It is so ingrained into our American way of thinking that one of our most popular holidays is Independence Day. We celebrate the fact, not only of our ancestors winning the war to become free from under the control of England well over 200 years ago, but also that in America people value the idea of being able to support ourselves free of undo control or interference by outside forces. Unfortunately much of that is now quickly evaporating, but that is a different topic.
Independence is generally understood to mean depending on one's own efforts and resources to make a living for ourselves and to do things the way we want to do them within reason. Independence is part of human nature but our particular culture has amplified this natural tendency more acutely than many other cultures who function more connectedly in tight-knit clans or religions when making decisions.
We often think of independence as a positive trait to be honored and applauded. Capitalism is viewed as the opportunity for people with plenty of ambition and willingness to work hard to lift themselves above the average and make something more important of themselves. They can get an education and exploit the work opportunities so as to carve out a name for themselves or amass wealth and respect. Of course there are always those who resent success on the part of others and will seek to discredit those who rise above the average, but generally our culture has traditionally encouraged independence.
But as Christ-followers how are we to relate to this idea of independence? Are the American ideals of independence and capitalism really as synonymous with the Christian ideal as many seem to claim today? Listening to popular theology one might assume that becoming a soldier in the American army is an advancement in Christian status. You will certainly have many more people praying for you at the least And given popular attitudes about the differences between the well-off and the underprivileged by many Christians, one might assume that God blesses the rich and punishes the poor. All of this is in harmony with our independent way of thinking and living. But how true are all of these assumptions?
A couple days ago I was listening to one of my favorite teachers who has long been very focused on leading people to get into the Word of God more effectively for themselves. As he was being interviewed this issue of independence came up and he pointed out that the life of a true Christian will be marked, not by a spirit of independence but rather an ever-increasing attitude of total dependence on Christ alone.
He explained that independence is a reliance on one's self and one's own wisdom and skills for making decisions. But this is opposite of the way Jesus lived and what He taught. Becoming a true Christian involves giving up our independence and coming to trust and rely more and more on surrendering our independence to God and living in greater dependence on Him as we allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit of God and instructed in the Word of God.
As he was talking it suddenly struck me that the very word independence has within its structure the very definition of itself. To live independently is to depend primarily on what is in me – in-dependence. This is in sharp contrast to depending on someone outside of myself instead of depending on what I find within myself.
I took note of this thought and decided to flush it out more thoroughly later. But before I had the time, the very next day I was reading a portion from a Bible commentary on a troubling passage of Scripture that I wanted to unpack and was suddenly confronted with a statement directly connected to these thoughts about independence. I could not miss the connection for this kind of thing has become common in my experience, where God arranges things to come to my attention at just the right time.
I love it when I see God coordinating events and teachings and insights for me, for it keeps me reminded that He is directly involved in my life and is actively present to effect my growth and improve my understanding. It makes me humbled to realize that the great Creator God of the universe is so humble as to focus His attention so acutely on such an insignificant person like me to improve my ability and willingness to know, experience and share the good news about Him more clearly.
The statement that grabbed my attention from the commentary revealed just the opposite of the spirit of independence which had come to my attention previosly. The commentary was explaining the verse in 2 Thessalonians 1:10 that speaks of when Jesus returns to receive glory from all His people. In explaining the original meaning of the word glory it said this:
The word for "glory" is an unusual compound, repeated in verse 12, literally "in-glorified in his saints."
Suddenly I saw the contrast between the spirit of independence and the spirit that will mark true Christ-followers. It is the very opposite of what too many have assumed for so long as they try to mingle the American dream with popular Christian thinking. Following the example of Jesus and living as a true Christ-follower must necessarily involve living for the glory and honor of the One we claim to follow – Christ and His Father. Living for and depending on anyone or anything else is dependence on a false source of life, security and hope. In fact, the very essence of the idea of independence is the same spirit and philosophy that permeates the essence of sin – living independently apart from God.
For too long we have mistakenly thought that sin was primarily doing bad things that hurt people or offended God and that our work to become free of sin and get into heaven was to somehow find ways to quit doing those bad things. Others in Christianity believe that since Jesus paid for our sins on the cross that even gaining victory over sinful behavior is now somewhat nebulous and there is division as to how much reform a person really is required to demonstrate in their life once they have been 'saved'.
But when sin is seen in its true light as seeking to live depending on any source other than God for all of our needs, our wisdom, our guidance, our value and our identity, then it becomes much clearer what God is trying to effect in His plan for our salvation. Independence no longer looks so attractive in this context and the whole American culture of fierce independence becomes suspect in the light of a true understanding of God's Word. And while there will always be no shortage of Christians insisting that the American ideal can somehow be made compatible with Christianity, living with a dependence on what is inside ourselves given our fallen, deeply selfish nature will never bring glory to the One who came and lived a completely selfless life and died as a result.
To glorify Jesus means to give credence and validity to how He lived, what He taught and the clear demonstration of the character of God as displayed in all of His interactions with sinners while here on earth. To bring true glory and honor to Jesus, His followers must necessarily come to the place in their own lives where they are not only following Him in word and profession but are willing to lay aside their self-dependence and live daily in complete God-dependence which I have not seen too often. But only this kind of living can truly bring glory to Jesus and this is what He is seeking to cultivate in the lives of all who are willing to submit fully to His authority in their hearts.
I want to not only learn much more about this but even more importantly I want my own life to better reflect this God-dependence more consistently. I want my life to be so absorbed by the indwelling presence of Jesus permeating my thinking, my reactions and my attitudes that when He appears in person He can be in-glorified in me. Which reminds me of the one area where I am most incomplete in at this point in my life.
"By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35)