Patriotism vs. Nationalism

Every July 4th, Americans wave flags, belt out our national songs triumphantly, and consume a lot of barbecue and lemonade. The danger of our July 4th celebrations, as Christian people, is that sometimes we take patriotism beyond gratitude, morphing it into a nationalist idolatry. As Christ-followers, there are two things we should remember as we celebrate America:

First, we should remember that being an American is great, but being in the Kingdom of God is best. The scriptures say:

“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live ​righteously, and he will give you everything you need” (Matthew 6:33).

Scripture tells us that we are not citizens of this world but that we are citizens of God’s otherworldly Kingdom. Furthermore, our current residency status in our host country is that of exiles. Paul wrote:

“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 3:20)

It is important to note that the United States of America and the Kingdom of God are not synonymous. Jesus claimed that His Kingdom was “not of this world” (John 18:36), and that it stands separate and unique (holy) in comparison to anything this world has to offer. I find it alarming how easy it is for believers—myself included—to be caught up in the cares of this world and to follow the worrying, fearful pattern of unbelievers. As God’s people, we ought to be able to look past today’s bad news—as well as any threats on the horizon—and take comfort in the fact that our hope is not bound to the circumstances of this world. Jesus’s Kingdom stands above America and every nation of the earth. One day, America and all its presidents will be a footnote in history, but God’s Kingdom will never end.

Second, we should remember that proclaiming the truth is what the world really needs. Jesus said:

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)

Political remedies to our nation’s moral ills are no cure for the underlying spiritual problems that exist today. The freedom Jesus offers is a spiritual freedom from the bondage of sin—that is release from the lifestyle and consequences of habitual lawlessness. As Christians, we know lives, not just laws, need to be transformed into the likeness of Christ. While I love America, I love God more, and I know that America can’t transform lives, but the truth of the Gospel can. As long as our love for country does not supersede our love for God, as long as it is kept in proper perspective, there is nothing wrong with a Christian being patriotic.

However, carried to an extreme, patriotism can become a form of idolatry, particularly if one’s love for his country is greater than his love for God and God’s plan of redeeming people from “every tribe, tongue and nation.” I hope we do not lose sight of the fact that the American experiment, for all its failings, remains a wonderful thing. It has secured, promoted and defended unprecedented historical freedoms for an unprecedented and diverse amount of people.

July 4th is a moment to remember and celebrate the remarkable common grace of God that we—and hundreds of millions of others—have received through the United States.