WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–“We don’t promise you a rose garden,” the popular old Marine Corps poster says, but then that’s not what those young recruits are looking for.
They are looking for something more, and to get it they are willing to lay down their lives. Whether they become Marines to fulfill a family tradition, to help get their citizenship or to avoid a criminal sentence, these young men and women learn what may be demanded of them and join together for a cause — the cause of freedom.
As President Bush has said, “Freedom is on the march,” and an expression of this is found in people from all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds serving as one in the Marine Corps. Regardless of your tribe, tongue or nation, when you finish boot camp, you are a Marine.
There is something powerful about seeing people from all nations joining together for a common cause. As much as the Marine Corps motivates me, there is a picture that drives me even more: Galatians 5:1 tells us, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free” [NASB], and it is because of this freedom that Christians are on the march.
There are Christians all over the world who are one in Christ. Whether they first turn to Jesus after hearing from their family, from someone of another nation, or after serving a criminal sentence, these men and women learn what may be demanded of them and join together for a cause, the cause of freedom. They know they are not promised a rose garden, but then that’s not what they are looking for.
In April 2003, I was trying to stay alert as hour after hour through the night our convoy crept north of Baghdad to Tikrit with elements of the 1st Marine Division. Since we had left Kuwait, the faces and waving hands of the Iraqi civilians on the roadside had been saying “thank you” for the freedom they were receiving. On this occasion, our task force received some intelligence that initiated a quick-fused operation to free some American soldiers taken as POWs when their helicopter went down. Later on the news, I saw the expressions on the soldier’s faces and heard one say, “I love the Marines!” They also had been set free.
Today, there are still some Iraqis who do not understand that the Marines would love nothing more than to pass on freedom and return home to their families. They continue to resist this freedom because they do not understand it.
In June 2004, I was in an old Land Rover, stalled out in the night on a hill in southern Tanzania. We had spent the day with the Machinga people (who are less than 1 percent Christian) and received some smiles and handshakes that said “thank you” for the message of freedom we had brought. In a discussion we were having in someone’s backyard, we received some intelligence that one of the young men wanted to receive freedom in Christ. In a quick-fused response, one of the local Tanzanian missionaries led this man in a prayer of trust to our Lord in Swahili, and God set him free.
But even now there are those who do not understand that missionaries would love nothing more than to pass on this freedom to the world and return home to their families. They resist this freedom because they do not understand it.
As a Marine, I appreciate the sacrifice my brothers and sisters in arms are facing in Iraq and all over the world right now, but I am confident that they will succeed because of who they are and what they are fighting for. As a Christian, I know the sacrifices that so many of my brothers and sisters in Christ are facing all over the world, but I know they will succeed because of Who is fighting for them.
The difference between the two is where the fight lies, and what the final reward will be.
Both involve clashes of the human will, but for Christians, victory is obtained in submission to divine will. Jesus fought for us against death and won, and He allows us to take part in the victory of His resurrection if we submit to Him. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12.)
Both battles require a physical and spiritual price, but Christians are assured of the outcome: fellowship with our Creator and Savior in eternity. So we now continue in obedience to the Lord’s command to “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19) in order that people of every tribe, tongue, and nation will join together one day to worship Him.
These are worthy causes, worth fighting and dying for, and I can testify that there are many Marines who are standing for freedom on both fronts –- for political freedom on earth and spiritual freedom in the Kingdom of God. I’m sure the same is the case for the other branches of service, so I hope I’m forgiven for focusing on my brothers and sisters wearing the eagle, globe and anchor when I sing these words from the Marine’s hymn: “If the Army and the Navy ever look on heaven’s scenes, they will find the streets are guarded by United States Marines.”
Cole Coats* is a master of divinity student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., and a captain in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves.
*Name changed for security reasons.