On Thursday we celebrate 248 years since we declared our independence from that nation across the pond. It has been a national journey blessed by God’s grace. We cannot deny that God has used America for His purposes historically, but it is always difficult to decide how to acknowledge national heritage in a sacred space.

This season can be tricky for a church to navigate. It is too easy to blur the line between our Christian identity and our national identity. To make my point, I shall correct a modern notion. Presidents Kennedy and Reagan both said America was “the city on the hill.” They were quoting the Puritan John Winthrop from 1630. But Jesus said it is the church which is the “city on the hill,” not America. We have to be careful. And accurate. The theological implications are significant, especially as we explore Galatians.

As we work our way through that book this summer, we learn to appreciate freedom in Christ. As we celebrate our national freedom this week, we need to remember the much greater value of our spiritual freedom, which was bought with the precious blood of the divine Savior.

When we gather as a church family, we represent nothing if not a celebration of our heavenly, not earthly, citizenship (Phil. 3:20). All are welcome. All belong. When we celebrate the Lord’s Table it is, by definition, a multinational table. And it is at that moment that we reveal the tension.  I love America, troubled history and all. But we are more than our national identity.

This week believers should thank God for all the good He has done through our nation – and repent of our evil. And we should remember that Paul argued in the Athenian Areopagus that God Himself marked the times and boundaries of the nations (Acts 17:26).  He will later exhort the church to pray for rulers, to give thanks for them, to honor them (Rom. 13:7; 1 Tim. 2:1-2). We grumble at that exhortation from time to time. And that reflects badly on our hearts.

Let’s be thoroughly biblical this week – give thanks and pray. We have a vested interest in promoting a just, fair, happy, and healthy nation – here and around the world.  Free and peaceful nations provide an opportunity for people to hear the Gospel and respond. A healthy nation provides a platform for God’s work of redemption.

And how we handle this holiday is important. We don’t want non-Christian Americans to believe they are us simply because they love the flag and we love the flag.  No, they must love the cross, and we love them most by pointing them – not to the flag, but to the cross. May God’s grace shine on us, that we may point people to Jesus.