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How Should the Church Use Its Freedom?

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Editor’s Note: this article is a slightly adapted excerpt from David Platt’s sermon on 1 Peter 2:13–17 titled “Faith & Freedom.” 

We do not gather on Sunday, even during the week of July 4th, to celebrate our U.S. citizenship. That’s not what the church does, because that’s not who the church is. 

The church doesn’t unite around an earthly citizenship; the church unites around a heavenly citizenship. The church is not made up of people who unite together under a particular country’s flag; the church is made up of people who unite together under a particular cross—the cross of Jesus Christ. We have more in common with a Syrian Christian sitting next to us than an American atheist—far more in common, forever. 

This is why, when we gather as a church, we put aside national and even political differences. We worship under the banner, not of a country but of a King. That King’s name is definitely not Joe Biden or Donald Trump. It wasn’t Barack Obama. It wasn’t George Bush or Bill Clinton. And for that matter, it was never George Washington either. 

Our King’s name is, always has been, and always will be Jesus Christ. 

As thankful as we are for the freedom that our government gives us, the purpose of our gathering today and every Sunday all year long is to celebrate the freedom God has given us in Christ, because that’s a freedom we enjoy no matter where we live, no matter where our passport is from. It’s a freedom that transcends nations and governments. It’s a freedom that we will celebrate with people from every nation for all of eternity. We are free servants of God. That’s what makes us the church. 

Now, with that freedom—our freedom in Christ, which is ultimate freedom—comes much responsibility for the Christian in his or her country, including the United States. So follow this: the apostle Peter says that we are to use our freedom in Christ in two main ways. 

  1. We use our freedom in Christ to model good lives.

Look at 1 Peter 2:13 and 15: “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution. … For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” Then he continues in verse 16: “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.” Here’s the picture: As the result of what God has done in our lives through Jesus, we’re now free servants of his, which means we’re free to live, not as evil, but as good—doing good. 

When Peter talks about silencing the ignorance of foolish people, he’s talking about slanderous attacks against Christians by non-Christians in the culture around them. Peter is zealous, in a Matthew 5:13–16 kind of way, for Christians to be salt and light in the culture and country around them, so that non- Christians may see their good deeds and glorify God in heaven. 

So, we use our freedom in Christ, not in an evil or selfish way, but in a good, humble, selfless way, modeling the goodness of Christ in submission to the governing authorities over us. We use our freedom in Christ to model good lives. That should be the commentary on our lives in our country. We’re showing the goodness of God. 

  1. We use our freedom in Christ to show God’s love. 

If we look at 1 Peter 2:17, we see that Peter closes this passage with four short commands: “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” So how does God’s Word tell us specifically to show his love in the country around us? First, we honor everyone—especially our leaders. Notice, this command to honor starts and ends this verse, like bookends. So, the picture is of followers of Christ showing respect, attributing dignity, and assigning value to everyone without exception, even people who disagree with or oppose us. We are to honor them. They are made in God’s image and are therefore worthy of respect. 

This is why we as Christians must be known for honoring. The Word of God is why we honor babies in the womb. The Word of God is why we honor people of different ethnicities. The Word of God is why we honor the poor and oppressed. The Word of God is why we honor immigrants who have made their home in our country. The Word of God is why we honor children and their parents at our borders. And on and on. Again, I’m not advocating a particular policy or position here. There is room for so much discussion among followers of Christ on these issues. But what is driving all of us in those discussions is that we are concerned with showing God’s love by honoring all people. 

Did you catch how Peter closes this section? He included honoring the emperor! It’s like Peter is saying, “Especially him. Honor even this man who set himself as a god over you and leads a government that is persecuting you, for even he is a man made in the image of God and worthy of your honor.” What a word that we need to hear. God, in his Word, beckons us to honor our president and our government leaders, in the way we speak about them, in the way we pray for them. Obviously, we should realize that some presidents and some leaders are easier to honor for some people than they are for others, if we’re honest.

Some people who held Barack Obama in high honor had a hard time showing honor for Donald Trump. Others of us have much honor for Donald Trump but had a hard time showing honor for Barack Obama. Some of us have had a hard time honoring either of them. But, brothers and sisters, the Bible doesn’t give us a choice here. This is a command. And if Nero was worthy of honor in the first century, then our president and our leaders are worthy of honor in the twenty-first century.

Obviously, that doesn’t mean we agree with everything a president or a government leader does, or that we support everything in his or her agenda. But it does mean we recognize that this is a person created in the image of God, that God loves them, that God desires them to know him, that they will one day stand before God as judge. So, we intercede for them regularly and we speak about them decently. We honor everyone, especially our leaders. It’s how we show God’s love.

–For more on the Christian’s relationship to government, see Secret Church 20, “God, Government, and the Gospel.”

David Platt serves as pastor at McLean Bible Church in Washington, D.C. He is the founder and chairman of Radical. He is the author of several books, including Radical, Radical Together, Follow Me, Counter Culture, and Something Needs to Change.
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