The Apostle Paul wrote "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty"(1 Cor. 3:17).
In America, the document that defines and guarantees our liberty is the United States Constitution. As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe that the Constitution is a divinely inspired document and that the framers of the Constitution were righteous men whom God raised up for the very purpose of writing it. History records that all those who took part in the drafting of the constitution and who put their signature to the final version were men who had a deep faith in God and in His providing care over them. As such, the document they crafted creating a republic form of government is based on their religious convictions. And that religion was centered on Jesus Christ.
Today, among Americans, there is a growing trend to divorce God from everything in public life, especially in the area of government, citing as their reason that the Constitution prohibits the mingling of church and state politics. When people say that we should interpret the Constitution according to the original intent of the writers of that document, others contend that the Constitution is "a living, breathing document" that is meant to be shaped and formed according to the circumstances of the time. Their argument is that the things we face today never existed nor were they ever envisioned when the founders of our country wrote the Constitution. Therefore, it is said, we need to interpret the document that guarantees our liberties in light of modern culture, rather than interpreting it according to a way of life that has forever ceased to exist.
As a result of this way of interpreting the Constitution, today's courts have taken prayer out of public schools, have permitted abortions, have removed the Ten Commands from the courtroom, and in some cases have permitted the marriage of homosexual couples. Interestingly, those who object to these kinds of decisions are those who have a strong moral faith in God, while those who applaud and encourage such decisions are those whose religious convictions are not firmly rooted in God's word. It is their contention that true liberty means the right to be free of any religious values if a person so desires. Those who hold this view are of the opinion that the concept of "right and wrong" is an individual matter and that it is the duty of the law to guarantee the right of the individual to determine for themselves what is right for them rather than have someone else's moral values imposed upon them.
The preamble of the Constitution sets forth the purpose of this document in these words: "to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity." But how is justice established, domestic tranquility insured, and liberty secured? The answer is found in another document also written by the founders of our country known as the Declaration of Independence.
In its second paragraph it states: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." The writers of the Constitution strongly believed that all men have certain rights that are unalienable, meaning there are things that every person has the right to possess. Among these rights is the right to live and the right to liberty, or the freedom to do as we choose.
But the founders of our country also believed we have these rights because God, not man, has given them to us. Therefore, the founders of our country argued that man cannot take away from us that which the creator of man has given him. That is why they wrote the Constitution as they did, to ensure, through a set of laws, that no man or group of men could take from us what God had given us. But, if our life and freedom come from God, and we exclude God from our life or misuse the liberty He has given us, then it is safe to assume that God has the right to take away that life and liberty which He has granted unto us. In that case, the Constitution cannot guarantee our life and liberty, no matter how many laws we make.
If God is the source of our life and liberty, then we can also assume that God had a definite purpose in giving us life and is the definer of what constitutes our liberty. Therefore, if we truly wish to remain free, it become critically important that we understand what freedom truly is.
The first thing we must understand is that laws do not make people free. Instead, laws are a nothing more than a set of restrictions limiting what people can do. For example, if you want to drive a car, there are laws you must obey, such as being a certain age, meeting certain physical requirements, getting a driver's license, following traffic rules, paying for license tags and having motorist insurance. In most states, you must also have your car inspected and pay property taxes before your tags can be reissued each year. As such, the only people who are at "liberty" to drive are those who meet all these requirements of the law. If you do not meet those requirements, you are not at liberty to drive. Even if you met those requirements, if you have too many traffic violations your license can be suspended or revoked. If you reach a certain age where your eyesight or other physical limitations prevent you from properly operating a car, you will not be allowed the freedom to drive. Thus, the law restricts people's freedom if they do not meet its requirements. As such, the more laws that are passed, the more freedom is lost.
The second thing that we must understand is that no amount of laws can force people to obey them. For example, New York city and Washington D.C. have some of the toughest gun control laws in the country, and yet the death rate by guns in those two cities is among the highest of any city in the nation. Many places of businesses have a zero tolerance policy towards drug use among its employees, yet drug use is on the rise. It is human nature that those who do not want to follow the law will find ways to get around it, either legally or illegally. All the law can do is prescribe a punishment for those who are caught violating it. Thus, the law is specifically designed to be an instrument of punishment, which is hardly the definition of liberty.
At the same time, laws are not designed to add liberties for good behavior. All it can do is condemn if we violate its rules. For example, if a person has never had a traffic ticket for ten years, the law does not reward them with greater liberty or freedom for their good driving record. But if they violate the traffic laws they are punished.
Obviously, we need to have laws, for without it, there would be anarchy, which is, by definition a lawless society. If people were truly free to do whatever they wanted, chaos and confusion would reign. Therefore, the third thing we need to understand is the definition of the word liberty.
Liberty does not mean the freedom to do whatever we want. The reason why we have traffic rules is so that people can get from one place to another in a safe manner. If we drive too fast or drive too recklessly, we can kill or injure our self or others. When that happens our freedom or the freedom of others to get around is lost. To prevent that from happening, minor freedoms must be given up in order to gain greater freedom. Therefore, liberty doesn't mean being free to do whatever we want. It means following laws that will help provide the greatest amount of freedom to the greatest number of people.
But laws, no matter how well intentioned or how carefully written cannot guarantee liberty because laws are only as good as the people who obey them. It is only when people voluntarily submit themselves to the intent of the law that those laws can produce the desired effect. It is an often stated but frequently over looked fact that the primary reason why people obey laws is because of their own moral values. And that is the fourth thing we need to understand. Laws are meant primarily for people with morals. The higher the morals of a society the fewer laws are needed to govern them. On the other hand, a society that has lower morals will of necessity need more laws to control their behavior, and, the more laws there are, the less liberty there is. Also, when people disobey the law, especially deliberately so, they invite the punishment prescribed in the law, which then restricts their freedom even more. Therefore, it is only when people choose to obey the law that they truly become free.
If God, not man, is the source of our liberty, as the Declaration of Independence asserts, then God must, of necessity, provide us with laws to follow. If this were not so, then liberty would be maintained through anarchy, which is an obviously false statement. The most famous of all divine laws is the Ten Commandments, which is the basis for all English law, both in the United States as well as in Great Britain. These laws represent a set of moral values, defining what constitutes virtuous human behavior. In its most simple form, it is based on loving God and loving our neighbor as our self.
The "Golden Rule" states, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." This is what it means to love your neighbor as yourself. If people followed this rule there wouldn't be any dishonesty in business, in marriage, or in social life. Since no one likes to be mistreated, following this rule would eliminate every kind of abuse. Kindness and civility would be the normal way of treating one another, while rudeness, contention, and selfishness would cease to exist. If everyone lived this one law of God there would be no need to make any other laws and yet everyone would still have the full liberty to pursue the kind of happy life they desired.
But when people do not love their neighbor as themselves, they then misuse the liberty God has granted them. And, in misusing that liberty, they then infringe upon the liberty of others, thereby robbing them of their God-given right to the pursuit of life and happiness. When that happens more laws are needed to control the behavior of society as a whole. Furthermore, under the law of love, mercy and forgiveness are permissible, but with the passing of more laws, the stricter the penalties become and the less mercy and forgiveness are allowed.
But there is another law that is even more important, yet is violated more than most, and that is the law to love God. When we seek to eliminate any mention of God from our public gatherings, when we disparage elected officials who express their faith in God, when we mock and persecute religious institutions while openly promoting godless behavior, we are in violation of the greatest of all laws. Since God is the guarantor of our liberties, when we deliberately and consistently ignore Him, we do so at the peril of putting our liberty at risk.
Of course, those who don't believe in God or don't consider Him to have any real power in the affairs of men, scoff at such an idea. To them, the right to liberty is granted by men through the use of law. But that is not what the framers of the Constitution thought, and that is the document upon which the laws in America use to grant us our liberty. If we take God out of our law then the case can be made that we have no "unalienable rights," in which case there is nothing to prevent our liberty from being taken from us by men.
However, the loss of liberty does not happen in one sudden moment nor would it be obviously apparent when it does occur. It will happen slowly, evolving from one small action to another small achievement until the cumulative effect would become so overwhelming as to be almost irreversible.
When men create laws, they do so according to the thinking and customs of their time. That is how the Constitution was produced. The concepts contained in it reflect the thinking and attitudes of the people who lived at that time. If it didn't, the people who lived back then would not have supported its principles. As such, it is a statement on the culture of that society which produced it. And the same is true of any law created today. It reflects the thinking, attitude, and culture of the people living at the time it is written, because if it didn't the people of that society would reject it. Therefore, all that has to happen for us to lose our liberty is for our culture to lose its moral values. And when that happens, the laws that will then result from that change in our culture will automatically and inevitably reflect our current morals values.
The laws of God are based on goodness, kindness, peace, and love towards others as well as self-control, humility, and honesty in ourselves. If we as a society reject the laws of God, then we automatically embrace its opposite, which includes such things as conflict, anger, and ruthlessness towards others and, greed, pride, and arrogant ambition in our self. When we as a society adopt those values as being an acceptable part of our culture, they will be reflected in the laws we pass.
As we look at our society today we see that all the morals of our founding fathers are being looked at with suspicion and often rejected. People are questioning the traditional values of marriage, family, truth, justice, and decency. They complain about the influence of religion in public affairs. They readily accept pornography, sex outside of marriage, and obscene language in their entertainment when less than fifty years ago all of these things were considered shameful behavior.
Laws don't change society. Instead, society changes the law to fit the way they behave. And it is because of that truth, that laws are incapable of keeping a society from becoming morally bankrupt. No amount of laws can motivate people to be virtuous. Instead, it is the attitude people have in their heart and mind towards the law that prompts them to either keep or violate it. Since God is the one who grants us liberty and His laws are based on virtuous morals, then it is impossible for an immoral people to maintain "liberty and justice for all."
Throughout history we've seen that countries who were ruled by an immoral society only had liberty for a chosen class of people but not for the great majority of their citizens. The mighty Roman Empire ruled most of the known world of their time but only those who pledged their allegiance to the Emperor had any semblance of liberty. The rest of those who lived under Roman rule were treated more like slaves. There was even less liberty under the Assyrian and Babylonian empires that came before Rome.
From 1300 to 1900 the Ottoman Empire likewise ruled most of the known world, yet they were as brutal to their own people as they were to those whom they conquered. During World War II the people of Germany enjoyed some freedom under Hitler, but the more fanatical he became the more freedom was taken even from them, not to mention those whom Hitler conquered. The same was true of Stalin and the Russian Czars before him. And the same was true of Saddam Hussein's Iraq and Afghanistan under the Taliban.
In short, every nation whose laws were not based on moral decency and fairness as contained in the law of God has never been able to provide the greatest amount of liberty to the greatest number of their people. And that is because it is impossible to do.
The apostle Paul wrote, "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ for it is the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek" (Romans 1:16). Although Paul is talking about a person's individual spiritual salvation, the same principle applies to our salvation as a nation. To have a genuine belief in God means that we are willing to live the laws that God has given us. When we as a nation put our faith in God and follow His laws, the automatic result is that we enjoy the unalienable right of liberty that we were created with. But when we as a nation become ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ we lose that power of salvation, and our liberties stand at risk.
The reason why that is true is because when we reject God we reject His wisdom and His authority. In effect, we set ourselves up as god and become our own authority of what we think is right and wrong. Instead of depending on God's guidance, we depend upon our own wisdom in the decisions we make. Since man is naturally inclined to selfishness, that attitude will be reflected in the laws he passes. When selfishness is the motivating factor behind our laws then liberty is extended to only a few and it comes at the expense of the many.
The apostle Paul wrote, "for the letter kills but the spirit gives life." Although he was specifically speaking about the law of Moses, the same applies to any law. It isn't enough merely to obey what the law says, we must obey the spirit of the law. That means we follow the intent of the law rather then merely following the exact wording of the law. We live our life as the law intended for us to live instead of looking for ways to circumvent it. When we do that, as Paul explained, the letter of the law will kill us, because it punishes us with the loss of freedom when we fail to live up to its intent. Thus, it is only when we live by the spirit of the law, having an obedient attitude of the heart, that our liberty is maintained.
When speaking of the Jews concerning the law of Moses, Paul wrote, "even to this day, when Moses is read the veil is still upon their hearts. Nevertheless, when they turn to the Lord, the veil will be taken away." (2 Cor. 3:15,16). The same applies to us concerning the Constitution. When we turn away from God we fail to see the wisdom and justice in following the intent of that document. It is as though a veil has been placed over our eyes and we become blind to even the most obvious reasons for why our nation's founders wrote what they did. It is only by returning to the ways of God that we begin to see more clearly the remarkable insight the framers of our Constitution had.
That is precisely what Paul meant when he wrote, "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." The founders of our nation had the Spirit of the Lord with them and that Spirit inspired them to produce the greatest document of liberty ever written.
That is also what Paul meant when he said, "Therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, the just shall live by faith." The founders of our nation were men who had great faith in God, and because of that faith, God revealed the principles of liberty to them, the same as He had done to other men of faith. But then Paul us gave this warning, " For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness" (Rom. 1:17,18).
While the loss of liberty can occur as a natural consequence of disobeying the law of God, we need to remember that one of the purposes of the law is to prescribe punishment for disobedience. When we violate the laws of God, there is more than just a natural loss of liberty that occurs. There is also a penalty that must be served. Those who persist in a life of ungodliness and unrighteousness must face the wrath of God. That is the law.
Paul goes on to say in verse 21, "When they knew not God they glorified him not as God, neither were they thankful, but because of their vain imaginations their foolish heart was darkened, professing themselves to be wise, they became fools."
When we, as a society profess that we don't want to know God and we refuse to glorify Him, and in the vain imaginings of our mind we think that there is no God, then our heart becomes filled with darkness and we begin to imagine that our foolishness is wisdom.
Beginning in verse 28 Paul continues his explanation by saying, "And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient, being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, covetousness, maliciousness, full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity, whisperings, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, without understanding, disobedient to parents, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful. Who, knowing the judgment of God that they which commit such things are worthy of death." (1:28-32)
What Paul is saying is that because people don't want to keep God in their memory, God allows them to do those things that their reprobate mind thinks of. He allows them to fulfill the dark desires of their heart, which leads to all sorts of unrighteous behavior such as those Paul has listed. As we have already seen, such conduct does not secure liberty but destroys it.
Paul further told the Romans, "Wherefore, God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of the flesh of their own hearts, to dishonor their bodies between themselves. Who change the truth of God into a lie and worship and serve the creature more than the Creator. And for this cause this cause God has given them up to vile affections. For even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature. And likewise, also, the men leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lusts one toward another. Men working with men doing that which is unseemly and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet." (1:24-27).
What makes this statement so poignant is that it sounds as though Paul is describing what is happening in our society today. Women changing the natural desires of their bodies and doing those things that are against the laws of nature. Men leaving the natural use of a woman and having lust toward other men, doing things with other men which are not right or proper. God calls this kind of behavior "vile affections."
There is a homosexual revolution in our culture today, where people are increasingly and loudly proclaiming the "virtue" of an "alternate lifestyle." And anyone who dares speak out against such behavior is said to be committing a greater sin than those who do that which God forbids. But Paul says that those who choose to misuse the liberty God has given them in this way will someday receive the reward they deserve for disobeying God's law.
Of course, those who don't want to keep God's law in their memory, claim there is no penalty for the way they live their life. In fact, they feel that their behavior will actually enhance the life and liberty of society as a whole rather than deteriorate it as the moralist want us to believe. As such, they scoff at the notion that God will punish them as individuals or as a society for pursuing the kind of life they think will bring them happiness. After all, they say, the very purpose of the Constitution is to grant us our unalienable right to pursue life, liberty and happiness. But they conveniently forget who granted us those unalienable rights in the first place. And they also choose to overlook the fact that what is given can be taken away by the giver if we do not obey His laws.
The ancient Jews had the same attitude towards the law of Moses as evidenced by the fact that the remarks quoted from Paul were said to the Jews of his day. And the law he is talking about is the law of God. The Jews were trying to live the letter of the law, but not the spirit of it. Instead of following the intent of the law, they were more concerned with mindlessly observing the letter of the law. Instead of living their life as God's law intended them to do, they lived their life as they choose while claiming they were following God's law. Since one of the purposes of the law is to prescribe punishment for lawbreakers, and the punishment God has decreed for breaking His law is spiritual death. That is why Paul said that the letter of the law kills.
As with our laws today, when we follow the intent of the law, we avoid the prescribed penalties. If the penalty for disobeying the law of God is spiritual death, then it stands to reason that keeping the intent of His law gives us spiritual life. That is why Paul says that the spirit gives us life.
God explained this principle to the Jews in the days of king Solomon at the time he dedicated the temple. The Lord declared, "If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land." (2 Chronicles 7:14).
When the Israelites heeded this advise, they remained a free and prosperous people. However, over time they, as a society, began to scoff at such a notion. They trusted in their own wisdom and in their own military might to maintain their liberty. When Isaiah and Jeremiah warned them of the terrible consequences that would result from their behavior, they thought such predictions were laughable, that is until King Nebuchadnezzar invaded their land and took away their freedom.
In time God allowed the Jews to return to their land but He again gave them the same warning. Yet, in time, they again violated His law thinking that their behavior had no effect upon their liberty. However, by the time Christ was born, the nation of Judah had become surfs to the Roman Empire. Not withstanding this fact, they had not entirely lost all of their liberty because the Romans did permit the Jews some religious and social freedom. But even that liberty was put at risk when the scrouged Jesus was brought before them. At that time Pilate said unto them, "Behold you King! But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar" (John 19:14,15).
No doubt, those who uttered those words did not realize the disastrous consequence of their actions. No doubt they thought that life would continue the way it was regardless of how they behaved. While it was true that it was "the chief priests" who made this comment, it was the culture of the Jews that permitted such blasphemy to even take place.
The law of God said, "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and him only shalt thou serve" (Matt. 4:10). And the law also spelled out the punishment for such a violation. It states, "if thou do at all forget the LORD thy God, and walk after other gods, and serve them, and worship them, I testify against you this day that ye shall surely perish" (Deut. 8:19). Less than forty years after they rejected Jesus as their king, the Jews perished as a nation, not only losing every bit of freedom they once had but losing their homeland as well for the next 1800 years. All they had to do to maintain their unalienable right to life and liberty was to keep the spirit of the law of Him who granted them their life and liberty. But when they violated that law, those rights were taken from them.
God explained this very clearly when He said, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because thou has rejected knowledge I will also reject thee… Seeing that thou hast forgotten the law of thy God I will also forget thy children. As they were increased so they sinned against me. Therefore, will I change their glory into shame" (Hosea 4:6-7).
The same is true for us in our day. Liberty is not maintained by the laws of men. It cannot be preserved in a godless society. It does not flourish with immoral behavior. Those who think they can refuse to acknowledge God, reject His ways and forget to obey His laws without any consequences do not have history on their side to validate their argument. Those who persist in promoting this kind of culture in their society will some day find that their glorious liberty has been destroyed and what will take its place is shameful slavery.
The words of Paul are literally true when he said, "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." And the converse is just as true: where the Spirit of the Lord is forbidden, then there can be no liberty. And the reason is because "the letter killeth but the spirit giveth life." Only those who follow the Spirit of the Lord will find a genuine life of liberty because that is the law of God.