Several Conceptions of Liberty Distinguished and Defined

The Christian Conception of Liberty

In 1520, Martin Luther penned the monumental Protestant work “On Christian Liberty.” For Luther, the greatest of Christian freedoms is freedom from the wrath of God. For Luther, all men are sinners. They have violated the law of God and are thus “under wrath.” Though they know God, and they know that they have failed to keep God’s law, they persist in outright rebellion; for Luther, the only satisfaction for having sinned against God consists in the payment which the Son of God merited in His perfect life and sin atoning death. Through faith, the Christian man is freed from the condemnation of the law. His inheritance in heaven, the promised Holy Spirit, and union and communion with the Lord are irrevocably his. In Christ, the church is “not under law, but under grace.”

According to the Reformed conception, to be “under grace” refers to more than justification. It also refers to what Theologians call “definitive sanctification,” the freedom afforded to the Christian, according to His union with Christ, wherein He is given the power to live a holy life. This two-fold blessing rooted in union with Christ, results in the Christians freedom from both the guilt and power of the law (the double cure). In addition to this, the apostle Paul states that Christians are freed from the law as a “tutor.” Paul’s referent here is the Old Covenant, in its totality, as a rule of life and covenant for the people of God. At the advent of Christ and the inauguration of the New Covenant in His blood, the Old Covenant, as a law of life, having been fulfilled, was made obsolete (obsolete refers to its character as a covenant for life, its use for continual instruction). [1]

Finally, Christ affords his people, as individuals, freedom of conscience and thought. Christ proclaims that among them they should call no one “teachers” for they have one teacher who is in heaven. In this regard, Jesus condemns the authoritarian Pharisees, who regarded their traditions as equal in terms of authority to the God-breathed Scriptures. In stating that there are no more teachers, Jesus is condemning authoritarian teachers who add to the Law of God, not ministerial teachers who clarify what the Scriptures themselves teach. Pastors, elders, and gurus who attempt to go beyond Scripture and bind your conscience to their own personal dictates are doing the work of the devil. Where Christ has set us free, they enslave; called to be shepherds, they are wolves. Christian liberty is, therefore, four-fold: Freedom from the Guilt of Sin (Justification), Freedom from the Power of Sin (Sanctification), Freedom from the Burden of the Law (Redemptive-Historical), and freedom from extra-biblical traditions and commandments of men (Authoritarianism).

The Marxist Conception of Liberty

The Philosopher-Economist Karl Marx had a four-fold conception of liberty. The first is liberty from the oppressor. Marx conceived of economic history in terms of an oppressor-oppressed paradigm. Those who owned the means of production (the oppressor) controlled the lives of those who worked for them (the oppressed). The oppressors would pay the oppressed just enough for them to live on (living labor); the oppressor would then extract the money which the oppressed made for him in the process (surplus value). Therefore, Marx posited that freedom consisted, in part, in the freedom of the oppressed from the oppressor. The oppressor, in a Capitalist system, alienated the oppressed from his true desires (Volitional liberty). Further, he oppressed him from the labors of his hands; in Marx’s conception, the individual is reduced to a machine who repeatedly does one job and therefore never sees the fruit of his labors. Marx advocated a freedom to express full creativity in the actualization of a product (Vocational Liberty). Further, within the Oppressor-Oppressed paradigm, Marx argued that the worker was alienated from participation in guiding the history of mankind, therefore Marx advocated a freedom from that form of powerlessness (Monumental Liberty). To solve this problem, Marx advocated the violent revolution of the oppressed against the oppressor. The oppressed would seize the “capital” the means of production which the oppressor held. The revolutionaries would then inaugurate a centralized system of wealth distribution in order to achieve a form of equality and liberty (Socialism). When this equality and freedom finally reach the designated point, the state would give up its right to redistribution having inaugurated a new era of human flourishing wherein each gives according to his ability and each man receives according to his need (Communism).[2]

The Libertarian Conception of Liberty

Libertarians conceive of liberty, negatively, as freedom from infringement. Positively, they conceive of it as a right to