The thing that I love the most about the United States of America, and the thing that each of us should get up every day and thank God for is this…The Bill of Rights. Why? Because the Bill of Rights was created to protect our individual freedoms. The Bill of Rights is the name given to the first ten amendments of the United States Constitution that guarantee personal rights. Most nations do not have individual rights. They do not have a Bill of Rights. Unfortunately, we tend to take them for granted. Let’s look at some of them.
• Freedom of Speech – I get to get up here and say whatever I want, and you get to say whatever you want, you can post whatever you want on FaceBook. You can comment on whatever you want on FB. And I can delete whatever I want on FB.
• Freedom of the Press
• Freedom to Assemble – we get to gather and don’t have to register with the gov’t to do so
• Freedom of Religion
• Freedom to Bear Arms
• Due Process – can’t be tried on the same set of facts twice, and have the right to remain silent
• Jury Trial – this is a privilege, there are many countries where there’s no jury of your peers
• Free from Search & Seizure – gov’t can’t search or take things from your home without probable cause
• Free from Cruel & Unusual Punishment – you can’t be treated like some other countries treat people
• We are all free from the Quartering of Soldiers – prevents government from forcing homeowners to allow soldiers to use their homes. Before the Revolutionary War, laws gave British soldiers the right to take over private homes.
That last one brings up a good point: If the Bill of Rights were written today, they would look a bit different. We’d likely include:
- Free education because we’ve come to assume education should be free.
- Free Healthcare
- Freedom from Gov’t interference
- Free Wifi for everybody
Now the guys who wrote The Bill of Rights and our Constitution were so smart. They knew that as times changed that the specifics of the Bill of Rights would need to be adjusted. So they came up with the…
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others (other rights) retained by the people.
This should be everyone’s favorite amendment. It’s the catch all amendment. Just in case we left something off the list, just claim the 9th Amendment. They knew that future generations may look at these as if they were the only rights individuals have. So they came up with the 9th Amendment to say there may be other individual rights that go beyond what’s listed. Basically it’s saying, we aren’t listing all of the rights just some specific ones. All so interesting, I know…
If we were to rewrite the 9th Amendment today, the way we express our individual rights, here’s what it might say:
The right to do what I want, when I want, with whom I want as long as it doesn’t interfere with anyone else’s amended ninth amendment rights.
That’s how we think as Americans, isn’t it? We have a right, and when someone tries to tell us we don’t, we declare the 9th Amendment. Now here’s the problem with that, (and every parent knows this) if you give someone rights, but you don’t couple those rights with responsibility, things go horribly wrong.
Did anyone ever have the car keys taken from you as a teen? The government gave you a license, mom and dad trusted you with the car, but you came home late, or mysteriously got a dent in the car. What did mom or dad do? They said you had the right to drive the car, but you were you were irresponsible, so they removed that right. Every parent knows with rights come responsibilities. Individual rights must be coupled with individual responsibility or things go bad.
In a nation where there are rights without responsibility it results in anarchy (disorder, chaos). Liberty without responsibility actually undermines liberty. Liberty as we’re going to see in a moment, can gobble up liberty. If everyone demands their individual rights with no consideration for other people, and without taking responsibility for the outcome of their liberty, ultimately everybody loses their liberty.
Which brings us to a really important question. Why is there no Bill of Responsibility?
The authors of our Constitution, our founding fathers (and this is all throughout their documents, throughout their letters to one another and their wives, throughout everything they wrote and they wrote a lot) assumed there were these moral, ethical guardrails that everyone understood so they didn’t really need to expound on being responsible because they just assumed a level of responsibility among the people of America.
This made perfect sense to them because there was a bit of a fox hole mentality. They had just come out of the Revolutionary War. They were no longer English or French, they were now Americans. There was a value system throughout the colonies. They weren’t all Christians, but they all pretty much believed in God defining Him as God of the Old and New Testament. So there was a moral code, an understanding of what it meant to take care of your neighbor, and in those days you had to take care of your neighbor, because if not, your neighbor wasn’t going to take care of you.
So there were some assumptions. In fact, throughout the literature of the founding fathers there are three assumptions.
- A consensus of conscience – people generally believed the same things were right and wrong
- A consensus around Divine accountability – that God was behind the USA, that God ordained it to exist, that God had answered our prayers, that God has given us liberty from England. There was gratitude to God in a sense of personal and national accountability to God.
- Individual expression governed by concern for other individuals – that when it came to rights, individual rights were always expressed with a concern for other people. There wasn’t this sense that we have now that this is my right and it doesn’t matter how it impacts other people. It was a different mentally, that my individual rights aren’t simple about me, but that my individual rights protect others.
These concepts are found all through the literature of the colonial period and beyond, during the writing of the time of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The most famous example of this, the one we all studied in school, is actually in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence. Listen for the significance in these words and how they tie Divine to the personal.
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.
Self-evident = we assume that everybody already knows this. Your individual rights came from God. We don’t have rights because the government gives us rights. We have rights because God gave us rights.
This is so important…There was an assumed connection between God and rights. That God, not government, was the one that bestow upon American citizens these individual rights which meant that we are all accountable to God for how we exercise our individual rights. They believed that we as individuals and as a nation were accountable to God for how we exercise our individual rights.
Now John Adams (was against slavery, apparently never had a slave) wrote “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Moral = that there is a moral sense of right and wrong.
In other words, if there is no moral consensus and sense of Divine accountability, this grand experiment of personal freedom will fail. If we simple give people individual rights, but there’s no sense of accountability to God, this experiment in freedom will fail. Liberty with devour liberty. Eventually, my rights will compete with your rights. And when my rights infringe upon your rights, who’s to say who’s right? When rights collide, the courts decide.
That was not the intent of the founding fathers. Suddenly our government has to create law after law after law to address every single possible situation. Do you know why we have so many laws? Because the law has to cover every single situation because the American citizens are constantly looking for loopholes. “That ones not covered, you didn’t say that exactly right, now you have to let me go.” In a culture where everyone is looking for a loophole, because their only accountability is to the government and written law, ultimately the courts have to decide.
Now here’s the trouble with law, I’m so glad we are a nation of law, but here’s the problem with it. The law represents for the most part the minimum requirement. Law answers the question “how low can I go?” “How fast can I drive before I get pulled over?” “What can I get away with?” “Where’s the line? Where’s the limit?” And what happens is when there is only law and there is no sense of Divine accountability, we go as low as we can possibly go.
The law is powerless to do the most important thing – inspire greatness, excellence, and virtue. Traffic laws are important, but traffic laws do not create courteous drivers. Tax laws cannot make you generous or financially responsible. Civil laws don’t make you civil. And the right to free speech won’t make you kind. The laws are powerless to inspire.
As a result, here we are. We have individual rights regulated by law; Individual rights to say “do what you want, when you want”, “bash who you want”, “put whatever you want on FaceBook”, “hackle the president”, “kneel during the national anthem”, “burn the American flag”. We’ve got all kinds of incredible laws. But this is a recipe for you and for me to be as selfish as you and I can be. This system rights becomes nothing more than an exercise of power. At the end of the day, this is the culture in which we are finding ourselves.
In the end… The rich rule the poor. Women are a commodity. Children are victims. If it’s legal, it’s moral. Everybody looks for a loophole.
Here’s the real kick. (Maybe you’ll disagree with me. I hope I am wrong) I’m convinced that our legal system is permanently decoupled from divine and moral truths. We’re not going back. We are not going back to the colonial days where everyone went to some kind of church, and their conscience bothered them when they did something wrong. That train is gone.
BUT THERE IS HOPE! And the hope is you! The hope is that about 60-70% of the citizens of America consider themselves to be some kind of Christian. Our conduct as Christians has more potential to bring about more change than any candidate we ever elect or any law that we ever pass. All law can do is define how low we can go and all the elected can do is enforce the law. The behavior of Christians in this nation has more potential to take us back to a place where we’re not simply relegated by law, but where there is a sense of Divine accountability. It’s not who we elect, although you need to vote. It’s not the laws that are passed, although you need to pay attention. Ultimately, it is the behavior of the people, and there is enough Christians in this land to take us back to a happier place, and let me prove to you why I know that to be the case.
2,000 years ago, the Apostle Paul, who wrote letters that are now many books in the Bible, wrote one of those letters to a group of churches in Galatia, who were Greek thinking people and Gentile Christians. Among this group there was some confusion about their relationship to the Old Testament. Some people were saying you’ve got to keep the entire OT law (dietary laws, where you go, what you wear, etc.). Paul tells them, no, now that you are Christians you are not under the OT law, you are under a different law. You’re to approach life in a different way. And so in making his case, he makes a statement that is so relevant for us today, and I believe gives us direction as to how we are to respond to our nation, and our nation’s laws, and the fact that our nation has permanently decoupled from any biblical conscience. Ultimately, he gives us direction as Christians as to how we should respond to our personal freedoms.
Do you remember after you got your driver’s license that very first time you drove the car by yourself? You were free! A little nervous, but free! Or the first time you moved out to college or your own apartment and you were free! You could do whatever you want!
That’s what we all do with freedoms. As soon as we are free it’s our natural inclination to use those freedoms for our personal benefit. But the Apostle Paul comes along and says, wait, you are now Christians. You have been given a stewardship of freedoms, and it is so important how you respond to your freedom. If just Christians would do this, this would make all the difference in the world.
You, my brothers and sisters were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh;
He knows you and me – even 2,000 years later – he knows when nobody’s looking you do the kind of things you only do when nobody’s looking. He knows that when everyone’s gone you go as low as you can go. Our natural tendency is to abuse our freedoms. So he says, you are Jesus followers so do not leverage your freedom for your personal benefit to the neglect of what God has called you to do. Don’t ask the question, what can I get by with or where’s the line. Instead…
…do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.
Now here’s a thought, no one can make you do that. There is no law that can force you to serve another person. The law will not inspire you to serve another person. The law will simply draw a line on how selfish you can be. But Paul says God has called us to use our freedom to do something for other people. You have a right not to, but you have the opportunity to do so. Then, he takes us to one the most common and well know statements in the bible. It was first stated in the OT, in the book of Leviticus. Jesus used it to say this is one of the most important things I’ll ever say. Then Paul says it again about 25 years later to say this is still what should drive our behavior as Christians.
For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
When you get up in the morning and think about how free you are, that you can say whatever you want, do whatever you want, assemble where ever you want, also think…
“I’m going leverage my freedom to love my neighbor.”
“I’m going to do unto others as I want done to me.”
“I’m going to treat my girlfriend the way I would want a boy to treat my younger sister.”
“I’m going to treat my wife the way I would one day want my daughter’s husband to treat her.”
“I’m going to treat my boss the way I would want people to treat me as a boss.”
“I’m going to look at everyone around me through a lens of how I want to be treated.”
“Imagine if just for one day, every American did that. If everyone did that, there would almost be no need for any of our laws.”
When a nation looks up and asks, “How good can I be,” all the fine print becomes irrelevant. When we all leverage our freedom for the sake of others, the world becomes a better place. That is basic Christianity.
The Apostle Paul, 2,000 years ago, looks into the future and says, 21st century American church, if you don’t get this right let me tell you what is going to happen. If you decide to leverage your individual rights for your own benefit, if you forget that you are part of a community, if you forget that you are to leverage your rights for the sake of others, if you forget that you have been called by God to do onto others as God through Jesus Christ has done for you, here’s what happens when life becomes all about your individual rights.
If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
That’s mine! I was here first! That’s my right! I’m getting an attorney! Sue early and sue often!
Paul says if this whole thing devolves into individual rights, every person for themself, you will become like dogs, biting and devouring one another. At the end of the day, you will be destroyed by each other.
Our biggest concern in this nation used to be what could happen to us from outside nations from people who don’t like America. Today, Americans are America’s biggest problem. Not people from the outside. We undermine our own liberty. As long as it’s my individual Bill of Rights, and my rights crush your rights, at the end of the day, this is why the founding fathers warned us. We undermine this experiment in freedom.
Here’s the thing, we have more rights than any other nation on this planet. But apart from a moral compass, those rights will become a part of our undoing. We will devour ourselves in our quest to be free. But the church and only the church can turn that around. Not by becoming a unified voting block, but by becoming a unified obedience block who wake up every single day and decides I am going to leverage my freedom for the sake of protecting your freedom rather than simply exercising my own. Imagine a day like that in America. What does that look like? Here’s how we can do it.
Do what’s just, not what you can justify.
I’m going to ask how high can I reach and how can I help.
Walk into work… “How can I help?
To your spouse… “how can I help?
Kids to your parents… “what can I do to help?”
Our Heavenly Father looked down on a sin struck world and asked, “how can I help.” The only way to help was to send a Savior who cost Him His son. The least you can do is to turn to one another and ask, “what can I do to help?”
Do what’s responsible, not what’s permissible (Not what you can get by with)
If you are not willing to take responsibility for the potential outcome of a decision, then don’t do it! Somebody has to become responsible for your irresponsibility. It’s like kicking the can… just keep kicking the can down the road. We, as a generation, are having to take responsibility for past generations’ irresponsibility. So let’s just decide we don’t do that. You’re not going to hear me say, “that’s my right”, instead, “that’s my responsibility.” Try that at work!
Do what’s moral, not what’s modeled.
However you define immorality, you are smart people, you know this. Immorality is undermining the integrity of our country. We cannot afford to continue on our immoral path. At some point, a generation has to stand up and go…
It doesn’t matter how low we can go, we are going to embrace. There is going to be a consensus of morality and we are going to do this for other people’s sake and for the next generations’ sake.
We are done taking our moral cue from the people around us. You do what is moral, not what’s modeled. In our nation and community, you are already seeing and paying for a culture that has said, I can do what I want, with whom I want, when I want, and as long as it’s legal and there are no consequences. But there are consequences because we are all a part of a community. It costs all of us and ultimately it undermines all our freedoms.
If you are a follower of Jesus, when we live by God’s morals, you become a better person and your community becomes a better place. The New Testament is so clear on how to live. You honor God with your body, you don’t sexualize a relationship outside of marriage. You don’t allow yourself to be imprisoned or mastered by anything, not money, not your stuff, not gambling, not anything. Suddenly, we become the models. Come on. It is not hard. We’ve just got to stop listening to them and start listening to our Bibles.
It means every time you make a decision you ask, What would be most honoring to God? You know what’s interesting? No matter how much you know the Bible you know the answer to this question. We have a natural instinct to know right from wrong. God made us that way. This question points us back to the founding fathers’ belief that individual rights assume individual accountability to God.
I love the Bill of Rights and that we are nation of law. But we can do better, and we must choose to do better. God has called us, commanded us to love our neighbor.
Love your neighbor as yourself. Do unto others as your Heavenly Father, through Christ, has done unto you.
We have been called to leverage our individual rights for the benefit of others. So that our liberty will not be devoured. John Adams died on July 4, 1826, but before he died he looked into the future and wrote us a letter.
“Posterity! (that’s you, future Americans) You will never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve your Freedom!” – John Adams
You’ll read about it in history books… See it in movies… but you’ll never smell it, you’ll never experience the fear, you won’t have had to sit through hours and hours of meetings stressing over the wording of this document that sets the direction for this nation. You’ll have no idea what it cost us physically and our family to secure your freedom.
“I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it.” – John Adams
He said, if you think for a minute that these individual rights that we are handing to you can survive a nation that gives up morality and gives up on God, you are kidding yourselves. WE created the document, WE know what it hinges on. You dare not turn your back on the Divine or this experiment and liberty will fail.
We’re not going to go back to a time when everyone in America is a Christian. We don’t even need to do that. But what must happen is that those of us who name Jesus as our Lord and Savior must step up to the basic command to love our neighbor as ourselves and to wake up every single day grateful for our rights, and then decide I am going to steward them well by not simply leveraging them for myself, but for the people around me. Because my Father in Heaven answered the question, what can I do for you, and gave His Son for my failure and sin.
Let’s make good use of what’s been given to us as Americans.