The Declaration of Independence, the document that crystallized the American colonists’ understanding of their resolve against English rule, makes a claim about the self-evident rights humans have been given by their creator.
For an American, the idea that we have certain rights that cannot be revoked is so effectively ingrained into our thinking that it has become a basic assumption in our culture. But what if it weren’t true? What if God has not endowed us with certain unalienable rights? I urge you to momentarily suspend your thoughts about your own rights and try to hear me out on this one. Let’s see if this is a spiritual reality. Leave politics aside for a moment, and I promise to come back to it.
What are rights?
Rights are basically the social, legal, or ethical freedoms or entitlements that humans are said to have. As a Christian, I recognize that, before God, I am not really entitled to anything. If God created me, what obligations does he have towards me? Does he owe me anything? What restrictions can I place on how he deals with me? The honest answer must be – None! I can no more restrict God’s actions towards me than a computer can claim rights against its manufacturer. As a created being, I have no place to speak of rights in relation to my creator.
As a Christian, I recognize that my life is not my own. The Bible teaches me that I was bought with a price – the very life of God in Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 6 &7). I am not my own, but rather I belong to God. If God owns me, can I make claims against him in regards to rights? Of course not. I am bound to him regardless of what he does to me.
As a Christian, I recognize that I was completely hopeless without the saving grace of God through the cross of Christ. I did nothing to earn my salvation. I did nothing to make him love me. God did it all. If this is true, what can he ask of me that I could deny him? The Bible clearly calls me to give up my life completely, daily dying so I may live for him (Romans 12.1-2; Matthew 10.39; Luke 9.23).
Think of it another way. Does God have the right (entitlement) to ask anything of you that he wishes? Is there anything God cannot ask you to do? Is there anything he is not allowed to do to you?
Can God destroy what he has created? Yes. (cf. Genesis 6; Revelation 20)
Can God expect his people to move where he leads them? Yes. (consider Abraham, Moses, Israel, Paul)
Can God use your pain for his purposes? Yes. (consider Job, Joseph, Pharaoh, Paul)
God can do anything with you that he pleases. There is no restriction on what he can or cannot do with you and with me. If this is true, it changes our paradigm of life. Anything is possible. There are not limits to what I must say “yes” to when God speaks. When we understand this and submit to it, we finally will experience what it means to worship God fully. Worship is the recognition that God is God and we are not. But when we hold in reserve certain ares of our life or put certain limits on his authority we are saying that in these ways he is not God, but rather we are.
Does this mean we throw out the Declaration of Independence? Well, no. Not totally. The government of is not God, either. Therefore, there are limits to what the government can ask or expect from its citizens. It is immoral for the government to take the life of its citizens without just cause, for example. But it is not wrong because God has endowed us with certain rights. It’s wrong because it would be an infringement on God’s rights and his image in us. Only God has authority over another man’s life. We can see, then, that it’s wrong for a government to kill its citizens, but it would not be wrong for God to send us to a country that did kill its citizens. While the government of that nation would be infringing upon God’s rights, it would not be infringing upon ours.
The Declaration of Independence is, at its heart, a theological document. It is based on one grand theological assertion – God has given us unassailable rights as human beings. Are far as law codes go, this is a pretty good assumption. As far as discipleship goes, its best to leave this idea behind.