LCN Article
Counterfeit Liberty

July / August 2022

Mark Sandor

The Declaration of Independence of the United States famously declares that liberty is a God-given right of all men. The second sentence of that document reads, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” This phrase has been taught to American schoolchildren for centuries and has been exported through American cultural norms to reach almost every part of the world.

Yet what exactly is liberty? Is it always a good thing? Those of us in God’s Church need to ask, What does the Bible have to say about this?

Give Me Liberty, or Give Me…?

Liberty is generally defined as having the power to act as one pleases. Therefore, one of the most vital questions all governments must answer is What decisions are individuals at liberty to make for themselves, and what decisions are the responsibility of government to make for the good of all? Mankind has long debated this question. Multiple forms of government have been tried, varying in the balance of individual liberty versus the restrictions of civil authorities.

Even the American founders struggled with these concepts: George Washington had to put down the Whiskey Rebellion, John Adams used the Alien and Sedition Acts to imprison political rivals, and Thomas Jefferson—author of the Declaration of Independence—owned slaves. It is acknowledged as one of the great ironies of history that the man who wrote that all men are created equal and have the right to liberty was himself responsible for keeping hundreds of his fellow humans in bondage!

However, America’s founders fell into the same trap that all humanly devised governments have fallen into: They rejected God’s law. And, as you might have guessed, the only authority that can validly make the distinction between personal liberties and the responsibilities of government is God Himself, and His law teaches the difference.

“But wait!” one might exclaim. “Isn’t liberty always good?” That is what most Americans have been taught in school, and the precept is reinforced by many commentators today. Many Americans would assume that absolute liberty is always beneficial, but they might be surprised to see that the Bible says otherwise.

To be clear, the Bible does teach individual liberties and responsibilities, and it admonishes the prudent use of them. The Year of Jubilee in ancient Israel was a time when liberty was proclaimed to all the people (Leviticus 25:10), and Jesus Christ will proclaim liberty at His return (Isaiah 61:1). The Apostle Paul writes that Christians have liberty from the Pharisaical mindset of vainly attempting to earn our salvation. He discusses this in Galatians 5:1, especially citing the example of circumcision. James describes the Ten Commandments as a “Law of Liberty” in James 1:25 and 2:12. The context of James 2 shows that Christians are liberated from the consequences of sin when we learn from the law to avoid and repent of sin!

However, these are not the only times the word liberty is used in the Bible. The Apostle Peter provides strong warnings about misusing liberty. 2 Peter 2 goes through a history of rebellions against God and His liberating law. Peter quickly mentions the angelic rebellion, the unrestrained society before the flood in Noah’s day, the ungodliness of Sodom, and the wickedness of Balaam. What do these rebellions have in common? They all promised a false, counterfeit liberty: “For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage” (2 Peter 2:18–19).

Peter here addresses one of the major problems facing humanity throughout history: Mankind can be convinced that it should be liberated from God and His moral law! Instead of relying on God’s law in making our major decisions and guiding our lives, we too often listen to Satan’s lie that we know better than our Creator. Satan has been amazingly successful at that—his first victims were Adam and Eve, to whom he promised liberty with “great swelling words of emptiness” before leaving our ancestors in bondage to sin and the consequences of rebelling against God.

Many professing Christians accept a false gospel, believing they are “liberated” from God’s law by Christ’s death. The proof of that conviction is readily apparent in how people treat God’s law, and the Ten Commandments in particular. Most Americans assume the personal “liberty” to break the Sabbath by keeping a different day—or not keeping any day! Sexual “liberty” has overtaken the nation as people commit adultery in violation of the Seventh Commandment and the related statutes forbidding fornication, homosexuality, bestiality, incest, etc. We see our society suffering from widespread commandment-breaking, even while the commandment-breakers frequently celebrate the “liberty” to do as one pleases!

Who Gives Them the Right?

This should not be too surprising, as the Bible warns that “liberty” can often be a cloak for vice (1 Peter 2:16). Peter was inspired to include this warning while reminding us to respect civil leaders. Speaking through Peter, God commands Christians to submit to “every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors” (1 Peter 2:13–14). After warning about false liberty, Peter continues by exhorting us, “Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king” (1 Peter 2:17). Clearly, another warning about counterfeit liberty concerns how Christians respond to their civil leaders.

Sadly, many who disagree with their civil leaders ignore these words of Peter, preferring Acts 5:29, which explains that we must obey God rather than men when it is impossible to do both. However, 1 Peter 2 and Romans 13 make plain that we must diligently strive to obey both kinds of authority if we can. We should have a mindset of obedience and submission first and only reject legitimate human authority when it contradicts Scripture.

COVID-19 brought this issue to the forefront, as many Americans and others felt their liberty was infringed by various civil mandates. And from a civil, secular perspective, those liberties might very well have been infringed! Yet what does the Bible say about these topics? God’s Church has published several Bible studies on these issues, and they are all available to read at, so I will not rehash them here. The biggest issue for the Church is to maintain an attitude of obedience to as many of the civil mandates as we reasonably can. While there is nothing generally wrong with taking advantage of the rights afforded to us by civil government (cf. Acts 22:25–29), as Peter points out, a mindset of obedience helps us “put to silence the ignorance of foolish men” when we submit to civil authorities when we can within the scope of God’s law.

Just imagine if the civil government started to institute truly bizarre laws taking away some of our civil liberties—but not involving the breaking of any Scriptural command. How about “Everyone must wear purple at least once a week?” That would be a silly law with no practical benefit, but would you be disobeying the Bible by submitting to it? Perhaps civil authorities will declare that all chili must contain pickles or there will be dire consequences. Would you disobey, declaring your liberty to have pickle-free chili? What Bible verse would you quote to resist this ordinance? (For the record, I think this would be a delicious ordinance for our governments to consider.)

But to get serious—what if the government came for your guns? Please see Mr. Weston’s article “The Bible vs the U.S. Constitution” (Living Church News, March–April 2022) for a brief analysis of the Second Amendment.

The Better Part of Liberty

A vital warning about our use of liberty is found in 1 Corinthians 8. This chapter discusses Christians’ eating meat offered to idols. Paul points out that many did not consider it a sin to eat such meat, understanding that “an idol is nothing in the world” (1 Corinthians 8:4). Paul did not dispute their liberty to eat meat offered to idols, but he was concerned about brethren who still had “consciousness of the idol”—a mindset Paul classifies as a weak conscience (v. 7). Should the stronger brethren ignore the conscience of weaker brethren (see Romans 15:1)?

The famous crack in the United States' Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, can serve as a poignant illustration of mankind's fundamentally broken concept of liberty.
The famous crack in the United States' Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, can serve as a poignant illustration of mankind's fundamentally broken concept of liberty.

Paul’s exhortation is to “beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak” (1 Corinthians 8:9). You may genuinely feel comfortable doing something, but that does not mean that you should flaunt your behavior in front of others. In fact, Paul concludes the chapter by saying that he would never eat meat again if it would keep his brother from stumbling!

I am glad we do not argue about meat sacrificed to idols in this age of God’s Church! I like to eat meat, and Paul clearly explains that I have the liberty to do so! To me, no meal is complete without a meat dish (nor is chili complete without pickles). To the best of my knowledge, my carnivorous ways have never caused a brother to stumble—but what if they did? As much as I love to eat fried chicken, hamburgers, steak, and fried chicken (yes, it deserves to be on the list twice), would I actually follow Paul’s admonition and avoid those foods when around my brother who is weak in the faith? Or would I hide behind “liberty” while my brother stumbles?

Try to apply 1 Corinthians 8 to your own life. Are there things that you have the liberty to do—both biblical and secular liberty to do—that are not worth doing because they cause others to stumble? It is difficult to get into specifics about this, as our individual situations will differ in so many details. Even regarding meat offered to idols, Paul was trying to instruct the weak brethren rather than force everyone to give up clean meats forever. Paul shows us how the ministry is supposed to help the brethren understand when they have liberty, when they do not, and how to maintain harmony if we disagree. Those who did not fully understand Paul’s teachings on meat were not disfellowshipped, assuming they were not divisive on the issue—he was willing to change his behavior instead of claiming “liberty.” Even today, there are some issues in the Church where we need to agree to disagree without diminishing the unity of the Holy Spirit.

A Vital Aspect of Liberty

True liberty only flourishes under the leadership of Jesus Christ. God’s law ultimately prohibits some things while requiring us to make our own decisions in other matters. And God, in His word, gives us much counsel to guide us to wise decisions. However, just having knowledge of God’s law is not enough—for true liberty to be attained, that law needs to be actively enforced.

When ancient Israel had a weak central government, the tendency was for the Israelites to abuse their liberty, since “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). They had knowledge of God’s law, but they failed to enforce that law, so the people kept falling into idolatry, sexual immorality, and other sins. God punished their sins by allowing foreign nations to oppress them. When times were hard, then the people turned to God and sought His ways of true liberty.

Instead of maintaining a focus on national and individual repentance, the Israelites generally looked for a secular solution—such as a human king who could oversee the nation and lead them in fighting off foreign threats (1 Samuel 8:4–5, 19–20). Samuel tried to warn them that a king would trample on their liberties and burden them with his requirements (vv. 10–18). His warning fell on deaf ears, but it was tragically accurate: Scripture records in 1 and 2 Kings that Israel and Judah were ruled by many more wicked and oppressive kings than righteous kings in their history. Even though they had knowledge of God’s law, the kings were human and could not perfectly deliver the liberty God intended.

You might see where this is going: To have true liberty, we must have a perfect King. Only the Son of God, Jesus Christ, can administer God’s law of liberty perfectly. While we can today aim to have a foretaste of God’s liberty, the need for the warnings that Peter and Paul give about counterfeit liberty is illustrated all around us—and will be until Jesus returns to rule the earth. He will have the power, authority, and love to properly teach and enforce God’s laws so that the whole world will experience liberty (Isaiah 11:1–5; 61:1–3).

True Liberty Under God

Liberty is a complicated topic. While the world often presents it as a universal good in all situations, the Bible offers a more nuanced approach. Of course, Mr. Herbert Armstrong would likely simplify the discussion by pointing out that—once again—it’s not the thing itself that is always sinful; it may be the wrong use of the thing. When we allow the world to define liberty, its definition leads to the rejection of authority, rejection of law, and worship of self that Peter warned about. Paul also showed that Christians should be willing to value unity more than liberty.

Thankfully, God shows us that He completely understands true liberty! His law is a law of liberty that allows freedom to make personal decisions—and that not only gives us liberty, but also protects us from the consequences of decisions He knows will hurt us. Let’s reject this world’s counterfeit liberty. Instead, let’s focus on how God’s way grants us true liberty today—and will bring the whole world true liberty in the Kingdom of God!