On July 4, 1776, 56 men gathered to sign a document that would swiftly plunge the 13 colonies that they represented into a war for independence from Great Britain. The Declaration of Independence was designed to be a clear statement of their justification for rebellion against the world’s dominant empire. This document, from the beginning, lays out these men’s fundamental presupposition: that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were inalienable rights guaranteed by mankind’s creator.
We hear this language a lot, but what does it mean that these things are “inalienable” and why did these men believe that such rights were guaranteed by their creator? To begin with, the word inalienable (also written as “unalienable” at times, these are just two spellings of the same word) means that these things can neither be taken away nor can they be given away. In other words, our forefathers understood that these three rights were part of our very makeup as human beings and there is nothing one could do to remove or sacrifice these rights. I can no more give up these rights than I can change my species.
So what makes these rights inalienable? The immediate answer, which comes right from the text of the Declaration of Independence, is that such rights come from and are guaranteed by God, our creator. But why? In Genesis 1:26, God says: “Let us make man in our image and after our model.” This verse is the basis for what is known as the doctrine of the “Imago Dei,” or that mankind is made after the image of God. In other words, what is being taught is that human beings have some of the same attributes that God has. Certainly there are some attributes that belong to God alone: his infinity, his omniscience, etc…, but many traits we share. Thus, when we talk of God having intelligence, will, and a freedom to pursue his pleasure, we recognize that, as image bearers, the same language applies to us as well. Thus, the reason that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are inalienable rights is because God has these rights in his very being. For us to be human and in the image of God means then, that we too have these rights. In turn, if a government or an institution seeks to usurp those rights or treats us as if we do not have those rights, they are no longer treating the people as if they are human.
As we celebrate the Fourth of July this year, it is worth remembering that the reason we have dignity and certain inalienable rights is because we are image bearers of God, yet what happens when a government rejects the very notion of God as foundational? What happens when a society is no longer taught the doctrines that undergird some of these ideas? Friends, while many of our founding fathers were not what we would define as evangelical Christians, all of them had a clear understanding that Biblical principles were an essential part of the foundation of a free society and if you lose those principles you will lose the society that the principles protect. Currently, the government, the ACLU, the teachers unions, and many other secular groups are working hard to eliminate God’s word from our classrooms and from our government. What happens if a generation grows up thinking that either there is no God or that if there is a God, he has no relevance to life in society? As such takes place, we will lose those freedoms that our founding Fathers understood to be inalienable and grounded in the fact that we bear God’s image in our persons.
Pray for our nation. Pray that God will convert our political leaders who are not born-again Christians. But just as importantly, pray that those in influence will once again realize that if we are going to preserve freedom in America, we need to preserve the Biblical foundation for the rights that our founding fathers understood to be inalienable. My fear is that people no longer desire to be “human” by God’s definition, but want to be human by their own definition—Man made in man’s own image. If that is true, we will cease to be “human” and will lose the freedoms that we have. As Christians, we have the knowledge of the truth—it is a shame that so many in the church keep silent about that truth. Let us be bold and outspoken and let us call for reform to our very wicked government lest we be in a situation where Abraham must stand before God once again and say, “if I can find just 10 in America…”