Sandlin continued, “My pastor cannot get up and tell the congregation how to vote, but he certainly can point out the duty of Christians to participate in the electoral process.” That’s a good distinction, and Sandlin’s letter raised two questions in my mind: What’s the basis for liberty, and when’s the right time to proclaim it?
The Old Testament exhortation to liberty comes in the context of Jubilee, the once-in-50-years erasure of financial debts. But the New Testament tells us that Christ’s sacrifice wipes out our deeper debts, so we don’t have to wait half a century to discover liberty. The verses immediately after the famous John 3:16 passage declare, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned.”
Because of Christ’s saving power we can live in this world without condemnation. We don’t have to follow medieval exhortations to go behind monastery or nunnery walls to lead the richest Christian life. Liberty in Christ frees us from God’s eternal penalties for disobeying His law. The Holy Spirit increasingly subdues our natural desires to murder or think murderous thoughts, commit adultery, steal, lie, and covet.
Apart from Christ, we use our liberty to do all those things, and government grows. Each fatherless child: more social workers and welfare payments. Each theft: more police. And so on. The most important step pastors can take to shrink the size of government is not to give political sermons but to preach Christ crucified and risen. Since much of American politics these days involves people asking government to legitimize sin, bold preaching and teaching on Sunday affects the decisions we make from Monday through Saturday.