The Reformation Herald Online Edition

The Patience of the Saints

The Dignity of Self-Government
The Dignity of Self-Government
Original freedom

Freedom is a human right and it is a God-given right. People are free only when they can choose to do as they please. But whenever our choices affect others, there are limits. In the Bible, these limits are the restrictions of the law of God. True freedom, then, is self-control or self-government according to the will of God. This is the ultimate type of freedom.

Our ability to self-govern, however, has been seriously hindered. One of the effects of the original apostasy is seen in the loss of our power of self-government. Sometimes we lose our temper. Sometimes we cannot control what we eat. Sometimes we cannot control how we feel. The struggle of the man in Romans chapter 7 is a perfect example of that.


When sin entered the world through Adam, a state of sin entered the human race and sin then seized the reins of government. Judgment, reason, and conscience were dethroned, and the lusts of sin then took control. The human race became a slave to sinful lusts. Each new individual born into the human race is born into a family that is dominated by sin. All are born into slavery. All have a death sentence hanging over them.

“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12).

“For of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage” (2 Peter 2:19).

Freedom restored

This is why Christ came to set us free. He came “to preach deliverance to the captives . . . to set at liberty them that are bruised” (Luke 4:18). The whole purpose of Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross is to restore to humanity the dignity of freedom. To restore to us the dignity of self-government.

In Philippians 2:12, 13, Paul shows how God is restoring this power of self-government in you and me. He writes, “. . . Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you, both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”

Some might say that true freedom is self-government, full stop, period—without the need to live in reference to the will of God. But I prefer to get my definition of freedom from the scriptures. Where do we see an example of true freedom in the Bible? Right in Genesis.

Before there ever was anything known in this world as captivity, there was freedom. Before ever there was sin, there was freedom from sin. Freedom from disease. Freedom from all corruption.

In Eden we see our first parents tasting of freedom in its highest sense. We see Adam and Eve endowed with the power to self-govern. They were free to do as they pleased. This is the power of the individual. The power to think, choose, and do. Adam and Eve were free in themselves and by themselves, as individuals, to think, choose, and do. But in this freedom to self-govern, we also see them made subject to law:

“And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:16, 17).

So, our first parents possessed a freedom within the boundary of a law. That law is called “the law of liberty” (James 2:12). The fact that Adam and Eve were made subject to this law did not undermine their freedom. God created the human race with the freedom whether to choose Him or not. And He gives us this same power. We have the ability to do whatever we please, whether it pleases God or not.

As we read through the narrative of Genesis, it becomes obvious that with this power to self-govern, there was the possibility for Adam and Eve to disobey. However, God imposed consequences to disobedience. He said, “in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”

Some will say, “Come on, it was only a little fruit—why didn’t God just let them eat it and let things carry on as they were before? Why all this suffering? Why no longer free?”

Freedom has limits

What was at stake here was not a fruit but the government of God. If He created me to do as I please, you to do as you please, and others to do as they please without any boundaries, then at some point our pleasing will collide and eventually there will be a state of anarchy (freedom from government).

But some will say, “Yes, but freedom from government today is a bad thing because we have evil people around. If you let them loose, we’re all doomed. But freedom from government when everyone is perfect—can that be such a bad thing?”

Remember, this has already happened. In heaven, everything was perfect. All the angels of God lived in perfect freedom. But they were also free while they were in subjection to God as creatures to their Creator. Lucifer, however, began to entertain another concept of freedom. A freedom that would make him subject to nothing, to nobody, not even to God. Where would Lucifer’s freedom take him? What did he desire?

“For thou hast said in thine heart, . . . I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High” (Isaiah 14:13, 14).

Lucifer’s freedom would ultimately drive him to depose God Himself from off His throne. He was dissatisfied with the position of subordination that God gave him. That position was given to him within the order of God’s perfect government. But God was not going to let Lucifer’s desire to be free of government to destroy the order of the universe. Eventually, when the order and stability of God’s government was threatened, it had to be met in actual conflict.

“And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven” (Revelation 12:7, 8).

So the freedom that claims no restrictions of government is actually anarchy. It is a threat to peace, stability, and order in God’s society. It doesn’t work, and it only results in certain destruction.

Freedom and social relations

When God made all things, He made all things relational. What do we see in the solar system? The balance of planets with the sun demonstrates a relationship between them all. What do we see in nature and in the animal and plant kingdoms? The dependence of trees, plants, and animal species on each other demonstrates a relationship. For example, plants help to provide oxygen in the place of carbon dioxide in the air; and people and animals help provide carbon dioxide in the place of oxygen in the air. What do we see in the original man and woman? A clear and divinely ordered relationship between plants, animals, humans, and God. It was a society built upon love. And although there is an element of sin in the world today, God’s society is still the reality into which we are all created.

So there are a couple of things we should realize about freedom and, by extension—self-government. Freedom can only be maintained while we live in harmony with God as a creature to a Creator and live in harmony with each other as equals in our relationship to God.

When we live as though God didn’t exist—when we exercise our “freedom” outside of the limits of His will; when we assert this kind of “liberty” and “despise government”—we are in fact in the most hopeless slavery. Look at these verses:

“But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness [freedom from restrictions], and despise government. Presumptuous are they, selfwilled, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities. . . . While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage” (2 Peter 2:10, 19).

When we embrace this type of liberty—a liberty outside of the restrictions of God’s will; our relationship to others will naturally deteriorate. Why? Because we were created subject to these two laws—love to God and love to our fellow men. The power to self-govern was not given at the expense of our relationship with God nor at the expense of our relationship with others.

It is when people feel they can dispense with their relationship with God that they begin to lose the power to self-govern and, in consequence, their relationship with others deteriorates. It is because of this that we see people do horrible things to themselves and to each other. They forget that we were created to live within the jurisdiction of a society built upon love.

The apostle Paul, who was free in Jesus Christ, wrote, “Herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men” (Acts 24:16).

The order, prosperity, and happiness of this society is based upon the ability of individuals to self-govern according to the will of God—not outside of it.

Self-governing individuals in society

Today, everyone wants to know his or her function in society. The larger question, though, is why am I here in this world? What is my purpose in life?

People have tried to come up with some answers to this question. Someone says, “We are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.” Someone else says, “The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” There are so many different versions of this in the world, but sadly, as I look at these answers—they fail to satisfy.

Those who advocate evolution run into a similar problem with this question. Evolutionary theory seeks to explain “where we came from” but does not do so much to explain what our purpose is for being here. In fact, here’s the basic difference between Christianity and Evolution.

Christianity says: The purpose of a giraffe’s long neck is because God created it to feed upon the leaves of tall trees.

Evolution says: The reason a giraffe has a long neck is not for it to achieve any purpose—it has a long neck because long-necked giraffes in the past were more likely to survive and reproduce than were all the short-necked giraffes.

So the reason you’re here is because you have good genes. That hardly answers the question. If there is any purpose to life perceived by the evolutionary worldview, it is in the cooperation seen in nature between species. Some see this cooperation between species as some sort of path the human race is moving in towards greater cooperation between races, genders, families, society, and nations. This cooperation, however, is limited because, in this trajectory the will of society will sooner or later undermine the will of the individual, especially the will of the individual to serve God according to the dictates of his or her own conscience. That individual is perceived as a threat. It’s the survival of the fittest. The little, weak people in this world that are perceived as threats are eliminated. They don’t go along with the rest.

A worldly society will have their view of freedom. But any idea of freedom that dispenses with the order and restrictions of God upon the individual cannot make for a good and everlasting society. While God’s society gives freedom to the individual to self-govern, it does so upon the basis of the law of love.

When love is not the governing principle in the individual, sin is—for sin is only the absence of love. And sin operates only in the domain of this temporary world.

Our purpose in creation

It matters where we look for an answer to this question of life’s purpose. As Christians, we get our purpose and meaning in life by understanding where we came from and the reason why God made us.

The Lord says, “I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him” (Isaiah 43:7).

It is for God’s glory that we were created. To glory in something means to rejoice over it. God rejoices over His creation, and “all things were created by him, and for him” (Colossians 1:16).

The heavenly beings declare to God, “Thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (Revelation 4:11).

All parents know what this pleasure is. All parents know what it means to rejoice in our children. Especially is this the case when they embrace our values, our love, our nurture, our careful restrictions—then they bring to us a great deal of delight. And when we see them become morally independent, when they choose of themselves to do good, that is a great delight.

In turn, if you recall when you were a child, you felt happy and deeply fulfilled when you knew your parents rejoiced over you. We fit perfectly, like a piece in a puzzle, into God’s purpose for our creation.

But sinful humanity no longer reflects God’s values, His love. Sinful and corrupt, we have all wandered away from Him. God cannot then rejoice over us until He saves us from this condition. Then we can thank Him for the prophecy of what will take place after the restoration: “The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).

Dignity restored

We are affected by sin in two ways. It dominates us, and it curses us. Christ brings deliverance to us on both these fronts. He delivers us from the dominance of sin by giving us the divine grace to conquer it, “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14). And He delivers us from the curse of sin by “being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Galatians 3:13).

To be delivered by Christ means to regain the freedom that we had lost. “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).

Christ restores to us the dignity of true freedom. He restores to us the power of self-government. With Christ, we again stand tall in the dignity of men and women in Christ Jesus. This power that Christ gives us to self-govern is most often expressed in the words “self-control”. In the King James Version, self-control is inferred by the term temperance. Temperance is one of the graces of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians chapter 5.

This is the faith in Christ that Paul taught and preached. When Felix called Paul from the prison house and “heard him concerning the faith in Christ” (Acts 24:24), He heard Paul reason “of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come” (verse 25).

Unfortunately, Felix wanted to enjoy his earthly “freedom” a little longer and we never hear from him again. Let’s not be like Felix!

People who are in slavery to habits of sin often feel deeply remorseful. They often experience severe feelings of self-loathing and shame. These awful feelings lead them to hate themselves with intense hatred. Their sense of utter weakness in themselves to resist besetting sins leads them often to despair. But they don’t know how to escape the pit of sin they are sunken into. At these times, we echo the cry of Paul, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24).

Here is where Christ alone brings help. Humanity enslaved by sin, needed a divine-human Saviour to break the power of sin in humanity. The hope of the human race rests upon the fact that the Son of God lived a life of perfect self-government in keeping with God’s law. He did this while living on earth, as a man, in the same weak, degraded, human nature that we possess. Nobody on earth could do what He did. No one ever was able to escape the curse and domination of sin over humanity. That is why we needed Christ.

“Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:14, 15).

There is not a soul on earth that was ever able to meet the claims of justice. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Here is where Christ brought divine aid. He was the only one able to meet the claims of justice, both in life and in death.

“For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh [sinful nature], God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh [nature], and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3).

I can’t be righteous in my flesh. Nobody can. The law of God could not produce righteousness in my flesh because all it found was weakness. The law of God failed in my flesh—in fact all it found in my flesh was “nothing good.” So Jesus took upon Himself that same weak flesh with all my sins and what the law could not do in my weak flesh, it did in His. By living a perfect life of faith and dependence upon divine power, He condemned sin in His own weak human nature. And this He did “that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (verse 4).

In Christ, the universe has seen the Son of man, in the weakness of human flesh, live up to the claims of justice through the power of divinity and humanity combined. It has seen One, who, by the grace of God, has lived in perfect harmony with the law of God in human flesh.

It is not the purpose of this article to expound on how He did it, but to highlight the fact that He brought “deliverance to the captives.” In this deliverance, He restores to us the power of self-government or self-control. And it is in this, that we regain our human dignity—for we were created in the image of God.

The Spirit of Prophecy makes three beautiful statements about this. As you read them, notice how God restores the power of self-government through the plan of redemption:

“The expulsion of sin is the act of the soul itself. In its great need the soul cries out for a power out of and above itself; and through the operation of the Holy Spirit the nobler powers of the mind are imbued with strength to break away from the bondage of sin.”1

“In order to reach excellency of character, we must realize the value which Christ has placed upon the human race. In the beginning, man was invested with dignity; but he fell through indulgence of appetite. Notwithstanding the great gulf thus opened between God and man, Christ loved the hopeless sinner and came to our world to bridge the gulf and unite divine power to human weakness, that in His strength and grace man might wrestle for himself against Satan’s temptations, overcome for himself, and stand in his God-given manhood, a victor over perverted appetite and degrading passions.”2

“Jesus endured the painful fast in our behalf and conquered Satan in every temptation, thus making it possible for man to conquer in his own behalf, and on his own account, through the strength brought to him by this mighty victory gained as man’s substitute and surety.”3

1 The Youth’s Instructor, September 20, 1900. [Emphasis added.]
2 Christian Temperance and Bible Hygiene, p. 146. [Emphasis added.]
3 The Review and Herald, April 19, 1887. [Emphasis added.]