July Fourth is, perhaps, the most American day there is. It’s a day we remember when we asserted our liberty from the tyrannical rule of Britain and separated ourselves as the American colonies. It’s the day in 1776 when the Second Continental Congress ratified the Declaration of Independence. It truly is America’s day, and nothing makes us much happier as the eyes of the globe turn towards us. Americans love it when the attention is on them and they receive the glory. But more than just the overt things that have become associated with Fourth of July celebrations — beer, hotdogs, hamburgers, fireworks, etc. — the underlying spirit of this holiday is uniquely American. The idea of shirking “the man” and forging our own way is built into our DNA. We all long to be patriots and pioneers, relying on no one and not letting anyone tell us what to do. This is the essence of the American Dream.
But even though we Americans might show off this spirit with the most flamboyance, with the most pop and circumstance, striving for independence isn’t exclusively American. In fact, every human who’s ever existed has been enslaved by the notion of finding freedom and securing his own sufficiency at all costs. It’s the result of the plague of sin. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” isn’t only an American ideal, it’s a universal one, a human one.
After Adam, every person who’s ever lived has lived under the curse of sin. We all feel the chains of iniquity and the burden of the law, and we long to shake these off. Mankind’s inbred rationale is that satisfaction and salvation are ends which he must forge and fabricate on his own. We’re born into this world knowing nothing except self-justification and self-sufficiency. The Fall has caused us to believe we’re our own saviors — even more, we’re our own gods. We’re dependent on and indebted to no one. This is what freedom looks like. And yet, in our quest to find this freedom in ourselves, in others, in pleasure, or in religion itself, we end up enslaving ourselves in the very quest for emancipation.
In a sense, this is what we celebrate on July 4th. It’s a day we set aside to champion our inner spirit of independence and liberty. And though I would never shame someone for being patriotic and having pride in their country, this frame of mind is antithetical to the Christian mindset. Indeed, it’s antigospel.
“The life most blessed to us, and most honoring to Christ, is a life of believing and perpetual dependence upon God . . . Oh, it is sweet to be a dependent creature upon God — to hang upon a loving Father — to live as a poor, needy sinner day by day, moment by moment, upon Jesus — to trace God in ten thousand ways, to mark His wisdom here, His condescension there; now His love, and then His faithfulness, all combining and exerted for our good — truly it is the most holy and blessed life upon earth.” (Winslow, ch. 5)
Before the Fall, we knew nothing of self-sufficiency, and yet we were the most free. This underlies the upending logic of the gospel that declares us to be the most liberated when we’re the most dependent. The way of the Christian isn’t in found stubborn independence but in submissive dependence. A believer’s life is a lifelong journey into deeper and deeper dependence on Christ and His gospel of grace. It’s a life of perpetual reliance and repentance. There’s no graduating from this gospel of Christ crucified. There’s no growth or ascension beyond the point of childlike belief. (Matt. 18:3; Luke 18:17) There’s no spiritual advancement you can make to declare your own spiritual independence.
Rather, a “spirit-filled” life is one in which you dive further into the Word and find that your need of the gospel intensifies over a lifetime. From the time you’re delivered to the time you die, your one prayer remains, “God be merciful to me a sinner!” The lone petition of every Christian is that God would impart to them the confidence and courage to believe that “It is finished.” That grace has covered it all. That when the Father declares you righteous because of the work of the Son, it is so, without any ifs, ands, or buts.
This Independence Day, don’t forget to celebrate your dependence. Don’t forget to relish in the truth and the beauty and the grace of a life spent totally reliant on the strength and sovereignty of Another.
Winslow, Octavius. Grace and Truth. London: John F. Shaw & Co., 1849. Repr. 2006. Ch. 5.
Photo via Aaron Burden / Unsplash