What Are You Rebelling Against?
There is a line in the movie The Wild One with Marlon Brando. Marlon's character is asked, "What are you rebelling against, Johnny?" His response: "Whaddaya got?" That line came to mind recently as I thought about rebellion. Psalm 78 talks about a rebellious generation – a generation rebelling against God. Sometimes I wonder if I am part of that rebellious generation. Or maybe it is all generations who rebel. After all, Adam and Eve started it with the rebellion in the Garden of Eden. And we continue it today, thousands of years later.
So what are we rebelling against? There are three possibilities: the world, someone in authority, and God. Let's see what each of those might look like.
Rebelling Against the World
As a faithful Christian, I should rebel against the things of the world. I should rebel against a culture of death. I should rebel against the sexualization of children. I should rebel against the immorality that is so easily accepted today. Those are all good things to rebel against.
How do we do that? How do we rebel against the world? We reject the things that are contrary to the Gospel.
The world says we need to focus on fame and fortune to be a success. I rebel against that definition when I measure my success by the way I seek and live God's will. That may mean that I don't have much money – and I'm okay with that. It may mean that I have plenty of treasure and am able to use it to help those who have less. It may mean that I don't win American Idol and only sing in the church choir. Or it could mean that I win American Idol and bring glory to God through that experience. The key is to see things from a heavenly perspective rather than a worldly perspective.
The world says to worry about yourself – to put yourself first. I rebel against that when I follow the teaching of Jesus and serve others. I rebel against that when my spouse comes first – not in the way that I become a doormat, but as one who offers myself as a gift to my spouse. Christian marriage is about being self-gift to the other. That is a rebellious idea in today's world.
The world says to use whatever means necessary to get what you want. The ends justify the means. I rebel against this when I take a more difficult path to accomplish my goals. It may take longer but the goal will be realized in God's perfect timing.
Those are all ways that I might rebel against the world.
Rebelling Against Authority
A child rebels against his father when saying "no" to an instruction. If you have kids, pretty sure you have experienced this type of rebellion. As adults, we have different authority figures. It can be my parents, or a pastor, my boss at work, the leader of a committee I'm volunteering with, a police officer. Any time someone else is in charge there is an opportunity for obedience to authority. I have an obligation by virtue of their position to obey them. Jesus told his followers to respect what the teachers of the time said, but not to follow their example. He acknowledged their authority.
When I rebel against the world, it's a good thing. When I rebel against an authority, it might be good if it's driven by God's will. When it's driven by my pride, it's not good. Sometimes God gives us an authority to follow in this world. If I rebel against them, I am actually rebelling against God. Remember the words of Jesus in Luke 10:16: Whoever hears you hears me. Jesus gave His authority to the apostles. A good question to ponder is who has God placed in your life as His authority?
It is brave to rebel against an authority when they are ordering you to do something that violates your faith or oversteps the authority they have. We have seen this type of rebellion in recent cases in the Supreme Court and with parents who are challenging their local school boards. That takes courage and it is admirable.
Rebellion against an authority can be inappropriate when I do it because of a personal preference – because I want it my way. Here's an example: You are on a committee and the team makes a decision to follow a strategy that you don't like, so you work behind the scenes to sabotage that strategy. That is a bad kind of rebellion because it's based on pride.
Maybe the authority is your spouse. They ask you not to do something, and your internal voice says, "You can't tell me what to do." So you rebel and do the opposite of what they requested. I've done that. It wasn't that I thought I was right and needed to do the right thing. I simply didn't want to be told what to do, so I rebelled.
Rebelling against authority can be tricky. It's important to check our pride so that we are truly following God's will when we rebel.
Rebelling Against God
Every sin is a rebellion against God. Every time we choose something other than God, we are rebelling against Him. God gave us His law because we need it. If we follow His law, things work out better for us eternally. But each day I can choose. Do I choose vulgar movies or podcasts? Paul instructs us not do that in Ephesians 5:4. Do I watch movies with scenes that are salacious? That's a rebellion against God. Do I encourage people to follow the easy path rather than a path of holiness? That's rebellion against God. Do I refuse to forgive, even though Jesus said to forgive 7 times 70 times? That's rebellion against God.
I once asked a priest for a decision on something I wanted to do. He said no. I didn't like the answer so I went priest shopping, looking for another priest who would agree with me. I tried two other priests who both agreed with the first. My rebellion didn't work. I realized that God was saying no to me and I was rebelling against that No.
Some people say Jesus was a rebel. But was he really? It may have looked like it because he caused such trouble, but I think it was the religious leaders of the time who were actually rebels. They were the ones who rebelled against God and had to be corrected. Jesus continually tried to convey the importance of love over strict rule-following. Love is the foundation of all of the commandments, but love was what they most lacked, what they rebelled against.
Let's revisit the original question: What are you rebelling against? God calls us to rebel against the world. He calls us to obey authorities. He calls us to obey His law. Rebellion doesn't have to be a bad thing if we rebel against those things that contradict God's way and obey those He puts in our life as authorities. To be a rebel to the world requires us to let go of our need for human approval. To avoid being a rebel to God requires us to grow in humility and self-discipline.
If you are asked, What are you rebelling against?, may it always be the world, the flesh, and the devil. May it never be God Almighty, our good and loving Father.
Questions for Prayer:
When have I chosen not to rebel against the world? How can I become more of a rebel in that way?
When do I choose to rebel against God? What can I do to choose Him first in all things?