What does it mean to be an American?

A new survey from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds Republicans are far more likely to cite a culture grounded in Christian beliefs and the traditions of early European immigrants as essential to U.S. identity.  Democrats are more apt to point to the country’s history of mixing of people from around the globe and a tradition of offering refuge to the persecuted.  There are some points of resounding agreement among Democrats, Republicans, and independents about what makes up the country’s identity. Among them: a fair judicial system and rule of law, the freedoms enshrined in the Constitution, and the ability to get good jobs and achieve the American dream (Sedensky 2017).

When I personally think about being an American a lot of the same freedoms and ideas come to mind.  Also, images from my Midwest childhood of pizza, Blockbuster Video (that should date me a little bit), and Friday night football flash in my memory.  The American dream concept never really come to the forefront until my first meeting with a guidance counselor in high school.  Questions like, what do you want to do with your life and what major do you want to have in university started to crowd my thoughts.  I started contemplating my future and how I would achieve my slice of the American Dream.

Being an American is a great privilege.  I will never deny that, but shouldn’t our identity in Christ be an even greater privilege?  Shouldn’t the call to follow Christ wherever He may lead, supersede a desire for the “American Dream”?  Am I willing to give up my “American-ness” in order to live for Him?

Paul said in his letter to the believers at Corinth “To the Jews, I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews…” (1 Cor. 9:20a) Well, that was easy for him because he already was.  He understood each and every aspect of what it meant to be a Jew.  Nice try Paul. That’s too easy for you.  Yet, he takes a giant leap forward a couple of verses later when he states, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means, I might save some.” (1 Cor. 9:22b) This is slightly more radical.  It states he is willing to change any aspect of his life in order to win some for Christ.  Paul was willing to give up his personal identity for the cause of Christ. J.D. Greear in his book Gaining by Losing puts it this way, “He (Paul) was still Jewish of course – and would never deny that – but his Jewishness was something so “light” to him that he could take it on and off like a garment.

When each person comes to faith in Jesus Christ they receive a new identity that transcends all other identities that they have been born or adopted into.  In 2 Corinthians 5:17 it says “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”  Paul knew that his primary identity was not in being Jewish, but it was in Christ.  My primary identity is not being an American, but it is in Christ.

So the question needs to be asked what aspects of our “American-ness” will we give up in order to reach people for Christ.   Am I willing to give up my definition of success?  Am I willing to give up my career?  Will I give, serve, and love radically all for the sake of His name?

Today, ask yourself where is your identity founded.


Sedebsky, M. (March 6, 2017). What does it mean to be American? The answer depends on your politics, study says,  Retrieved from: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/mean-american-answer-depends-politics-study-says/

Greear, J. D. (2015). Gaining by Losing. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan