Big Idea: Humanity is given life and liberty for the Glory of God
Intro: Well Morning everyone. My Name is Matt Johnson and today we begin a new sermon series called Life, Liberty and the Glory of God. In this sermon series I particularly want to focus on the word liberty or freedom. I know its ironic – because right now the state have passed health laws that say we can’t leave our house, except for A, B or C. So what does is it mean to be free in Christ and how is spiritual freedom different to religious freedom?
Well we’re doing this sermon series at the moment because religious freedom is now coming under attack. Freedoms that we used to take for granted are rapidly changing and being re-written. So as we begin let me offer a definition for freedom of religion. The big definition that now guides most debates in the world is found in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This is the definition upheld by the United Nations. It states; (SLIDE 2).
Now these basic principles of religious freedom date back to what is called the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. After the Reformation there was basically 80 years of religious war in Europe between Catholics, Lutherans and Calvinists. It was a low point in church history. But in the end the nations of Europe got together and they decided in the Peace of Westphalia on two key principles. First; each King would have the right to determine the religion of their own state, without interference or coercion from a third party. The options were Catholicism, Lutheranism, and Calvinism. This meant the Roman Catholic Church could no longer control the decisions of other countries and it led to the legal principle in international law of Sovereign states.
The second principles was; Christians living in states where their preferred denomination was not the established church, they were guaranteed the right to practice their faith in private, as well as in public during allotted hours. This was the foundation of the legal principle of freedom of religion.
Some people think “freedom of religion” was established by the founding fathers of America. But no. Others try to say philosopher John Locke was the first person to speak and defend the principle of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience. This may in fact be true. John Locke did defend principles related to freedom of religion. But the Peace of Westphalia was enshrined in international law while John Locke was only 16 years of age. So it’s not him.
The point is – the principle of freedom of religion did not really come from Christians or secular philosophers. It actually came from the pragmatics of trying to end a very bloody war that ravaged Europe for 80 years. So to end that war; Europe agreed Sovereign states have the freedom to choose their own religion and within each Sovereign state dissenting individuals have the right to choose their own religion.
But right now – the United Nations – is starting to break these very principles. They, as a third party, are starting to interfere in the religious freedoms of Hungary and Poland. Both countries have a strong Catholic heritage and the governments of Hungary and Poland are refusing to teach LGBT ideology in schools and refusing to add a third gender on passports and birth-certificates. In line with the Bible these government continue to uphold that there are ONLY two biological sexes, male and female. (I say good on them). They are a Sovereign state and they have the right to determine what their country will do in terms of religion. But 2 weeks ago – the European Parliament agreed to start legal action against both states. There is now a section in the the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, called section 18. And section 18 states that while countries have the right to determine their religion, they cannot practice their religion in such a way as it discriminates against anyone else rights – particularly LGBTIQA and transgender people. So our world is starting to get messy and we need to think about spiritual freedom, religious freedom and how we live as Jesus honoring Christians in a post-Christian world.
Point 1: God gave Humanity Life
Show: Gen.2:7 & 2:20a-22 (READ)
Explain: Friends, I really want you to notice that Scripture says that God made Adam & Eve. First, God made Adam from the dust of the earth and then breathed life into him. Then God made Eve from Adam. Our humanity came from God. Now however you interpret this (and I admit Christian scholars have come done some weird and wonderful interpretations) the fundamental truth is that there is a Creator God who made us. I don’t think this should be read in a scientific way. God is not giving us a science lesson on how he created DNA, the beating heart and the complexity of the human eye. But God is saying – “I did it.” I made man and woman in all their glory – be amazed and stand in awe of your Creator.
God (an uncreated, eternal being) who has always existed made the world through His Word and His Spirit. He spoke the world into existence. Then God made all of us in His image and for His glory. The Bible says and God saw all that He made and it was very good (Gen.1:31). Now this is a really important truth – God exists. He is real. Everything in life is derived from Him. So if you take God out of the equation of life, the whole equation stops making proper sense. Studying the world while denying the existence of God is like studying fish, coral and marine life while denying there is such a thing as oceans or seas. Sure, you can still study a fish’s anatomy and perhaps even consider how corals secrete calcium carbonate to create their exo-skeletons. But all the conclusions you reach about marine life are going to be screwy and slightly wrong if you deny the existence of oceans and seas. They are marine life…
And this is a truth we must continue to affirm. Life – as in LIFE & liberty – comes from God. Psalm 19, says the heavens declare the glory of God. Everyday the stars, the nebula, the black holes and dark matter that we are now discovering in space testify to the existence of God. The heavens declare there is a creator and He is glorious.
Psalm 14 says (Slide 9; Ps.14:1). Romans 1 goes even further saying that when people deny the existence of God – bad things start to happen. First, God gives those people over to sinful desires. Then God gives them over to all forms of sexual immorality. And then (if they still don’t wake up to their stupidity) God gives them over to a depraved mind. That is minds that think there are more than two sexes. Minds that think killing babies in the womb is not immoral. Minds that think sexual immorality in all its perversions is healthy and normal. And that is the world we now live in – a world that is mentally sick. Depraved minds.
Now the idea of denying God’s existence really became fashionable and cool in the Age of Enlightenment (in the 1700’s and 1800’s). So let me give you a history lesson because what Poland and Hunagry now face comes from the Age of Enlightenment. The Protestant Reformation started in the 1500’s when Martin Luther started challenging the Catholic Church. Martin Luther and others started saying that what the Catholic Church was teaching and doing was not biblical. (Now up to this point – no one dared challenge the Roman Catholic church. They kind of had a monopoly on truth and power). But the reformers said – truth had to be established from the Bible and it was ok to challenge the Catholic teaching because in some things they were wrong.
Now at about the same time – the printing press was developed. And when it came to the spread of information the printing press was as big a deal as the development of the internet. So, when the printing press was developed books started being produced and everyone wanted to read them – so education started to improve. Now sadly, at this point, Christians in Europe started killing each other en masse. The Catholics were trying to kill the Lutherans and the Lutherans were trying to kill the Calvinists and the Anglicans were killing all the non-conformists. This is our bad. For 80 years the church (both Catholic and Protestant) made Christianity look really, really bad. But in 1648 the Peace of Westphalia said – each sovereign state could have its own religion and within each sovereign state people should have freedom of religion.
Now in terms of politics this was a huge power shift. Up to this point the Roman Catholic Church had dictated all the terms to the different states and countries. Church (here), individual states (here). But the Peace of Westphalia turned the tables. The king of each state got to determine what religion their state would follow and in what manner. So church-state relationship was inversed. It was now state (here) and church (here).
Now on the back of all this – philosophers started to think it was ok to challenge theologians. Since Constantine and Augustine in 300-400AD the Bible had been (here) and reason and philosophy was (here). The Bible trumped reason and philosophy. People trusted the Bible more than man’s thinking. But in the Age of Enlightenment the tables were turned and reason, science and philosophy started to trump the Bible. So lots of people started coming up with ideas that said we do not need God. For instance, various philosophers, leading up to Charles Darwin came up with the theory of evolution. Karl Marx called religion the opiate of the people. And even people like John Stuart Mill who shaped western liberal thought – said Christianity was the tyranny of the majority. Christianity created a culture that frustrated the advance of secularism. Just as the Protestant reformers challenged the Roman Catholic Church, so philosophers started to challenge Christian beliefs. So in the 1700-1800’s – the world crucified God – a second time and secularism began.
Famous German philosopher – Friedrich Nietsche observed what we did at this point and he wrote (Slide 10). Please note the last line. While all the philosophers were putting their philosophical knives into Christianity – Nietsche realised the enormity of what humanity was doing. We were killing God. We were erasing Him from our minds and our speech and a grand experiment was beginning. Nietsche realised that what was likely to happen is that we would become our own gods – at least a few of us.
No. All this is wrong. There is a God, he made us and He gave us life. But God also gave us freedom.
Point 2: God gave Humanity Liberty
Show: Gen.2:16-17 (READ)
Explain: Well we all know this passage from Sunday school stories and western culture. Adam and Eve could eat from any tree they liked, but not the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But there is a bit going on in this verse in the original Hebrew. Nearly, all English translations translate verse 16 as you are “free to eat” and that’s not wrong. But it’s coming from a play on Hebrew words. The word “eat” and the word “die” are actually doubled up or repeated. A literal translation would be something like; you are to eat eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will die die.
Now this play on words is interesting because Adam and Eve have a choice to eat-eat or die-die. It’s almost like two types of freedom; a liberty to eat or a liberty to die. Really, both verses should be translated the same way. Either both should be translated freely or both should be translated certainly. But I think the English word “freely” does communicate the intent of the Hebrew. We can freely eat or we can freely die. So there are two types of freedom or liberty. There is freedom where you respect God’s Word and God’s boundaries and you get to freely eat and keep eating. Then there is another type of freedom where you ignore God Word and God’s boundaries and you get to freely die and stay dead. Now I’d say that the choice to freely die is a pretty dumb choice.
But we see this idea of freedom to die repeated in Jeremiah 34. In Jeremiah 34 God says; (Slide 13; Jer.34:17). Just like Adam and Eve, who had limits on what trees they could eat from, so the Jews had limits on how long they could keep slaves. It was seven years. God told the Jews that if they respected the principle of the sanctity of life and let their slaves go free every seven years – he’d give them freedom to eat-eat. But if they disobeyed God and did not let their slaves go every seven years – they would have freedom to die-die, by sword and plague and famine.”
The point is there are two types of freedom or liberty. There is the freedom of a free citizen and there is the freedom of a gangster. Now in our church we’ve got people who have tried both types of freedom. The true freedom of a free citizen respects the laws of Australia – and they try to comply with what government says. In return the Government lets these free citizens generally do what they want to do within the boundaries of the law. That’s true freedom, but not absolute freedom. It’s freedom with boundaries. But then there’s also the freedom of the gangster – who says stuff all the rules and laws – I want to be free to do whatever I want. And this sort of freedom ends up with die-die or jail-jail. It claims absolute freedom. But ends up locked up within four walls or 6 feet under in a coffin.
Now sadly, following the example of Adam and Eve – we have all chosen the gangster version of freedom. In different ways – we all said stuff God’s rules, I’m going to do whatever I want and we chose freedom to die-die. Now the Bible makes it clear that our choice when we reject God’s Word – we get to die by sword, famine and plague and then we get to go to hell – have a nice day. But thankfully – Jesus came to earth and died on the cross for our sins. Jesus took die-die for us so that we could eat-eat again of the tree of life. Yes, all you gangsters out there, Jesus died for you and that means you can be forgiven and that means you can be set free from the consequences of your dumb choices. But to have that freedom (which is real freedom) you need to believe in Jesus, you need to ask him to forgive you and you need to start doing what he says. Then, you stay free to eat-eat whatever God says is ok to eat-eat. This is true freedom where you don’t end up dead-dead.
Illustrate: But again, in the Age of the Enlightenment – after everyone killed God – philosophers then asked; “Ok, if God is no longer telling us what we are free to do and what we are not free to do – what should we do?” And the general consensus of the Enlightenment – was whatever makes you happy. Philosophers John Locke, Thomas Jefferson and John Stuart Mill all arrived at pretty much the same conclusion.
If God is now dead, lets just do whatever makes us happy. But lets all respect that other people have the right to be happy too. So America came up with Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness in their Declaration of Independence. Thanks to John Stuart Mill – England and Europe came up with Utilitarian theory which says – when people are confronted with two options – they are ethically responsible to choose the option that brings the most happiness to themselves and others.
Apply: So life with God, became freedom without rules, for the purpose of pursuing happiness that is now making us sad-sad. 300 years after the Enlightenment – the consequences of choosing gangster freedom, instead of true freedom in God and with God – is that the world is getting very messy. Freedom without rules is the freedom to die-die – by sword, plague and famine. Now I’m quite happy for us to stop the secular experiment right now with just the plague of coronavirus. But the Bible tells us the world is intent on going for the trifecta of all three. So how do we live in a world – that has killed God, likes the freedom of a gangster and is intent on pursuing sadness, under the pretense of happiness? Well we do what we were always meant to do…
Point 3: God gave us Life and Liberty – for His Glory.
Show: (Slides 14-18; READ)
Explain: Friends, we need to remember again that we do not have life and liberty for the pursuit of happiness. We actually have life, and liberty for the glory of God. You exist for God’s glory. So all you youngsters who keep saying “I just want to happy. Why can’t I be happy?”, need to repent. That is foolish, worldly secular thinking. It is wrong. Right now, you exist for God’s glory and if you do that – one day you will be eternally happy. But, right now, if you pursue your own happiness at the expense of God’s glory – then one day you will be eternally sad…
I do not mean to offend America – but the words life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness may be some of the most sinful words ever penned. Those words have not only brought the prosperity gospel and therapeutic Christianity into the western church, they will also be the ultimate downfall of one of the greatest nations to ever exist. Life and Liberty is for the glory of God. That is why I made this slide with the glory of God over the top of the pursuit of happiness. We need to remember we have been given life and liberty for God’s glory.
Apply: Now as we finish this sermon series we may explore a little bit of John Pipers Christian hedonism. The Westminster Confession of the Presbyterian Church says that we are made by God to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. Piper argues that if we get the order right and truly make God’s glory our number 1 goal in life – that will bring us a happiness, contentment and satisfaction in life. He suggests that it is through glorifying God and Jesus that we pursue true happiness.
But here’s the problem we need to explore. As Christians we know we have life and liberty for the glory of God. But the world thinks they have life and liberty for the pursuit of happiness. Mans right to pursue happiness – is now taking us into all sorts of ethical dilemma’s – like gay sex, gender fluidity and late term abortion – because a baby right now will cramp my happiness. And somehow the church needs to keep teaching that real freedom has boundaries; that the world revolves around God not man, and what the world is really pursuing is more and more sadness, instead of happiness. And all we really want is “the freedom of religion” to keep teaching our children (and anyone who will listen) the truth about life, liberty and God’s glory (as a means to happiness). But now that freedom is at stake. Now I’m always the sort of guy who is up for a fight and likes a bit of a challenge. But, I also know that at some point this fight will only be resolved with the words; “Come, Lord Jesus Come.” And until then the church needs to live and declare; “All for the glory of God.”