Let’s face it — Independence Day is truly a special holiday. It’s a wonderful day to spend time with family and friends in the heart of summertime, grilling out, swimming, and watching fireworks. And of course, most of us take time to pause and reflect on what it means to live in a free country. Even the most jaded among us seem to become true believers in patriotism, even for a day.
But now, a couple of days after the 4th, as the red, white, and blue buntings come down and the smell of fireworks finally evaporates from the air, we can take time to reflect on our love of country. And for Christians, I want to challenge you to examine yourself and ask this question: has patriotism become an idol for you?
I’m aware of what a loaded question that is, but the truth is that for too many Christians, America — and love for the nation — can become an idol. It’s quite easy for believers to allow their patriotism to take a seat above their relationship with God, even temporarily.
The Heidelberg Catechism defines an idolatry as “having or inventing something in which one trusts in place of or alongside of the only true God, who has revealed himself in the Word.” So even something otherwise good and worthwhile can turn into an idol if we’re not careful to keep our relationship with God above it.
As believers in the one true God, Christians are guaranteed citizenship in heaven — a kingdom that will last long after this nation ceases to exist. Our home is in an eternal kingdom that will never fade away or change at the whims of a human leader or fall victim to a political process.
We Christians should never lose sight of what it means to be part of a global Church and a kingdom that operates beyond the bounds of time and space. Our primary allegiance is supposed to be toward God and His kingdom, yet we get it wrong so many times. As Russell Moore puts it, believers “often see America as somehow more ‘real’ than the kingdom, and our country as more important than the church.”
I think this problem is rearing its head in an especially pernicious way in 2016, when nationalism has dominated the Republican platform, thanks to Donald Trump and his followers. Trump has turned patriotism into a weapon, an act of defiance against — well, anybody who thinks he’s not the best choice to lead the country. The Trump camp has elevated American idolatry to nearly an art form.
But Jesus calls His followers to, “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” (Matthew 6:33, NLT). When we elevate America above God’s will and purpose, we are certainly not seeking His kingdom, and we can’t expect His favor and blessing.
The truth is, there’s nothing wrong with being a good citizen, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with loving America. Engaging in the political process is wonderful and vital, and we should want our nation to be the best it can be. But we have to be mindful that our national identity falls well below our spiritual, eternal identity.
Russell Moore writes that, if Christians believe that God’s kingdom is more important than any earthly nation:
…then let’s crucify our generic civil religions and our discount-rate prosperity gospels and hear behind all of them the gentle lowing of golden calves, and let’s instead define ourselves not by the generic god of American values. We do not serve that god. We serve the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God and Father of Jesus Christ. The promises that he has made will outlast Mount Rushmore. He is the one who tells us who we are and tells us where we are going, because he’s promised us, in the short term, a cross on our backs, and in the long term, a crown of life.
We may well be in for some rough times over the next four years (and beyond), but if we believe in a God who has all things under His control, we should trust in Him to take care of us, rather than trusting a process, party, or earthly form of government.
Now, more than ever, it’s important for God’s followers to put His kingdom above all else — including our patriotism and national love. If we all did so, I truly believe that we would be more at peace, regardless of any political outcomes this November.
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