July fourth is a special day for most Americans. Many of my family members have served in battle protecting and defending our nation and the cause of freedom. I’ll never forget meeting a French man who grew up in a village in Normandy. He was there when the Americans rolled in after WWII during the French liberation from the Nazis. He told me about how he would always love America, no matter how the tides of global sentiment rise and fall, because they were the agents of his town’s liberation. He remembers a man from his village telling him, “Jean, the Americans are here, your daddy is coming home now.” For all of America’s shortcomings, I find in my heart the same love for my country’s history and priority we have placed on freedom.
However, despite my love for my country of birth and the men and women who serve to make my life possible, I’m finding myself viscerally responding much differently about the Fourth of July in recent years and the idea of “independence” in general, mostly because God has brought me to the realization that He does not desire my independence but my complete dependence on Him. How much does the ideal of independence penetrate the American heart as this “good thing”? Our children are raised to be “independent.” A person is hailed and celebrated if they are an “independent thinker.” A person who is “independently wealthy” is thought to have achieved a great thing. Americans (and other countries that celebrate independence) are deeply formed by this ideal of freedom from “sovreignty,” from having anyone rule over us.
What does this mean as I stare at the life and sit in the presence of Jesus and I see him modeling the radical laying down his independence and one “inalienable right” after another?
An “inalienable right” refers to rights that cannot be surrendered, sold or transferred to someone else, especially a natural right. However, these rights can be transferred with the consent of the person possessing those rights. Inalienable is defined as incapable of being surrendered or transferred; at least without one’s consent.[Morrison v. State, 252 S.W.2d 97, 101 (Mo. Ct. App. 1952)]. A person can surrender, sell or transfer inalienable rights by actual or constructive consent.
The idea of having “natural rights” is an ancient and fascinating concept, which was revived during the enlightenment. It has to do with control and sovereignty. The founding fathers named these for example: life, love, pursuit of happiness, right to hold property, right to religious expression, right to bear arms (self defense), the right to human equality.
Jesus never denied that people have rights—in fact he often defended these rights in acts of protection, social critique, healing, and justice, but He DID radically invite people to lay their rights down as He did—to return to a sovereignty. To return to a Kingdom that is in but not of this world. Look how he laid down His rights.
THE Right to love
Jesus said he would be hated and he invited His followers to be hated with him.
“You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” Matthew 10:22
If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. John 15:18-19
Our choice of who we want to love is also laid down. Jesus said you are to love everyone as a neighbor, as yourself-even your enemies.
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:43-48
Right to Liberty
Jesus gave up personal freedom to do the will of God.
“Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” John 5:19
His followers gave up their freedom to proclaim the gospel.
And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. Philippians 1:14
Right to Freedom of Speech
Jesus gave this up to say only what the Father said.
For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. John 12:49
Paul even gave up his right to speak in debate which was a strong point of his. He knew his strength did not lie in the power of his arguments, but in a demonstration of the Holy Spirit’s work. We give up our right to impress people with our ideas. We trade those in for the power of God.
Right to Pursuit of happiness
Jesus did not pursue his personal happiness except the joy that could be gotten by obeying His Father. His joy was doing the Fathers will.
For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will. John 6:38
Right to hold property
Jesus didn’t hold property. He also advised His followers to sell theirs to buy the Kingdom. He warned people who wanted to be disciples that birds have nests and foxes have holes but the Son of Man had no where to lay His head (Luke 9:58). He advised us not to store up, save, reserve, or accumulate money (Greek word thēsaurízō), but to invest ALL our actual wealth and assets (which is rightfully ours) in the Kingdom of God as if you were trading it all in for something precious, like a treasure. He doesn’t force us, but those who love Him and desire to follow Him will obey Him. We will wrestle with the hard truth of this command and trade our ideas about future security for a future of trust and reliance on the provision of God (which can come through a variety of ways-through salary of a job/service placement, through gifts, through monthly ministry support, through inheritances, etc.)
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” Matthew 6:19-20
“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field. Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!”
Right to Bear Arms and Take Revenge
Jesus said you have the right to live by the sword if you want to die by it (Matthew 26:52), but He invited us to obey Him radically by laying down our right to physical self-defense and vengeance. Instead of an eye for an eye, Christians are supposed to turn the other cheek. If someone steals from us or sues us or asks to have or borrow, we’re supposed to give them not only what they ask for or stole, but more!
You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[a] 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5:38-42
We are invited to forgive radically, not just to be generous in forgiveness, but to the extent of our vegeance, we forgive til vengeance is no longer our concern.
Then Peter came up and said to Him, “Lord, how many times shall my brother sin against me and I still forgive him? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:21-22 (this is a direct undoing of Genesis 4:24 where Lamech demanded vengeance seventy-seven times)
Right to a Fair Trial
Jesus was falsely accused of deriving power from Satan (Matthew 12:22-45), he was unfairly tried and beaten by cowards who were more concerned with their religious and political career than justice. He laid down His right to seek justice for himself and operated in an opposite spirit of love and forgiveness.
Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities…7He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth… 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. 9He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Isaiah 53:4-9
We are invited to suffer for Him and endure hardship even if falsely accused or beaten.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:11-12
Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. 2 Timothy 2:3-4
Right to Life
Jesus laid down his life willingly for the forgiveness of our sins and to give us access to the Father and the Holy Spirit.
No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it back. This commandment I received from My Father.” John 10:18
Just as Jesus laid down his life on his own will, God gives us the decision to retain our right to our life or lay it down. We are invited to take up our crosses and follow Jesus and experience our very own death to self. To be buried with Him and to rise with Him.
I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Philippians 3:10-12
So, I find for the last couple years these thoughts run through my heart and head on July 4th. A day of freedom for my country of birth has actually become a day where I do not think much about the United States of America at all. I celebrate as an alien here, as a foreigner, as a citizen of a different country, as one liberated into a different freedom.
I don’t celebrate my independence anymore. I celebrate dependence. I have, by my own free will, returned to God the rights He gave me. And the great irony is, that as a bond-slave to Christ, I am completely free. I celebrate freedom from crushing anxiety. Freedom from sin. Freedom from fear. I celebrate the day I realized God was inviting me to become a child again. Fully dependent. Fully reliant. Fully surrendered. Fully devoid of my natural inalienable rights—not because He took them from me, but because His Kingship is so much better.
The reason I laid my rights down is because He loves me. He loves you too. In fact, His infallible and unchanging nature is the definition of “Love.” You can trust Him. He’s a good King. Has it occurred to you that the King that Christians serve laid all his rights down for you. This kingdom will be different. He is different than any other “good person” you have met because he has no flaws. He has no agenda. He has no room for greed or arrogance because everything belongs to Him. He is generous and empathetic and kind and good. He won’t take lightly what you are giving up.
Do you know what it feels like to be led by a humble king-One who is willing to extend to you the authority He has been given? Then you get to walk as a resurrected (baptized) Holy Spirit-filled delegate and ambassador of the Kingdom of God. You get to be a son or daughter of the Most High God, completely forgiven of every wrong. Completely released from even your unintentional sins. Completely deputized with the authority and rights that Jesus had by the power of His Holy Spirit. And those rights are way better than your natural ones. You have the right to walk in the power and life of the Spirit, to be free from mastery of sin and the law of religious ritual and cycles of guilt and sham, to worship anywhere in Spirit and Truth (John 4), to bind and lose spiritual powers (Matthew 18:18-19), to forgive sins (John 20:23), to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons (Matthew 10:8), to walk free from cycles of shame and guilt (Hebrews 8-12). You have the right to discern the will of God (Romans 12: 1-5), you have the authority and privilege of telling everyone everywhere about this freedom in Jesus and to extend the love and grace of God to the whole world, every person and every people group (Matthew 28: 17-20). It’s a beautiful trade-off, your independence and inalienable rights for a Kingdom of righteousness and peace and justice that has no end.
Will you yield your independence?
Be brave and deny your right to independence—and you’ll experience true freedom.
The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father. John 8:17-18