This election season is a good time to remember that the Christian life is a paradox.
Take, for example, the question of where our citizenship resides. The apostle Paul once warned that “no soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits” (2 Tim. 2:4), and he insisted that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20). This sounds like a single citizenship with only a heavenly zip code. However, the same apostle Paul also declared that he was “a citizen of no obscure city” (that is, Tarsus) and avoided torture by appealing to his Roman citizenship, which gave him certain rights and prevented certain actions from the Roman authorities (Acts 21:39; 22:25-29). Paul knew that his fundamental identity was “hidden with God in Christ” and that he was to set his mind on “things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:1-3), but he also knew that he had earthly obligations and rights and that they were not insignificant.
Which city should we care about? “Here we have no lasting city” (Heb. 13:14). Like Abraham, we look “forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10). And yet, as “sojourners and exiles (1 Pet. 2:11) we are commanded to “seek the welfare of the city . . . and pray to the Lord on its behalf” (Jer. 29:7). And so the paradox goes. We are not to be of the world—but we are to be in it (John 17:15-16). We must always be on guard to be transformed by the word—not conformed to the world (Rom. 12:2). We are to keep ourselves “unstained from the world” (James 1:27)—and yet we must taste and shine like “salt and light” (Matt. 5:13-16) to a dark and rotting culture around us. It is true that “this world is not our home,” but it’s not true that “I’m just passing through” like a leisurely amusement park ride. We are dual citizens, responsible and active members of both God’s spiritual kingdom and earthly kingdom. And if we seek to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and strength—and to love our neighbor as ourselves—then we should care to some degree about politics and elections and the role of government in our land.
Caring Too Much
Yes, some of us can care too much. The political junkies among us follow every poll and breaking-news alert and instant-analysis and pseudo-scandal, always craving our latest fix. We find ourselves tempted to believe the worst about the candidates and to look the other way when our preferred candidate stretches the truth. A loss leaves us not just disappointed but depressed. And a win leaves us unusually elated. But there’s a reason that 1 John ends rather abruptly: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” We all are tempted to idolatry and we all need to be warned against it. “Some trust in chariots and some in horses [and some in political candidates], but we trust in the name of the Lord our God” (Ps. 20:7).
Caring Too Little
And yet others of us care too little about politics. Some argue that we should be invested in evangelism or preaching or social justice instead of politics. But most of us can care about both. Let me offer two reasons why we, as Bible-believing, gospel-centered evangelicals, should care about politics at varying levels and degrees
First, we care about politics because we care about God’s glory and God’s good gift. Everything is designed to be from God and through God and to God (Rom. 11:36)—including our government. Everything we do—from drinking our coffee in the morning to having a sandwich for lunch to voting at the booth to serving as an elected official—is to be done for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). As C. S. Lewis once said: “You will certainly carry out God’s purpose, however you act, but it makes a difference to you whether you serve like Judas or like John.” Why not vote and work to move things in a more God-glorifying direction?
It is easy to despair about our government, especially in a time when the protection of life and the pursuit of liberty are being undermined. But we must never forget the goodness of God’s design. God has appointed our rulers (Rom. 13:1-2) for our good (Rom. 13:4), and we are to respect and honor them (Rom. 13:7). (Before you object, don’t forget what the rulers were like when this was written!) Government is a gift from God, designed to promote and protect good while serving as a deterrent to that which is bad (Rom. 13:2-4). One of the reasons we are to pray for our rulers is so that government will function in such a way that we have the sort of conditions that allow us to live a godly life (1 Tim. 2:2).
Second, we care about politics because we care about the good of our neighbors and the good of our country. If you have to choose between evangelism and politics, choose evangelism. Saving an eternal soul is more important than fixing a temporal need. But most of the time, we don’t have to choose. And just because something is not ultimate does not mean it is unimportant. Martin Luther King Jr., speaking from personal, painful experience, put it well: “While it may be true that morality cannot be legislated, behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me but it can keep him from lynching me and I think that is pretty important, also.”
There are more important things in life than politics. It’s easy to become an idolatry. But it’s also easy to be too apathetic. As the Lord leads, let us commit to letting our politics be shaped by the gospel and informed by the word of God as we prayerfully work to become informed and to fulfill our roles as we seek the good of the city—even as we wait for the city to come.
Justin Taylor, Elder