As we celebrate the independence of our nation, here are four thoughts that we would do well to consider as believers in the United States.
- Remember: When we come to July 4th, we remember. We remember our history as a nation; we remember sacrifices given over time; we remember who we are as Americans. The concept of remembering is important. It is important to remember good things, so that we might not take them for granted. It is also important to remember things that are not good, that we might work toward change on them. As an increasingly rootless society with little to no sense of our past, we need to move into the future and face the present in light of our past. Memory is important for us as people. July 4th gives us a time to stand in the living memory of our nation. It is a practice that should be normal for those of us who consider ourselves Christians. As Christians we are called to run the race of life within that “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1)—the saints past, present, and future who have gone before us. We need to remember who we are.
- We Are Citizen Exiles: As we live on earth, we are legally citizens of specific nations and states. I am a citizen of the United States of America. I am thankful for the many benefits I enjoy as a citizen of this country, while also recognizing the shortcomings of our country. I work for change where it is needed, and I also savor what is good. However, as the Apostle Peter wrote in his first epistle, we are “aliens and strangers in the world” (1 Peter 2:11). Even though we are legally citizens of certain countries on earth, we will never truly belong here. Because the great confession of the Christian faith is “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9), we also remember, as Paul writes elsewhere, that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). So, as we mark this holiday with fellow citizens of the United States, we do well to also remember to live in the tension as citizens of heaven whose primary allegiance is to King Jesus and ultimate home is in the presence of God.
- Seek the Common Good: When the prophet Jeremiah wrote to the exiled Israelites in Babylon, he gave these instructions: “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7). Although we are citizen-exiles, we exist here for God’s glory by seeking the common good of the city and nation in which we live. We do not belong here, but we must steward our lives here to the glory of God and the benefit of those around us. Our nation, the United States of America, is the place where God has ‘exiled’ those of us who are citizens of it. We honor God when we seek the common good of this place. The common good is developed by recognizing the benefits and shortcomings of this nation, and seeking to bring them to all equitably. We fail to honor God when we seek only our own benefit and not the benefit of releasing the resources God has given us into the community around us.
- Celebrate True Freedom: As we mark the freedom we enjoy as a self-governing democracy in this nation, we must simultaneously not lose sight of the fact that political freedoms—even freedom of religion—cannot compare to the true freedom that we experience as followers of Christ. Paul writes to the Galatian church, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). Paul is speaking to that early gathering of believers about the essential spiritual freedom we experience through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. While many of the early disciples and contemporaries of Jesus expected Him to institute a new earthly kingdom, He instead started a revolutionary movement of living free with God in the fully available Kingdom of God. Any celebration of freedom within our nation is small compared to the boisterous celebration of freedom available in Jesus Christ for now and unto eternity.