We the People
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
(Preamble to United States Constitution Signed in convention September 17, 1787. Ratified June 21, 1788 )
I begin this article with the preamble from our signature founding document because it contains a truth, the violation of which has contributed to the moral, political, financial and societal implosion we are currently experiencing as a nation. Additionally, the intrinsic truth set forth in the preamble of our Constitution, we the people, is also the reason the church is presently failing to be light and salt and the culture-shaping entity it was ordained to be. There is a significant parallel between the less than subtle decay happening in our nation and what is going on in the church as well. At its root, the moral atrophy of our nation is a spiritual dilemma. I want to show the connection between the national abdication of personal responsibility for self-government and the failure in the church to heed the most significant and defining call Jesus ever gave—And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me (Lk 9:23 KJV).
“We the people…” Our founding fathers designed for us a government the likes of which the world had yet to know or experience. All other forms of government were a type of power over, the people being subservient and subject to various configurations of a dominating governmental rule. The United States of America was to be a new, unique and unprecedented concept in which the people themselves would be self-governing structurally under a representative (serving the interests of the people) body that literally worked for the people. That is one reason why our nation is called a “Constitutional or Democratic Republic” verses a “Democracy.”
There is a story, often told, that upon exiting the Constitutional Convention Benjamin Franklin was approached by a prominent citizen, Elizabeth Powel of Philadelphia, asking what sort of government the delegates had given them, a republic or a monarchy. His terse albeit cogent answer was: “A republic, if you can keep it.” I believe Franklin gave this terse response because he understood how critical it was that the people themselves come to understand that the form of government they were adopting was completely predicated on how committed the people themselves were to assuming responsibility for its vitality, worthiness and longevity. It truly was to be a government of, by and for the people. John Adams dotted the “i” and crossed the “t” in this regard when he said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
When John Adams said, “…a moral and religious people…,” he was not at all necessarily referencing Christianity per se. He was talking about a people who stood for and held to fundamental moral and spiritual values and ideals. It was what Alexis de Tocqueville was referring to in his Democracy in America when he commented on the greatness of America: “America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great!” Because we are dealing principally with a moral and spiritual phenomenon, the impetus for and the custodianship of Adams “morality” and de Tocqueville’s “goodness” lies initially with the church of Jesus Christ. Those of us who claim the name of Christ are the ones mandated to cast light and be salt. We are the ones whose very lives are meant to attract others to Jesus. We are the ones called to live in such a manner so as to literally make Jesus so attractive that others will want to embrace the fullness of His Gospel.
It doesn’t take a PhD in Political Science today to realize how very far the appearance and function of our national government has morphed from the genius, design and expectation of our founding fathers to some horribly misshaped caricature thereof. Like the inversion of the waters of a deep lake, our government has turned completely upside down. Those who were constitutionally mandated to serve the people have instead become their overarching, unaccountable masters. If anyone doubts that our congress operates at the behest of special interests, let them explain this phenomenon: The average net worth of a US Congressman is over $8 million on a salary of $174,000 per year. You can’t achieve that kind of wealth given the stated salary without an enormous amount of income coming in the back door. Money is never free; there are always strings attached and therein lies the dilemma plaguing our nation today. Those providing the generous perks to our congressmen all expect a return on their investment.
Now let’s look at an interesting parallel.
When we follow the Old Testament account of God’s chosen people, we see that their covenant relationship with God is an outward one of following his laws and ritual regulations. God’s special presence was manifested particularly in the Tabernacle and subsequently in the Temple. This unique presence of God was so special that even after the kingdom divided into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah, many from the northern kingdom continued to travel south to Jerusalem to attend the established feasts and sacrifices. In many Psalms the psalmist would recall and long for the glorious presence of the Lord which could only be realized in the temple at Jerusalem.
However, when our story moves to the New Testament and the coming of Christ, man’s relationship with God dramatically shifts from an outward adherence to laws and rituals to an inner reality, one that is meant to be primarily relational in nature. Although Jesus showed recognition and respect for that which was soon to pass away saying, “See that you tell no one; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them,” he clearly taught the masses concerning the new inner reality of Christ within you, the hope of glory:
Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. (Matt 11:11 NKJV)
And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14:16, 17 NKJV)
All of Jesus’ teaching related to the Kingdom of God, and his parables were most pointedly depicting the reality of the Kingdom. God’s intention in forming a people for himself was always that he might dwell among them.
Have them construct a sanctuary for Me, so that I may dwell among them. (Ex 25:8 NASV)
I will dwell among the children of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them up out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them. I am the LORD their God. (Ex 29:45,46 NKJV)
There could not have been a more profound confirmation of God’s intention in this regard as demonstrated with the birth of Jesus—The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a Son, and they will call Him Emmanuel—which means, God with us (NIV).
And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. (Rev 21:3 NKJV)
God’s covenant with man moved from an outward, iconic, mediatorial and mostly impersonal relationship to one that was indwelling, highly personal and eschewing of all religious props or the necessity of spiritual interposers. It would be difficult to find a greater contrast than that exhibited by juxtaposing the old and new covenants of God with man. To come personally and directly into the very presence of God sans all religious paraphernalia and mediatorial intervention is the epitome of fulfilling the law and prophets. This New Testament covenant is initiated when one answers the call to follow by denying self, taking up one’s cross and pursuing the life of obedience that leads to conformity to the image of Christ. It is imperative that we truly comprehend these distinctives that set the new covenant so uniquely apart from and elevated above the old.
We are privileged to live under the new covenant with God. We get to experience the inward reality of the Holy Spirit and have the ways of God written on our hearts. We have unbelievable direct access to the throne of God since our great intercessor has already entered in. We are offered joy, peace and happiness which immeasurably excels anything this world could begin to show us. We have the promise of dwelling eternally in the glorious presence of Almighty God. The very Son of God has offered to share his full inheritance from the Father with us. All of this and more is the free gift of God through the Lord Jesus Christ who above all calls us into the fullness of his very life.
This is what the kingdom of God is about. A kingdom wherein the sovereign, omnipotent, omniscient and eternal king, whose ways are far above our ways, grants to the subjects of the realm absolute free will. A king who rules by love rather than fiat. When Jesus says, “come and follow,” he is declaring “I love you with an everlasting love.” Whether Jesus or self reigns in our lives is entirely our choice. We can freely reject all heaven has to offer or we can fully surrender our lives to the lover of our souls.
As the children of Israel stood on the brink of the Jordon after forty years of wandering in the wilderness, Moses rehearsed for them their history to date. He called on them to love God by keeping his ways, commandments, statutes and judgments. And then he put their choice in these stark terms:
I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live: Deut 30:19 KJV
That was the old covenant, the outward and legal relationship with the Lord. However, there is an inherent principle in it that carried right into the new covenant in Christ. There is life in following the ways of God and death in rejecting them and the choice is entirely ours. The fact that we were created free moral agents with the awesome power of choice, the consequences of our choices belong to us. In this sense, even as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, we are still self-governing agents—we the people. Every decision we make that conforms to the word, the ways and the character of Christ enthrones him evermore in our hearts and lives. Contrarily, when we reject his teaching, we condemn ourselves, deny Christ and position ourselves to suffer the consequences.
Persons who were privileged to be raised by loving, nurturing and relational parents have a different motivation with respect to submission and obedience than those whose parents tended to be more autocratic and rule oriented. The former willingly rendered submission and obedience as a natural response to protecting the affirming relationship they enjoyed. They are very concerned that aberrant behavior would “hurt” the parent and mostly did what they could to avoid violating the trust extended to them. The latter tended to keep what rules they did more out of fear of the consequences which were sure to follow unacceptable behavior.
These examples somewhat illustrate the old and new covenant relationships with God. Those who are bona fide followers of Jesus are so conscious of protecting their relationship with the Lord that they are pleased to follow and fulfill his heart in all matters.
The thrust of what I have been sharing has been to show that as new covenant followers of Jesus Christ we are called into a self-governing relationship with him. Although following Christ succinctly means denying self, taking up our cross daily and following, it does not preclude or in any manner set aside the responsibility of personally choosing to order our lives after his ways and teachings. The only way loving God has any merit is if it is done from a position of absolute freedom. If there were coercion of any sort our “love” would be totally meaningless. One of the measures of our love for God is in choosing to keep his word (Loving God means keeping his commandments…1 Jn 5:3 NLT). As free moral agents we not only have opportunity and liberty to utterly surrender our lives to Christ, but we make myriad choices every day which either confirm or deny that initial relinquishment.
There is a poignant depiction of the self-governing life in Old Testament types and shadows found in the story of King Solomon. In 2 Chronicles 9:8 the Queen of Sheba makes the following declaration regarding the life of Solomon:
The Lord your God is great in deed! He delights in you and has placed you on the throne to rule for him. Because God loves Israel so much and desires this kingdom to last forever, he has made you king so you can rule with justice and righteousness. NLT
We can outline the key points of this incredible statement of the Queen in this way:
- In all of Solomon’s wisdom, wealth and accomplishments, it is God who is recognized and credited
- It is God’s delight to endow Solomon with these assets
- It is God who has established the principle of self-rule
- It is God’s desire that through Solomon’s self-rule that others will be encouraged to do the same
- Justice and righteousness is to be the fruit of self-rule
My summary statement of the queen’s observations would be this: It we choose to govern ourselves after God’s ways, others will see Christ in us and be attracted to Him resulting in justice and righteousness in the land.
There can be only one reason we are seeing the tragic moral deterioration of our nation today; it is because the church has failed to be the salt and light it was ordained to be. It is because Christians by and large have abdicated their personal responsibility of self-government in the light of biblical teaching. It is because confessing believers in Christ are no longer “We the People.”