“And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the river, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:14).
Joshua offered the Israelites two alternatives: They could serve the one true God, or they could run after the false gods of the pagan nations. Either way, though, it would be their choice, and government would have no role intruding in their decision.
This prerogative to worship and obey God according to sincerely held religious convictions was called the “sacred right of conscience” by many founding fathers, including James Madison. One of the only exceptions to this inalienable right would be if certain religious activities threatened to destabilize the social order, at which point governmental intervention could be justified.
Such a high regard for religious freedom comes from Scripture, which teaches that God gives every person the freedom to seek Him in faith and obedience. Therefore, every person is accountable ultimately to God for his or her religious views and practice (Rom. 14:4).
Because God alone has the authority to bind the conscience, we should become concerned every time government intrudes into matters of religious conviction and practice. Whenever civil government compels someone to act against their conscience, it has made itself into a false god, demanding a type of absolute submission that only the one true God deserves.
Practically speaking, why is religious liberty so important? By respecting the proper jurisdictional limits of government in matters of faith and conscience, individuals are provided the space they need to “live quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Tim. 2:2). This includes living out our faith not only at home or at church, but at work and in school and in public, too.
Fundamentally, our freedom to live according to the dictates of our faith is a gift from God. May we always recognize religious liberty as a ‘sacred right’ that government is bound to respect.
PRAYER. Lord, we praise you for allowing us to enjoy religious freedom, and we ask that you might allow us and our children to continue receiving the benefits of this blessing. Help us to make full use of our religious liberty, standing boldly for you and sharing your truth with others. In the name of Jesus we pray, amen.