Nothing is more precious in our culture than independence. We see it in every part of our society. We tout it because, ‘Merica. We encourage our young people to find it and tell them that when they do they’ll have what they need to find their voice. We export it, like South America exports coffee, and we do it on the backs of the fighting young to third-world countries that may never understand the sweetness of it. When we talk about attaining the “American Dream” it’s founded on the idea that you must first achieve independence; from your personal freedom and ability to “decide for yourself” to financial freedom, it’s all grounded in finding independence. Author Marcelle Hinkson said it like this, “When you are independent you learn strategies of self empowerment.” And that’s what we learn to want; to give authority and power to MYSELF so that I can achieve the things I want.
Independence isn’t a bad thing. I’m glad we won independence as a nation. When we help another country achieve their independence, it’s a good thing. If we desire our kids to have heathy lives, marriages and families, then they need to grow up, move away from their parents basement and become independent. So, independence in and of itself is a good thing. But, in America at least, it has seeped its way into Christianity.
There are a few areas where independence doesn’t work so great; one of those is marriage (that’s a whole other blog, but quick side note, individuality is important, independence is contrary to the actual purpose of marriage.) and another is Christianity. It amazes me how many people become Christians and attempt to live out their faith independent of others. It amazes me more that no other Christian tells them that that’s wrong. Independence is not only incompatible with a Christian life, it contradicts it. Christianity is the confession that you’ve tried to do life on your own and that it’s too much. It’s literally the surrender of self empowerment to the sweetness of divine power. Christianity is dependence.
People don’t like to think they’re dependent on anyone else. It’s scary to not be in control. People let us down and aren’t to be trusted with our most vulnerable areas of life. Theirs a belief that if you can’t control your life then you’re weak. Because Christianity is surrendering control, society views it as the religion of the weak, as a “crutch” for the weak minded. John Piper has a great sermon where he talks about that. He talks about crutches generally being a good thing, except when used to describe Christianity and who eventually realizes they need a crutch. You can read or listen to it HERE. Regardless what your feelings are about becoming a Christian, if you’re already a Christian, you’re called to live a life of dependence, not independence.
Jesus said, of Himself, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father[a] does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel.” He also said, “I and the Father are one.” If Jesus acknowledged His inability to operate outside of God the Father, where did we get the idea that we can operate outside of Him. I’ve heard lots of Christians say things like, “God and I have an understanding.” Uh, no you don’t. If your understanding is that you are weak and He is strong and apart from Him you can do nothing. Then ok, you have a pretty good understanding. If it’s that apart from Him you can do nothing, then I have the same understanding. Other than that, there is no, “I don’t go to church (or participate in Christian community) because God and I have an understanding.” or “I knows I believe in Him, so I don’t need to go to a building to prove it.” Any “understanding” that resembles anything close to those ideas, is not an understanding with God. Those are excuses; whether built out of the intent to not have to fully engage with God or the fear of full surrender, they’re still excuses.
If the excuses are fear based, I fully understand. Surrender isn’t usually viewed as a good thing and definitely not an easy thing. But surrender inside of Christianity isn’t about giving up whatever perceived “freedom” we think we have. Surrendering to Jesus is about giving up the need to try harder. We give up trying to be a “better” person. We give up the need to “fix” ourselves. Surrendering to Christ is the surrendering to rest, not the giving up of rights. Surrendering in Christianity doesn’t mean abandoning who you are; it’s entering into the fullness of who you’re meant to be.
If you hold onto the notion that you’re an independent Christian and ideas like you don’t need community, going to church “just isn’t for you,” or you and God “have an understanding” then you’re not living the Christ following Christianity described in the Bible and that Jesus laid the foundation for. Independence and Christianity do not exist inside of the same space. There’s one body and one Spirit and we are called to interdependent unity within both. Jesus said, “…whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit…” The only way to interpret that is dependency. That’s my understanding with God.