I love my country and this blog is not an attempt to bash it. I simply want to highlight the contrast between American cultural values and the upside-down values of the Kingdom of God. You could say that Jesus is un-American because American culture is very ego-centric—it’s all about me, the individual. American culture is also very materialistic—it’s about what I own. Most Americans know the following sentence from the Declaration of Independence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
This is not necessarily a bad sentence—but the way most Americans interpret the phrase “pursuit of happiness” is what troubles me. The Kingdom of God is about the pursuit of holiness—not our happiness. It is about the pursuit of God’s Glory—not our glory. Jesus’ call to follow him is very offensive to many Americans. In Matthew 16:24, Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
This one verse alone shows three opposing values between the Kingdom of God and American values. It is seen in the contrast between “denying rights” and “demanding rights.” A lot of people don’t want to follow Jesus when they learn it means giving up their personal rights. That sounds so Un-American doesn’t it?—because we Americans are so used to demanding our rights!
This verse shows the contrast between “sacrifice” and “comfort.” Sacrifice and suffering are overlooked themes in the church today. To speak of a daily cross of suffering just doesn’t seem to fit American culture and our pursuit of comfort. How tempting it is to shape Christianity into something a little less demanding, a little more comfortable for us.
This verse also shows the contrast between “following” and “leading.” Americans do not see themselves as followers—we see ourselves as leaders. We call our President “the leader of the free world.” Americans are proud individuals, each with their own agenda. A friend of mine recently remarked, “Everyone wants a following (especially on social media) but no one wants to be a follower.” Many claim to be Christian, but they keep on leading their own lives.
If we are true followers of Jesus, we must see ourselves as Christians first and Americans second. We must be willing to live counter-cultural lives.
Reflections: Do you see your first identity as being a follower of Jesus or as an American citizen? Of the three areas mentioned (denying your rights, willingness to sacrifice, and obedient following) which one do you need to work on the most?
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind . . . “