July 4th is the day we Americans set aside to celebrate the birth of our nation, the ideals it represents, and the freedoms we enjoy.
But for many American Christians, the recent Supreme Court ruling will hang like a dark cloud over this year’s Independence Day festivities. And in a very real sense, this response is appropriate. The marring of the meaning of marriage is a calamity whose repercussions will likely be more far-reaching and destructive than most of us understand now. And it will likely have serious future implications for churches and other Christian institutions.
It’s helpful for us to take a moment to reflect on what true freedom really is and what it means for us expatriates of the kingdom of heaven to love and celebrate America, even with all her grievous defects.
What does it really mean to be free?
In the American sense, freedom is the ability to pursue one’s self-determined happiness with minimal constraints imposed by others or by the state. Tyranny is any external force that inhibits the pursuits of one’s internal desires.
Christian freedom is very different. According to Scripture, the worst tyranny is one’s errant, self-determined, internal desires and the greatest freedom comes from submitting to an external force: God. Here’s how Jesus said it:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:34–36)
Internal sin is the worst tyrant and the external Son is the most wonderful liberator. True freedom is the Christ-bought freedom from the guilt of sin and the Spirit-empowered freedom from the governance of sin. But this is not the freedom of personal independence. It is liberation from the tyranny of sin and Satan (Romans 6:12; John 8:44) so that we may live joyfully under the loving servant-king that is Jesus Christ (John 15:13–14).
Free Citizens of a Better Country
Christ said that his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). He came into this world to call out his people from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of heaven (Colossians 1:13).
Therefore, in the deepest sense, Christians are no longer citizens of this world but citizens of “a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Ephesians 2:19, Hebrews 11:16). We are now “strangers and exiles on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13). Wherever we live, we live as expatriates of the kingdom of heaven.
Therefore, as Christians living in the U.S., we celebrate Independence Day remembering that America is the land of our sojourn, not our home (1 Peter 2:11).
The Burden of the SCOTUS Ruling
The burden we feel over Obergefell vs. Hodges must not be mainly the loss of Christian freedoms in America. No matter what may happen as a result of this ruling, Christians will not lose any of our most fundamental freedoms. For Christ has set us radically free (Galatians 5:1) and has given us the right to be called children of God (John 1:12), and in him we have become heirs to all things (Romans 8:17, 1 Corinthians 3:21). We have the promise of provision for every need (Philippians 4:19), the promise of abounding grace for every good work (2 Corinthians 9:8), and the promise of Christ’s presence with us to the end (Matthew 28:20).
No, the main burden we feel must be grief over our nation’s rejection of God and the scorning of his glory that this ruling represents, and the fact that those embracing it are not free. And therefore they do not know inexpressible joy that is filled with glory (1 Peter 1:8). They may be more free in the American sense, but not in the most important sense. They are freer to pursue their internal desires, but they are not free from them.
Loving and Celebrating America
There has always been a “culture war” of one kind or another being waged in America. It is actually part of the design of the American Experiment and the exercise of democracy. And so there is certainly a place for Christians to participate in this exercise and advocate for our constitutional rights.
But if Christians are mainly known as conservative cultural warriors and the defenders of our constitutional rights, the true gospel freedom that we are really here to promote will be obscured. Jesus said that the world would know that we are his disciples by the way we love one another (John 13:35) and by the way we love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:39). Love is the greatest mark of the Christian (1 Corinthians 13:13).
The Greatest Freedom Ever Instituted
And the greatest love that we can show to our neighbors is to help them hear the gospel of the greatest freedom that has ever been instituted. Like Jesus, our primary focus must not be on the culture war, but on the kingdom mission. We must be mainly about planting gospel-proclaiming local churches, lovingly engaging our neighbors and family members, sending gospel-proclaiming missionaries to the unreached, and, like the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25–37, compassionately meeting every need the Lord brings across our path. Regardless of the media’s portrayal of Christians, let us show the people we actually live with the real gospel by embodying it in relationships.
And let us not lose sight of the fact that the American Experiment, for all its failings, remains a wonderful thing. It has secured, promoted, and defended unprecedented historical freedoms for an unprecedented and diverse amount of people. July 4th is a moment to remember and celebrate the remarkable common grace of God that we — and hundreds of millions of others — have received through the United States.
Our national celebrations have always been tempered with the reality that the U.S., throughout its history, has at times legalized terribly destructive immoral things, such as the enslavement of African peoples, the genocide and social alienation of native North American peoples, and the systematic killing of 50+ million unborn children, just to name a few. It is right to be grieved over legalized sin.
But let the current events increase our resolve to seek America’s greatest good. Being citizens of a better country frees us from trying to make this one the kingdom of heaven. Our time here is short and “here we have no lasting city” (Hebrews 13:14). Jesus’s kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). So let us give ourselves to bringing as many Americans to the better, lasting country as possible.