Self-Evident Truth

     As this fractious election season draws to a close it may be a good thing to think about the ideas that were the foundation of this country. We know that the convention in Philadelphia voted for independence on July 2, 1776. John Adams always thought that should be “Independence Day.” But the Second Continental Congress took action on that July 4th in what they called “The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America.” That document was crafted primarily by Thomas Jefferson with help from Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and others. Jefferson’s “Declaration of Independence” has served us well these many years.

     One of the most stirring lines in it begins the second paragraph: “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.” Scholars of the document have parsed the sources of Jefferson’s prose tracing it back to the great political philosophies of western civilization. Jefferson himself said that he simply wrote what people were thinking. The ideas of the Declaration were definitely in the air of the time.

     The expression “self-evident” has been attributed to Franklin but none of us were there as the document was being edited. We do know what “self-evident” means: the truths enumerated in the Declaration were obvious to all the men involved with the process. They made sense and they were undeniable.

     I am certain that the people reading this essay recognize the importance of the ideas that resulted in the founding and preservation of the United States of America. I am also certain that we realize that there is an even more important set of ideas in existence: the Gospel of Christ. The principles revealed in the Gospel of Christ inspired that Declaration. Of greater significance is the truth that those Gospel principles have worked, do work and will work to free men from the bondage of sin (Romans 1:16, John 8:32).

     Let’s think about Jefferson’s great triumvirate of unalienable rights but in a spiritual sense. We know that, in the end, that “spiritual sense” will be the only one that matters. The Declaration speaks of “Life.” Those men in Philadelphia had embraced a view of life informed by the Biblical principle that God is the source of life. Some of those men were closer to the Biblical view than others. But the messages of the physical world and the Bible coincide: God is the Source of life. Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). He Himself is the “way, the truth, and the life.” In the Bible “life” includes living and breathing but it is so much more. As Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life that I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). We have real life in Christ (Romans 6:8).

     We value our liberty. We are blessed to live within a system that allows for the expression of personal freedom. The Gospel of Christ is our “Declaration of Independence” from sin. Again, from Paul: “…knowing that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin” (Romans 6:6-7). Governments come and go. The one freedom we will always need is freedom from sin. Jesus Christ has provided that freedom for us with His death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4, 1 Peter 1:18-19).

     Jefferson used the expression, “Pursuit of happiness.” Those words may well have been inspired by John Locke who wrote than people should be free to obtain whatever material rewards their talents and abilities might provide. As Christians we are also interested in happiness of that kind but more so of the spiritual type: the assurance of faith and contentment in Christ. Our happiness is to be centered firmly in our faith (Philippians 4:10-13). So is our life and so is our liberty.