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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Christian rights

As Americans, we have certain rights. We are guaranteed the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The framers of our country said these rights are endowed to every man by his creator. These rights are as much his natural possession as his own thoughts. As a gift from God, to the individual, no one but God has the right to take them from us. That’s what they meant by “inalienable.” I can understand the motivation behind their words. Living under the oppressive rule of a dictator across an ocean, one with supreme authority, is good enough reason for their statement of rights. However, this idea of rights poses some trouble for me.

As Americans, we have been taught all our lives about our rights; about those things which belong to us, those things that cannot be taken away. So much of our identity has been framed by this perception, that we deserve, that as unique and special people, our rights entitle us to things. This perception is so integral a part of our identities that it permeates everything we think and do. We even approach Christianity in terms of our rights.

How many sermons have we all heard on any number of patriotic weekends telling us about our rights, telling us that we are a nation founded on Christian principles and as such, are now granted certain rights. Further, we must fight to protect those rights. We must ally ourselves to political parties to ensure those rights, whether of the individual, or of the masses, it doesn’t matter. We are told to pray for our nation, our leaders, that God would restore America to her rightful place. We are encouraged to get involved and make our voices heard, so that we can ensure our rights. The point is we are taught from childhood to demand our rights. But even a cursory look at the Bible has me questioning this entire philosophy.

What rights does the Bible afford men? The right to life? Ask the Hebrew mother of the Northern kingdom, likely no older than her mid-teens, who watched helplessly as the Assyrian invaders came and slaughtered her newborn child, raped her mercilessly, and then killed her for sport. Ask the father in Judah who watched his son being taken away into Babylonian captivity as he was killed at the end of a spear point. What rights did these people have? Oh, but they were under condemnation you say. God sent those invaders as punishment. True that. But they certainly had no rights to demand of God as they were killed, raped, or taken away into captivity. But still, they were disobedient you say. They got what they deserved for their abandonment of God, you say.

Fair enough. Let’s look at the righteous examples then. What rights did Isaiah have as they sawed him in two? Or what about the apostle James, the brother of John, who was beheaded by Herod? What about Stephen who was stoned for talking about Jesus? Or Paul? Or Peter, as he was crucified upside-down in Rome? What about the countless Christian martyrs used as torches to light the streets of Rome at night? What of these men? Where were their rights? A right to life? A right to liberty? A right to pursue happiness? I see none.

These men were slaves. They were slaves to God and to the message of Jesus Christ; the message of the imputed righteousness of another, by his death and resurrection, and the application by the Spirit that imputes that righteousness to those who would believe in it. For this message they were killed. Here’s a wake-up call. I don’t have any rights. I don’t have any claim. My obedience to the gospel of Jesus promises only one thing, death. My disobedience, into which I was born, promises only death, but carries with it a death to come as well. So either way, no matter what I choose, I get to die. How’s that for rights? Dead people don’t have rights. Let’s see someone preach that. But, in the final analysis, that seems to be what the Bible teaches. Every single one of the New Testament writers uses the idea of a slave, and I don’t think they do it by accident. You are either of slave of sin, in which case you reap your fruit, which is death; or you are a slave of righteousness (read that as Christ, the person himself), from which you reap your fruit (your confession of his righteousness) which leads to life (in the resurrection). In the meantime, believer, you’re likely going to die because of your belief. You are a slave.

Slaves do not have rights. They do not have possessions. They do not have dreams. They do not hope for a better life. A slave trusts in his master. If his master gives him something, then his master is gracious. If he is denied, then his master has done him no wrong. A master is not obligated to do anything for his slave, much less God for any man. God has obligated himself in one way, and only one way, to his slaves. They will live again. But like I said in my last post, that life is not now. It is not a promise of a better life now. So, when you get upset that life isn’t going the way you want it to, when you get pouty that you have been denied what you deserve, remember this one thing. Only a fool demands of God what he deserves, because the Bible is clear. You deserve only death. That you have life by faith… that is grace. It is not deserved, earned, or merited in any way.

You are a slave.

You have no rights.

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