When patriotism becomes idolatry

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Yesterday we celebrated our nation’s independence.  Hamburgers were eaten, parties were thrown, and fireworks were lit.  If you went to church on Sunday, chances are high that you sang a medley of patriotic hymns, saluted – or even pledged allegiance to – the flag.  It is right and good to remember our history, to honor those who fought for our freedom and to be thankful for the benefits of living in a free country which has very little infringement upon our belief and worship habits.  We must be keenly aware, however, that the United States is not God’s chosen nation, that the promises made to Israel are not made to us, and that God is still good and sovereign even if the United States were to fall – and Church is our place to worship God, not our nation.  One verse, in particular, has been quoted for years in regards to American politics, and we must simply come to grips with the fact that it does not apply to our nation:

“If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people, and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

– 2 Chronicles 7.13-14

This promise is sprinkled throughout the Old Covenant – the Mosaic Law – and is part of the theme of the Old Testament:  Israel submitted to the Law, they were successful and blessed by God, they grew lazy and content, they began worshiping idols and foreign gods, they were punished, they repented, they were restored.  This cycle was repeated continually.

The Old Testament and the Law serve many purposes.  One of those purposes is to exemplify God’s sovereign and free choice to choose the nation of Israel to be His people.  God says that they were the least, they were the smallest and weakest, and yet He chose to set them aside for His purposes and to grow them into a nation.  They are the only ethnically chosen race on the face of the Earth.  They are the only nation who has ever been promised land.

The Law also defined sin and established the worldwide need for a savior.  God has undeniably clear expectations for life and holiness and breaking the Law in any point leaves one guilty and condemned before Him.  He is loving and gracious, but He is also holy and righteous and He will leave no sin unpunished (Ex 34.7, Prov 11.21).  Thus, we learn from generations of Israelites trying and failing to keep the Law that we need provision for salvation outside of ourselves and our own abilities.  The book of Romans outlines this purpose of the Law clearly.

God also promised to bless the entire world through the nation of Israel, and He did so at the very moment He called and set apart Abraham – the father of the entire nation (Gen 15.18-21).  We see the fulfillment of that promise through Jesus.  Jesus was a Jew, He functioned under the Mosaic Law, and He fulfilled the Law by becoming the final and perfect sacrifice for the sins of all who would believe:  people of all tribes, tongues and nations.  It was only after Jesus’ death that the curtain in the temple was torn, that God removed His residence from Jerusalem and into the hearts of believers, and that salvation – though it came from the Jews – was offered to the world.

Jesus unashamedly teaches us that all who are non-Jews are grafted into the nation in the sense that we are part of the chosen people of God (Rom 11).  We are Spiritually, though not physically, children of Abraham.  There is no longer the requirement of being Jewish by nationality to be a part of the people of God (Gal 3.28).

Thus we understand that faith in Jesus brings us into the family of God, the chosen people of God, but this is a spiritual demarcation and not national.  Even if the founding fathers were true believers and set out the establish the United States as a Christian nation in its truest sense, they in no way obligated God to our security, comfort or dedication to Him as a nation.  Even if the entire population of the United States turned to God in repentance and for salvation, the land on which we stand is not the promised land which He gave to Israel thousands of years ago.  It very well could be taken from us and God in no way break His promise or covenant to us.

It is true, however, that we as the Church can claim the promise that if and when we repent of our sins He will restore us Spiritually.  The western Church can be very lenient towards sin, and we should seriously consider the consequences we are currently enduring to see if they be the result of unconfessed and unrepented sin.  We do live under a different covenant than the one by which God made this promise.  When Jesus died on the cross, He paid the punishment for every sin that had ever been and would ever be committed by believers and the penitent.  His blood covered the sin of all the sins which had been confessed on the altar in the temple, and He blood covered all of the sins from which you and I would repent 2,000 years later.  Thus we understand rightly that once a person has been justified (declared not guilty by means of the punishment having been paid), that there is no longer any condemnation (Rom 8.1).  This simply means that God will not punish us for our sin because He has already punished our sin in the person of Jesus.  There will be consequences for our sin, but it is not the wrath of God being poured out on us.

When we continue in sin, grieving the Holy Spirit and mocking the sacrifice Jesus made, we run the risk of proving ourselves to be non-believers.  It is the mark of the believer to repent, submit to the Word and Law of God, and exemplify the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5).  Thus, if we can make peace with sin and not be led to repentance by the kindness of God through the conviction of the Spirit, we prove ourselves to not be believers.  We will all choose to sin throughout our lives, and we will all make peace with a variety on sins on a variety of levels throughout our Spiritual journey – both individually and corporately.  This is part of the reason God gave us the Church:  to hold one another accountable and remove those who are unwilling to repent, thus keeping the Church pure.  We can be sure, however, that when we repent God will hear us and honor that repentance.  The promise of 2 Chronicles does apply to us as the people of God in that sense.  We also see throughout Scripture that God does not hear us when we pray with unrepentant sin in our lives (Is 59.1-2, Prov 28.9, Heb 10.26, Matt 5.23-24).  You can read more about that here.

As in-grafted children of God, as children of Abraham by faith, we are part of the chosen people of God and priesthood that is now demarcated by faith and not nationality.  Thus when we apply the promises to Israel, we can only do so in light of the New Covenant, which does not include the physical land of North America.  Yes, when we repent we rightly apply the promise that God will hear us and honor our repentance, but we are neither guaranteed health, wealth nor prosperity.  We are not guaranteed a big house, for rain to fall after a drought, or for the land to physically be healed.

If you are a Christian, your obligation is first and foremost to God.  If the laws of your land demand that you sin or preform any act that would be contrary to the heart of God, we must resist.  Our identity is first and foremost Christian and the promises of grace are unto our spiritual and eternal well being, not necessarily physical and earthly.  And even if our government were to perfectly outline our legal system and have leaders who were fully committed Christians we would not be guaranteed the promises that God made to Israel, because God no longer interacts with His people as a bloodline nationality and we cannot force His hand to maintain our nation by the promises He made to another.  For us to expect God to honor our country, for us to bring praise and adoration of our nation or leaders into our Church services, and for us to replace our nation with the nation of Israel in Scripture is idolatry.  Yes, God has placed the US in its role for the time being, He is sovereign over nations and kings, but we as a nation are not His people and must be wary of elevating ourselves, our politics, our leadership, and our ways to an unbiblical position.  So let us be thankful, but not boastful.  Let us take full advantage of the benefits awarded us by our nationality, but let us remember that they are neither promised nor a result of an elevated position above other nations.  Let us live as though our nationality and true hope rest in eternity, with God.

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