Happy Fourth of July? It has been 244 years, but this year does not seem so happy. It is not a usual Fourth of July with fireworks, parades, beach trips, BBQs, and vacations. Instead, it has been lockdown since March and 125,000 coronavirus deaths. It has been protests, riots, looting, and takeovers in some cities. We are a nation currently fearful, angry, and grieving.
When Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, he articulated certain “unalienable rights,” those given by God that cannot be taken away by anyone even by the British crown. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Jefferson correctly understood these rights come only from our Creator, not from a sovereign monarch, nor for that matter, any human institution, philosophy, or government. Americans fail to remember the divine origins of these rights. We believe we have sovereignty over our bodies to manipulate, clone, and destroy life.
More consequential is the church’s biblical illiteracy and failure to understand that Jesus turns these rights on their head for the sake of God’s kingdom.
THE RIGHT TO LIFE
Jesus teaches that the pathway to life is death. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25 /ESV).
His point makes no sense unless we realize that He is the life and that in exchange for death in this world, He offers eternal life in the next. Followers of Jesus protect life because God has made all people in His image. We understand life is a precious gift, and it is not ours to determine, redefine, nor take. However, while we defend the lives of others, we must also be willing to give up our own right to life, seeing beyond this perishable world to the next, which is imperishable.
THE RIGHT TO LIBERTY
The same biblical logic applies to our right to liberty. God created us free, with no one dominating, exploiting, or destroying another. Yet, paradoxically, followers of Jesus are “set free from sin,” but at the same time “have become slaves of God,” leading to eternal life (Romans 6:22 (ESV). Originally slaves to sin, we become slaves to righteousness because “liberty” is not the freedom to do anything we want. Liberty is not the license to call that, which is wrong, right. Instead, liberty is the freedom to do that, which is right in God’s eyes. We are not free to enact laws or render judicial decisions that stand counter to God’s Word. We are free only to do that, which is right by Him.
We, the church, are not to be like this world, which is blinded by the devil (2 Corinthians 4:4) and incapable apart from the Holy Spirit to understand that the unalienable rights of life and liberty are not ours to define, expand or limit.
With love and compassion, we need to introduce people to Jesus to receive His forgiveness and eternal life. Our goal is not to convince the world that we are friendly to its immoral interpretations of life and liberty, but to bear witness to the world of Jesus’ love shown at the cross. Sadly, the offer of eternal life, the very hope of our science and technology, is not such an attractive offer when we realize we cannot redefine the terms to our liking.
THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS
Jefferson’s most elusive phrase pertains to the unalienable right to the “pursuit of happiness.” What is clear is that he did not mean “happiness” as we now define it to be the wanton pursuit of emotional, physical, or financial pleasure.
Some believe that following John Locke, Jefferson meant the freedom to own property. Supposing that interpretation is accurate, he nonetheless did not intend the unbridled accumulation money as if such is the goal of life and the solution to all our problems.
Jefferson was a professed Epicurean. Perhaps through that filter, some think Jefferson meant that the “moral goal” of life is the pursuit of happiness, that “virtue” is the foundation of happiness, and that “utility” is its ultimate test.
It sounds heady enough to make sense until we realize that Jefferson was a deist, not a Christian, who did not believe the Bible to be God’s Word. So, for him, and our society today, the calls for morality, virtue, values, or justice have no reference to the Creator who gave these unalienable rights. In this view, society is free to define these weighty terms as it wishes— and “utility” becomes a standard for “whatever makes you happy.”
These misunderstandings of unalienable rights have caused us to become a lawless society. The church must wake up fast and understand that though we use the same terms for these unalienable rights, the Bible does not view this assumed license for lawlessness as the unalienable right to “liberty.” It is sin. Though we want to agree and defend these unalienable rights, we cannot do so at the cost of redefining them.
This discussion of the unalienable rights that we celebrate each Independence Day leads to the most significant area of blindness in the church’s current response to the call on the streets— NO JUSTICE. NO PEACE.
The statement is correct. There can never be peace without justice. That is biblical. However, the best lie is always just a little shy of the truth. The call sounds correct to our ears because it is biblical. The lie does not manifest itself in the cry for justice and peace. No Christian should be against justice or peace. Instead, the hidden lie remains unspoken. The problem is not with the call for justice and peace. The problem is the omission of the truth that there is no justice without Jesus.
Justice deals with equal and appropriate treatment before the law to address and correct offenses. Parties need to come and receive an impartial and appropriate verdict. What remains unspoken is that all wrongs and all injustices are offenses against God first, and then against others. We have offended Him. All of us have (Romans 3:23). No one is guiltless, and no matter how God untangles the “who did what’s to whom” in this world, in the final judgment, we all go to hell because we offended Him.
That is why Jesus came. He came to die for the penalty of our sin. He came for justice, and He came to give us peace with God (Romans 5:1).
The corrected phrase should read “NO JESUS. NO JUSTICE. NO PEACE.”
When stated this way, the problem then becomes apparent. The world does not want Jesus and does not want to be accountable to God. The world wants justice and peace on its own terms and is unwilling to admit offense against God. The world wants the “unalienable rights” of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness by its own definition and on its own terms.
The church carries His authority and commandment to make disciples, to share His love demonstrated at the cross, and to bring the offer of eternal life to the world. We bear testimony to Jesus. Jesus brings justice, and Jesus brings peace with God. Only then can we experience true justice, forgiveness, and peace in our nation and world.
Happy Fourth of July.
Authored by Dr. David Ingrassia, Pastor at Charlotte Awake