Today as I write this, it is the Fourth of July. We Americans love this holiday. It celebrates our independence; the assertion of our right to govern ourselves, and our determination not to let others dictate to us how we are to live or to whom we will pay our taxes. We are proud that we were prepared to go to the streets and fight for the right to self-determine.
I have ancestors who fought on both sides of the Revolution. Each side was driven by conviction and determination to assert their right to think for themselves and not to let others take that right away. We value these compelling principles, and that same spirit of independence is still a strong national characteristic.
We esteem justice, and although pure justice may be an illusion as we have let the pursuit of profit and expediency creep into our national morals, we still value the idea of justice. We are free to argue and litigate all over the place in order to defend our rights.
What has hit home to me in the past several months is that independence and self-determination are not really in agreement with many of the ideas taught by Christianity. I had carried all these ideas around in my head, co-existing peacefully, until I began to examine the nature of humility.
In contrast to demanding our rights, scripture teaches us the principle of servanthood: giving up one’s rights in order to serve others. Jesus taught that if anyone was in need and asked for your coat, you should not only give it, but your cloak also. We are taught to go the second mile. We are taught to defer to others in love, and to look to God for leadership rather than depending on our own strength and wisdom.
No wonder many of us are confused about how we go about living as followers of Christ, when we are faced with two such conflicting viewpoints, and when the spirit of independence is so deeply ingrained in our nature. In what spirit are we to live our lives in the world? Do we demand our rights above all and present ourselves as confrontational and unyielding? Or, do we give over both our coat and our cloak? How can we find the essential face of what it means to be a Christian? How are we to witness, and what is to be our primary attitude of the heart?
If we are believers, we have recognized our own sin and repented and asked God’s forgiveness. We must have accepted the reality that all our own self-perceived righteousness is as nothing, and that we can only be accepted by the Father on the basis of Christ’s righteousness, which the Father, in His grace, imputes to us. Our worth is found only in Christ, through the grace of God. We have nothing in ourselves which meets God’s standards, and therefore we have no basis for pride. Over and over, in both the Old and New Testament, we are encouraged to be humble; to “clothe ourselves in humility” (I Peter 5:5). Humility implies having the spirit of a servant; having our strength in the quietness and confidence which God develops in our hearts, but which is based on Christ’s righteousness, not our own.
There must be a melting together of the need for justice, but also the recognition that we have nothing in us to make our needs any greater than the needs of others. For example, we cannot justify slavery by telling other people that they need to be submissive and humble, yet demand our own right to be free. Justice cuts both ways. I am to be humble in that I recognize others as having not only the same rights as myself, but even be willing to act sacrificially in making sure they receive those rights.
My favorite passage in the whole Bible is Philippians 2: 1-11. “Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, Who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bond-servant, and coming in the likeness of men, and being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven and those on earth and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (NKJV)
Christ, Who had every right to demand to be worshiped and obeyed, instead took on Himself the appearance of a humble carpenter’s son. He endured ridicule and rejection for the sake of being obedient to the Father. Even when we were still His enemies He accepted the dishonorable death of a criminal, with all the accompanying physical torture, for the sake of making sure we were rescued. That is humility; that is love; and that is our example.
I have also learned, through sad experience, that I am not the best judge of what is good for me. I cannot be independent of God. I need His guidance and a thorough grounding in the Word so that I may be confident in knowing His will. When I make my own decisions without bringing Him into it, I often find myself in murky waters. Whenever I think I know it all, that is when I am in greatest danger of being unwise.
I cannot live without leaning on God. I look to Him for wisdom. I look to Him for strength. I look to Him for comfort. I look to Him for direction and guidance. I have had to depend on His solution for reconciliation between us because there was nothing I could do in myself to bridge the gap. It is always all about Him.
I recently read three quotations from some of our Founding Fathers which helped me understand how to co-exist with both my sense of Independence and my reliance on God.
“We have this day restored the Sovereign to Whom all men ought to be obedient. He reigns in heaven and from the rising to the setting of the sun, let His kingdom come.” ~ Samuel Adams (at the signing go the Declaration of Independence)
“The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.” ~ George Washington
“It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religion, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ. For that reason alone, people of other faiths have been afforded freedom of worship here.” ~ Patrick Henry
I hope I can live my life appreciating all the rights I have been given in this country because of the willingness of others to be servants; to sacrifice even their lives to gain my freedom. Yet, at the same time, I want to recognize that in the greater context of eternity, I am a dependent, humble child of God who needs Him in all things, and that I am to be willing to serve others as I have been served.