“All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor” (I Corinthians 10:23-24, NASB).
Christian libertarianism fails for one simple reason: in order to love your neighbor, you must first stop paying so much attention to yourself.
The context in which the apostle Paul wrote those words highlights two points. The first is to avoid the mistakes of the people of Israel who, instead of relying on God in the wilderness, chose to chase after idols and act immorally—their subsequent penalty was death. Essentially, instead of chasing after God’s interests, they chased after their own. The second point: being free is not inherently advantageous because your freedom can often cause someone else to stumble. Paul explains this point through the method of eating different types of meat, but the underlying principle remains the same: the ultimate definition of freedom is not limited to the self, and although someone may be technically lawful, such lawfulness may not be beneficial to others.
Hence, in verses 31-33, Paul writes: “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God … please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved” (italics mine).
As far as legalism is concerned, the law in a Biblical sense refers to the law of Moses (including the Ten Commandments) that all believers had to follow fully in order to be obedient. On the other hand, the law in a contemporary and secular sense includes all those tenets of personal and communal interactions that are intended to produce societal harmony. Where the two laws intersect and overlap has produced a new, 21st century version of “law” that is not ordained by God. Instead, this new “law” has become its own entity, separate and distinct from God, and it operates under the pretense of being part of sacred doctrine.
People in the secular world are under no compulsion to think about how their personal ideologies affect those around them. Christians, however, are afforded no such luxury because one of the basic premises of the Christian faith is that it looks away from the self and toward others. Jesus is the only person to have ever lived that both fulfilled and perfectly obeyed the law of the Old Testament, which means, of the more than 600 rules in the Pentateuch, Jesus could claim that He was in perfect accord with all of them. Resultantly, He, and only He, was qualified to speak about the law because He was the master of it. And what did the law say? An eye for an eye. And what else? Adultery equals death. And? Theft means you repay the stolen sum plus 20%. But what did Christ in fact do? He fulfilled the law by submitting Himself to death for our sake because He understood perfectly that the law could not save anyone. In essence, what was lawful was not profitable.
As Paul alludes to in I Corinthians, Israel made the mistake of thinking that God and the law were the same thing and that by mastering the law they could control God. But Christ, as a mediator between the Father and humankind, demonstrates that while the law is from God, God rules over the law. Another way of saying this is that the law and God are of the same substance, but the law is subordinate to Jesus—this is why He is the only way to salvation. For a so-called Christian libertarian, then, I ponder what the ultimate source of authority is. Is it ideology or is it God? Because if it is God, there is only so far one can walk down the path of libertarianism before that person will begin to reject God. If the law is libertarianism, at some point the libertarian is forced to reject the Creator at the expense of philosophy. And I say this because I used to eat, drink, and sleep libertarianism as the ultimate ideal. Then I realized I was not made to preserve myself, but to glorify God, and in glorifying God, my neighbor takes precedence.
One cannot be a Christian without having communion with God. Christ, being fully God and fully obedient, was in perfect communion all the time. And what did He do? He did not protect or defend His own interests but relinquished all of His rights for humanity, even though He had the legal right and the power to condemn all of us. The cross is the most non-libertarian path one can take.
Christian libertarianism fails because it forges a wedge between humankind and God. It is only through the cross that anyone can become a better imitator of Christ, and to imitate Christ implies a rejection of libertarianism.
Christian libertarianism fails because the two dogmas are innately incompatible. Christian libertarianism falsely proclaims that humans can commune with Christ and only be bound by the most minimal degree of obedience possible. Not only does this libertarian view result in over-inflated zeal, but an arrogant sense of self-justification that uses religion to validate an economic and political ideology. How can God be bound by the protection of life, property, and the free market when His reach is bigger, grander, and universal?
Libertarianism says, “If you lack, then the market correctly chose not to reward your poor efforts.” On the other hand, God “executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing” (Deuteronomy 10:18). Libertarianism says, “If you do wrong, then you get what’s coming to you. After all, Psalm 9:16 says, ‘The LORD has made Himself known; He has executed judgment. In the work of his own hands the wicked is snared.’” Then again, regarding the Ninevites in Jonah 3:10, the Bible says, “When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it.”
Love is relationally dependent and thus without giving of oneself in relationships, love is impossible. And, because God is love (I John 4:8), executing a strategy of self-preservation is the antithesis of what God is.
This is why Christian libertarianism fails—because when one combines a selfish ideology with a selfless faith, the ideology is not purified and the faith is polluted.
Dr. C. H. E. Sadaphal