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A Call to Solemn Acts of Devotion
Today is Independence Day, a day we celebrate our country and the liberty it secures for us and the world. That is certainly warranted. This great nation has served as a city on a hill for many generations, a beacon of freedom and protector of liberty across the globe. We also commemorate those who have paid the cost of that freedom.
This really is the land of the free because of the brave.
You will see lots of red, white, and blue today. There will be parades and fireworks. You may eat hot dogs and hamburgers with family and friends. You may even watch a movie about American heroes (even fictional ones who stop an alien invasion). But this day is about more than that.
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Solemn Acts of Devotion
On July 3, 1776, John Adams wrote a letter to his wife about the Continental Congress’s decision to declare independence from Great Britain. He said that the day should be “solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”1 On that point, I believe we continue to meet his expectations.
Adams also said of this day that it “ought to be commemorated as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty.” How many “solemn acts of devotion” do you plan to participate in today?
247 years ago, the Continental Congress officially adopted the Declaration of Independence, declaring that the rights of all men come directly from God. In standing against the most powerful military force in the world, they expressly invoked the protection of “Divine Providence.”
God was faithful to these men who called upon His protection as they laid down their “Lives, Fortunes, and sacred Honor” in service to their fellow man. They succeeded in establishing a new nation through blood, sweat, and tears, yes; but they also relied upon the strength and blessing of God Almighty… and he delivered.
Adams’s call for “solemn acts of devotion” is tied to this reality. This nation we celebrate was formed through the sovereign acts of God. He is worthy of our praise today. If you find reason to celebrate this great nation, you have cause to honor God with prayers of thanksgiving and songs of adoration.
An Imperfect Nation
We must be careful, however, in celebrating our nation and God’s provision that we do not conflate the two. While God has certainly used the United States as an instrument of His grace in the world, the nation our founders crafted has always been far from perfect. Scarred by slavery and marred with injustice, the innately human stain on this country is perhaps more evident today than ever before.
John Adams warned that the government the founders established was not sufficient to overcome the sins of its people:
Because We have no Government armed with Power capable of contending with human Passions unbridled by . . . morality and Religion. Avarice, Ambition [and] Revenge or Galantry, would break the strongest Cords of our Constitution as a Whale goes through a Net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.2
In fact, Adams’s concern provoked him to pen these words to his wife:
Posterity! You will never know, how much it cost the present Generation, to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make a good Use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it.3
Looking at headlines these days, you have to wonder whether Adams would feel like the founders’ sacrifices were worth it in the end. After all, today’s America is bitterly divided along deep political fault lines. Today’s America seems willing to throw away the founders’ design with all of its checks and balances and consolidate power in political leaders, turning a blind eye so long as the leader is a member of our political tribe and promises to wield the power against the other tribe.
In these circumstances, celebration of our country can ring hollow. People tend to respond either with bitter disillusionment or fear. Bitter disillusionment leads to apathy and disengagement as all seems lost. Fear leads to moral compromises and the abandonment of reason as all seems justified in defending against the loathsome enemy of liberty. But, there is a third way: hope.
Ultimately, this nation, as great as it is, is destined to one day fall and fade from existence. It is part of a broken world ensnared by sin and death. But, God promises victory and redemption. In Him, we find our hope.
Independence from the tyranny of death can only be achieved through utter dependence on Jesus Christ. As the Word of the Lord declares, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”4 Paul wrote further, “For freedom, Christ set us free.”5
Just as our founding fathers placed their trust in God over “king and country,” we must be careful to place our hope in the right foundation.
We must remember that on this Day of Independence, we celebrate independence from a human king, but we also celebrate absolute dependence on the “Supreme Judge of the world.”
True liberty and independence are made possible not by governments and militaries, but by the blood of Christ. We depend on God and God alone for our joy, our comfort, and our salvation. We need no king, no ruler, or authority of this age to grant us our rights. They are a free gift from God.
Christ, the heir to the throne of the Kingdom of Heaven, has given us His rights.
This gift of freedom, however, comes with a purpose: “don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love.”6 Paul warned, “If you bite and devour one another, watch out, or you will be consumed by one another.”7
From the firm foundation of peace and hope that comes in Christ, we are freed to serve our neighbor in this world without bitterness, hate, or apathy. We can do that through service to our country, fighting for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We do so not because the future is in our fallible hands, a fact which if true would leave no room for hope; but because it is in the hands of our omnipotent, righteous Heavenly King, and He has freed us to join Him in battle.
Today, then, let us remember the centrality of God in all that we celebrate. God allowed for the birth of our country. He used it to proclaim liberty and freedom across the Globe despite our brokenness. He sustains it in His hand in accordance with His will. While the future of this particular country is not promised, the eternal triumph of liberty and freedom is promised through God’s Kingdom. This is truly worthy of celebration and “solemn acts of devotion.”
It should be noted that John Adams thought that July 2 would be the day celebrated in years to come. That was the day the Second Continental Congress unanimously voted to approve the Lee Resolution declaring independence from Great Britain. Two days later, they would adopt the Declaration of Independence as a formal statement of their reasons for doing so. Because that hallowed document bears the date of July 4, that day has come to be celebrated as the birthday of our nation. Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 3 July 1776, "Had a Declaration..."
2 Corinthians 3:17