Justice, Liberty, Love

The Authority of Scripture #3


At first glance it may appear to us that justice, liberty, and love are three very distinct topics. But if we examine them in the light of Scripture, doing so with a biblical worldview, we will discover that they are all addressing the same thing. Every virtue, every grace, is a manifestation of the gracious gift of the singular holiness of God. Thus, the integrated Christian life is therefore all of a piece. So when it comes to justice, liberty, and love, we don’t get to pick two out of three. Salvation is a package deal.

The Text

“For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. . .” (Galatians 5:13–23).

Summary of the Text 

If you ask where we can get our justice, liberty, and love out of this text, the answer is straightforward. Liberty is mentioned expressly. Love is mentioned expressly. And justice is a matter of not robbing others, and not biting and devouring others. And all three are presented to us here in a tight weave.

Paul begins by telling the Galatians that they have been called to liberty (v. 13). He immediately moves to tell them that they are not to use that liberty in the cause of self-indulgence (v. 13). Instead of serving the flesh, they are called to use their liberty to serve one another in love (v. 14). Why is this? Because the entire law is fulfilled in one phrase, which is to love your neighbor as yourself (v. 14). Paul is citing the second greatest commandment here, identified as such by Jesus (Matt. 22:30), and which is taken from Lev. 19:18.

But if instead of loving, they bite and devour each other, they need to take care that they don’t eat each other up (v. 15). The thing that will enable them to avoid fulfilling these fleshly desires is what Paul calls walking in the Spirit (v. 16). The flesh and the Spirit are fundamentally at odds with one another, which would prevent the Galatians from doing what they wanted to do (v. v. 17). But if they walk in the Spirit, they will not be under the condemnation of the law (v. 18). The works of the flesh are listed as obvious (v. 19), and Paul then works through a tawdry roster of uncleanness (vv. 19-21). They range from all manner of sexual impurity and self-indulgence to malicious thoughts of hostility and accusation. People who are like this are not going to inherit the kingdom (v. 21). The fruit of the Spirit, by way of contrast, is a unified whole of goodness—love, joy, peace, and so on. Or put another way, justice, liberty, and love (vv. 22-23).

And Such Like

Scripture frequently gives us lists of virtues and vices. These lists should be taken with that phrase “and such like” kept in the front of our minds. The lists vary in their details, but the aroma coming off all of them is always the same.

For example, Christian graces are described by Peter in 2 Pet. 1:5-8, where he mentions “diligence, faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity.” Paul uses the language of fruit here in our text, but he also describes the fruit of the light in Eph. 5:9—where the fruit of the Spirit is found in all goodness and righteousness and truth. And then in Romans 5:3-5, we see the same thing again. There the list is “patience, experience, hope, boldness and love.

Lists of clustered corruptions work the same way. Paul gives us one list in Romans (Rom. 1:29-32)—unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity, whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant-breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful, and those who applaud others who do the same.

And then he gives another list to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 6:9-10)— fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, catamites, sodomites, thieves, covetous men, drunkards, revilers, or extortioners are not going to Heaven either.

Then we have the list in our text. The lists never map on to one another exactly, but they all have the same kind of thing in common. It is as though a gifted writer was writing a series of articles on seedy dive bars all around the country. They would all have the same feel, and the alleys behind them would all smell like urine.

This is why James tells us that if we break the law at just one point, we are guilty of breaking all of it (Jas. 2:10). The law of God is not a series of French pane windows, but is rather a plate glass window. It doesn’t matter that much where you put the hole—the window is still broken. The law of God is personal, and is as unified as the character of the God it reflects. The unified holiness of God is therefore insulted regardless of where and how you insult Him. And so lawlessness, the way of the flesh, is the anti-God frame of mind, and so it too is unified in that antipathy. Everything is connected.

What Liberty Is

Paul says in our text that we have been set free, we have been set at liberty. Now a popular (and wrongheaded) definition of liberty thinks it means doing as you like, whatever the consequences. But Paul here says that liberty is being set free to do as you ought. Note that it is not being coerced to do as you ought, but rather doing as you ought.

Doing as you want is the way of the flesh, and it is characterized by two things. The first is that the flesh grabs at what it wants, and the second is that it accuses others for having grabbed what they wanted. This biting and devouring is frequently driven by envy. Now when we grab, we wrong others by taking what is lawfully theirs.

And when we have an accusative spirit, we wrong others by not following the scriptural requirements of due process. This is where justice comes in. And what is due process? It is hearing both sides of story (Prov. 18:17). If the story is denied, it is requiring independent confirmation (Dt. 17:6). It is allowing the accused to face his accuser (Dt. 19:16)—no anonymous accusations. And if you are reading about anything on the Internet, all these standards go triple. Thomas Watson once said that to tell lies is to carry the devil in your tongue, but to listen to them is to carry the devil in your ear . . . or, as we might say it today, to carry the devil in your phone. But obedience to Scripture is to handle a matter justly, which is an outworking of love, which is how you are use your liberty.

In our time, people are demanding equity, and they call what they are demanding “social justice.” But biblical justice requires equality of opportunity. Modern leftist notions of justice require equality of outcome. Biblical justice lines all the runners up at the same starting line, requires them to start at the same time, and requires them to all obey the same rules. This guarantees that there will not be equality of outcome. Someone is going to win the race. The other approach requires all the runners to cross the finish line at the same moment, which guarantees that the starters, referees, and officials will be committed to a lifestyle of non-stop cheating. So the phrase social justice should strike your ear the same way bone cancer does.

Two Worlds

In a world ruled by the flesh, as Paul makes very plain here, you cannot have liberty, you cannot have justice, and you cannot have love.  As well try to grow orchids above the Colorado tree line.

And this is why the plan to achieve greater liberty for Americans by opening the floodgates of porn, by legalizing pot, by telling everybody to give absolute free rein to their feelings, by urging all the drones to live on handouts, and encouraging all self-absorbed narcissists to live inside their own heads, was a plan that was singularly ill-fated. An indulgent society hates liberty, hates justice, and hates love. All the “liberties” they want you to have are liberties that could be indulged in a six-by-eight prison cell.

The way of the Spirit establishes form and freedom together. Form without freedom is despotism and tyranny. Nobody wants that. But freedom without form just falls apart. What is the sense of “freeing” a locomotive from its tracks, putting it in the middle of a marsh, and telling it to go wherever it wants?

So nothing but “all form” is a straight jacket. “All freedom” is the chaotic mind of the person in the straight jacket.

Reformation and Revival

And this is why the deliverance of our country is not going to happen apart from a great movement of the Spirit. Unless a people are cleansed of their guilt, liberated from their lusts, and empowered to do what is right by their neighbor, they cannot live as a free people. As we are seeing around us, they cannot even value the idea of a free society. They want the slavery, they want the malice, they want the injustice.

So go back to the two lists in our text. The works of the flesh are manifest. The fruit of the Spirit, as we all recognize, is equally obvious.

“Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”

Galatians 5:19–21 (KJV)

That is one path, the way of death. This is followed immediately with a different kind of list. This is another path—the only other path, and it leads to life eternal.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.”

Galatians 5:22–23 (KJV)

Now take the cover off your heart. Take the lid off it. Or change the metaphor. Open the basement door of your heart, and go down there with a flashlight, one of those four-battery jobs. What do you have stored in all those half-rotted boxes? Which list is more descriptive of what you see down there?

If you are a cauldron of seething lusts, as is the unfortunate case with many, then turn to Christ. He is the Savior, and He can save to the uttermost. And when He saves, He takes you just as you are, corruptions and all. But, glory to God, He never leaves you as you are.

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