My "Rights"

Dan Lenington on April 11, 2014

Declaration of Independence

In America, we are brought up with the belief that we have rights, and lots of them. Thomas Jefferson declared that we have inalienable rights from God such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. By demand of the people and declaration of the government, we have the right to speak freely, have guns, write our thoughts, assemble peacefully, and follow any religion. Over time, this has been expanded in the minds of many to include rights for prosperity, dignity, justice, peace, hope, equality, and personal choice. Now, most people believe they have the right to live pretty much however they want to live. Put another way, most think they can do whatever they can get away with.

However, we must stop and ask where rights actually come from and by whose authority do we have them? Jefferson got one thing right which was that rights come from the Creator. God as our Creator is in the only position to define our rights because we owe everything to Him. He gave us life, and He has the right to take it away. He also has the right to bestow His right to end life to human government. Romans 13:1-2, 4 says, "Let every soul be subject unto the hight powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword, in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil." So life is not a right apart from the will of God. In fact, as Christians we are called to give up a right to our life to serve God and others (Matt. 10:39;16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24; 17:33; John 12:25).

What about liberty? Scripture speaks about our liberty as Christians under grace to serve God according to our consciences. However, we are commanded first to never use this liberty to excuse sin. Galatians 5:13-14 states, "For, brethren ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." In fact, we are always called to limit our liberty for the spiritual well being of others. Romans 14:15 says, "But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died." Paul also called himself the prisoner of Jesus Christ 5x (Eph. 3:1; 4:1, 2 Tim. 1:8; Phm 1:1, 9), and he with the other apostles called themselves the servant of Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:1; Jam. 1:1; 2 Pet. 1:1; Jude 1:1; Rev. 1:1). Christians are not at liberty to live our own life. Paul reminds us that we are bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:19-20). So liberty is not a right apart from the will of God.

What about a pursuit of happiness? This is in fact a very self serving concept. Pursuing whatever makes you happy (the flesh) is the quickest path to sin's destruction. but pursuing and yielding to God's leading guarantees joy and peace (Gal. 5:19-23). Our culture justifies the pursuit of all kinds of idols such as health, pride, comfort, success, affluence, etc. However, none of these will satisfy the soul. Only fellowship with God through rejection of self and sin brings full joy (1 John 1:3-10). Despite what the government says, God does not give us the right to use words, religion, assemblies, weapons, or our bodies in selfish ways. God doesn't give us the right to hold grudges or to demand that we be treated well. The example of Christ teaches us that we must reject our pride and put the needs of others before our own. Philippians  2:3-5 says, "Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus." Rather than self esteem we ought to esteem others better than ourselves. Don't look out for your own best interests. So pursuing whatever makes us happy is not a right apart from the will of God since only God's will will make us happy.  

Let me make two final applications. Christians can be very thankful for the freedoms we are afforded here in America. However, let us never think that we may demand any of these freedoms as autonomous rights. Let us view these freedoms merely as opportunities to serve God more efficiently. We should not take them for granted but instead be very thankful to God for them. But even without peace, justice, equality, prosperity, dignity, hope for change, personal choice, or the freedom to assemble, worship, speak, write, or bear arms, we can still be consistent Christians as the early church was. Secondly, God alone is the giver of rights, and at any time, He may revoke them or ask us to release them in the service of others or Himself. Releasing your "rights" to be treated well, hold a grudge, or exercise your freedom of choice will bring you incredible peace and joy because you won't feel slighted when you are treated poorly. Prov. 13:10 says, "Only by pride cometh contention: but with the well advised is wisdom." Demanding your "rights" is pride in expecting that you deserve to be treated a certain way. Ultimately, we deserve nothing but judgment for our sin. When we pridefully demand our rights, there is always contention. Only when you release you rights will you have the mind of Christ, be able to walk in the Spirit, and see His fruit produced in your life. Our only right is to serve and obey God.