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II Corinthians 3:17

January 21, 2016

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

For one brief shining moment the above verse became one of the most widely googled items of the day and we have Donald Trump to thank.  In his speech last week at Liberty University, “The Don” managed to demonstrate that Bible reading is not his strong point by calling the verse “Two Corinthians…” instead of the more common “Second Corinthians.”  It was a clear tip off to the Bible-savvy Liberty students that Trump probably had not spent a lot of time in that book.

Trump took a lot of media kidding for his words and there was some wondering whether this would expose to the many evangelicals that like him that he was not “one of them.”  It turns out that this was not a big deal.  I think most Trump-favoring evangelicals know darn well that a man who said he can’t remember ever asking for the Lord’s forgiveness would have trouble with an evangelical doctrinal quiz.

What surprises me however is that neither the secular news nor evangelical commentators seem to have taken time to analyze why Trump quoted that verse.   They just assumed, probably correctly, that it was just the result of a hasty concordance search for the word “liberty” as a tie-in to the university (many translations use liberty instead of freedom in the quote.) and it gave him a chance to make clear that he was going to protect religious freedom.  But since we all, and particularly Liberty students, are told we need to consider Bible verses in context here is the verse in its setting:

“Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

This raises an interesting point.  You see, the Bible’s definition of freedom is very different from America’s definition of liberty.  Religious liberty has to do with my right to choose how and whom I worship and this right is guaranteed to me by the first amendment. Liberty, in the American sense,is all about the affirmation of my free choice as an individual. For Donald Trump and the many Christians who follow him, that’s the whole ball game.  You could almost say it is their gospel.  This religious liberty’s greatest enemy is political correctness or any government bureaucracy that tries to tell people what to do.

Trump is making it clear that he will protect Liberty students, and all evangelicals, from encroachment on their religious liberty.  He even promised later in his speech to make sure store clerks say “Merry Christmas.”  His evangelical followers feel they are under siege; that things are changing and nobody will protect them.  Trump promises to do this and they are willing to overlook his dubious faith.  One follower said “Spirituality is a big issue, but we need somebody who’s strong.”

The problem is that Paul did not have that in mind when he penned those verses.  His point, using a great “veil” metaphor, is that those clinging to the old covenant of law are entirely missing the freedom that comes from grace.  He was talking of a spiritual freedom.  Quite frankly, he would have trouble comprehending the American version of religious liberty.

But I think his point is much more than just an explanation that grace supersedes law.   For Paul, the whole ball game is about God’s grace. When we live under God’s grace, we are set free from an oppressor far greater than any government bureaucracy: our own nature. God’s grace liberates us from the miserable stronghold of sin.  It takes away our siege mentality.  It takes away our need to justify ourselves and hide our mistakes. It takes away our need to find a human protector.

There is freedom where the Spirit of the Lord is because there is vulnerability and humility. When we are liberated by God’s grace through the Holy Spirit, we are set free from the insecurities and fear that cause us to be defensive and hostile to cultural trends that seem to be changing daily and to the people that espouse them.  We are free to be humble and genuine, sure in the knowledge that grace will be with us always.

Come to think of it, Trump’s verse is pretty cool.

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From → Christianity

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