Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling
“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.” Penned by Thomas Jefferson, these familiar words from the Declaration of Independence acknowledge our Creator but somewhat skew the biblical understanding of our vested rights as His created? We do indeed have the right (and calling) to receive life in abundance, but this should not be our pursuit. Our affections should be directed toward the Giver of life:
I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. — Jesus (John 10:10)
The promise of abundant life is founded in a right relationship with our Good Shepherd and by no other means. But what constitutes the abundant life? It’s certainly not void of trial and hardship (John 15:18-16:4). It is, however, sustained by joyfulness that overcomes our sorrows (John 16:16-24). Nevertheless, we do not strive toward or pursue abundant life, we receive it when we abide in Jesus (John 15:1-17) who is “the way, the truth, and life” (John 14:6). And when we abide in his Truth, we find freedom (liberty):
“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” — Jesus (John 8:31b-32)
The use of liberty as stated in the Declaration of Independence is synonymous with the word freedom—a commodity that comes at a high price as our Founding Fathers well knew. For Christians, our King has won the war against our bondage to sin by laying down his life for us. Yet, like Paul and all of Jesus’ apostles, we continue to struggle daily against the power of sin as it seeks to reestablish control over us. The answer? Abide in the words of the One who has paid the penalty—which implies that we are putting into practice the commands of Jesus. When we do, we not only find freedom but happiness.
The pursuit of happiness is not a foreign concept to Scripture. Jesus promised happiness to his disciples and to future generations who by faith would put their trust in him:
“Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” — Jesus (John 20:29)
Most versions of the Bible translate the Greek word Μακαρισμούς (which appears in the above verse and in the Beatitudes) as “blessed.” It could equally be translated “happy.” To be blessed is to experience happiness derived from contentment. But in each instance, whether the Beatitudes or any other of Jesus’ teachings, the distinction is that we do not pursue happiness but pursue the one who brings happiness. This applies to all three unalienable rights cited in the Declaration of Independence. We find life, liberty (freedom), and happiness (blessedness) when we pursue Jesus because he is Life, Liberty, and Happiness.
So let’s celebrate all that Independence Day represents, giving particular thanks to our Father who sent his one and only Son into our world to lay down his life for us so that we might possess the unalienable rights and privileges of life, liberty, and happiness as daughters and sons of his kingdom!