hen we hear talk of human rights, it’s often in terms of what we feel people deserve. But Scripture does not talk rights in quite the same way.
Standing up for human rights is necessary. But when the language of human rights is invoked, it is nearly without fail because someone or some government has abused their power and cannot be trusted to do what humans should do: love their neighbor as themselves. Simply put, the appeal to “human rights” happens when humans aren’t humane.
As Christians, our involvement in these discussions should not be optional. And to be clear, as Christians we should be clamoring more for the rights of our neighbor than for our own. Why? Because that’s what love would have us do. The Bible has a lot to say about caring for the marginalized and disadvantaged, and we should always be prepared to “open [our] mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute” (Prov. 31:8 ESV).
However, some have tried to turn the “rights” conversation to a discussion not about interpersonal relationships, civic discourse, or social justice, but to their relationship with God. Their mandate is not for fair treatment from their fellow man, but from their Creator. It seems they are in a place where they feel they can make demands of God, as if God somehow owes them. This is a slippery slope, to say the least.
When we look to what the Scripture says about “rights,” it most often addresses interpersonal relationships (Ex. 7:10; Deut. 21:17; 1 Cor. 7:3), civic responsibilities (1 Sam. 10:25; Ruth 4:6), and caring for the marginalized (Ps. 82:3; Prov. 29:7; Isa.5:23; 10:2; Jer. 5:28). When it comes to our relationship with God, the Bible does not have a lot to say about our rights or claims. But there is at least one possible exception.
Some could argue that the clearest example of our rights as they relate to God is found in John 1:12: “To all who did receive [Christ], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (ESV). This is a beautiful and encouraging passage. We who receive Christ in faith are called the sons and daughters of God.
No matter our social status or country of origin, regardless of our skin color or gender, and despite our sin-filled past, we can be grafted into the family of God. This happens not because of what we do but because of what Christ has done. The only requirement on us is to accept what He’s done and trust Him.
When the Gospel talks about our “right,” it is drawing attention to our inheritance as sons and daughters of God. When looked at with perspective, this right is really a “gift.”
In Romans 8:16-17, Paul takes the children of God theme further. He asserts that because we are sons and daughters of God, we are also joint-heirs with Christ: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs─heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (ESV).
This means that whatever Jesus has, we have, too. What happened to Him will happen to us. Often when this passage is quoted, this is where the preacher stops; but it is not where Paul stops. There is not a period at this point; there is a comma. And verse 17 continues, “provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (ESV).
In verse 18, Paul adds, “For I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (ESV). He goes on to talk about how all of creation, including us as God’s children, are longing for that glory to be revealed (v. 19). The question is, are we willing to claim the glory along with the suffering? Honestly, I don’t want to suffer, but based on this passage I shouldn’t be surprised when it comes.
In Ephesians 1:13-14, Paul says our inheritance is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit but that we don’t have full possession of it yet. “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it” (ESV; emphasis added).
Yes, we are God’s sons and daughters, and yes, we have been gifted a glorious inheritance, but we have not acquired full possession of it yet. Trying to claim everything today that God is holding for us in the future can be detrimental.
To help illustrate, let’s turn to Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). This young man who was to receive an inheritance in the future wanted to claim that inheritance prematurely. Basically, he wanted the father’s stuff, but he didn’t want the father.
In response, the father surprisingly gave the son his inheritance before it was time. Sadly, the son wasted it. Tragically, he nearly lost his life and his relationship with his dad. It could be said he received what was rightfully his, but he wasn’t ready to handle it.
Our inheritance of being joint-heirs with Christ means we will share in His glory. This is phenomenal news! The Christian hope is that the same thing that happened to Jesus─resurrection─will also happen to us. It’s a hope that death is not the final word. We will know and be fully known; and “when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is” (1 John 3:2 NASB).
Our desire to want that inheritance now is understandable; because we are His sons and daughters, we want all the Father has for us. But I believe it is a grave mistake to claim it prematurely as our “right.” When we do this we make the mistake of the Prodigal Son. And we assume we know what is better for us than our Father does.
When it comes to our relationship with God and our inheritance as His children, instead of our rights and claims it would be better to talk about His “promise” and our “trust.” We don’t need to make claims on God; we trust that He has already claimed us. And because “God is love” (1 John 4:8), we trust that His love for us is supreme and His promises are true.
Do we pray the prayer of faith? Of course. Do we petition? Absolutely. But after our prayers, we trust God’s answers to come are even better for us than what we asked for.
Let your steadfast love come to me, O Lord, your salvation according to your promise; . . . for I trust in your word (Ps. 119:41–42 ESV).
So, as it relates to interpersonal relationships and civic discourse, the language of rights is needed when humans fail to do what they should. As Christians, when we see people being mistreated or marginalized, we are to be on-the-ready to speak up for the rights of those who have no voice.
When it comes to our relationship with God, however, we as His sons and daughters don’t need to “claim” our rights. Instead, we accept His gifts. We trust His promise. We have profound hope that what He has prepared for us is better than anything we can imagine. We believe the Holy Spirit guarantees our inheritance until the day we fully possess it. And we’re confident that “as many as are the promises of God, in [Christ] they are yes” (2 Cor. 1:20 NASB).