What right do I have?

Annually, on the 21st of March, South Africans celebrate Human Rights Day. This public holiday dates back to 1960 when a group of silent protestors were fired upon by the Police Service for standing up for their rights that had been taken from them due to racial discrimination. Globally, the topic of human rights is often debated. 

With all of our focus on human rights in our country this month, it begs the question, as a Christian, what rights do I have? 

The world leans heavily towards the stance that everybody has rights. Modern culture has set the “self” as the most important entity; my individual rights are of primary importance. Anyone who opposes this is ostracised and generally deemed as judgemental or even hateful. Human Rights are presented as something that we are entitled to. Although the Bible does not teach opposition to many of our fundamental human rights, we are taught by scripture that as soon as we begin to follow Christ, our rights are surrendered. If we look at how Jesus responded when potential followers tried to put anything ahead of surrendering completely to a Kingdom lifestyle, we see the expectation that is set:

Matthew 10:37-39 “37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” 

The Biblical viewpoint on human rights is unsurprisingly different to that of the world. Although the rights that secular society sets as important aren’t vastly different from those found in the Bible, rights such as freedom of speech or beliefs, the motivation for why we have rights is quite different. Society sets humanity as the pinnacle of importance; we have rights because we are inherently entitled to them as human beings. The Bible is clear that we as fallen human beings are not deserving of anything, and that every good and perfect gift is from above. (James 1:17)

So what rights do we see presented for humanity in scripture? 

The Sermon on the Mount, one of the most well-known teachings of Jesus Christ, contains several principles that can be applied to the concept of human rights. Christ taught that all human beings are equal in the eyes of God and should be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their social status or background. He also emphasised the importance of compassion and empathy towards others, especially those who are marginalised or oppressed. These teachings promote the idea of universal human rights, which include the right to life, liberty, and justice, and are applicable to all people, regardless of their race, gender, or religion. By following these principles, individuals and societies can uphold the value of human rights and create a more just and equitable world.

Christ’s teachings on human rights can also be seen in his advocacy for the marginalised and oppressed. He spoke out against injustice, exploitation, and oppression, and championed the cause of the poor, the sick, and the outcast. Christ’s message of love and compassion extended to all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, or nationality, and he taught his followers to treat others with dignity and respect.

Where the world tells us that we have human rights because we deserve them, the Bible teaches us that we are not entitled to anything. The only reason that we have any rights at all is because of the value that God placed on us. It’s by the grace of God that we have any rights, rather than an expectation of entitlement and self-preservation through our earthly rights, we should be thanking Christ for his love and forgiveness and for the liberty that we can experience because of Him. 

By Stuart Stark