With Independence Day approaching, we celebrate both our freedom as Americans and, more importantly, our Freedom in Christ—which is the Higher Christian Life. While meditating on independence, I have realized that to be independent has both good and bad connotations. Independence from oppression is a good thing. Independent living—to be capable to live on your own—is a good thing.
But independence can also be a bad thing. Independence is bad when we don’t reach out for help because we just want to do it on our own— when we think “I got this; I don’t need someone else’s help or counsel.” We try to be the self-made man or woman. One definition of independence is “not looking to others for one’s opinions or for guidance in conduct” vs. Scripture that says, “There is safety in a multitude of counselors.”
Independence is bad when it alienates us from others or when it becomes prideful. Independence is bad when it says, “I got to be me,” and becomes an excuse for “I don’t want to change.” We find ourselves opposed to Scripture that commands us: “Put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24).
Many of us croon with Frank Sinatra, “I did it my way.” Having it your way is fine for Burger King (I love my Whoppers without onions!), but not for our spiritual life or the church. God says His ways are higher than our ways. Independence is bad when it is all about ourselves. I looked up synonyms for the word “Independent”: “self-dependent, self-reliant, self-subsistent, self-subsisting, self-sufficient, self-supported, self-supporting, self-sustained, self-sustaining.” Notice that it is all about self.
Independence is bad when we don’t want to submit to others. Another definition of independence is: “free from outside control, not depending on another’s authority, not subject to control by others.” I remember James Robison, a Baptist TV evangelist, once saying tongue-in-cheek, “If you say ‘Independent Baptist,’ you have said “independent” twice!” An independent attitude opposes several Scriptures. Here are just two:
- “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21).
- “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you” (Hebrews 13:17).
So then, the answer is not codependency, which is unhealthy dependence on the needs of or control by another. In other words, people need each other, so they use each other.
Biblically, we are not to be independent, dependent or codependent, but we are to be interdependent. This is the Higher Life in Christ. The Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit are harmoniously interdependent. The King James Version of Galatians 6, verse 2 and 5 read as follows:
2 “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.”
5 “For every man shall bear his own burden.”
These two verses appear to contradict each other. However, verse 2 and 5 have different Greek words translated the same as “burden.” The KJV mistranslates verse 5. “Burden” in verse 5 means the soldier’s backpack. “Burden” in verse 2 means an oppressive heavy burden. The NASB translates accurately verse 5: “For each one will bear his own load.” We each have our own load for which we are responsible, but we need to reach out to others when we overburdened.
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).
We need each other. That is a good thing. None of us can stand completely on our own. We need each other’s friendship, we need each other’s encouragement, we need each other’s prayers. And yes, we need each other’s admonishment and we need to submit to one another. That is real freedom in Christ.
I realized many years ago that I had an unhealthy independent spirit. I had left 3 denominations and became pastor of a non-denominational independent church. I had become anti-denominational and proud of my badge as an independent pastor. But after trying to pastor 3 independent churches, I found them more problematic than a denomination, fostering an unhealthy spirit of pride, bitterness, separateness, and rebellion, not only in the churches but also in myself.
My Dad tried to encourage me to come back to my original denomination, but I fought against it until I realized I was fighting the Lord. Someone gave me a right-on prophetic word, saying that I was like a can with a generic label, but that God was putting a name brand label on me, yet the contents would still be the same. I am now back in the denomination of my childhood, and though it is not perfect, I have never been happier.
I celebrate my independence as an American, and I am proud to be an American. But I never want to be independent as a Christian. I never want again to be independent as a pastor. I want always to be biblically interdependent with the family of God. I pray we all set our sights on the Higher Life in Christ and become free from an independent spirit.