There is a general principle of life that has become increasingly important to me (especially over the past year):
Almost nothing that is valuable can be acquired without a corresponding cost.
I say “almost nothing” simply because I haven’t thought through all the metaphysical implications of this statement. Perhaps this principle cannot be applied to God, whose infinite value and creative power can surely produce many things of great value without incurring a “cost.”
In our lives, the recipient and the one who absorbs the cost may not be the same. Nevertheless, if something valuable is to be acquired, someone must pay for it.
With the “God’s cost caveat” aside, I still assert the principle as not only generally applicable but pervasive throughout all human life. Indeed, it also touches the very heart of the Christian message and, in doing so, it ought to magnify believers’ grateful praise of our glorious Redeemer.
No Free Lunch
This principle may be recognized as essentially the economic principle that, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” If someone offers you a “free sandwich,” you can be assured that it was not “free” in an absolute sense. Either someone else payed for it, or you will pay for it yourself indirectly.
Canada’s “free healthcare” system is really “healthcare payed for by your taxes” (or, more likely, by your grandchildren’s taxes). Gmail’s “free email service” is really “email service payed for by collecting and monetizing your data.” I’ll leave to another time the consideration of whether such “free” services are as wonderful as their promoters would have us think.
Perhaps if we understood the “no free lunch” principle, when a bureaucrat or technocrat (or any other kind of “-crat”) came with offerings of “free stuff” we’d raise an eyebrow rather than a cheer.
But I’m not merely concerned about purely economic issues. There’s something else, far more valuable than email services, that I wish to discuss here.
There’s been much talk of freedom lately as government actions conflict with “Charter Freedoms.” This fixation on liberty is not new, especially in the West. It is (at least) as old as 1215 AD, when King John of England agreed to the Magna Carta Libertatum “Great Charter of Liberty” known today as simply the Magna Carta. Our national anthem follows in the tradition of the Magna Carta whenever we hail Canada as the “true North, strong and free.”
This familiar concept of freedom, “civil liberty,” is at the forefront of discussion today, especially among political conservatives. Rightly so, for this liberty was given to us at great cost and will not be retained without effort and sacrifice.
However, there is another type of liberty that long pre-dates 1215. This liberty reaches back to the central Event in the pages of the New Testament and even further beyond that to its foreshadow in the liberation of Israel from Egypt. This liberty, which I will call “Christian Liberty,” is a far greater and more foundational freedom.
This Liberty, once grasped, cannot be lost.
Its great price has already been paid in full for all ages.
Civil liberties, rightly understood, are God-given freedoms which should be recognized, upheld, and defended by civil governments. Among these liberties, those commonly recognized as most fundamental are succinctly summarized in Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which echoes the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
For this discussion, it will be helpful to quote the first two sections of the Charter:
Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law: 1. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. 2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: (a) freedom of conscience and religion; (b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication; (c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and (d) freedom of association.
In Canada, we often claim a high regard for these “fundamental freedoms.” Yet, they have been clearly violated over the past 20 months by many Public Health Orders.
Obvious as that violation may be, you will note the exception clause offered in Section 1, allowing infringements of the Charter which “can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” While appearing to seem reasonable, when wielded by those who do not “recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law,” this subjective exception allows for a legislative loophole big enough to drive a long train of illiberal laws.
Considering this exception clause, the question naturally arises:
What are we to accept as “justified” infringements of these civil liberties?
Our answer to this question will change in proportion with how much we think these liberties are worth; that is, what price you and I are willing to pay for them. Be assured, there will be a cost if we are to maintain these liberties.
They have come to us at a great cost already.
The Cost of Civil Liberty
The first and most obvious cost of civil liberty has been that of military defense. Although many conflicts have been instrumental in preserving the freedoms we have today, the Second World War may present the most significant example. It’s difficult to imagine how different our world might look today had the outcome of this war been reversed. There is no clearer demonstration in modern history that our civil liberties were payed for with much human blood.
Let’s not forget why we say, “lest we forget.”
The cost of civil liberty, however, is not something that only needs to be paid once. Payment(s) must continue in each generation. If anyone thinks liberty is the natural state of society, requiring no maintenance on our part, a brief look at history should remedy that delusion.
During peace and prosperity, liberty is easy. But, when difficulty arises, liberty involves risk, uncertainty, hard work, and sacrifice. It is a precious thing, so there is a cost to maintain it.
These “maintenance costs” of liberty will not be paid by a society that lacks the desire and ability to do so. If the populace is selfish, it will not make the necessary personal sacrifices. If the populace is lazy, it will not put in the hard work and take responsibility. If the populace is anxious and fearful, it will be unwilling to accept the necessary risk and uncertainty.
How could we expect such civilizations to maintain the principles that allow them to continue? Even when there is a widespread desire for freedom, sustainable civil liberty requires much more.
It also requires morality.
Liberty is not the same as licentiousness, indeed, the two are opposed to each other. Licentiousness desires freedom from moral constraints, true liberty is expressed in the freedom to fulfill one’s moral obligations. If a populace is licentious, its civil liberties cannot last. It will become a slave to its lusts.
It will be easily controlled because it can be easily bribed.
Civil liberty requires men, women, families, communities, and nations to be bound by an objective moral standard that accords with the nature of mankind, and the nature of this world. This Law of Nature has been defined by Nature’s God, and only by His grace can we know it and uphold it.
We need a different kind of liberty, a more foundational liberty, if we are to meet this requirement and build a solid foundation for civil liberty.
Why can we only uphold this universal, moral Law by God’s grace?
Because we are all born enslaved.
It is from this universal enslavement that Christian Liberty liberates.
The Enlightenment philosopher Rousseau famously said, “man is born free and everywhere he is in chains.” In his view, man is basically good, but society has corrupted him. His perspective was that man’s problem is external to himself; it is systemic oppression, not the corrupt nature of each individual.
This is antithetical to the Christian view. It is false.
Its falsehood is precisely why we find it so attractive. “Whatever’s wrong with the world, it certainly isn’t me! Nor is it you! It’s society.” Society is the ultimate scapegoat.
The Bible teaches that we are all born slaves to sin. Individually. Universally. Unrighteous rebellion against our Creator is our natal state as fallen descendants of Adam. We have inherited the curse of Adam’s sin.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. – Psalm 51:5 (ESV)
Man is not born free. We would rather worship the creation than the Creator. (Romans 1:23) We would rather believe a lie than acknowledge the truth. (Romans 1:18) We love the darkness rather than the light, for the light would expose our own wickedness. (John 3:19-21)
Man is not born free. And, as he continues in sin, his bonds of slavery are only fortified. Not only that, but as he continues to disobey his Holy Creator, he stores up judgement for himself. God, being perfectly just, will by no means leave the guilty unpunished. (Exodus 34:7)
No, man is not born free. But… there is a great hope of a freedom.
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. – John 8:34-36 (ESV)
This freedom is found through faith in the good news of the death and resurrection of our Lord, the Saviour Jesus Christ. It is first a deliverance from the penalty for sin – Christ having paid the full price on behalf of all who would believe. But that’s not all! Not only is the believer delivered from fear of judgement, he has also been freed from his wicked master: sin.
But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. – Romans 6:17-18 (ESV)
Man is not born free, but the believer is born again free. He has true Christian Liberty. How so? Not because he serves no master, but because he’s been bought by a new one. True liberty is found by those who are slaves of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:1) They have exchanged their hard and heavy yoke for one which is easy and light.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. – Matthew 11:28 30 (ESV)
This Christian Liberty that believers have under the light yoke of Christ our Lord is far more precious and lasting than any civil liberty.
The Cost of Christian Liberty
Back to our principle: the cost of liberty.
Did this great Christian Liberty come without a corresponding cost? Certainly not. It is given to poor enslaved sinners by grace alone through faith alone – yes! For there is nothing we can do to contribute to our own salvation, which is the source of Christian Liberty. Yet, this great gift was not cheap! Our freedom in Christ was bought at a great price.
That price was nothing less than the atoning sacrifice of the sinless Son of God. This cost cannot be adequately expressed with mere human words. The eternally blessed and divine Word, in unimaginable condescension, humbled himself to take on the lowly flesh of a man. He lived a life of perfect obedience to God, yet was mocked, maligned, maimed, and murdered by the leaders of His own people.
But His physical suffering alone was not the real cost.
The true cost was His bearing the full weight of our sin; drinking the cup of God’s wrath. The cost was the terrible anguish of the spotless Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Just as Isaiah prophesied hundreds of years before the Crucifixion:
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
– Isaiah 53:4-6 (ESV)
Our civil liberties cost the blood of human soldiers, but our Christian liberty was purchased with the blood of the God-man. It cost far more because it is far more valuable. We should grow in appreciation of just how valuable it is by meditating on how much it cost.
Your lunch yesterday was not free.
Your civil liberties were not free, and their full price has not yet been paid. If no one foots the bill, they will certainly be lost.
But, if you are free in Christ, your Christian Liberty has been purchased in full. It can never be lost.