The Idol of American Identity


On September 11, 2001, America experienced the worst terrorist attack in its history. Hijackers crashed an airplane into each of the World Trade Center towers, one into the Pentagon, and one into the ground in rural Pennsylvania. America lost 2993 souls. 8900 people were injured.

For a few minutes, we had no idea the attack had even happened. My father was in the Army, and my family was in the car, leaving the base to go home. When we arrived at the gate, the guards wouldn’t let us leave the compound. We returned to the dining hall, where there was an old-style box tv hanging from a brace in the corner of the room. It was there we learned of the attack. Every soldier in the room watched the collapse of arguably the most essential financial and military buildings in the U.S, knowing that this meant war.

It was an eerie feeling. I was young, and I didn’t understand all the ramifications of what I had watched, but I remember what I felt. I felt scared. I was shocked. But as minutes turned into hours, I felt a strange sense of the strength that only comes from a unified people. National pride was at an all-time high. I’m sure we all recognize the song written and performed by Lee Greenwood. “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free….”

Today is January 7, 2021. Only 20 years later, and I have never felt that our country was closer to a breaking point than I do now. Yesterday’s riots by violent Trump supporters, the fight over the election, Coronavirus’ psychological and economic impact, racial injustices, and the screams of violent members of BLM and Antifa in the summer of 2020 have all been strains on the American identity.

I am agitated by the Media’s behavior in creating a climate of fear. I am very disturbed at Trump’s nasty rhetoric and the fuel he provides to the chaos. I am deeply concerned over Republicans’ and Democrats’ unwillingness to admit and repent of their sin. And I’m saddened by the American public who call out the hypocrisy of their politicians without recognizing the hypocrisy that permeates their lives.

But most of all, I am grievously brokenhearted by Christians who exalt their identities as Americans above their identities in Christ.

The Church of America has a malignant tumor rotting away at the core of its orthodoxy, unity, and practice. Like the Israelites who made a golden calf and mixed the religion of Jehovah with the cult of Egypt, Christians in America are losing their identity, combining the religion of heaven with the temporal philosophy of Americanism.

How often have you heard Christians fighting for the American flag that Christ will someday turn to dust? How often have you heard Christians fight for statues that Christ will ultimately destroy? How often have you heard Christians be more concerned over the possibility of a fraudulent four-year reign than the souls of men who will exist for eternity? Several times I’ve heard Christians say, “Jesus is my Savior, Trump is my president.” Hours before yesterday’s riots, a prominent preacher in fundamental circles posted on his Facebook feed in reference to Ecclesiastes 3:8, “Its a time to hate and its a time of war. #patriotsarise.”

No. Now is a time to weep and mourn—a time to repent over our sin and seek the grace of a wrathful God.

America and the liberties she affords have become idols in the hearts of Christians. The liberty to speak freely. The liberty to own weapons. The liberty to worship freely. The liberty to own property. Look through the New Testament. None of these freedoms are promised to the disciple of Christ, not once. On the contrary, the opposite is promised repeatedly and is presented consistently as a blessing, not a curse:

  • “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” –Matthew 5:10-12*
  • “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” –John 15:8
  • “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.” –Acts 5:41–42
  • “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” –2 Corinthians 12:10
  • “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” –2 Timothy 3:12
  • “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled” –1 Peter 3:14
  • “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” –1 Peter 4:12–14
  • And so many more times.

It is shocking how often the New Testament references Christians going through persecution. Yet, it is a doctrine that many churches only bring up as a warning so that it might not happen. One of my favorite verses on persecution is Romans 12:14, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” Unfortunately, many Christians curse people who haven’t even truly persecuted them yet.

That’s not to say we can’t be thankful for these liberties and recognize them as blessings from the hand of a sovereign God. We can even be grateful for the good deeds God has allowed America to perform. We should sorrow over national evil and weep for the souls of our brothers and sisters. If this is your definition of patriotism, be patriotic. But it is a terrible fault to allow the freedoms of this world to distract us from our identity as believers and disciples of Christ.

Jesus said in Luke 14:26, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” How much more should we view our nation in this light? In Philippians 3, Paul expounds on his national and religious heritage. About himself, he uses the phrase, “a Hebrew of the Hebrews.” We could say, “an American of the Americans.” The most generous country in the world. More military capacity than any other country ever. Founded on Christian principles. A beautiful heritage of blood, glory, courage, innovation, riches, art, and culture. “I count it loss” in verse 7. The KJV in verse 8 says, “[I] count them but dung.” Why? That I may know Christ! That I may share His sufferings! I want to become like Him in His death! The cross is the flag of God’s Kingdom. Being a disciple of Christ means carrying your cross, not clinging to the American flag.

I should count my nationality, my American identity, as dung in the light of the identity I have in Christ. Rubbish. Refuse. Garbage. My American identity should not just be below Christ—it should be infinitely lower. So much so that in light of our heavenly citizenship, our earthly one looks gross and intolerable to the senses.

Should we sing, “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.”? Perhaps it would be better to say with Paul in Philippians 3:20, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

How should Christians act in light of recent events?

Repent of Our Sin

Before looking outward, the Church should consider its own morality. God requires repentance of the Church in America. This problem of our rotting identity is a corporate issue, and every individual Christian should carry the load of guilt. There is no room for apathetic ignorance. There is no room for denial and self-righteousness. Every individual Christian should fall to their knees, begging Christ to forgive the Church of its sin and pleading with God to search their own heart for “any wicked way.”

Corporate repentance is essential to change in our ecclesiastical culture. We’ve focused so much on individual repentance that we have forgotten that the Bible often condemns whole groups over one man’s sin. The anger of the Lord burned against Israel for Achan’s “private” sin (Joshua 7:1). Corporate prayers where the individual repented of others’ sins are included in Daniel and Nehemiah:

  • “I prayed to the LORD my God and made confession, saying, “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame, as at this day, to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you.” –Daniel 9:4–7
  • “Yet you have been righteous in all that has come upon us, for you have dealt faithfully and we have acted wickedly. Our kings, our princes, our priests, and our fathers have not kept your law or paid attention to your commandments and your warnings that you gave them. Even in their own kingdom, and amid your great goodness that you gave them, and in the large and rich land that you set before them, they did not serve you or turn from their wicked works.” –Nehemiah 9:33–35

Lament and Intercede over Evil

Ezekiel 8 paints a poignant picture of the abominations in the temple before Judah’s captivity. Once again, the worship of God had been mixed with the religions of the surrounding nations. In a vision, Ezekiel is given a thorough tour of the temple. There he saw the neglect of the Creator and the honor of the creature (Romans 1). Ezekial saw the leaders of Israel secretly worshiping evil spirits in the deep recesses of God’s house. But the Lord had seen.

Outside, in the temple’s courtyard, a woman mourned for Tammuz, the Sumerian vegetation god that was worshiped through temple prostitution. Some gods of the Ancient Near East had cycles of death and resurrection. Many believe she was mourning his death cycle.

Inside the temple yet again, men were worshipping the sun. In an area reserved for priestly duties, false prophets offered sacrifices to the sun, a practice specifically banned in Deuteronomy 4:9.

The book of Ezekiel is tough to comprehend. It is understandable why it gets passed over so often. But a passage in chapter 9 is easily understood even by me:

“And the LORD said to him, “Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.” And to the others he said in my hearing, “Pass through the city after him, and strike. Your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity. Kill old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one on whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary.” So they began with the elders who were before the house.” –Ezekiel 9:4–6

What is lament? In his book, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy, Mark Vroegop states, “Lament is how we bring our sorrow to God. Without lament, we won’t know how to process pain….Lament is how Christians grieve….A broken world and an increasingly hostile culture make contemporary Christianity unbalanced and limited in the hope we offer if we neglect this minor-key song.”

Do the sins of our nation hurt you because they grieve the heart of God? Do you fear over the souls of the lost? Or do their sins hurt because they threaten your rights, happiness, comfort, and life? When will we cry out with Christ for the sin of this world, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!”?

Lament is an essential doctrine in Scripture. A third of the Psalms are songs of lament. There’s a whole book called Lamentations. Job and Jeremiah are two other books that are full of lamenting. Throughout the Bible, characters weep and wrestle with God, including Job, Jacob, Moses, David, Elijah, Jeremiah, Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Paul.

Lament and intercession go hand in hand. You can hear the pain in the voice of Moses as he intercedes on Israel’s behalf. Or read the book of Jeremiah. “Jesus wept” over Lazarus’ death. And for His earthly nation, Christ cried in Matthew 23:37, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” Paul also said in Romans 9:3, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”

Do you have that type of love towards those who are politically different than you? Have you cried and wept over their sin? For their sake, not for your own? Maybe humility is in order. Perhaps we ought to consider if we are following Christ’s example, if we are actually His disciples. Maybe we are secretly worshipping the culture in the dark recesses of our hearts. But God sees. Judgment starts in the sanctuary. Judgement begins in the House of God.

“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” –Mt 7:21–23

Remember Our True Citizenship

We are citizens of the most excellent Kingdom in all of eternity. We have a king who will never fail. Four years from now, new candidates will be up for election. Christ will still be on the throne. Eight years from now, the election cycle will begin yet again. Christ’s reign will never end. Hundreds of years from now, America could lie in ruin, fractured and broken into smaller nations. Christ’s Kingdom will stand united and strong. America is just a blip on God’s timeline.

Why suffer for the temporal? Why put so much effort into vanity? “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity (Ecclesiastes 1:2).” Instead, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man (Ecclesiastes 12:13).”

Pray for our nation, but prioritize God’s Kingdom. The only way anything changes is for each Christian to lovingly spread the Gospel in their immediate context. If you aren’t doing your part, you have no one else to blame. It’s time for Christians to actually be Christians.

Not radical Christians. Stop thinking about radical Christianity. Just be an ordinary disciple. Nothing special. Only another one of those peculiar God followers. A reasonable, unprofitable servant. Christianity is hard, but its practice is simple. “Follow Me.”

An ordinary disciple talks with and hears from his Master every day. An ordinary disciple makes new disciples. An ordinary disciple focuses on constructing God’s Kingdom, not on building the kingdoms of this world. An ordinary disciple joyfully accepts persecution for Christ’s teachings. An ordinary disciple loves the people Jesus loves, everyone. An ordinary disciple weeps when Christ weeps and rejoices when Christ rejoices.

And above all, an ordinary disciple places his God on a pedestal infinitely higher than his own culture, rights, family, or country.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:1–2.

*All Biblical references are in ESV unless otherwise stated.

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