Character and Freedom – Internal Government

There is a link between character and freedom.

As individuals have faithfully studied the Bible and applied it in their own lives, societies and nations have been changed!

In 14th century England, Oxford University professor and Bible scholar John Wycliffe concluded from his study of the Bible that if the people of a society would govern their own lives, rejecting wrong and doing right voluntarily, there would be no need for a government of external force to control them. “Dominion belongs to grace,” he said. By this he meant that dominion, or top authority, which at that time was a government of external force that depended on the sword to control the people, would ultimately yield to a government of moral principle controlling the people.

Wycliffe saw placing the Bible in the hands of the people as the means to accomplish this change in government. The people could then read the Bible, come to know God personally through Jesus Christ, and reform their lives in accordance with Biblical principles in every area: personal, family, ecclesiastical, and finally civil and economic. In fact, with respect to civil government Wycliffe said, “The Bible presents a form of civil government of the people that is by the people and for the people.” (The Bible and the Constitution, FACE) He concluded that the source of liberty in a society is widespread individual Christian character.

Thus Wycliffe believed that placing the Bible in the hands of the people would ultimately topple the tyrannies of Europe, and that this was the only means to bring about this change. These ideas impelled him to translate the Bible into common English from the Latin, his followers teaching the people to read so they could study, understand and apply it. As these ideas began to echo throughout Europe, a reformation movement was ignited that changed the course of history.

The existence of liberty depends on understanding and applying the Biblical philosophy of government: Christian self-government. To restore liberty, we must first gain a proper understanding. As American culture has become secularized, we have not been taught the basic principles of Christian self-government in our schools. Nor have our churches taught us. The first problem we must overcome, then, is ignorance. The second factor is application, actually doing what the Bible tells us in every sphere of life.


In looking at the source of government, we are asking, “From where does this flow of power that controls the individual’s actions come?”There are actually two sources of government. One source is internal and the other source is external. Government comes either from within or from without.


The first source of government is internal.This refers to the individual’s actions being governed by the reign of the Lord Jesus in his heart.The individual is submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and is voluntarily controlled.The Bible refers to this as the Kingdom of God.Internal government is not the individual doing anything he wants; that is license.Rather, the individual is doing what is right on his own.God’s law provides for this government an absolute base.

The term “Kingdom of God” is a term that arose in the 400-year period between the Old and New Testaments.It is not found in the Old Testament.By the time Jesus came there were various ideas of what the Kingdom of God would be.Prevalent among them was the vision that the coming Messiah would muster His army, ride into Jerusalem, overthrow the pagan and unjust Romans, set up His kingdom in the land, and cause the sons of Israel to live in peace, safety, and increasing grandeur forever.

Isaiah had prophesied many years before about the Messiah, saying,

“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.” Is. 9:6-7

But Jesus came preaching repentance, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!” (Mt. 4:17)Repentance from sin to righteousness was central to this new kingdom.When asked by his disciples how to pray, Jesus said to pray “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Mt. 6:10)Doing the will of God was characteristic of this new kingdom.God’s kingdom, then, is not an external political kingdom like the kingdoms of the world.

The King of this new kingdom declared Himself after His resurrection, when Jesus said to His disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given unto Me” (Mt 28:18).Authority had been taken from the devil and given to Jesus (Phil. 2:9-11).”Now is the ruler of this world cast out” (Jn. 12:31).Jesus instructed His disciples to “Go, make disciples of all the nations” (Mt. 28:19), and “Go into all the world and preach this good news to every creature” (Mk 16:15).The authority of Satan and the power of sin had been broken.

The result, or consequence, of this new internal kingdom of Jesus reigning in the hearts of individuals is liberty.”Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty” (II Cor. 3:17).First, of course, is internal liberty (Rom. 6:16-18). Jesus frees us from the power of sin and from guilt, to righteousness, being governed by love, and dependence on God instead of man. The effect of this internal liberty of soul is external liberty in society, as Biblical choices are made to secure the highest good in every area of life.


The second source of government is external. This refers to the control of the individual’s actions by external things such as the state or the church, or circumstances, fears, and guilt, rather than active choice.External government arises in the absence of being controlled internally by Jesus and being submitted to Him.

The other kingdom besides God’s kingdom is the Devil’s kingdom, where Jesus does not reign in the heart of the individual (Col. 1:13, Jn. 12:31, Rom. 6:16), but the individual is enslaved to sin and self, resulting in death.He is governed by fear instead of love.As he does not recognize the reality of God and His kingdom, whether by not recognizing His existence (non-Christian) on the one hand, or by not submitting to His lordship (nominal Christian) on the other, he grows dependent on man instead of on God.The consequence of this dependence on man grows to dependence on the state, which gives rise to the “kingdoms of this world” (Jn.18:36).As people depend more and more on the state, they give more power to the state.The state inevitably becomes increasingly corrupt, multiplying the misery.

God’s first commandment to us is that we should have no other gods besides Him. The purpose of this command is that He is the only one who will “never fail us nor will He ever forsake us” (Heb. 13:5).He is the only one worthy of our complete dependence, allegiance, trust, and love.Anything or anyone else that we depend upon, whether possessions or self or others or the church or the state, will ultimately fail us, disappoint us. break our hearts, and lead to destruction. God loves us and does not want our hearts broken, and gave us this Law for our protection.The world is full of disappointed, disillusioned and embittered people, even Christians, whose trust and dependence have been misdirected from Jesus to an unworthy substitute.

FEAR OR LOVE ? To illustrate the difference between being internally and externally governed, I often mention in lectures that I do not steal cars.I ask the audience to speculate on why I do not steal cars.Typically the first answer out is “Because you might get caught!”

Actually, fear of being caught is not why I do not steal cars.The reason I don’t steal cars is because it is wrong.I have come to know that my sin grieves the heart of God because of its destructive power on my relationship with Him, on myself, and on others.The guilt caused by doing what we know is wrong distorts all our relationships.Yet God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son Jesus to die for me so that I could be reconciled to God and have that personal relationship with Him restored (Jn. 3:16).Sin has cost God more than I can imagine, yet He loves me.While I was still a sinner, He loved me and intervened in my life with mercy to save me from my self and my sin (Rom. 5:5).As I have come to know Him, I have grown in His attitude toward sin: hatred for sin in my own life and grief over sin in others’ lives.It is because of His love for me that I don’t steal cars, or anything else for that matter.I want to please Him, not grieve Him.In this way “The love of Christ controls us”(II Cor. 5:14).Fear of being caught is an external motivation.

The point here is that I am internally governed in that area of my life – stealing. Hopefully I am growing in internal government in all areas of my life.Now there are those who are not internally governed in this area of their lives, but only externally governed.A riot broke out in Los Angeles when four police were acquitted of brutality.Whether the verdict was good or bad, the ensuing riot was of sufficient magnitude to render the police force, the externally governing structure, ineffective.Without the external control, many who were only externally governed in the area of stealing went out and looted the stores!When asked “Why?”only a very few said they were there in protest of the verdict.Most said “I wanted a couch!” or “Because it’s fun!” or “Because everyone else is doing it!”The verdict, then, did not actually spark the riot, but rather became an excuse for lawlessness.The real problem was the character of the people, not the lack of policemen; internal not external.Afterwards, the city leaders were asking, “How can we be better prepared in the future?” However, greater external force (tyranny) is not the real answer, but greater internal control.We need a new spiritual awakening to restore Godly character in America.”In those days there was no authority in Los Angeles, each one did what was right in his own eyes.”

We must add that there are also those who are not even externally controlled in the area of stealing cars, but are uncontrolled.Threat of punishment is not a controlling force for them and they steal cars anyway!

Jesus’ kingdom is one in which Jesus has come into an individual’s life, has freed him from his guilt from the past, is changing his heart by His love to appreciate and obey righteousness, and is preparing him for eternity.One of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is self-control (Gal. 5:23).The controlling power of the love of Jesus on the individual’s actions is greater than any externally governing force.

Jesus points out that “Unless you are born again, you cannot see the kingdom of God”(Jn.3:3).Without a real and personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, the possibility of this internal motivation and control does not exist.There is only external control, whether by police or military force, psychological manipulation, or educational or media indoctrination, giving the state or the psychological, educational, and media elites the crushing and driving sense that it is up to them to control the people and provide salvation.

BOTH INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL GOVERNMENT Here on earth, both internal and external government are at work at all times in any society, whether a nation, a family, or even a classroom.In Figure 1 below, the dark outer circle represents the total government needed in a society to control the actions of the individual, and is a constant.This is divided into the internal component and the external component.The internal component represents the character of the people and the external component refers to the force applied from without to control the people.

Fig. 1 Components of government.

In this diagram, as the strength of character increases and the people govern themselves to do what is right voluntarily, the area within the inner circle representing the component of internal control increases.The area representing external force gets smaller, signifying an increase in liberty.As individual character increases, liberty increases.

On the other hand, as the people fall away from God, and Godly character decreases in the society, the area representing internal government gets smaller and the area representing external force increases, signifying evaporating freedom and a move towards tyranny.A decline in individual character brings about a decline in liberty.

HEAVEN We can see the ultimate end of this by extrapolating to eternity.The Bible says there will be a day when those who have chosen righteous relationship with God and those who have chosen unrighteousness and selfishness will be separated, each going to the place he has chosen, to heaven or hell.God will allow those who do not want to be with Him forever to go to a place where He is not!We know that those who do not want Him here are certainly not going to want Him there.

Fig. 2 Heaven.

In heaven, Figure 2, everyone will be internally governed by Jesus through love. There will be no need for external force to control their actions because they will be doing what they want to do.They will be doing what they love.There will be order yet liberty.The consequence will be peace and freedom because of the character of the people there.It will be heaven!And it will last forever!


On the other hand, those in hell, Figure 3, will be there because they do not want to govern their lives according to God’s law of love, but are living for their own personal happiness and advancement as their purpose in life.

Fig. 3 Hell.

These never repented of those motives to live for Jesus.Soon after judgement day (1000 years?) all vestige and memory of God, love, righteousness, compassion, and mercy will be gone and the internal component of government will have disappeared altogether, leaving only external government.It will be total chaos in absolute slavery, ruled by terror by Satan and his angels (Mt. 25:41), who, of course wrote the book on corruption.It will be hell!And it will last forever!But it was chosen.

A mini-society that illustrates this situation would be a prison.Aside from injustices, those incarcerated are there because they do not govern themselves according to righteousness.They are now governed externally by the State in an absolute way.

Another example with which many can identify is this.When I was first in college, I would generally study for my exams the night before the exam!Many times I stayed up all night cramming, and walked into the exam red-eyed and exhausted.I had not governed myself to study daily, and now there came “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”In this case I was externally governed by fear of failing the exam.

On one occasion, I had to pass the exam but I had not studied.So the day before the exam, I actually chained myself to my desk!I gave the key to my roommate who would check on me every so often.In this sense, slavery or bondage is voluntary – the individual being dependent on external government due to a refusal to govern self, or a lack of internal government.Ultimately this did not work and I flunked out of school.Starting over at another college later, I learned new study habits, governing myself to keep up each day.Exam day was just another class; I reviewed a little and did reasonably well on the test.There was peace and freedom when I took on the responsibility.


Of the two sources of government, the internal component is the cause and the external component is the effect.The character of the people is the cause and the external structure is the effect.In a family, that which defines how much freedom a parent will give his teenager is the child’s ability to govern himself (activities, curfew, etc.) according to the parent’s requirements.In a nation, the amount or strength of external civil government is defined by the ability of the people to govern their own lives under God and do right in every area.In this sense, people get the government they deserve or need.Perhaps it would be better to say that people get the government their character requires.

So the answer to the world’s political problems and chaos is the gospel of Jesus Christ and godly character.This is more than raising one’s hand in a church service for salvation, but actual repentance and becoming internally governed in every area of life.As internal government is strengthened, external government can release liberty, civil and economic, without risking chaos.This is usually not without a fight, however, because people in power don’t like to give it away.

Author Alexander Solzhenitsyn and his grandson were walking and observing the devastation of the Russian political and natural landscape.His grandson asked, “What happened?”Solzhenitsyn’s answer was, “We have forgotten God.”[ii] This is a warning to us in the west that individually we must not forget God if our civilization is to continue to prosper in liberty.We are at a dangerous decision point as a civilization at this time.Moses gave the sons of Israel this stern warning:

“And it shall come about if you ever forget the Lord your God, and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I testify against you today that you shall surely perish.” Deut. 8:19


It is astonishing, yet true, that most of the world’s suffering is caused directly by sin.The rest is caused indirectly by sin.As we have also seen, the slavery in the world is caused by sin.So the way to alleviate the slavery and the suffering is to work against the sin!Our relief efforts are needed, but they do not touch the cause of the problem unless they are accompanied by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

For example, there are many starving in India.The problem, however, is not a lack of food, but that the people are not able to buy the food.The problem is economic.In fact, India is a food-exporting nation!Economic stagnation is the result of political stagnation.The problem is also a religious problem.Rats are eating the food in storage.But the people worship the rats and will not exterminate them.The way to eliminate starvation in India is to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.   The Bible shows that there is a difference in value between people and rats.

I once asked a friend of mine who taught the Bible to the Machupe Indians in Chile this question, “How much of the suffering and poverty of the Machupe is caused directly by the civil government?”I thought Chile would be as good a representative as any of the problem of state oppression.She said thoughtfully, “About 5%.”I was surprised!She said that though there was some problem with the state, the main problems that oppressed the people were liquor and a mentality of adultery.The people literally drink away any money they have, keeping themselves and their posterity in poverty with all its ramifications.It robs them of the initiative and caring that are necessary to advance.Then they drink all the more to escape it all.

She and her husband had been laboring in one village of the Machupe for about five years with little outward result, when one day a man who was the longtime town drunk saw what Jesus had done for him.He repented of his sins and was born again into God’s kingdom.Immediately his life began to change.He began to care.First he began to care about his wife and his children in great remorse over his past neglect.

Soon he gave up alcohol.Soon came some work and some income.Then he began to help his children clean up.He bought them shoes and clothes.He began to fix up his house.He began to honor his wife.Soon she came to Christ.He began to pay off debt. Literally they began to prosper!His neighbors started to wonder what power had transformed his life.He could tell them from personal experience of the love of Jesus and His power to change lives.This was in stark contrast to their impotent tribal gods.Others began to open their hearts to Jesus.All this had nothing to do with the state, but with the heart of an individual being changed by Jesus.


While visiting Christian friends in Guatemala City, I came in contact with some of the city’s 20,000 street orphans.My friends told me that the primary cause of this problem is adultery: a man marries, fathers children, then leaves for another woman.Culturally this is expected by the men, and expected by the women!Children grow up assuming that this is just how life is.Suprisingly, the idea of the necessity of keeping one’s covenant with his wife is absent!The idea that adultery is wrong is something strange!In Brazil there are millions of street orphans.

The second cause of the problem is economic. On their own, the mothers cannot feed their children, so they turn them out on the streets.Some roam the streets shining shoes for the day’s meal. Others turn to drugs and glue sniffing, and then steal for their meals.The children have no education, love, or discipline.In twenty years, what will these millions be doing?They will be totally ungovernable and totally dependent.They will need a strong external government to maintain control.

The answer to these cascading moral and economic problems is the gospel of Jesus Christ!How much pain and bitterness would be removed from any society if adultery were removed, if solid, loving, two-parent families raised the children, and there was abundant economic opportunity?

Elsewhere, there is famine in Somalia, but making the problem worse is the animosity that the tribes who control the ports have against the tribes inland.There is food on ships in the harbor rotting, but these tribes would just as soon see their fellow countrymen starve to death!The United Nations began a program to guard this relief food and deliver it by force of arms!Foreign armies may perhaps help for a time, but the problem is the hearts of men.Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can change the hearts of men from pride and selfishness to love and caring.

The source of liberty in a society, then, is the Godliness and self-governing character of the people within that society. Online Bible Curriculum is intended to help build in ourselves and our students that Godly character capable of sustaining liberty.


This site page is excerpted from Chapter 2 of The Third Alternative:Christian Self-Government, Freedom without Anarchy, Order Without Tyranny, Peace and Prosperity, by Bill Burtness. Buy this Book now by clicking the book cover below:

[i] Webster

[ii] Solzhenitsyn