A Reason to Be Vaccinated: Freedom

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Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

My aim in this article is to encourage Christians to be vaccinated, if they can do so with a good conscience and judicious medical warrant.

The people I have especially in view are those who are not vaccinated because of fear of being out of step with people they respect, and in step with people they don’t admire. My message to them is simple: You are free.

So, I am not talking directly to everybody. If the shoe fits, put it on, check your conscience, consult your doctor, and go get vaccinated. If it doesn’t, go tearfully and cheerfully on your way. Tearfully, because over 4.5 million people have died from COVID-19 worldwide (including over 700,000 Americans). And cheerfully, because Christ makes it miraculously possible to love people by being “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10).

What Fuels the Cooking Fire

Before I get to the biblical argument for radical freedom, consider a few statistics that fuel the fire over which this article was cooked.

  • “Nearly all COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. are now in people who weren’t vaccinated. . . . From May [2021] . . . infections in fully vaccinated people accounted for fewer than 1,200 of more than 107,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations. That’s about 1.1%. And only about 150 of the more than 18,000 COVID-19 deaths in May were in fully vaccinated people. That translates to about 0.8%” (Associated Press).
  • Indiana “saw 3,801 coronavirus deaths between [Jan. 18, 2021,] and Sept. 16 — 94% of them unvaccinated. . . . 97.9% of Hoosiers younger than 65 who died were unvaccinated” (Evansville Courier and Press).
  • In Montana, “from February 2021 to September 2021, . . . 89.5% of the cases, 88.6% of hospitalizations, and 83.5% of the deaths were among people who were not fully vaccinated, including those not yet eligible for vaccination” (KRTV — Great Falls).
  • “More than 95% of the 443 people under age 60 who have died from COVID-19 in Kentucky since early July were unvaccinated” (Lexington Herald-Leader).
  • The Pennsylvania Department of Health reports that between January 1 and October 4, 2021, “93 percent of COVID-19-related deaths were in unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated people” (FOX43).

When people respond to this increasingly clear reality by pointing to untrustworthy and disreputable government and medical leaders, I respond, “That’s a non sequitur.” The team called “vaccination” just made a first down, even if monkeys are holding the chains. For friends around the world who don’t know American football, that means a win is a win even if all the coaches and referees are incompetent.

So let’s think about Christian freedom.

Peter’s Summons to Freedom

The apostle Peter said,

This is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as slaves of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:15–17)

“Live as people who are free.”

Peter had just said, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to the emperor as supreme, or to governors” (1 Peter 2:13). So how can you “be subject” and “be free” at the same time?

Peter’s answer is that Christians are “slaves of God.” In other words, when you submit to a “human institution” (1 Peter 2:13), you don’t do it as the slave of that institution. You do it in freedom, because you are slaves of God, not man. God owns his people — by creation and redemption.

“God alone owns us. And God alone rules us. We are not ruled by any man. We are free from all human ownership and rule.”

The apostle Paul makes the same point: “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19). God bought you by the blood of Christ. He owns you. And if God owns you, no one else can: “You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men” (1 Corinthians 7:23).

Christians are owned by no man — no society, no company, no clan, no family, no school, no military, no government, no political interest group. God alone owns us. And God alone rules us. We are not ruled by any man. We are free from all human ownership and rule.

When we submit, we do so for the Lord’s sake. Because he said to. God’s ownership of his people strips every decisive entitlement from human authority. It turns every act of human compliance into worship. When we submit, we do so for the glory of our one Owner and Master. Life is radically Godward.

‘The Sons Are Free’

During his lifetime on earth, Jesus had taught Peter a lesson about freedom. Peter wondered about the two-drachma tax that Jewish men had to pay each year (Matthew 17:24). Jesus’s answer goes like this:

“What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.” (Matthew 17:25–27)

“The sons are free.” That is, free from being controlled by any human authority. Sons obey their Father. He is their decisive authority. What they do, they do because of his will, not the will of man. The sons are free.

The King’s sons are not obliged to pay taxes to institutions created by their Father. They are obliged to obey their Father, not man. Therefore, when they pay the tax, they do so to honor their Father because he gave them the resources and the command: “Take that and give it to them” (Matthew 17:27).

Peter learned the lesson, and now he says to Christians, “Live as people who are free.” You are sons of God. You are slaves of God. Sonship implies privilege and love. Slavery implies God’s ownership and rule. And both imply freedom from man.

Liberation from Man Is Not Exaltation of Self

But woe to us Christians if this radical freedom makes us cocky. “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil” (1 Peter 2:16). And the greatest evil is the pride of self-exaltation. Peter is clear about how God’s ownership and Fatherhood should affect his slave-like, son-like people.

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:5–7)

Christians are lowly because we are “under [God’s] mighty hand.” And we are joyful because “he cares for [us].” Our freedom does not make us brash. Bold, yes. Brash, no. There is a peculiarly Christian boldness — a brokenhearted boldness. Our freedom does not make us cocky. Courageous, yes. Cocky, no. There is a peculiarly Christian courage — a contrite courage.

Why contrite? Because our clothing is still singed with the fire of almost being condemned. We deserve condemnation. And grace alone saved us. We are utterly dependent on undeserved, unentitled mercy. And the promise of God to his children is so staggeringly great that we are, as they say, floored by it — floored. Made low by the promised heights.

So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future — all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. (1 Corinthians 3:21–23)

All things are yours! So no boasting! That is the paradox of Christian freedom. Our Father owns everything. We are his heirs. We inherit everything. We are sons. And the sons are free. Therefore, no bragging, no swagger. Just joyful tears. Because we don’t deserve any of it. And we want all others to join us in it. But so many refuse. This is the freedom of love. A freedom that makes us debtors to everyone (Romans 1:14). A freedom with radical heaven-sent obligations.

Freed from the Fear of Man — Left or Right

Now, we might think that the point of this biblical reality of bold, brokenhearted Christian freedom would be this: You don’t have to be vaccinated when the government tells you to. You are free. Live as people who are free.

“Don’t be enslaved by the fear of breaking ranks with ideological allies. You are free.”

That’s true, of course. If your Father in heaven makes it clear to you, by his word and wisdom, that his glory and your neighbor’s good will be better served by not being vaccinated, you are free to risk COVID for love’s sake. No Christian is obliged to bow to unwarranted mandates.

But that’s not my main point.

My point is this: Don’t be enslaved by fear of man. Don’t be enslaved by the fear of breaking ranks with ideological allies. The old name for this is peer pressure. You are free.

  • You have considered the risk of COVID as you watch hundreds of thousands of people die.
  • You have considered the short- and long-term risks of the vaccines as you watch millions get the shots.
  • You have compared the frequency of hospitalizations and deaths of those with and without vaccines.
  • You have thought hard about the implications of fetal cell lines in the production and testing of the vaccines.
  • You have rejoiced at the increasing evidence that natural immunity, developed after recovering from COVID, is as effective as vaccination immunity.
  • You have pondered the likelihood and unlikelihood of conspiratorial conjectures.

Your conscience is increasingly clear. It says, “Get vaccinated.” But there is this niggling fear of looking left wing, or progressive, or Democratic, or compromised, or woke!

So, my message to such folks is this: “The children are free!”

Each of us stands or falls before his own Master (Romans 14:4). “Live as people who are free.” Free from the fear of man. Fear of being labeled. Fear of being called a compromiser. Fear of being doubted as not really part of the courageous resisters — especially when you know that thousands of those resisters really are courageous, wise, and thoughtful.

But fear is not freedom. “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe” (Proverbs 29:25). The fear of man lays a freedom-snatching snare. Why? Because the fearing soul is already snared. Already caught. Already bound, enslaved.

I call you to something better. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). Not a government yoke, not an anti-government yoke. Not a left-wing yoke, not a right-wing yoke.

You are free to say with integrity, “My decision to be vaccinated is not a political decision. It is not right wing, or left wing. It is a biblically informed act of love.”

The sons are free. Tearfully, cheerfully free. Therefore, “live as people who are free.”