It’s often touted by Americans that we have certain God given rights. Our constitution declaration of independence say so, right?! The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. As Americans we have the right to freedom of speech, to own a gun, and the right vote. But are these really “God given rights?”
The Greatest Country
Most Americans, even Christian Americans, will say that America is the greatest country in the world. We have more freedoms here than anywhere in the world. We have more rights here than anywhere in the world. If we look at America through the lens of the world’s system (military might, wealth, freedoms, etc) we very well could be considered the best.
The truth is, if we hold scripture true to its word, and if we filter America through the lens of eternity, She is at best the second best country in the world. According to scripture, Israel is the best. It is God’s chosen land from the beginning.
It is within the borders of Israel where God chose to dwell during the early ages of history; it was the children of Israel whom God chose as His people; and it was Israel where God chose to incarnate Himself through the Son, Jesus Christ.
Everything the believer views, even our national rights and freedoms, has to be filtered through three lenses:
- God’s Eternal Purpose
Without these three filtration lenses, we begin to adopt the world’s system of viewing our rights and freedoms, and this mixes with the kingdom of God about as well as oil and water.
Somewhere along the line we have thrown patriotism, statements like “God bless America,” and the idea that America is a Godly country into a blender, and come up with the idea that our patriotism is fully aligned with God’s eternal purpose.
I will put this plainly:
God has not called us to pledge our allegiance to a flag, a political party, a president, or to a land. He has called us to pledge our allegiance to Christ, and Him alone.
Don’t get me wrong in this. I love America. I love being an American, and I am thankful the Lord allowed me to be born in this country!
Clement of Alexandria put it this way in the early third-century: “But when one joins God’s people, one has a different country (heaven) and a different lawgiver (God).” Pierre de Labriolle said, “…the Christians are hybrid people. They are paroikoi, resident aliens, living locally and participating in society, but not as full citizens.” — Once we become followers of Christ, we have renounced our citizenship to this world and its systems.
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ – Philippians 3:20
We are “sojourners in a foreign land” as Moses proclaimed in Exodus 2:22. We are aliens living in a foreign land (1 Peter 2:11-12) who are supposed to embody Christ through our habitus (the practices and being of their corporal identity) in order to show the life of Christ to the world. To put it simply: we are to bring heaven to earth.
Our founding fathers declared three inalienable God given rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The problem is that idea of “rights” are actually social constructs. We have “rights” because our government has said we have them, but how often are these same rights taken away, or abused?
Instead of looking to our constitution for guidance on life, we have to look to scripture.
We proclaim that life is an inalienable God given right, yet we willfully and lawfully cut life short through roughly 900,000-1,000,000 abortions each year.
The same law that says life is a right, is the same law that condones the sacrificial murder of the innocent.
Is it also a right to life to the stillborn child that doesn’t see the light of day? Is life a right to those martyred for the Gospel? Is it a “right” for those who cannot afford the treatment for cancer, or other highly complex diseases?
How can a constitutional right be considered a God given right, if tomorrow isn’t even promised? In some instances, if you’re not even allowed to see the light of day? Is the “right to life” only applicable to those living within the boarders of the United States?
Life isn’t a right; it’s a gift.
The Bible reminds us that tomorrow is never promised, rather that it is a gift of God. Instead we should worry about today alone.
Is liberty a right when slavery has plagued mankind since the dawn of time? Is liberty a God given right when he Himself sent the Children of Israel into 400 years of slavery? The Israelites. The Irish. The Indians. The Africans. The Chinese. All of them have faced slavery at some point throughout the ages.
We live within the borders of the “land of the free,” and yet there are those that so freely and willingly enslave themselves to drugs, technology, consumerism and debt, sex (in all of it’s avenues), and countless other shackling strongholds.
The Pursuit Of Happiness
In America our insatiable appetite for consumerism has all too often defined our pursuit of happiness, while our brother or sister goes without. How is happiness fulfilled, when our brother goes hungry? Happiness is giving unto the least of these, as unto the Lord (Matthew 25:34-45).
True happiness and joy is found in Christ alone, and the pursuit and fulfillment of his eternal purpose. For too long we have clouded and jumbled happiness with money and possessions. This again is incompatible with the kingdom of God. As believers we understand that anything we have is never really ours in the first place. We are simply stewards of what the Lord has given us.
The Right To Freedom Of Speech
Should we go on to talk about our freedom of speech? Just because we have the “right” to the freedom of speech, doesn’t always mean we should exercise it. James tells us both in 1:26 and 3:6
If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. (1:26)
And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life (3:6)
Our right to freedom of speech is subject to the same three filters of eternity, scripture, and God’s eternal purpose as any other of our “rights.”
Not only is speaking subject to this, but so is remaining silent. Many times there is more wisdom in silence than in speech. Jesus told us he only said what he heard the Father saying (John 12:49).
For the Christ follower it is not only a matter of ‘saying or not saying’, but also what you say and how you say it. For us it is about saying “in like manner” (John 5:19) as the Lord would do.
Our speech should be uplifting and wholesome (Eph. 4:29). Our mouth and speech are for praising the Lord and strengthening His body, not because it is a “constitutional right.” (Hebrews13:15; Psalm 34:1, 35:28, 51:15; 1 Peter 2:9)
Listen to what the Psalmist says about his “right to freedom of speech:”
I said, “I will guard my ways that I may not sin with my tongue; I will guard my mouth as with a muzzle while the wicked are in my presence.” – Psalm 39:1
Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips. – Psalm 141:3
And Paul reiterates these sentiments in his letter to the church at Colossae:
But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him—Colossians 3:8-10
Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. – Colossians 3:17
When we come to Christ, our speech is no longer our own. It is no longer a freedom to be used at will. It is to be tamed and bridled by the Holy Spirit as a means to speak life. That life is Jesus Christ.
The Right To Own A Gun
Should we discuss the all to often “God given right” to own a gun?
I have already discussed gun ownership in another article, so I will not repeat it’s contents for the sake of time and space.
I’m all for gun ownership. I own several. Some are for hunting and sport, but also others for defense. I also understand with great power comes great responsibility.
But just because you can own a firearm, doesn’t mean you should. Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
Radical holiness that Christ calls us to charges us with obedience to his commandments rather than such constitutional rights, and social constructs.
We honor life because of Him who gives life.
We honor freedom because it is for freedom He set us free.
And we honor the pursuit of happiness, because we understand that there is no greater joy than the pursuit of Christ.
I have been criticized in the past for making similar statements as what I have shared above. I have been told I’m “too heavenly minded to be any earthly good.” I ask, can a true follower of Christ really be too heavenly minded? I would argue to negate this statement with the habitus of my life.
In The Patient Ferment Of The Early Church Alan Kreider discusses how the early church relied more on the actions of their life to preach than their words. In a world with a crushing government such as the Roman Empire, Christianity flourished because the habit of their lives.
While our government has given us countless freedoms through the social constructs of “rights,” Christ calls us to a more radical level of living and holiness. He instructs us to treat others the way we would want to be treated (Matt 7:12), but Paul pushes us one step further to consider others greater than ourselves (Phil. 2:3-4).
Just because the government says you can do something doesn’t mean you should. When you begin to look at your “God given rights” through the lens of Eternity, Scripture, and God’s eternal purpose it begins to change your perspective of interaction with your fellow American.
God is looking to create something more than a group of American loyalists. He is building a spiritual home, with believers from all across the globe. Let’s look to Biblical instructions, instead of our societal constructions. Let’s keep our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith who is doing more than we see through our fragmented lens of reality.