America is the land of the free. Every July we celebrate our independence—usually at a cottage on a lake. Our Bill of Rights enumerates cherished liberties (of which we can recall 3 or 4?). We value, promote, and defend freedom. Are we perfect in our pursuit? Of course not. Grave errors are made here and abroad that work against us, cost lives, and undermine our values. My heart breaks for the sin and injustice carried out in and through our nation. But even so, I still love my country and wouldn’t hesitate to chant U-S-A! should the need arise (Olympics maybe?).
However, as a Christian, I understand that I have dual citizenship. I’m an American by physical birth, and I’m a Christian—a citizen of heaven—by spiritual birth (Php 3:20). Christians are called to be ambassadors for Christ (2Co 5:20). Being a good ambassador means understanding both the culture you’re in (American) and the one you are called to represent (Christ). So as a Christian, should independence be one of my highest values? Yes and no.
On the one hand, the freedom we enjoy is such a good thing. We’re free to gather publicly to worship our God. We’re free to talk about Jesus and to share our faith. We’re free to love our neighbors and serve those in need. We’re free to work and provide for our families. And we’re free to advocate against and act for the reform of evil and unjust institutions, ideas, and practices. This isn’t a luxury enjoyed by Christians everywhere, and I’m deeply thankful for that aspect of our freedom.
But on the other hand, in America, our attitude of independence is often elevated higher than our created design. We don’t think we need anyone. Have you ever noticed how hard it is to admit you need help with something? Even something little?? We’re FINE. Independence becomes unhealthy isolation. A friend recently observed that in his neighborhood, every house has unused patio furniture. People don’t stop by. Garage doors protect, fences separate, and conversations and deep relationships are rare. Think about this: how many of your neighbors, within one block, do you know by name? What are their kids’ names? What are they excited/nervous about for their future? Social media only makes it worse. We have a neverending feed of people sharing their successes and celebrations, but we feel more lonely than ever. This is where the value of independence may need to be replaced by the more Christian value of inter-dependence. Inter-dependence is not an unhealthy dependence enabling bad behavior, but the recognition that we need each other because relationships and community were part of God’s design. After all, “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone.’” (Ge 2:18). Our neighbor’s win is not our loss.
But an independent attitude isn’t just bad for the neighborhood. When we see ourselves as fully self-sufficient, without needing anything from God, then our independence has become idolatry. We must not worship and serve our autonomy in place of God. We were made to be wholly dependent upon God. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5) Do you really believe that? Apart from Christ, you can do nothing? God is our Creator (Ge 1:27); we would not exist without his will and his creative work. And God is our Sustainer, “sustaining all things,” every breath, every star, every atom, “by his powerful word” (Heb 1:3). At its heart, sin is the desire for independence from God. But, like a young child running from his parents toward the street, running from God could never result in flourishing life, but only ever destruction and death.
God alone is self-sufficient. He doesn’t need us. But the gospel says that God wants us. That’s totally different. Jesus wants a relationship with you. And he was willing to sacrifice everything, even his life on the cross, to accomplish his saving work. Isn’t that amazing? So, faith in Jesus heals our independent attitude. Faith restores dependence upon God and healthy inter-dependence with our neighbor. Faith empowers the selfless and self-sacrificing love necessary for relationships. When we see God’s desire in Christ to restore and build a relationship with us, it strengthens us to make the uncomfortable effort to get out of our isolation. We may have to replace the patio furniture more often, but it could be a great way to be an ambassador for Christ in America, and it might just be more fulfilling than endless, lonely scrolling.