Blessings and Burdens of Spiritual Independence

Earlier this week, Americans celebrated Independence Day, commemorating the day when the thirteen colonies declared their independence from England. In breaking ties, the colonies affirmed that they were able to govern themselves and no longer needed to be dependent upon a distant monarch.

There were certainly blessings that came from this independence. The most notable were freedom and having a government that could better relate to the concerns of the people. However, with independence also comes burdens – additional responsibilities that must now be fulfilled by the independent entity since they would no longer be dependent upon others as they were previously.

Blessings and burdens will exist anytime a person or a people determine to be independent from others. It was true with the thirteen American colonies. At the time of the Exodus when the Israelite people became independent from the Egyptians, they enjoyed blessings (freedom from bondage) and faced burdens (they could no longer rely upon the Egyptians to provide for them – Exodus 16:3). When a young adult moves out of the house and becomes independent from his parents, there are blessings in his new independence and burdens in the greater responsibilities since he now has to provide for himself. Independence, in any context, contains both blessings and burdens.

In this article, I want us to examine our independence as it pertains to spiritual matters. Through the provisions He has given, God has made it so that each one of us can faithfully serve Him, regardless of what others might choose to do. This is not to say that we should not work together or that we cannot help one another; rather, we must take responsibility as individuals for our own spiritual lives.

Let us notice a few ways in which God has made it possible for us to have spiritual independence, as well as the blessings and burdens that come with this.

Independent in Our Service to God

While Christians are told to submit to civil authorities (1 Peter 2:13-14), the Scriptures are very clear that this submission to human laws is not unconditional (Acts 5:29). This is why Peter, after giving the instruction to submit to these leaders, admonished us: “Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God” (1 Peter 2:16). Even though God made man free, He will not accept and condone anything and everything we choose to do. We are to use the freedom He gives us as His servants. This obedience is necessary for our salvation (Hebrews 5:9).

Just as God requires each of us to serve Him, He has made provisions that make it possible for us to do so. The most obvious of these provisions is that He has given us instructions regarding what we must do to please Him. It is in the Scriptures that He reveals the instructions that make us “adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Furthermore, He has given us commands that we are capable of carrying out. John wrote, “His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). No matter who we are or what circumstances may exist in our lives, God’s instructions are such that we have the ability to perform them.

The blessing that exists in our independence in service to God is that we can be faithful even if all others forsake Him. Before Jesus’ arrest, Peter boldly declared, “Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away” (Matthew 26:33). Of course, Peter did not carry through with this promise; but this does not mean that he was unable to do so. This gets to the burden of this aspect of spiritual independence – we cannot blame anyone else for our actions. Peter could not blame the other apostles who fled for his own denial of the Lord. Nor can we blame others for our own failings. “The person who sins will die” (Ezekiel 18:20). We are each individually accountable to God for our service to Him. Thankfully, if others do fall, we do not have to follow them. But we must take responsibility for ourselves and make sure that we continue to obey the Lord.

Independent in Appealing to God

Christians have a great privilege in being able to address God in prayer. But not only is this a privilege, it is also a responsibility. Paul wrote, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). This instruction was not given to a select class of people in the church who had the responsibility to approach God on behalf of their brethren. All Christians are responsible to pray to God for themselves. We certainly can request prayers on our behalf (Acts 8:24); but this must be to supplement, not replace, our own prayers (Acts 8:22).

As God has instructed us to pray, He has made provisions that allow us to pray to Him. First of all, He has made Himself willing to hear our prayers. Peter quoted the psalmist: “For the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, and His ears attend to their prayer” (1 Peter 3:12). Secondly, through Christ we have access into heaven itself (Hebrews 9:24).

The great blessing in this is that we can each “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16). We are not dependent upon a human intermediary to stand between us and God. The burden though is that we must take responsibility for our own practice of prayer. We must take time to pray and develop the habit of prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:17). And we must learn how to pray. Just as the disciples made the request of Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1), we must find what the Bible teaches about this practice and pray in such a way that pleases God.

Independent in Studying the Bible

The Hebrew writer clearly showed the necessity of faith when he wrote, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Hebrews 11:6). But where does faith come from? Paul answered this question for us: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Just as each of us must have faith to please God, we must each look to His word, studying from it, in order to gain that saving faith.

As with the other needs we have discussed, God has made provisions that allow each one of us to study His word and obtain the faith that we each must have. First of all, God has revealed His word to us. Paul described this process of the revelation of the previously hidden mysteries of God’s will: “For to us God revealed them through the Spirit… Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:10-12). However, while direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit was only given to a few (John 15:26-27; 2 Corinthians 5:20), the ability to understand the revealed will of God was available to all. In speaking of the mystery that he helped to reveal through the Holy Spirit, Paul told the brethren in Ephesus, “When you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ” (Ephesians 3:4). Not only has God revealed His will to man, He has revealed it in a way that we can each understand it.

There are certainly some things in the Scriptures that are “hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16), but that does not mean we cannot understand. It is a wonderful blessing to be able to examine the Scriptures for ourselves and learn what the will of God is. Everyone with a Bible has access to everything that God wished to reveal to us. “The things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of the law” (Deuteronomy 29:29). There is nothing hidden from us that is only knowable to an elite few, thus making us dependent upon them. We are independent in that we are each capable of studying the Bible for ourselves and learning God’s will. The other side to that is the burden we have. Just as we, as individuals, can understand God’s word (Ephesians 3:4), we are each individually responsible to understand (Ephesians 5:17). Therefore, we must study, just as Timothy was told, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

Independent in Standing Against Opposition

As Christians, we will face opposition to our faith. Peter told those to whom he was writing, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus” – not just preachers or elders – “will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). We must be able to stand against opposition.

Fortunately, God has made provisions which help us to be able to stand. He has given us the example of Christ – one who “endured the cross, despising the shame.” We are told to “consider Him who has endured such hostilities by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:2-3). Not only do we have the perfect example of Christ to whom we can look, we also have the promise that God will be with us: “For He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,’ so that we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5-6). Furthermore, we have the promised reward: “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10). Everything we need to stand in the face of opposition has been provided for us by God.

The blessing of independence here is that we are never helpless during times of opposition. We can stand. Notice the example of Paul: “At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me” (2 Timothy 4:16-17). Even if everyone deserts us and refuses to stand for the truth along side of us, like Paul we still have the Lord on our side and we can continue to stand. This is not always easy. It takes preparation, courage, and a willingness to face opposition. But God has made us capable of facing opposition, even if He is the only one who stands with us.

Conclusion

As Christians, we are to encourage one another (Hebrews 3:13), pray for one another (James 5:16), work together in our service to God (Philippians 4:3), assemble together (Hebrews 10:24-25), and be an active part of a local congregation (Acts 9:26-28; Ephesians 4:16). Yet if circumstances, distance, or apostasy cause us to be separated from our brethren for a time, we must understand our spiritual independence in Christ. We can serve the Lord, pray to God, study and learn His will, and stand in the face of opposition regardless of what others do. We must understand this, and we must be prepared and willing to do so if necessary.

Despite all the support we might give one another and how much we might work together in the Lord’s service, the reality is that we will stand before the Lord and be judged as individuals, not as groups. Paul wrote, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

We must take personal responsibility for our actions in all things, but it is most important that we do so in our service to God. Do not allow others to hinder you or use them as an excuse for your shortcomings. Take responsibility for yourself. Do the things that God would have you to do.


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