The Liberty to Walk Away

I’ve expressed a few times lately that we need to look for what the Bible doesn’t say as much as what it does say. This is another such time.

One statement I’m hearing a lot lately is, “If you love your neighbor, you would do X.”

Ever since I heard it the first time, it’s been eating at me. What’s so bothersome about it? Is it not scriptural? After thinking about it for a few weeks, I finally understood.

The entire statement is absurd.

Nor is it scriptural.

How’s that for an audacious statement? Read on, and I’ll explain why.

The most obvious one is what the scripture in question actually says: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” What I call the biggest little word is missing: If. Meaning there are no qualifiers attached.

Loving one’s neighbor can take many forms, and yes, that can include doing X if someone asks us to (the key word being “ask”). Yet there are things we must never do.

One is to use force or the threat of force to make sure people do something or act a certain way—such as through local or federal authorities.

The worst part of the statement is it implies that anyone who doesn’t do X doesn’t love their neighbor. As such, it’s an attempt to shame people into compliance. That’s coercion, the other thing one must never do.

Liberty is defined as:

• the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views

• the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved

• a right or privilege, especially a statutory one [such as the US Bill of Rights]

• the power or scope to act as one pleases

But what does the Bible say about liberty as well as loving one’s neighbor? Are they mutually exclusive, or do they go hand-in-hand?

The story of the Good Samaritan is the oft-cited example of loving one’s neighbor (Luke 10:25-37).

The Cliff-Notes version is a man is robbed, beaten, and left for dead. Three people encounter him: a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan (it almost sounds like the beginning of a joke, doesn’t it?). Only the Samaritan stops to help him.

So now we need to look for what’s not said. In this case, no angel (nor God) came down and demand of any one of the men to stop and help. The story also doen’t include any authority forcing the three to act, nor do any of the men complain to the authorities to force the other two to act. They all had the option to walk away. Including the Samaritan.

Mark 10:17-22 has been sticking with me lately:

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. (ESV)

The key statement is in the last verse: “He went away sad…” Yet the verse, “Jesus looked at him and loved him,” is equally poignant.

Jesus loved him, and because of that, allowed him the choice—the liberty—to walk away even as it may have broken his heart to do so. He told the man the truth, and with conviction, which is important. But again, looking for what isn’t said, he didn’t threaten or force the man into changing his mind with local/worldly authorities, or coerce through shame.

We are called to be just like Jesus, and that includes giving people the liberty to make their own choices, to walk away without us piling on threats or shame as they do so.

So in answer to the question I asked above, loving one’s neighbor must include liberty, no “ifs” about it. We can’t do one without giving the other.

1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 (ESV): “and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”

2 thoughts on “The Liberty to Walk Away

  1. In my desire to walk with God, I have become very concerned about how the Bible is constantly being interpreted by only considering certain verses, without taking all of the Bible into consideration, when seeking an answer to a certain question. The Bible tells us, we must be very careful when we interpret the Bible, Before, saying anything more, I must profess that much of the following is taken from articles I have read on the internet and with which I agree, though I have revised and supplemented the statements slightly to make the following more impactful.

    Revelation 22:18-19 contains a warning to anyone who tampers with the biblical text: “For I testify together to everyone who hears the Words of the prophecy of this Book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add on him the plagues that have been written in this Book. And if anyone takes away from the Words of the Book of this prophecy, God will take away his part out of the Book of Life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which have been written in this Book.” The question is whether these verses refer to the whole Bible or just the Book of Revelation.

    This warning is given specifically to those who distort the message of the Book of Revelation. Jesus Himself is the Author of Revelation and the giver of the vision to the apostle John (Revelation 1:1). As such, He concludes the book with a confirmation of His testimony to the finality of the prophecies contained in Revelation. These are His words, and He warns against distorting them in any way, whether through additions, subtractions, falsifications, alterations, or intentional misinterpretations. The warning is explicit and dire. The plagues of Revelation will be visited upon anyone guilty of tampering in any way with the revelations in the book, and those who dare to do so will have no part in eternal life in heaven.

    Although the warning in Revelation 22:18-19 is specific to the Book of Revelation, the principle applies to anyone who seeks to intentionally distort God’s Word. Moses gave a similar warning in Deuteronomy 4:1-2, where he cautioned the Israelites that they must listen to and obey the commandments of the Lord, neither adding to nor taking away from His revealed Word. Proverbs 30:5-6 contains a similar admonition to anyone who would add to God’s words: he will be rebuked and proven to be a liar. Although the warning in Revelation 22:18-19 applies specifically to the Book of Revelation, its principle must be applied to the entire revealed Word of God. We must be careful to handle the Bible with care and reverence so as to not distort its message.

    Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities (the state or feeling of being actively opposed or hostile to someone or something), strife (angry or bitter disagreement over fundamental issues; conflict), jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. Gal. 5:19-21

    For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Eph. 5:5

    Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying. Rev. 22:15

    The Bible says that we deserve to go to hell if we commit just one sin.

    For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, “DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,” also said, “DO NOT COMMIT MURDER.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. James 2:10-11

    We do not need to commit just one special sin. If we commit any sin, God says that we are just as guilty as if we had committed all of them.

    Therefore, God says that we are all sinners. None of us do good.

    . . . as it is written, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE . . . Romans 3:10

    These passages point out the same thing. Those individuals who continue to commit any of these sins deserve to go to hell. The only escape is to stop trying to be good and simply trust Jesus Christ to forgive your sins. That is all that God asks. He simply wants us to want to stop sinning and to trust Jesus Christ to forgive our sins.

    So the important question that a true believer must come to understand and truly believe is what does it means to trust or believe in Jesus. The answer to which many have agreed is when a person becomes a Christian, they are saved forever and will never stop believing and obeying Christ. If a person stops believing in Christ and is disobedient then they were never a Christian. That is the message of 1 John 2:19. True Christians believe in Jesus and want to obey Jesus.

    And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved. Acts 4:12

    Certainly belief in God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son, as They are described in Scripture, is crucial. As Hebrews 11:6 tells us, “Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” So belief in God and having living faith in Him is vital to pleasing God and receiving His gift of salvation.

    And salvation is God’s gift by grace, as Ephesians 2:8-9 explains. It is His gift, unearned and undeserved on our part. No one will ever be able to boast that he or she has earned or deserves the gift of eternal life.

    But it doesn’t stop at simple belief and grace. We can do things—or not do things—that disqualify us from receiving that wonderful gift from God.

    The fact is, the Bible shows that God sets certain conditions for receiving salvation. Some conditions enable us to receive that gift, and other conditions disqualify us from receiving it.

    Since Jesus is the author of our salvation, let’s examine a few of His statements that tell us what we must do to receive that gift of salvation—eternal life.

    What must we do? In Matthew 7:21 Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” Jesus made it clear that merely acknowledging Him as Lord and Master—saying “Lord, Lord”—is not sufficient. To inherit the Kingdom, we must do something. We must do the will of the Father, as He clearly stated.

    Jesus wants us to understand that there is more to receiving eternal life than just belief or mental acceptance. Our conviction that He is our Savior must be more than just a warm, comforting thought or intellectual concept. Jesus warns that simply calling on His name or recognizing Him as “Lord” is not enough.

    At one point a wealthy young man asked Jesus how he could receive eternal life. “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” the man asked (Matthew 19:16). Christ’s reply, in Matthew 19:17, might shock some who think obedience to God’s law is unnecessary. Jesus responded, “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” Also see, Hebrews 6:4-6 (“It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.”)

    Jesus didn’t answer that nothing is required other than believing in God or in Him. He told the young man that he must obey the commandments of God to receive the gift of eternal life.

    As the apostle James points out, belief is pointless unless it is backed up by action and obedience: “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble” (James 2:19).

    He goes on to explain that faith—belief and trust in God—and obedience go hand in hand: “But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?” (James 2:20-22).

    James thus explained that works of obedience as a result of our faith maintain our relationship with God and lead to greater faith and obedience, as God requires.

    Jesus gave another condition for God’s gift of eternal life in Mark 16:16: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” Water baptism—by full immersion—is a symbolic act representing the death of our old self and the beginning of a new life of serving God and striving to avoid sin (Romans 6:1-23).

    Baptism is also followed by the laying on of hands by Christ’s ministry, which allows us to receive God’s Holy Spirit and truly belong to Him (Acts 8:17; Romans 8:9). Unless we surrender our lives to God through baptism and the laying on of hands to receive His Spirit as instructed, we fail to meet—whether knowingly or unknowingly—His prerequisites for receiving His gift of salvation. To those who would brush aside these and other plain biblical instructions Jesus replies, “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do the things which I say?'” (Luke 6:46).

    In Matthew 10:22 Jesus listed another condition we must meet to receive God’s gift of salvation: “He who endures to the end will be saved.” We can lose out on salvation if we fail to endure to the end. Once we have committed ourselves to obeying God and surrendering ourselves to Him, we must stay the course to the end and not look back (Luke 9:62; 1 Corinthians 9:27).

    The most important fact in all of this is that God will make the final judgment on whether or not a person will be allowed into heaven, so any one that believes he so she can trick God into accepting them into Heaven, by publicly holding themselves out as a Christian but not living up to all the Biblical conditions of accepting God’s grace of eternal life through faith and belief, are, in my opinion, assuredly awaiting a surprise at the time of their demise.

    Now that I have addressed the issues that I have been wanting to address in response to your blog for sometime now, I turn now to your Blog of yesterday. In your article, you quote numerous verses to support your position that everyone has a right to object and walk away from governmental mandates that impinge on one or more of your liberties. Though you are correct God has given everyone free will and He continues to love everyone even those who have not acknowledged Him as their savior or who are intentionally not living a sin free life. However, God makes it clear that,, as explained above, Christians who have professed
    a belief in God and Jesus was sent to earth and died for their salvation, but return to live a life of sin, may be rejected by God and that a true Christian should obey man made laws that are good for everyone. See, Peter 2:13-17 (“Submit yourselves for the LORD’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.”); Romans 13:1-14 (“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”); Titus 3:1 (“Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good,”). Based on these Biblical verses, I no not believe your blog supports your apparent position that it is okay, in every instance, for a Christian to take a position against a law that may adversely affect a liberty guaranteed to the Christian under the laws of the Christian’s government .

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    1. My supposition does not disagree with any of what you said. My premise isn’t that there will be no consequences for our behavior simply because we have the freedom to do so. Of course there will be! All the scripture you added is quite emphatic about it.

      Nor is it about existing laws, or what authorities demand upon its people. I agree that there could be consequences for rebelling against authority, but that’s actually a separate subject.

      My point is that to coerce or force people (including demanding that the authorities be that force) to do certain things is not loving our neighbor. It’s an attempt to control them. And as far as I know, Jesus never told us to control anyone. Except ourselves.

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