On July 4, we, who live in the United States of America, celebrated our national holiday—Independence Day. Each year, this day on the calendar captures a defining trait of the American mentality: we are sovereign, and you can’t tell us what to do.
It might sound rousing for a country and its history, but here’s the spiritual reality for human beings: bad things happen when we attempt to live independently.
The biblical story is dyed throughout with the theme of sovereignty, but its central character is not humanity—it’s the Lord Almighty. He is good, powerful, wise, and loving, the designer, creator, and controller of all that is. He created a world of astonishing and multifaceted beauty and placed man and woman in it. They enjoyed intimate fellowship with God and had their every need supplied.
But sadly, they fell for an offer to be free of their submission to God, believing the serpent’s promise that they could be independent of their Maker.
What a horrible moment! Adam and Eve left the best place in the universe, where they could rest in God’s assured rule, to vie for the most dangerous thing a human being could ever do: to trust their life in their own hands.
This moment was the beginning of the struggle that we encounter every day. It gets down to one of two lifestyles: we are either resting in the glory of the sovereign rule of the Lord, or we are trying in some way to establish our own independence.
The struggle to trust in the Lord, rest in his law, and faithfully do his will, is what sin is all about. Whether subtle and secret or public and arrogant, every act of disobedience is a direct challenge to the sovereign rule of God. Every time I step outside of the boundaries of trust and obey, I call into question God’s power, wisdom, and authority.
Hosea 10:13 captures this very powerfully: “You have plowed iniquity; you have reaped injustice; you have eaten the fruit of lies. Because you have trusted in your own way and in the multitude of your warriors.” (ESV, emphasis mine)
Don’t miss the cause-and-effect structure of this passage. The prophet essentially asks: “Why have you experienced moral impurity? Why have you endured injustice? Why have you accepted what is not true?”
There is only one possible answer to these questions, and it’s not the one we want to hear. All of these things happened, the prophet said, because you pursued your way and relied upon your strength.
Sin causes us to deny our need for God and others. Sin causes us to assign to ourselves the wisdom, strength, and righteousness we do not have. Sin causes us to dethrone God and enthrone ourselves.
Sin is shockingly proud and self-assured. Sin causes us all to fall into the delusion that we can be like God. And because sin does this to all of us, it is dark, deceitful, and dangerous.
Self-reliance and self-sufficiency as your fundamental approach to life will never lead to anything good. Independence promises life but always leads to death of some kind in some way.
So we need to be rescued from our quest for independence and brought into a relationship with the One who provides everything we need.
And that’s exactly what the grace of Jesus does for us!
Paul David Tripp
1. Consider the list of examples below. Which defines you most accurately? How might it expose a more profound struggle—your quest for independence?
- You struggle to ask for directions or for help finding something in the store because you want to locate it yourself.
- You attempt to do things you’ve never done before without seeking instruction or thoroughly reading the instruction manual.
- You can’t stand your boss or team leader telling you what to do, and you assure yourself that it’s because of their leadership style when it might simply be because you don’t like listening to authority.
- You push people away when they are offering assistance or advice.
- You tell people you’re spiritually, emotionally, and relationally okay when the evidence reveals the opposite.
2. How have you experienced some form of “death” or chaos as a result of your quest for independence?
3. What were you trying to achieve by living autonomously? What lie did you believe that told you something good was on the other side of your self-sovereignty?
4. How is God calling you to submit to his sovereignty and trust his rule this week? Be specific. Why might you struggle with obedience?