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On recent programs, I’ve largely defended the Christian’s right to argue in the political arena. I’ve stated that speaking out on moral issues is part of our purview, even when those issues are politically charged. We have a duty to the truth, to be sure. But I feel a need for clarification. While there are definite matters to righteously be at odds with, we should not be continually at odds with people. Our focus as Christians ought not be on winning arguments, but on winning souls. So how do we separate issues from individuals? How can we live at peace with men while still giving the devil hell? Also on this episode, we’ll look at what happens when our unique American perspective skews our religious views, plus I’ll get some biblical insight from a man I deeply respect – my pastor and my friend, Aaron Zielinske – so stand by, folks.
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I wanna talk about something on today’s show that, admittedly, I personally struggle with quite often. And hopefully, this will be of great benefit to others who have perhaps struggled similarly. We all know how easy it can be to allow our traditions to get entangled with our belief system. Traditions tend to run very deep, and they get ingrained within our psyche to the point that they can even affect our view of Christianity.
As Americans, many of us draw heavily upon traditional concepts like our sense of patriotism. We value our heritage very highly, and we consider that to be a good thing. We love our liberty, we honor our military, and we hold our freedom in the highest regard. Indeed, we can be our most passionate about things like our American pride and love for the red-white-and-blue. And – make no mistake – this is all true of me. I love my country, I’ve served in its military, and I’m very big on defending freedom. I’m not knocking any of that… per se.
Where I think it can become problematic is when we allow these strong feelings and our own sense of American culture to infiltrate our beliefs as Christians. We tend to think of these two things to be closely related. We reinforce that by pointing out that the USA was founded on biblical principles. And it is indeed true that our Constitution does echo many scriptural truths believed by a large number of our country’s founders. But from there, things can get a bit skewed.
We sometimes start thinking of our Constitutional rights as though they are biblical in nature – as though those rights are given to us by God Himself. I’ve said this myself, and we are quick to point out that we are “endowed” by our Creator with “certain unalienable rights – that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” These are stirring words found in our nation’s Declaration of Independence, thus deeply embedded in our minds as fundamental and foundational truth. But does that make it scriptural? Like a lot of people, I always thought these concepts were pretty much gospel, when in fact, they are uniquely American.
While I hold freedom in high regard and celebrate that I live in the USA, I also must realize that Americanism and Christianity are not mutually exclusive. My view of Christianity has been shaped in great part by my American culture, so I need to recognize my source for actual biblical truth ought to be in scripture rather than the founding documents. I’d better look to see what the Bible really says about things like rights and liberties, and then perhaps I can have a more solid grasp of what true Christianity should look like.
So then, what does scripture say about “God-given” rights? To explore this further, I have some excerpts from a recent sermon by a man who is my pastor, my friend, and a former US Marine, Aaron Zielinske. Here is some of what he had to say on the topic…
See scripture surprisingly doesn’t say much about rights. Well it’s only surprising to Americans because we’re so hung up on our rights. We love our rights. In fact, that’s why there’s a bill of rights. Because when they first wrote the Constitution, and it was ratified, some states kind of held off on ratifying the constitution until they were given word that even after we passed this, we will introduce some amendments to further protect the rights of individuals, and only then would those remaining states sign on. So after the constitution was passed the first thing they did was worked on “which rights do we want to secure our people with against a corrupt government?” And that’s where the Bill of Rights came from. It wasn’t an original thing, they were all amendments.
But scripture rarely mentions them. In fact when when we look at it, we only see two rights that are specifically stated, “these are your rights,” and they’re both in John’s writings. In Paul’s writings every time he mentions a right, he’s saying that “I’m not making use of this right that I have because it benefits others for me to not.” Scripture speaks more of setting aside our rights for the benefit of another than it does touting “This is my right so I can do whatever I want with it.” Even Jesus set aside his rights, we see that in, in Scripture.
The two rights that we see – John chapter one verse 12… “To all who did receive Jesus who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” You have that right. You have the right to become a child of God, and no one can take it from you. Satan can’t take it from you. Nobody, no other human can take it from you, no government can take it from you, even if they persecute us, they kill us, they disband churches, they burn them to the ground, they can never take our right to be children of God. Can’t do it. Nobody can take that away from us.
The second right we see John mentioned is in Revelation. And this is beautiful. He says, “Blessed are those who wash their robes so that they may have the right to eat, or to the tree of life, that they may enter the city by the gates,” that’s talking about the New Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven. Nobody can take your right to the tree of life in Christ. Nobody. No matter what they do, no matter how corrupt the government, no matter how ruthless a persecutor, they cannot take your right to the tree of life. Will never happen. Impossible. Cannot happen.
But that’s it. You don’t even need your whole hand to count how many rights were insured and guaranteed in Scripture. You only need two fingers: the right to be a child of God, and the right to finish that out by partaking of the tree of life. Those are the rights we have.
That’s pretty clear. So then, the idea that our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are God-given does not seem to be supported in scripture. That notion, while it sounds great, is based in our American culture rather than in the actual Word of God. So we would be wise to differentiate the two.
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Let me reiterate that I am not knocking patriotism or American traditions and values. There’s nothing wrong with rights and freedoms, but we should keep in mind that our American liberties are subject to change. Meanwhile, our liberties in Christ transcend beyond that. Our rights in Jesus cannot be taken away like our rights as Americans could. Should we fight to preserve our American freedoms? I believe so, yes. But we should NOT hold those things in equal or higher regard to our walk as Christians. We have a calling in Christ which is greater than anything else in this world. And we need to be careful that our prideful attitude as Americans doesn’t hinder our calling as Christians.
Now, what I’m about to say might seem like an unrelated topic at first, but I want you to indulge me for a moment as I make the point that our rights to do things are not nearly as important as the need to do what is right. Let’s look at what is a hot topic for many of us – flag burning. What on earth does that have to do with any of this? Hear me out…
We’ve seen people within our own country engage in protests against the government. Peaceful protests are an established American freedom. But some have gone so far as to burn or otherwise destroy the flag of the United States. It can be argued that they have the “right” to do this. And as much as I personally detest flag burning myself, I would have to agree with certain other veterans I’ve heard who stated, “I fought for their rights.” Now a lot of people say such an act should be illegal. I disagree. If we value freedoms equally, we must then grant that someone who burns the American flag indeed has the right to do so. However, I would also argue that it’s very misguided and ignorant.
The American flag, despite what some would have you believe about it being a symbol of oppression, is actually a symbol of our freedom. So by destroying that symbol, the flag burner is actually cutting their own legs out from under themselves and trivializing the very freedom they claim to possess. Having the RIGHT to do something is not nearly as meaningful as having the wherewithal to do the right thing in this situation. In fact, when we place our rights above all other things, it can lead us to some rather unfortunate circumstances…just as Pastor Aaron recently preached…
Knowing that you can do something doesn’t mean that you should do it. See now that’s maturity. Maturity is not “well I know I’m free to do this, therefore I should do this, and therefore it’s good for me to do this, and it’s right and it’s beneficial for me to do this.” Not necessarily. See knowledge is great. I love knowledge. We strive in our preaching and teaching and leadership to be intellectually sound, to give healthy instruction to give solid teaching. We want to be honest with those things and genuine in what we present, but knowledge is not an end in itself. Knowledge is a means to the end of being more like Christ and knowing him more, glorifying him more in our lives and therefore loving him and loving others more. Our knowledge should lead us toward a greater life of love. That’s what knowledge should do. If not, it’s just tragic. It truly is a tragedy, to know so much that you’re hurting yourself and other people because you’re failing to let that knowledge lead to love.
And this is what brings us back to our calling as Christians. We aren’t called to beat people over the head with facts to the point that it insults and repels them rather than drawing them into a greater knowledge of the Lord. No, we’re called to REACH the world with the Gospel. So while knowledge is good, we have to be wise in how we share that knowledge with others. If we’re not careful, we’ll just come across as pompous know-it-alls who are gloating in our vast accumulation of knowledge. We can’t reach people like that. And, as stated earlier, we can get so hung up on our rights that we fail to do the right thing by people. Listen to Pastor Aaron as he talks about this conversation from 1st Corinthians chapter 8…
But knowledge leads to another trap, not just knowledge itself but there’s a trap of rights. See, they, they go on and they think, well, sometimes the word freedom and rights, it’s the same word in Greek, and they’re saying you know, “we’ve got the freedom to do this,” and they’re encouraging others to take make use of their freedoms, and Paul even grants it. He says that to “take care that this right of yours does not turn in to a problem.”
See, Paul has been working this issue and they see that their knowledge shows them what they’re free to do. But we can’t let it be a selfish motive of freedom and a touting of my rights, “I have the right to do that I’m free in Christ to do that.” That’s not the issue. And again, it’s not that rights are bad. Rights are not a bad thing, but they can’t be our emphasis or our grounding for why we do, “why did you do that” – “because I have a right to do that.” And does that mean it was a good decision? “But I have a right” – okay, but was that a good decision? Saying you have a right doesn’t answer if that was a good decision. I mean, sure, you have the freedom to do it if you want. But that doesn’t mean it was a good thing.
And I think maybe this even more than knowledge is the challenge for us as believers in America, because we are big on rights. We love rights, and we have a right to like our rights. Right? The Bill of Rights. That’s a constitutional document. It’s not a scriptural document. The Bill of Rights gives us more rights than scripture does. And sometimes we conflate the two, we think that those are God given rights when they’re really not. Then we take something like the Second Amendment – we have the right to bear arms. That’s a constitutional right that we have as American citizens. And as long as you’re an American citizen and the Constitution has the Second Amendment, you have that right. If the Constitution is ever changed to where the Second Amendment is done away with, you no longer have that right, because that’s a constitutionally given right, not a God given right. And there’s a difference between those two things.
And as American Christians, we have to do the hard work of wrestling with what is Christ, and what is the Constitution of the United States of America. And that’s a challenge, because we’ve been raised with Americanism – this idea of the gospel being blended with the American way and the American dream. We have to fight that. We can’t let things get hung up on rights. The reality is, the rights that God has given us, nobody can ever actually take away. No matter what they do they cannot take it away because they’re internal realities of our relationship between God and other people. And those, nobody can touch those. They can’t do it by force, even the government could come in by force and take your guns. They can’t come in and take your walk with Jesus away. Nobody can do that.
So now that we’ve addressed the difference between our American rights and our rights in God, how do we accomplish our calling? How can we keep the issues we battle against separate from our charge to witness to others for the cause of Christ? Perhaps one of the hardest things we have to do when fighting for what we believe is making sure we’re not bringing that fight against people.
I often quote the scripture from Ephesians 6:12 that says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” But how often we seem to forget that people are NOT our enemy. And while we should speak out regarding injustices, there comes a point when we must recognize that the largest battles will be won from our knees in prayer rather than brought about through verbal argument. We are quick to take up arms or to argue with people about what we think is right, but we should be even more quick to seek the face of God in prayer and allow Him to bring about His will in a way that all the glory will go to Him rather than to us.
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So many times, I have said this: Our chief duty as Christians is to demonstrate the great love of God to the world. Yes, we have the Great Commission. Yes, we are supposed to reach the world with the Good News of Christ. But the best way to do that was exemplified in the life of Jesus. Did He spend vast amounts of time arguing with those who disagreed with Him? He rightfully put the Pharisees in their place on a few occasions, but not through argument. He knew their hearts. He knew they wouldn’t receive His words. So what did He do instead? He openly demonstrated the will of the Father through His actions. He showed that it was good to do good on the Sabbath, even if that involved the “work” of healing. He met needs. He challenged the status quo, not through direct opposition, but through acts of love.
And love is what this all comes down to. While we must stand up for righteousness when it comes to dealing with issues, we must act in love when it comes to dealing with people. Love is how we reach people. Love is what opens doors that might be slammed shut by arguments. We have to put aside our pride, our sense that “we’re right and they should be made to see this” – that attitude will never win hearts and minds, let alone souls. There is indeed a “more excellent way,” and that way is LOVE. In the end, love is what will triumph when everything else has failed.
This means we may need to even put aside our own ideas of what our rights are in favor of showing love to people, rather than humiliating them for the sake of proving that we’re right. The concept of setting aside “what I have a right to say or do” to instead reach people with love is a key point of scripture. It’s what Jesus did when He went to the cross. He would have been within His own rights to call legions of angels to defend Him, but He didn’t. He could have rightly maintained the glory of His heavenly station, but He set it aside for the good of mankind…to save us…in the ultimate act of love of dying for our sins. With more on this, here again is Pastor Aaron…
We see the same with Jesus in Philippians two. One of the most amazing passages of his humility, doesn’t use the term “right” but this is what he’s doing. “He did not consider equality with God, a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men, and being found in human form he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Jesus had the right to all of his attributes as God. And yet he chose to set aside all of those things to come as a human. What we’re celebrating on Christmas day, he was born in a body, freely surrendered himself to a human existence. In order to deal with sin. The most amazing setting aside of rights, you’ll ever see. But he did it in love.
So just to say “I have the right to” is not a good primary reason for doing something. We may well have rights and Paul doesn’t deny that they don’t have the right to eat food. But he said “Don’t let this right of yours be a stumbling block to other people.” We can’t let that be a trap towards selfish motives and self centered thinking it’s all about, “I can do this because I have the right and it’s all about me me me me me.” That’s not where we want to be.
So finally, let’s look at the triumph of love. See there’s a reason why Jesus said the two greatest commandments are both about love: love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength with all of your being love him, and to love your neighbor as yourself. If you just love God and love people, you will never sin again. Think about that. And we think about all the things that are sinful according to Scripture, and sometimes it can be overwhelming. Think about how much there is to do or to not do because he even says that to not do the good we ought to is sinful. “Gosh, this is rough.” But if we just love God. And we love people, we’ll honor him with our life at all times.
Love is the only basis for doing what we do and why we do it. Love has to be the ultimate motivation for our decision. See love truly builds up. Where knowledge just puffs up, well love builds up. Love is like going to the gym and taking protein and having a healthy diet and exercising and, and you build up real muscles that really make you strong, and then you really can do certain things. You’re not just puffed up thinking that you can, you actually have real strength to do with, love does that, love builds up.
And love doesn’t just build you up, it builds other people up. See, that’s the difference, in somebody’s puffed up knowledge they do something that causes someone else’s downfall. But when you’re operating out of love, you’re built up and strengthened and so is your brother or sister because you’re not doing things that lead to their downfall because you consider them. And you think about them. And you, you don’t just make it for selfish reasons. And so rather than destroying your brother and sister by your amazing knowledge, you actually save your brother or sister because you’re treating them with kindness and respect in love. And that’s the basis for why we do what we do.
And Paul says look if, instead of going to the idol’s temple, you’re like “man I, my brother actually is falling because of this, let me just eat at home.” No big deal. Remember you’re not better off if you do eat, you’re no worse off if you don’t. So, what’s it matter? Just do the right thing. See too often when we come to these type of debatable issues we say “well, it doesn’t matter if I do or don’t, so I can.” True, but if it doesn’t matter if you do or don’t, why do you feel the need to? It doesn’t matter, right? So just don’t do it. Just avoid those things, walk in love. So we can just always ask the question, “Is this okay for me to do? Am I free to do this? Do I have a right to this? Is this true, according to what God says about me in Scripture?” That can’t be our primary way of thinking.
We have to ask other questions like, “if I do this, what will God think about that? How will this affect my walk with God?” That’s the first question. And if you come down saying “well I don’t think that will affect my walk with God at all,” great. That doesn’t mean rush into it. Secondly, you should ask, “how will this affect other believers? How will this affect my family? How will this affect my husband, my wife? How will this affect my children? How might this affect my parents? If I do this, how would this affect my neighbors? How would this affect my employer? How would this affect my employees? If I make this decision and other believers find out about it, how will it affect them? Will it affect them? What would the influence be? What would the impact be?” Do we ever think about how our decisions affect other people? Those are the things that we have to do, because then and only then are we truly operating out of love.
So I want to encourage you guys make choices based on your love for others, not just on what you know to be true. And what you may or may not actually have the right and freedom to do in Scripture. Just because we’re free in Christ to do something doesn’t mean that we should, because love is the only one that leads to genuinely Christ like decision making.
And this is for you. This is where the real hard work is for you. See, I don’t know, all of your lives and I can’t be involved in all of your lives and honestly it’s enough struggle in my own life, I don’t want to try to live anybody else’s life. But every one of us has to take this word about love, rather than knowledge or rights, and see how does it affect our life. I want to challenge you guys to take time in your prayer times to ask God, “Lord, what is, what is the motivation for my decision making in life? Am I really operating in love for you and in love for others?” The holy, the application piece is between you and the Holy Spirit. Ask him, ask him to lead you ask him to show you, areas where you’re making decisions for the wrong reasons, for the wrong motives.
And again, I’m not saying that you’re right or wrong or what those decisions are in your life – that’s between you and the Lord to wrestle with those types of things. Some things are genuinely debatable matters that, hey, you could choose to do, or you could choose to not do it, it doesn’t matter. Some things you absolutely shouldn’t be doing, some things maybe you absolutely should be. But let God be your guide as you learn to walk in love towards other people in all things.
Amen. Let God be your guide. And may love be your motivation. Don’t let your freedoms or rights become a stumbling block and get in the way of your calling as a child of God. I’d like to thank my good friend, Pastor Aaron Zielinske, for allowing me to incorporate his sermon into this program. And thank you for listening.
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