My Right To Myself

One of the defining characteristics of American culture is the emphasis on the individual.  Everywhere you turn, it’s nearly impossible to not be assaulted with reminders of how much we’re expected to value ourselves.  Ours is a culture defined by “individual rights”.

Our Declaration of Independence tells us “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

The Miranda warning tells us that we “have the right to remain silent”.

We have a Bill of Rights in our Constitution that tells us what we can do without fear of governmental reprisal.

There’s a national Right to Life Council.

There are Right to Work laws in many states.

There are rights to unemployment compensation.

We have private property rights.

There are those who believe that we have a right to government-funded healthcare.

There are those who advocate a right to gay marriage.

There are even those who feel that a woman has a right to terminate a pregnancy at any time, for any reason.

Rights, rights, rights.  Everyone has rights.  Everyone screams about their rights.  You may not even like that I’m writing this, but I have the right to say it.

 

Or do I?

 

What if I don’t have any rights anymore?  Would I cease to be myself if my rights were taken away?  What are “rights”, anyway, if they’re nothing more than an attempt to exalt one person over another?  After all, if your “rights” and my “rights” are in conflict, isn’t the end result that one of us has to lose?

As a Christian, do I even have “rights” as our culture defines them?

In his first letter to the church at Corinth, the apostle Paul told the believers there that “… you are not your own; you were bought at a price.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, NIV)  He was telling the church that as brothers and sisters in Christ, their redemption was paid for with Jesus’ death on the cross.  As such, they were “bought” by the sacrifice of Christ.

Later on, in the same letter, Paul goes on to describe the attributes of love that the believers should exhibit:

Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, NIV, emphasis added)

Some of those very attributes of love fly in the face of asserting a sense of “personal rights”, don’t you think?

Paul goes on to write a letter to the church in Philippi, and he describes some of the “rights” he could claim in human terms:

“If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more:  circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee;  as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.” (Philippians 3:4-6, NIV)

Paul was an erudite, experienced man of prominent background in the days before his conversion.  In human understanding, he could legitimately lay claim to a number of “rights” afforded to him under the common laws of the day.  Paul knew the system, knew it well, and could have used it to his advantage at any time of his choosing, and yet look at how he regarded his “rights”:

“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ  and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.  I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3: 7-11, NIV)

Paul realized that “rights” mean nothing.

Paul realized that the only thing that’s worth claiming is identification with Jesus Christ.

Paul realized that identifying with Jesus meant sharing in Jesus’ sufferings and “becoming like him in death”.  That’s the antithesis of laying claim to “individual rights”.

 

So how do we apply that today?

 

Put simply, it means that I don’t have a right to anything.  And neither do you.  Our attempts to assert individual rights is just a thinly veiled attempt to exhalt ourselves to higher status.

The one man in history who had a legitimate claim to any sort of “rights” – Jesus Christ – gave up his rights to instead take upon himself the sins of all creation.  He did it because he desired to restore mankind’s relationship to God.  He was willing to forsake all of his “rights” so that we could have a relationhip with Him.

If he was willing to do that, then what right do I have asserting my “individual right” to anything?  They may be afforded to me by our nation’s laws, but does that mean that my rights are somehow sacrosanct above all else?

If my wife took a bullet that was intended for me and she died as a result, would the appropriate response be to indignantly assert my “right” to anything?  No.  The appropriate response would be to live my life with a sense of gratitude and with a humble heart for the sacrifice that she made on my behalf.

So why do I assert my individual rights in light of the sacrifice that Jesus made for me?  The true answer is because I’m selfish and immature.  If I value what Jesus did for me, then what I should be doing is living a life that honors that sacrifice.  I should value what Jesus valued, and that’s relationships, not individual rights.

When we understand the weight of the sacrifice that was made for us, our “rights” won’t seem so important anymore.