But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.

Our American culture has given us, over the years, a warped definition of the word “liberty”. I’m convinced that, were you to ask the average man on the street for its meaning, he would come up with something like “the freedom to do what you want” or “nobody telling me what to do”…or some variation on that theme.

Whether or not that was the definition the founders of this nation had in mind (more on that in a minute), it is important to note that this is not that biblical definition, at all. In today’s verse, James presents us with what, to our freedom-loving ears, seems a tremendous paradox: the phrase “law of liberty”.

To our present generation, the word “law” and the word “liberty” go together like oil and water, like Brad and Jennifer, Bill Maher and Rush Limbaugh.

And yet, in Scripture, the two concepts walk hand-in-hand, inseparable. If we become free from one thing, we become slaves to another – obedient, as it were, to another law. Jesus himself taught us that there are only two options: service to one Master, or service to another. There is no middle-road option called “free from both”. The Apostle Paul tells us that at the same time we were freed from sin, we became slaves to God. Conversely, those who are free from God are slaves to sin.

So while our twenty-first century American ears may tingle to hear “law” and “liberty” in the same phrase, our Christian ears should not.

And for those whose confuse “liberty” with “libertine” (or even “libertarian”), consider the words of none other than the father of our nation, George Washington, in the final paragraph of his farewell address:

I anticipate with pleasing expectation that retreat, in which I promise myself to realize, without alloy, the sweet enjoyment of partaking, in the midst of my fellow-citizens, the benign influence of good laws under a free government, the ever favorite object of my heart, and the happy reward, as I trust, of our mutual cares, labors, and dangers.

Notice the juxtaposition of “good laws” and “free government”. Never in the mind of Washington or his compatriots was the American Revolution a repudiation of all laws. Rather, it was the substitution of bad laws for good laws…laws of tyranny for laws of liberty.

And as James (and George) would have it, we must understand that our freedom in Christ has not removed us from all law, rather it has brought us under a new and better law, the perfect law of liberty.

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