Rethinking Jesus: Jesus didn't need religious liberty laws

by Kyle
published May 9, 2015


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Something about the recent Indiana religious freedom restoration act has really bothered me. It doesn’t bother me that business owners refuse to participate in practices they do not believe in like it bothers the liberal multitudes. And it doesn’t bother me that people from jurisdictions with similar laws criticize Indiana’s version, like it does the conservative legion.

You may wonder at my untimeliness. I’ve waited to see if the new legislation in Indiana bothers anyone the same way it bothers me. I would like to invite you to be bothered by Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act the same way I think it would bother Jesus.

I am grateful for the degree of religious freedom we currently enjoy in America. However, it would seem the law in question was created to give legal protections and rights to a group of people who are commanded by Jesus to give up their rights and protections for the sake of others. Jesus actually seemed to think that religious persecution was inevitable and good for the gospel.  I do not think religious freedom restoration acts around the country foster a biblical attitude toward persecution for American Christians.

Jesus promised persecution on several occasions. He told his disciples, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.” (John 15:18) Religious persecution is supposed to be the natural consequence of following Jesus. What makes America any different? James 4:4 goes on to add that people who work like the world works are enemies of God. On the other hand, people who believe in Christ are friends of God. (James 2:23) It should just make sense that the world would align itself against Christians. The solution is not to throw a pity party that the whole world is against us. The solution is not to become defensive and marshal legal force to the courtroom.

The solution is to do what Jesus did. Jesus offered no defense to the charges brought against him. Instead, he worked all the harder to love people and to win them over to himself.

Jesus also promised that his followers would have the strength they need to do the same thing. Jesus said that “when they bring you to the synagogues and magistrates and authorities, do not worry about how or what you should answer, or what you should say. For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say." (Luke 12:11-12) Believers do not need the force of law to protect them, if they are to be protected. If chariots and horses are not enough to trust in for protection(Psalm 20:7), then our government certainly isn’t enough. God promises to accomplish his plan “not by might nor by power,” (Zechariah 4:6) nor by silly, fear-laden redundant laws, but by his spirit.

If the promise of ability to withstand persecution isn’t enough, Jesus goes on to promise rewards in eternity to those who persevere through persecution. Jesus repeats over and over again how much he appreciates those who endure persecution. In Matthew 5, he said, "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12) Please understand what he is saying there. To think biblically, Christians should think about persecution as a blessing to be embraced rather than a hardship to be avoided. It is an opportunity to tell people who would never otherwise hear it how much Jesus loved them and what he did for them, not an occasion for litigation.

This best example of this is the brother of one of the 21 Christians beheaded by ISIS in February. He called into a Christian radio show to say that he was proud of his brother for remaining faithful. He was proud of the reward Jesus gave him. He was comforted knowing that his brother was in heaven as a result. Would you think that way if your brother were beheaded for the same reason?

Furthermore, recall that Jesus himself was subject to fairly brutal religious persecution that went way beyond a lawsuit. Recall that he was whipped, beaten, spat on, mocked, nailed to a cross, mocked some more, and left there to die under the auspices of religious persecution. We know that he did that to pay the penalty for our sin. Thank God Rome did not have a Religious Freedom Restoration Act to prevent his death.

The gospel was begun with “religious persecution,” and it has always historically spread most effectively during religious persecution. It was persecution that drove Christianity into the wider world beyond Jerusalem (See Acts 8). Christianity didn’t explode in China like it has until it was made illegal in 1949. At best, it would seem religious freedom restoration acts prevent the conditions that have typically made the church the most healthy.

On the one hand, I am truly grateful for the freedom I enjoy as a pastor to preach and write and study and teach God’s word and his gospel. On the other hand, I believe Jesus would be truly bothered by people claiming to follow him and hiding behind man-made rules to protect themselves at the same time. It does not belie trust in him. While I am grateful for religious freedom, Jesus didn’t need it when he lived on earth in order to obey his father. And we don’t need religious freedom laws to obey Jesus.

What do you think?

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