Something is wrong with Independence Day.
I never thought much of it, because the Fourth of July was just part of my middle-American upbringing. It seemed harmless, even a great opportunity to cheer about how much better the United States was than every other country and set off colorful explosions in the sky. The USA was all I ever knew, so I didn’t question it.
So many of us have eagerly accepted the holiday part and parcel. But should we?
If we are more excited about the Fourth of July than about living now and in eternity with Jesus, we are in a dangerous place. God invites us to something eternal, of far greater significance than an annual parade of uniforms and cheap candy.
4 Things Not To Celebrate About Independence Day
1. Overindulgence Is Idolatry
Much in the same way Christmas is easily convoluted into a consumeristic, materialism-driven overindulgence fest, the Fourth of July is for indulging in the glory of heritage and human tradition.
It’s hard to miss just how un-moderately we celebrate Independence Day. “The Founders” are all but worshiped as all-knowing and all-wise. The nation is honored as a great savior of the world (because it’s always America that rescues other countries by foreign aid and military power). Political and military leaders are heralded as the greatest of heroes because of their service to the nation’s will to dominate others.
What holds our attention becomes our idols unless checked by God, who deserves far more acclaim than any human institution or tradition.
2. America Is Not the Author of Freedom
“The Framers” did not invent freedom. They did not come up with the idea of a “free society” (it wasn’t ancient Rome, Greece, or any other civilization, either). Not only is it ethnocentric to think America invented freedom, it’s wrong.
Jesus authored freedom and is the only one able to give it. Before time began, He was the source of freedom and the reason for it. We cannot live unhindered, abundant lives unless Jesus first sets us free from the sin that enslaves us (John 8:31-36).
Freedom’s not an excuse for us to do whatever we want. Freedom is a gift from God that we can use to serve the interests of others (Galatians 5:1, 1 Peter 2:16). Freedom is never promised as our pinnacle of achievement; it’s a means to the end goal of being connected to God and helping more people connect to Him, too.
3. Ethnocentric Patriotism Is Pride
Patriotism can be a moderate, reasonable enjoyment of one’s homeland, but it’s often manipulated into a system that impresses the will and values of a governing body upon the people under its influence. God made us to be free from the rule of sin and oppression so that we can be more obedient to Him, not to serve a system concerned with self-preservation and power structures. If we subjugate the way of Jesus to the orders and values of a government, we grossly distort the message and intent of God.
What’s vexing is the more often proclaimed allegiance to country than to God. Even to mingle “for God and country” elevates a nation state to an extreme, dangerous level.
Nationalistic pride isn’t a reason for Christians to celebrate; it’s a sin to repent of.
Moderate love of one’s country is fine and good so long as it doesn’t surpass love of God and love of people. However, most of our demonstrations of patriotism morph into “American exceptionalism”—the prideful, pagan, illogical assumption that the good ole USA is better than any other country because of our history, our accomplishments, and our privileged position in the world.
Ethnocentric patriotism often shows up when even Christians say things like, “Just bomb every city in the Middle East” or “If you don’t speak our language, get out of our country.” That kind of rhetoric is filled with hate and fails to recognize the flaws of every human and the including nature of God. He does not push us away, but welcomes us no matter how messed up we are. Especially for Evangelicals who want to share their faith with others, why on earth would you want to see killed, locked up, or pushed out the very people who desperate need the message of Jesus, too?
When we proclaim the United States supreme, we insensitively brush aside other people groups, lands and languages as inferior. That kind of harsh nationalism rejects people God declares a good and beautiful part of His creation.
America is not the golden standard for all other nations of the world to live up to. There is beauty in variety and there is inherent value in diversity because God Himself made people, animals and the world with creative variation and differences in both form and function. America without all the other peoples and ideas in the world would be a bland, ungodly one.
Yes, love where you live and enjoy the life God has given you in your nation. But don’t confuse where you’re at for the best place anyone could ever be. Since when did America have a monopoly on greatness? God alone can claim that description, and He’s the one who determines the rise and fall of nations and leaders (Psalm 22:28, Daniel 2:21).
4. Independence Is A Shallow Goal
To be completely self-sufficient individuals has nothing to do with the kingdom of God.
God is all about and has always been about community. We’re created with the need and desire for interdependence, not independence. We do not learn to love and look out of the interests of one another, as Jesus commanded, by separating from each other as independent beings.
As a nation, it is a prideful goal to proclaim sovereignty over a set a borders and say that no one else is needed. That is a pagan, old-world mentality, ignorant of how little we are in comparison to God, who created and rules over all the earth and everything in it (Psalm 24:1, 47:8).
Not A Country, But A Kingdom
Christians can and should observe Independence Day — as a reminder of a better place we’re headed.
We are made for a heavenly dwelling, not an earthly one (Hebrews 11:13-16). We will not be in this world as it is for very long. And with the time we do have here, we represent another place: we belong to a heavenly kingdom, not an earthly country.
If you follow Jesus, you are not primarily a citizen of America; you are a citizen of the kingdom of God (Philippians 3:20). And that kingdom will far outlast this country because the kingdom of God is far different and far better than this country. America will never compare to God’s kingdom, and neither will any other nation.
What’s within a set of borders doesn’t make something great; seeing past boundaries does.
Seeing past divisions is what the kingdom of God is made of. Jesus reigns as a good King who not only welcomes outsiders and foreigners into His kingdom; He pursues them when they are far away and oblivious to Him. That is how good and great Jesus, and therefore His kingdom, is.
Without these four things, Independence Day can make an enjoyable, innocent enough summer holiday. Let’s enjoy the Fourth of July weekend. Pull up a chair and let’s watch the fireworks light up the night sky. Let’s spend the weekend making memories with people we care about. And through it all, let’s remember we belong to an eternal kingdom, not a temporary country.
How do you celebrate Independence Day?