I’m proud to be an American. I know it’s a cliché, but I really am grateful. I consider it a blessing to born in this country, which includes freedoms and opportunities that many in this world will never be able to know or experience. As an American I have God-given rights that are acknowledged in and protected by the Constitution. I have the freedom to choose my representation in this Republic and I also have the ability to worship God freely; without fear of intimidation from my government. These are just a few of the many things that I’m grateful for in my country and even though there are aspects of America (or better yet American culture) that are troubling and disappointing, all-in-all I’m thankful to be an American citizen.
And yet, on the eve of another Independence Day, I’m left pondering how a Christian should celebrate their independence; or better yet, what independence really means to a Christian.
We live in a free nation. This freedom was bought (and then protected over the generations) by the sacrifice of brave men and women. Their allegiance to God, duty, and country has awarded people like you and me the blessing of living free of government tyranny and oppression. But then again I also see the reality (in the culture of which I am a part) of a different kind of tyranny and oppression—an epidemic of sorts—plaguing our nation and culture. It’s a form of slavery which has plagued humanity since the fall; namely, the destructive and corrosive consequences of sin.
So, on one hand while many Christians will rightly gather tomorrow to celebrate the freedom and liberty we enjoy as citizens of The United States of America, we do so with another truth in mind: We live in dependence on a Savior and no country, no president, no representatives, no laws or constitution can provide to us what can only be found in Jesus.
For Christians, who at best are dual citizens regardless where we lay our heads at night, Galatians 5 has some pretty “patriotic” words within its verses. Starting at the beginning of the chapter, Paul reminds us what true freedom and liberty actually means.
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Now, to be fair to the context of this verse, Paul is addressing a specific sin within the church in this section of his letter to the Galatians. However, like it is with all sin, the heart-issues which led to the specific manifestations of sin in Galatian church, are found in every human heart. Pride, selfishness, envy, bitterness, hatred, judgment, greed, dissatisfaction, and contempt of God or his ways…these are just a few of the things that lead people to make decisions that dishonor God (or those created in his image) in our efforts to chase after things that we believe will bring us satisfaction and joy. Therefore, Paul’s admonishment of the church in Galatia about their specific sin, should lead all Christians to examine the specific sins in our own lives as well. Christ came to set us free from the chains of slavery (to sin) and he has invited us into the kind of freedom that we were created to enjoy fully and forever. But this freedom can only be enjoyed with a choice that recognizes a dependence on God.
So how can we, as Christians, celebrate independence when Scripture demands that we live dependant on God? Well, it all depends on the lens with which we choose to view the Giver of our freedom and the way we choose to look at his precepts.
To be clear, I make no pretense of being a history major or anyone who can/should speak with any amount of authority when it comes to American History. However, I will lean heavily on lessons that I learned in my middle-school history classes.
One significant reason why the American Colonies had reached a place of frustration (i.e. rebellion and revolution) is that they were being forced to pay taxes with little to no representation in/by their homeland. These English colonies had no ability to choose representatives to parliament in London, which passed the laws (like the Sugar Act and the Stamp Act) under which they were taxed. To these colonists, this was a form of tyranny. Their desire for independence stemmed from the reality that their leaders/government were not good and their precepts were not liberating but instead were a heavy yoke too difficult to bear.
Compare that to the Sovereign God of the Universe, who created us to live in the joy and freedom of his law. Only his law was given not as a burden to bear but rather instruction that would lead us into the fullest joy possible. It is only because of our slavery to sin that we are unable to see God’s law for what it is. King David, in Psalm 119:17-20, said the following about God’s law:
Deal bountifully with your servant,
Psalm 119 mentions the word law (43) times. King David paints a very clear picture that, for those who love God, the law is to be seen as good and delightful. God’s law is not “taxation without representation” but rather the wise and loving counsel of a Good Shepherd. What makes God a Good King is that he doesn’t need anything from us, yet he wants what is best for us. Unlike King George III of England, who was primarily interested in his own self-interests, power, and influence in the world...God desires what is best for us; namely, himself. God is simultaneously for our joy and for his glory, and as Pastor John Piper has said for years, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”
So tomorrow, join your countrymen in celebrating Independence Day in America. Commemorate the freedom that is yours to enjoy as an independent and autonomous nation. But do so through a proper lens. While your nation and your neighbors look to the blessing of the American Dream: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness…be mindful that for Christians, we recognize that Jesus has saved us from the American Dream. Christians don’t have to chase life, or strive for liberty, or hunt for happiness. All of these things have been given to us freely in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; who “while we were yet sinners…died for us.”
Tomorrow, Christians have a perfect opportunity to remember and then represent the truth that national independence can never satisfy our souls. At best it is but an echo of the freedom we have in Christ. Christian freedom, the freedom our hearts were created to fully enjoy forever, is not granted to us by a flag or the blood of the brave men and women who gave up their lives to provide and protect it. As Christians, our liberty and freedom were purchased for us on the cross, through the blood of our Savior Jesus Christ, and then offered to us freely (as an act of love and grace) by our Good King and Creator.
As your nation and your neighbors rightly celebrate their independence tomorrow, join them! American freedom isn’t free and Christians should be first in line to express our gratitude for the rights and freedoms we enjoy. However, choose to celebrate as Ambassadors for the Good King, because even with all the wonderful things that our American laws and Constitution provide to us...they still fall short in setting us free from the one thing that enslaves all of humanity. Sin.
So enjoy your independence, and thank God (and your countrymen) for it...but do so with an eye on eternity as you look for opportunities to share the Gospel with your fellow citizens. Rejoice in your Independence as Americans, but do so with gladness in the reality that only Jesus Christ can truly set us free. And the greatest freedom we will ever enjoy, isn't our freedom as a nation, but rather is a spiritual freedom as a people redeemed!