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Jesus Doesn’t Celebrate the 4th of July

When my plane touched down at my port of entry to the United States after four months of studying abroad, I made my way with the crowds to the customs and immigration line. Right away, my eyes fell on the label for a special, dedicated line that read, “US CITIZENS”.

Anticipation and delight swelled up inside of me. I was home! This was my country! There was familiarity here . . . and predictability! I could speak my own language, use my cultural references, and finally be free from working so hard to communicate every moment of every day. Right then, I embraced my identity as a US citizen with enthusiasm, walking with my head held high through the special line, labeled just for me.

In recounting my travel experience, I’ve often joked that this moment was the time I’ve felt most patriotic in my entire life. While my appreciation for my country that day had more to do with the fact that “America” and “home” were synonymous in my mind than any sort of extreme patriotism, it does still cause me to think about what I value about my citizenship, and more importantly, how much I’m valuing it.

I live in a country where sometimes, Christianity and our national identity are so tightly wound, the two seem to conflate. In church, we celebrate military holidays, and we hang American flags. In school, children recite a pledge that declares the US as a “nation under God.” The declaration—the very document that marks our annual 4th of July celebration of independence—mentions God as man’s Creator.

When the line between faith and nation gets too blurry, it’s easy to (intentionally or not), begin to place faith in institutions, principles, or political parties that are imperfect and can distract us from the ultimate kingdom we owe our allegiance to—God’s!

So, as I consider my country and all that it means to me, I’ve found that it’s helpful to constantly check my loyalty—whether it’s to a country, people group, celebrity, sports team, or the like—against two standards that can help us focus our delight and satisfaction where it belongs.

 

1. Thankfulness that leads to humility, not pride

A big part of the 4th of July celebration for me has always been to think of all that is great about being a citizen of the US. I’m thankful that we have freedom of speech to protect the right to voice unpopular opinions. I never want to take for granted the religious liberties I’m afforded, or the heroic sacrifices that have been made by servicemen, women, and their families that allow me to live and work in peace. I owe a deep sense of respect to those who have fought for the freedoms I enjoy.

But as I revel in the blessings that God has poured out, I remind myself that none of them are mine to claim. When we experience blessings, it’s easy to start convincing ourselves that we actually deserve them, and begin to expect more of them. Expecting blessings can make us feel entitled to them when, in reality, we’re not.

So as I think about my country, I want thankfulness to lead me to humility instead of pride, remembering that I don’t earn or deserve any of these blessings. James 1:17 reminds us where good gifts (including blessings) come from:

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

I pray that my thankfulness—not just about my country, but in all things—turns my eyes to the One who gives perfect gifts. I will direct my thanks to God because of the great mercy He has given me. Every single good thing that I experience is from God. He is the only one worthy of my heart’s praise.

 

2. Assurance of where our truest allegiance lies

Even in the midst of decking out in red, white, and blue every year and celebrating how far our nation has come, I can’t help but acknowledge that there remain great injustices. Especially in 2019, marriage, sex, and life—which should be held in a sacred light—have been marred and contorted by society’s modern ideals. Centuries of institutionalized racism means that the impact of discrimination based on race is still active, causing all sorts of injustices and undue burdens.

These sobering realities are a stark reminder that my country, and every single human-built entity, is so broken—plagued by the curse of sin in this world. No country, institution, or political party can address our needs and heal our wounds fully—only God can. And this means that my full allegiance and hope should be in God alone. Paul reminds us in Philippians that our true citizenship—the one we should be most focused on—is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). After all, the gospel story is all about how God saved us so that we could be a part of His heavenly kingdom—the kingdom of light and of His Son (Colossians 1:12-13)!

So this 4th of July, as many of us take time off from work, travel to attend parades and celebrate being an American, let us remember our identity in Christ first and foremost. May it keep our national identity from becoming an idol, and inspire us to adopt God’s global-minded concern for loving and serving others. And every day for everyone, may all of our other loyalties fall into their rightful place, paling in comparison and leading us into thankfulness and assurance of our place in God’s global body.

 

Lord, let Christians’ identity as members of Your eternal kingdom drive them to seek Your will in loving and serving their neighbors both near and across the globe, always holding their heavenly citizenship before any other loyalty.

How the Fourth of July Reminds Me of Jesus

The Fourth of July holiday—commemorating the beginning of the American revolution against the motherland, England—is a central part of the United States’ origin story. Odds are that even if you don’t live in the USA, your home country has an origin story, too.

This year, I am learning that the birth of my country bears a lot of similarities to the origin of the global Church—the gospel story. How so? Let’s take a look at the gospel as it’s presented in Hebrews:

There were many priests under the old system, for death prevented them from remaining in office. But because Jesus lives forever, his priesthood lasts forever. Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf. (Hebrews 7:23-25, NLT)

 

Once and Forever

Although now it is celebrated with parades, fireworks, and a day off work for most Americans, the very first Fourth of July was really the beginning of eight years of bloody conflict. The revolution brought all-out war to American shores, and the Fourth of July marked the “point of no return” when the colonists crossed the line from mere grumbling to high treason. They were going to war with their king; they were preparing for battle.

In the same way, Hebrews describes Jesus’ actions as “once and forever.” His death on the cross was the point of no return. There was no plan B, and no way to escape. Just like the acceptance of a revolutionary document, Jesus’ actions were public, final, and powerful.

 

Interceding on My Behalf

I love the Bible’s use of the word “intercede.” It always reminds me of a courtroom, with a passionate lawyer pleading the case of the defendant. But of course, in a courtroom there must also be a plaintiff—an accusing party.

For the American revolution, there was a clear enemy in mind. England was accusing the colonists of subverting rightful authority. The colonists laid out their “case” in the Declaration of Independence, detailing grievances from the king across the sea. The “courtroom” was set.

We also have an accuser, friends. Revelation 12:10 describes a future in which “the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down”. To imagine the Enemy continually accusing me before God is terrifying. I am a sinful person who falls every day. What could I say in my defense?

But there is the good news! Jesus says it all for me. He lives forever to intercede on my behalf.

 

Victory!

The result of the American Revolution was a happy one for the colonists: they gained independence from England. Their victory would have been nearly impossible to predict, for the opposing force was more powerful, experienced, and better-equipped than they were.

Our victory in Christ came through a similar way. The Enemy we face is mighty, experienced, and better-equipped. It seems that he would easily overthrow us—except for the help of one man, Jesus Christ.

And since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:21-22)

Jesus clears our guilt away, pays our debt, and clothes us with righteousness! We aren’t just free—we are adopted as heirs and can approach God’s throne with confidence. Now that is an amazing, revolutionary victory!

 

Living in the Light of Victory

The Fourth of July isn’t only a time for celebration; it is a time for sobering up. Each year, Americans are reminded of a conflict that left thousands of families torn apart and a fledgling nation that sang of justice while continuing to oppress others—African Americans, Native Americans, and more—for decades to come. The America we know today is not sanctified—not even close. No human effort could hope to truly create a perfect, holy nation.

When we remember the true human condition, evident in history and in our own souls, it is easy to feel hopeless. The very next verses in Hebrews (10:23-25) are an encouragement for these times: “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Sometimes this life wears on me—I feel tired, anxious, and defeated. I am ashamed of my own pride, anger, and fear that get in the way of living a pure life. In times like these, the author of Hebrews encourages us to cling to the church—motivating one another to good works, meeting together, encouraging one another.

Finally, we should recognize that we are forgetful, and sometimes the best thing we can do is sit down and recall God’s mercies in our life.

The Fourth of July is a great holiday, but it celebrates an imperfect and costly event in history. No man-made effort, however revolutionary, can truly establish a nation of justice and liberty. Thankfully, we have an all-powerful victor on our side, who has won the victory once and forever. Just like Americans remember the Fourth of July every year, we as Christians also need to be continually reminded of Christ’s victory in order to celebrate and live in it.