In the society we live in, it is hard for us to deny ourselves anything.
We see something we want, and we work for it in order to get it. This is America and that’s what we do. Nothing stirs our ire as much as someone standing in our way and denying us what is rightfully ours. We get annoyed when someone cuts in line in front of us, talks too loudly in the theater, or even takes too long in the drive-thru. But if you really want to make an American angry, tell him or her to give up a Constitutional right. We will not do it. We will fight for it; we will even die for it. And this is good! This is how we preserve the integrity of our nation and safeguard the future for generations to come.
But could there ever be a time in which we have to choose between our rights as Americans and our duty as Christians? For example, Paul the Apostle was a Roman citizen. He had rights as a Roman citizen, and he exercised those rights to great effect when he appealed to the judgment of Caesar (Acts 23-25). But there were times when he denied himself those rights in order that Christ would be glorified before the lost. He was put into prisons, beaten, even stoned almost to death. He could have claimed his rights as a Roman citizen, but he didn’t. He set aside his earthly rights so that Christ could be glorified.
The question I want to ask is this: If faced with Paul’s situation, would we be willing to do the same? Or are our rights as Americans more important to us than the honor of God?
If we aren’t willing to lay down our rights for the good of the Kingdom, then certain things are true of us:
- We love our rights more than we love Christ
- We consider the nation of America of more importance than the Kingdom of Heaven
- We think of Christ as a pack mule who carries us and our American Dream along in life so that we can enjoy freedom in peace
- We think that the American Christian is a unique breed, set apart from the Christians suffering under religious persecution in other areas of the world where their rights are denied
- We believe that Christ died so we could have freedom from man as well as from sin
None of us would say, “This is true of me!” But these sentiments blend in so well with Evangelical Conservatism that they are often under the surface and hard to spot.
This touches “spiritual rights” as well. Christ denied us any rights as Christians other than the right to love Him and to deny ourselves and take up our crosses and follow Him. Everything else flows out from that. We are to take up our crosses and be living sacrifices. We claim our crosses and take them up, bearing them proudly. But do we use this cross as an altar upon which to bleed and die, as Christ did, or as a soapbox from which to storm at the liberals? A cross is not a podium to shout from. A cross is to die on. A cross is a place of surrender, of giving back to God the rights he has blessed us with, and saying to Him, “Into Your hands I commit my spirit.”
Our Chinese brothers and sisters do this every day. They do not rail against their government for their God-given inalienable right to worship as they please. They trust that to God and quietly follow Christ in humility and surrender. Their crosses are blood-spattered, and their hands are dirty. Sadly, the Conservative Evangelical cross is far too many times a bloodless cross. Our hands are clean, because we’re Americans and we have a right to be clean.
To be a Christian, whether American or Chinese or Sudanese or European, is to die. To die to self for the glory of Christ. If you’re the kind of person who finds it easier to remain quiet and never speak up, dying might mean that you take a stand. If on the other hand you find that assertion and fighting furiously for political ideals are your strong characteristics, dying might mean stepping down so that in your meekness Christ is glorified.
Someone will protest, “So you’re saying we should never act to preserve our freedoms!” I’m saying nothing of the sort. But there is a difference between standing up for your own rights and standing up for the good of your fellow men. There is never a time when you shouldn’t defend your brothers and sisters from injustice. To refrain would be inexcusable. But to sacrifice an opportunity to glorify Christ before the world in order to hold fast to your rights is also inexcusable. We must carry the glory of Christ in the forefront of our minds and our affections. We must love Him more than our rights, more than anything.
In the end, our rights belong to Christ. They are not ours at all. When Christ purchased the Christian with His blood, He purchased the entire Christian in every way and in every aspect. He purchased the Christian spiritually, mentally, physically and politically. Conservatism and liberalism belong to Him. The White House belongs to Him. The Constitution belongs to Him. And our rights belong to Him. He has loaned these things to us on one condition: that we use them for His glory. If we must lay our rights down for Christ to be glorified, it is our obligation to do so.