The Law of Liberty

Jesus and the Law of Liberty

In Matthew 17:24-27 we have a good example of Jesus living by the law of liberty, that which is going on inside of the believer through the Spirit of God, James 1:25, 4:10 – the giving of the message from God, James 1:19-21.

On the basis of Exodus 30:13-14, every Jewish male twenty years of age and older must pay an annual tax that was used to maintain the temple. The tax was one half shekel, equal to two Greek drachma, as was described in this passage, Matthew 17:24.

The tax authorities came to Peter and asked him if his Master (Jesus) had paid His annual tax. Peter went to speak with Jesus about the tax, but before Peter could speak Jesus asked him, “From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?” Peter answered, “From strangers.” Jesus said to Peter, “Then the sons are exempt (free).” (Read Matthew 17:25-26.)

In the days of Jesus, nations who conquered other nations had little interest in governing the subjected people. However, the conquering nation had much interest in collecting taxes from the subjected people in order to make the conquering nation’s life easier. The fact that the sons of the conquering king never paid taxes to their own father is the point Jesus is going to build upon with Peter.

The tax Peter was asked about (Matthew 17:24) was to support the house of God. As a boy, Jesus said something while sitting in the temple (Luke 2:46) that adds context to this discussion with Peter, “Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house (affairs, in the things of My Father),” Luke 2:49 (parenthesis mine). Jesus is both God and God’s Son, John 5:1-18, Hebrews 1.

Since the sons of the conquering king never paid taxes to support his father’s affairs, Jesus, the Son of God, was not under obligation to pay this annual tax to maintain His Father’s house. Never the less, Jesus paid according to the Spirit’s instructions, the law of liberty. Listen to His words. “However, so that we do not offend (cause them to stumble) them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a shekel (standard coin). Take that and give it to them for you and Me,” he said to Peter (parenthesis mine).

Jesus didn’t want anyone to trip up and fail to live well in faith because He didn’t listen to the Spirit and pay the tax. Jesus had an exemption according to the law, and He did not exercise that right. He claimed nothing here but the Spirit’s leading, and in doing so paid the tax and allowed nothing that might possibly be a bad example for anyone else.


The Believer and the Law of Liberty

The law of liberty is never enforced by compulsion from outside a person. The perfect law of liberty is freely accepted from within the believer as being the expression of God’s desires, Jeremiah 31:3, 1 Corinthians 9:21, Romans 3:27. The believer is free to be obedient from a willing heart, Exodus 35:5, Deuteronomy 28:47, Psalm 1:2; 40:8; 44:6; 119:32, 97.

The law of liberty will judge beyond anyone’s actions to reveal the motive of the heart (James 2:1-4), to apply mercy and judgment, according to God’s best for everyone. Within such liberty, the anxiousness that comes from performing to a legal standard (James 2:8-11) begins to fall away. Living according to the Spirit of love for God and man will result in God’s will being obeyed as it should be, Romans 8:1-4.

The believer is to always speak and act (live) as one who is to be judged by what God, through His Spirit, tells the believer to do. The Spirit’s instruction to the believer is the law of liberty. His written words, translated by the Spirit into His moment by moment instruction, is the law that makes a believer free from the control of circumstances and emotions plaguing weaker-thinking believers, John 8:31-32; 2 Corinthians 3:17; James 1:14-15, 25; 2:12.

However inconvenient, embarrassing or costly it may be to follow the law of liberty, the responsibilities of following the law go hand in hand with following God.