When Patrick Henry addressed the leadership of Virginia and urged sending troops to fight in the war for independence from England, he played on a theme urged 2000 years earlier by a little-known Jewish teacher from Galilee in his first recorded sermon.
After spending forty days alone in the wilderness, Jesus went to the synagogue in his home town of Nazareth and preached from the words of Isaiah the Prophet:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:18-21.)
Jesus spoke of liberty, the freedom that comes to those who belong to him. He punctuated this later:
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:34-36.)
You can be a slave to sin with its eternal consequences, a death that owns you forever, or be set free in Jesus with the gift of eternally living in him.
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23.)
God’s reigning grace – not your own effort to be good enough – brings you into this eternal life in Jesus.
But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:20-21.)
So while Patrick Henry might have said “Give me liberty or give me death” in the sense of saying death is better than living under tyranny, what the phrase means in the spiritual sense is that there truly are only two alternatives: liberty in Jesus with the gift of eternal life, or slavery to sin with the consequences of eternal death.
You can either have liberty or you can have death. Those are the only two choices.