The Rights of the Christian

“Yet to all who received in Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God”    (John 1:12)

Much of the church in the Western world holds a teaching of “surrendering your rights” or “yielding your rights to God”.

This teaching seems to have come about at least in part as a reaction against the increasing demands in Western society by unbelievers for the “right” to do things we regarded as sin without facing the penalty of law. Rightly-regarded and not taken to an extreme place, the teaching can be a beneficial correction to the prideful and individualistic Western notion that I can do whatever the crap I want and no-one gets to tell me I can’t.

However, the more I actually look at what the Scripture says, the more convinced I become that this is far from the whole story.

The Bible doesn’t talk about rights very much; certainly not in the way we conceive of them. The idea of rights in that sense presupposes a far more individualistic mindset than existed at the time the Bible was written.

Nevertheless, the concept is there. The commandment “Do not murder” presupposes that you have a right to your own physical person; that is, another person does not have the right to take your life from you or violate your personhood. The commandment “do not commit adultery” presupposes that you have a right to expect faithfulness from your spouse. The commandment “Do not steal” presupposes the right to personal property. The commandment “Do not bear false witness” presupposes that you have the right to the reputation you deserve; that is, that another person does not have the right to slander you or bring false accusations against you, and furthermore, that you have a right to expect not to be deceived.

“Laying down” or “surrendering” any of these rights leads us into a very weird place indeed. It sets us up for victimhood, remaking God into the image of a tinpot dictator, a Ba’al (or “Master”) of worthless slaves rather than a loving Father of redeemed and beloved children.

Very few people go that far, though there have been those that do. Believing that is obviously taking things too far.

But what of other rights? What exactly do we mean by “laying down our rights” anyway? And does the Scripture actually teach the idea at all?

What most Christians seem to mean by “rights” is the sense of entitlement that so often goes with being a sinner. The idea that I don’t have to bend for anyone else; the idea that I am the sole authority in my life and no-one can tell me what to do. The idea that everyone else has to conform to what I think. The idea that I deserve preferential treatment because I’m so wonderful.

I have no problem with the surrender of this attitude. Indeed, it’s rooted in arrogance and needs to be brought to the cross. But this isn’t the “surrender of rights” but the confession and forgiveness of a self-centred attitude of pride.

The “rights” that are being surrendered here are ones that we arrogate to ourselves, not ones that actually objectively exist. I don’t, in fact, have any “right” to preferential treatment or to expect everyone else to fall into lockstep with what I believe.

The other way the word “rights” tends to get used in this teaching is to mean “privileges”. The special treatment you might get because of the position you hold. The way kings and queens have a right to be called “Your Majesty” and the President gets to be called “Sir” out of respect for their position. Or “Ma’am”, when in the course of time we eventually get a female one. The expected treatment that we feel we ought to receive.

This is a thornier issue. On the one hand, Jesus did not come as a son of privilege. He gave up His visible glory and was born as the son of a poor carpenter, the subject of rumours and one with no majesty by which we might be attracted to Him. Paul at times did not make use of his rights as an apostle to be supported by the church, to take a believing wife and so on.

But at other times he exercised his rights as a Roman citizen. He demanded the privileges due to him on account of his position, requiring that the city magistrates of Philippi personally come and escort him out of the city after they beat him without trial.

The idea of “surrendering rights” is that to be truly like Jesus we must never make use of any of our privileges. We must always lay them down, always taking the lowest possible place, letting other people walk over us. We must allow ourselves to be wronged rather than make any unChristlike demand to be treated properly.

And yet this may be a misreading of what the Bible says, and a confusion as to what rights actually are.

It’s not prideful or unChristlike to insist on fair pay for an honest day’s work; it’s God’s attribute of justice. It’s not a failure to yield rights to insist on being treated as a human being; it’s God’s valuing of the human person. It’s not a false entitlement to refuse to let other people take advantage of you and abuse your generosity with time and resources; it’s wisdom in the use of resources and refusing to be an enabler.

Undoubtedly there are all sorts of bogus “rights” that people claim in the name of human selfishness, and we do need to watch that we aren’t straying into an attitude of entitlement.

But there are also real, legitimate rights, and those are not up for surrender.


2 thoughts on “The Rights of the Christian


    How can men find the truth? First you have to put pride aside and admit that God is smarter than you. Trust God and His word.


    The source for truth is not found in any preacher, priest , pastor, pope, elder, guru, potentate, Bible commentator, creed book, nor man’s opinion in general.


    John 1:14 And the WORD became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

    Jesus is the Word and the truth. Look to Jesus to find the truth.

    John 1:17 For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.

    The truth in denominational instruction must, by necessity, come through Jesus Christ. The truth of Jesus is found in the Bible. Jesus did not write any creed books, church statements of faith nor catechisms.

    John 8:31-32 So Jesus was saying to the Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

    Jesus said if you continue in His word; the truth will make you free. Jesus did not say; continue in extra-Biblical doctrine that has been invented in the last 2000 years and it will make you free.


    John 16:12 “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.

    Jesus did not stop talking at His death.

    John 16:13-15 But when He, the the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. 14 He will glorify ME, for He will take of MINE and will disclose it to you. 15 All things that the Father has are MINE; therefore I said He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.

    The Spirit of truth (The Holy Spirit) was to teach the apostles all truth. The truth the Holy Spirit taught was the truth of the words of Jesus. JESUS IS THE TRUTH!


    Galatians 1:11-12 For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. 12 For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
    2 Corinthians 11:10 As the truth of Christ is in me.

    The truth that the apostle Paul and all the rest of the apostles taught was the truth of Jesus Christ. The Scriptures in, red letters are not, the only, words of Jesus. When the apostle Peter said repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. That was the truth of Jesus being spoken. (Acts 2:38)


    2 Thessalonians 2:10 and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.

    The truth is found in JESUS CHRIST alone and the words of JESUS CHRIST are found in the Bible and the Bible alone.

    The absolute truth of Jesus is not found in the extra-Biblical creed books, catechisms, so-called new books of revelation, nor church statements of faith.



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