(Twenty-fifth in a series.)

Happy Independence Day!

This morning I woke up thinking about the point I made yesterday in the post on false shepherds—that we hire them because we prefer their flatteries, optimism, and lies to dependence on God for His mercy and cleansing. From that post:

We find it wearying to return to our Heavenly Father confessing we have sinned and pleading for the cleansing of the precious blood of His Son.

Few things reveal the spiritual condition of churches today more than whether or not the pastor leads his congregation into worship through a humble and true prayer of confession. Generally speaking, where this is absent the worship is pro forma; but where this is present, the worship is sincere and God is glorified.

Not by man’s independence.

By his dependence.

This sermon title of Jonathan Edwards is never far from my mind: “God glorified in man’s dependence.” This is the title of a sermon he preached in Boston on July 8, 1731. The first thing Edwards published, the sermon was on this text:

That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: that, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. (1Corinthians 1:29-31)

Today the United States is glorying in our independence. We do this each Fourth of July. We are proud we have no king. We claim to be our own authorities, each of us. We assert that, rightly understood,  our civil authorities are our subordinates. We are a democracy, and don’t you ever forget it!

So on Independence Day, we light fireworks, our papers reprint our Declaration of Independence, bumper stickers read “Don’t tread on me!”, and parades and barbecues celebrate our American War of Independence.

My Reformed baptist brothers may be irritated by this point, but I’ve long thought one of the principle reasons for the rejection of covenant baptism (the baptism of infants) is that Americans’ deepest political commitment is individualism. This is particularly true in our South. From birth, we have drunk individualist independence from the breast of our mothers so that “Don’t tread on me!” is our fundamental political philosophy.

Note it is not “Don’t tread on us!”

This is not to argue there is nothing good about independence. No father wants his son unmarried and still living in his basement when he’s thirty years old. We raise our children to individuate; we are grateful to God and breathe a sigh of relief when they transition to adulthood, marry within the faith, and bless us with the next generation of godly seed.

But there is independence, and then there’s independence. Surely the people of God understand the difference.

One day when we were still serving in Wisconsin, I walked down to the True Value store owned by my dear brother, Curt Coddington. I trusted Curt’s faith and godly wisdom, and going into his back room, we sat down to talk. I told him I was angry at my churches (I served a yoked parish of two congregations). The father of five living in a tiny house they provided us, the pay was low. Curt was my closest friend in town. He went to another church, so he was safe, and I sat there and complained. Angrily.

My father had taught me never to speak of money to my employer, and I agreed with him. Still, I was angry, and I sought to justify my anger through Curt’s sympathy or approval.

But Curt was not having it. He responded, “Trust God,” but that only made me more angry.

“Sure, trust God. But how are we supposed to live on what they pay me?”

He was patient and kind, but he said it again, “Tim, you need to trust God.”

“But I don’t want to trust God,” I said. And having blurted it out, I realized it was true. I didn’t want to be dependent on God. I wanted to demand what was rightfully mine, and get it.

Subdued, but still full of self-justification, I walked back to my office, and then I began to come to terms with my sinful self.

Whom was I really angry at?

It came clear to me. My anger was with God. I was angry at the thought of having to depend on Him for our needs.

I didn’t want to depend on Him. I didn’t want to trust Him. I wanted to depend on myself. I shouldn’t have to ask God for what was, in all fairness, ours. Wasn’t it simply what we deserved?

Dependence on God was precisely what I resented having to do. This was ugly faithless me—a preacher of righteousness. A proclaimer of the Gospel of God’s kindness leading us to repentance and faith, here I was with the thought of dependence on my Heavenly Father angering me. I didn’t want to depend on God like the birds do. I didn’t want to ask for God’s help.

But God is glorified in man’s dependence.

My mother once told me that, when I was a toddler, I’d picked a dandelion and was walking with the family holding it in my grubby hand. As I tired, my father offered to carry me, but I responded, “No! I want to carry my own dandelion!”

I rejected my father’s kindness because I gloried in my independence.

Back in Wisconsin, Curt’s helpful admonitions eventually brought me to my senses that afternoon, and I humbled myself before God, asking him to help us with our money. There through my admission of need and request for help, God was glorified.

By my dependence.

Not my independence.

My point is not to oppose Independence Day. Rather it is to get us to realize how much of our American individualism and desire for autonomy is not really about earth, but Heaven. We don’t want prayers of confession on earth because we want our repentance before God, and pleadings for His mercy and holiness, to be once and done. To be justification rather than sanctification.

We are proud moralists who keep track of our rights and make demands of God, rather than coming to Him with lifted arms asking Him to forgive and carry us.

Life is either growth in dependence or independence from God. Cultivate dependence on your Heavenly Father.

He is glorified by our dependence.

(Twenty-fifth in a series.)

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If you aspire to shepherd God’s flock, take a look at New Geneva Academy. The weight of responsibility for Christ’s sheep is heavy. NGA prepares men to depend on the Holy Spirit and bear that weight. Instruction is historical, doctrinal, personal, and thoroughly Biblical. Moving isn’t necessary. Get in touch with us and find out more.

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