the same conclusion that we should have the freedom to do evil because freedom itself is inherently good, thus making evil good.

I believe this view is irredeemably flawed in God’s sight.

Isaiah 5:20 (CSB) – 20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness, who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

One of the reasons it’s so dangerous for Christians to allow the wisdom of this age to shape their thinking by listening to worldly philosophy – including conservative philosophy – is because the mindset of the flesh is fundamentally hostile to God (See Romans 8:7). And we can see this hostility influencing our thinking when we embrace philosophical paradigms like this that bring us to the conclusion that liberty is good even when it is used for evil.

I would caution against trying to overly nuance one’s view on this by saying that the liberty itself is inherently good, but the choice was wrong. If the root is good, the fruit will be good. If liberty is inherently good, then the results are necessarily good. If the results of liberty can be “bad”, then there must be some prior that determines the value of liberty.

I believe the apostle Peter gives us some helpful insight here:

1 Peter 2:15-16 (CSB) – 16 Submit as free people, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but as God’s slaves.

In other words, our spiritual condition is the basis of our freedom. I submit to human rulers (the context of Peter’s statements) because I am free and am able, therefore, to move within “love”, “respect”, and “forgiveness” towards others because I am not under the dominion of sin. My freedom neither originates from, or depends on, human rulers, law, or governments.

So, because we are free, we can love sinners who treat us wrong.

Galatians 5:13 (CSB) – 13 For you were called to be free, brothers and sisters; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love.

We are not under the dominion of sin so that we must seek vengeance. We are free from hatred. We are free from malice. We are free to serve even our enemies through love, just as Jesus himself freely submitted to the cross for our sakes!

So consider Paul’s teaching on freedom:

Romans 6:20-23 (CSB) – 20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free with regard to righteousness. 21 So what fruit was produced then from the things you are now ashamed of? The outcome of those things is death. 22 But now, since you have been set free from sin and have become enslaved to God, you have your fruit, which results in sanctification—and the outcome is eternal life! 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Our spiritual condition determines the reality of our liberty. When we use our liberty for evil, we demonstrate that we’re under the dominion of sin, and prove our rebellion against God. “Freedom” that provides an opportunity for the flesh is not “good”.

Liberty has value only in so far as we use it for good. But liberty becomes evil, and should be rebuked as evil, when we use it to bite and devour one another, to position ourselves in power, to subjugate, take advantage of, and consume one another. Such liberty is the very composition of sin’s dominion!

Let us remember God’s sovereign decree:

Ezekiel 18:20a (CSB) – 20 The person who sins is the one who will die…

Romans 2:6-8 (CSB) – 6 He will repay each one according to his works: 7 eternal life to those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality; 8 but wrath and anger to those who are self-seeking and disobey the truth while obeying unrighteousness.

As a Christian who spent nearly a decade living under the oppressive rule of communism, I would rather freely submit to the injurious oppression of tyrants than selfishly support the kind of liberty that provides a covering for the flesh and upholds sin’s dominion. I learned during my time living under communism that my freedom does not depend on human rulers. I am free in Christ! And my freedom in Christ is real.

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