Religious Liberty


We live in a country that has enshrined religious liberty as part of our constitution. The Bill of Rights was established to specifically limit the power of the federal government to infringe on select rights in order to protect us from authoritarian style rule, that was the case in the monarchy of England. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” As citizens of our country we should never take these freedoms for granted, because many around the world do not live with these protections and are forced to live under authority that is counter to or hostile to the religion they practice. As a result, they may be discouraged from practicing their religion and in extreme cases are subjected to punishment or active persecution, even to the point of death. As Christians, in the United States, we experience many freedoms because of this protection. We can worship freely in our churches, speak freely about our beliefs, and cannot be discriminated against in areas of housing, employment, etc. based on our religion. These freedoms were grounded in the principle that certain rights are not given by men, but are endowed by our Creator, which originated from Judeo-Christian principles. Though we should value these freedoms, we need to be careful not to idolize them to a point of losing sight of God’s mission for us or think that without them we will not be able to live out His mission. As Christians we are first of all citizens of heaven, so our true freedom is not found in laws but in God’s provision of salvation. Even if our freedoms are guaranteed by the laws of our country, we should still expect persecution for our beliefs. In the United States, we also need to be careful not to treat religious freedom as exclusive to our particular beliefs and stand up for the freedom of others, even if they have beliefs that differ from ours or do not believe there is a God.

Citizens of Heaven

As followers of Jesus, we are called to be ambassadors for Christ.1 An ambassador is a representative in a foreign land. We are citizens of heaven first and foremost and this should guide us in how we live and interact with those around us.2 If we are ambassadors for Christ, then our primary identity is not that of Americans. America has sometimes been described as a “city on a hill,” because of our democratic values and freedoms. But when Jesus spoke of us being the salt of the earth and the light of the world in the Sermon on the Mount3, he was describing us as believers and not a country or system of government. We are called to be the “light of the world” in order that others would give glory to God.4 In order for us to be representatives of Christ, we need to worship Him as our King and realize that our ability to do that is not dependent on a law or where we live.

Exact Persecution

Freedom in Christ produces in us a strong desire to spread the good news of God’s grace with others so that they may come to know the same freedom. As a result, we will face opposition, because our true enemy, satan, is described as a lion who prowls around seeking to destroy us.5 Jesus spoke often of the persecution His followers would face. He called them sheep among wolves6 and said the world would hate them because it hated Him first, because we are not of the world.7 A.W. Tozer said, “to be right with God has often meant to be in trouble with men.”8 Unfortunately, rather than expecting and preparing for this resistance, many Christians are surprised by it and allow it to breed discouragement and resentment towards others. This is contrary to what we see in the early church, where the disciples celebrate being found worthy to suffer for Christ’s name.9 Rather than feel defeated or discouraged, the disciples kept focused on their identity in Christ and were further emboldened to teach and preach wherever God sent them. Throughout history from the book of Acts to modern day, the Gospel has continued to spread, and often church growth is strongest in areas that face heavy persecution. This does not mean that we should desire persecution or not work for religious freedom, but we should not think that persecution and resistance will hinder the power of the Holy Spirit to work through us to transform the hearts of those we share the Gospel with.

The Gospel is still being proclaimed and the body of Christ in some instances is expanding in greater numbers in countries that do not enjoy religious freedom. This is because in Christ we are no longer slaves to sin but are under grace.10 Our response to this freedom is to spread the good news of God’s grace and desire that all should experience the same freedom that we have. So those who do not know Christ are not our enemies but are the very ones we are called to love and serve so they will experience His love through us. We are to live as Jesus did on this earth, who declared after Zacchaeus’ declaration of faith that “the Son of Man came to see and to save the lost.”11

Liberty for All Religions

Not only should we expect persecution and resistance as we seek to share the Gospel with others, but we also need to understand that religious liberty is not exclusive to Christianity. The founders of the U.S. Constitution were inspired by Judeo-Christian principles, but the freedoms they wrote into the Bill of Rights was that the federal government shall not establish any religion or prohibit the exercise of any religion. As Christians, we should not see the freedom for others to practice their religion as a threat, but rather an opportunity. Paul gives us a great example of how to approach those with other beliefs as he witnessed in Athens. He expressed to those listening that he perceived them to be a religious people because of all the objects of worship in the city. He did not affirm their polytheism, but instead used the existence of an altar to the “unknown god” as a window into sharing the gospel with them.12 Those that practice other religions are seeking answers to the foundational questions of life. This should inspire us as believers, who know the peace and security of salvation in Christ, to see their need and be a witness and share the Gospel with them. It also means that as we seek to protect our own rights to freely exercise our religion, we should stand up for and seek to protect the rights of those who practice other religions.

Our Response

So, whether we continue to experience religious liberty, we see our rights get taken away due to a changing culture, or we find ourselves living in another country or culture that does not protect these rights, our response should be the same. We should continue on the great commission that Jesus commanded, to make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them all that we know. Jesus said He would be with us always, even until the end of the age, so our power is not dictated by laws or court decisions, but by the saving power of God’s grace through Jesus Christ. The government does not give us the confidence to live out our faith, the Holy Spirit that indwells us does. Our citizenship is in heaven, so as we live as sojourners in this world, we need to remember that we are not at battle with those who are lost around us but with the lies and spiritual forces that influence them.13 Our enemy is not flesh and blood, but with the spiritual forces who oppose. Because of this we need to understand the difference between exercising our rights to advocate for a position through engagement and healthy debate, and fighting with hostile words and putting up walls that hinder our witness to the true freedom we should desire them to experience.


Footnotes: 12 Corinthians 5:20; 2Philippians 3:20; 3Matthew 5:13-16; 4Matthew 5:14-16; 51 Peter 5:8; 6Matthew 10:16-22; 7John 15:18-27; 8Man – The Dwelling Place of God by A.W. Tozer; 9Acts 5:41; 10Romans 6:12-14; 11Luke 19:10; 12Acts 17:22-34; 13Ephesians 6:10-13