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Can a Christian be actively involved in politics and retain his Christian character? How should a Christian react to government when ungodly laws are passed?
The Christian, Politics, and the Government What role if any should the Christian play in politics? All any man can know about the subject is what the Bible says and since it was written for the benefit and enlightenment of all men in all ages of time from the time it was first penned until the last day of this earth’s existence and for all cultures and under all the different kinds of governments under which men have lived it speaks to us not in specifics but in general statements on the subject. As it relates to specifics it is often hard to know exactly what one ought to do under some of the scenarios which arise but we have God given principles by which we can act. I write on this topic not so much out of a desire to do so but because a discussion of the subject is needed especially at this time where here in America I doubt the country has ever been more sharply divided than it is now other than in the years leading up to and during the Civil War. There are two very distinct trains of thought in our society about what the nature of our country ought to be and it seems any middle ground has disappeared leading to anger and bitterness on both sides. So where does a Christian fit in, what does he do, what should he do? What does the Bible teach? First of all it should be clear to all who truly want to be what a Christian ought to be that one’s first order of business ought to be to be as much of a Christian as he/she can be every single day of his/her life. What does that mean? It means I ought to live a spiritual life daily. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.” (Gal. 5:22-23 NKJV) Just above this passage in Gal. 5:19-21 are listed the “works of the flesh” (V. 19) of which I would like to list two of those works that are listed as they pertain most directly to the topic at hand (politics), namely, “hatred” (v. 20) and “outbursts of wrath” (v. 20). The reader can clearly see the contrasts between the works of the flesh and those of the spirit. Furthermore, there is a passage in Eph. 4:31 which also speaks directly to the issue, “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.” (NKJV) When we (Americans) are so deeply divided over the issues it is very easy for a citizen who is also a Christian to become bitter and angry and think and speak evil of others who are in opposition and even reach the point where he/she despises them in his/her heart. Yes, the Bible teaches we ought to hate evil, “You who love the Lord, hate evil!” (Psalms 97:10 NKJV, see also Prov. 8:13 and Amos 5:15) Hate the evil but love the person. “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:8 NKJV) We ought to hate the evil a government does when it enacts laws that are contrary and supportive of evil (say as examples laws supporting gay marriage and abortion) and it must be admitted for it cannot be denied that government is made up of the men and women who make the laws. Yes, they are responsible for the evil a government may allow or do in its lawmaking and governing capacity but in a democracy we are also accountable in that we vote the lawmakers and the executive into or out of office. We as a nation will be held accountable which means we do need to vote for those candidates running for office who are most supportive of Christian principles. We can and ought to hate laws that are contrary to God’s teaching in the New Testament and also the kind of thinking that leads to those laws but yet have compassion for the misguided lawmakers who made them in that each has a soul that is worth more than all of the wealth of this world combined. “For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Matt. 16:26 NKJV) Jesus said, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Mark 2:17 NKJV) That was his mission. What is the mission of his servants? Are we in the condemning them to hell camp or are we in the converting them to Christ camp? If our reaction to ungodly laws that are passed is one of hatred, anger, bitterness, railing, and reviling against the lawmakers then we have done two things – (1) we have allowed politics to destroy our own soul and our hope for heaven and (2) we have ended any hope that those responsible can be converted due to our unChrist like attitude and reaction toward them. Do not misunderstand, the unjust are not going to heaven, which includes lawmakers who have promoted sin via the laws they have helped pass. The Bible does not teach that they are. It does teach, however, that the Christian’s job is to do his/her best to bring the world to Christ. We must teach the truth of the Bible on every Bible subject. If the powers that be in government reject the truth God will deal with them on the last day. “’Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Rom. 12:19 NKJV) As for the Christian God says, “give place to wrath” (Rom. 12:19 NKJV) or as the ESV translates it, “never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God.” (Rom. 12:19 ESV) The Bible teaches we ought to pray for those in authority. “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim. 2:1-4 NKJV) One might say what do we pray for when we pray for them? We might pray any number of things. We might pray that they be given wisdom, that if there is need that they might be led to repentance, we might pray that God would work providentially in their life to help them see the light, we might pray for their welfare and that of their family, and as the text says we should give thanksgiving for them. We might say sometimes what is there to be thankful for in some men? Well, we ought to look for the good. Generally speaking a man who can only see evil in another is probably not looking very hard for any good in him. No one was ever more unjustly mistreated by government than Jesus himself. Pilate declared Jesus innocent when he said, “I am innocent of the blood of this just person” (Matt. 27:24 NKJV) and then turned right around and had Jesus “scourged” (Matt. 27:26 NKJV) and handed him over to be put to death. Do you think that might have aroused bitterness and anger in most of us had we of been in Jesus’ shoes or been a family member or close friend? Yet, Jesus “was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.” (Isa. 53:7 NKJV) Peter says, “when he was reviled, did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but committed himself to him who judges righteously.” (1 Peter 2:23 NKJV) God is the ultimate judge of everything and everyone. The government may do great evil but the Christian answer is to follow the example of Jesus. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom. 12:21 NKJV) “Do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Rom. 12:19 NKJV) That God does judge governments (thus countries) cannot be doubted by any person who has ever read the Old Testament. It was not just Israel and Judah that God judged and brought to ruin. If you will read the Old Testament prophets you will read of nation after nation that God prophesied judgment against through his prophets and eventually brought to ruin. Even before that we can go back to the time the children of Israel were given the land of Palestine after their departure from Egypt? Why did God drive out and destroy those nations that occupied the land before Israel? Because of evil, of sin, of wrong doing. Moses speaking on behalf of God told Israel prior to their entry into the promised land that “it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out from before you.” (Deut. 9:4 NKJV) Every nation God brought judgment against in the Old Testament was brought to judgment because of its sin and evil. A couple of points need to be made here. (1) Generally speaking a country comes to be whatever its leadership leads it to be or allows it to be. Thus, in the Old Testament history of God’s people we read of good kings and bad kings. When a bad king ruled idolatry and other evils were in the ascendancy; when a good king came to power a check was put on that and some, if not all, of the evil was rolled back. Leadership (government) is always for the better or the worse. (2) God will eventually judge a nation for its evil even if the leadership led it to be that way unless there is repentance. Needless to say repentance is hard to come by. (The reader would do well to read Jer. 18:7-10.) Unfortunately, from a human point of view, when God brings judgment on a nation the just often suffer along with the unjust even if it be only for a time. When Judah was carried away into Babylonian captivity for the sins of the nation Daniel and his three friends had to go too even though guilty of no sin themselves. The just became captives along with the unjust. Romans 13 is the chapter that tells us our duties as Christians toward the government. “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (Rom. 13:1 ESV) Paul goes on to say, “Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” (Rom. 13:2 ESV) Paul then goes on to explain that government is meant for our good, not to bring evil upon us. (Rom. 13:3-7) I think we all understand the need for government and how there must be laws, rules, and regulations for our safety and wellbeing. Try and imagine living in a world of utter chaos and lawlessness where there was no government at all and it was every man for himself. There is also a passage in Titus we need to take note of, “Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men.” (Titus 3:1-2 NKJV) So we are to obey government but there is more here in this passage for our consideration. One who desires to get involved in politics ought to ask himself this question – can I do it and obey the scriptures at the same time? Will it lead me to be peaceable, gentle, to be humble, and to never speak evil of another or will it make all of that harder for me? By getting involved I am not speaking about running for office (although that would be included) as much as I am about becoming immersed in politics in that I follow it so intently that it comes to be a major part of my life and my being. We need to be informed citizens and know the issues and the candidates but when I become so immersed in politics through the news outlets and programs that it begins to dominate my life almost like being possessed that is what I have in mind and am talking about. Is that good for the Christian? Will it help or hinder you in developing the fruit of the spirit in your life? Does there ever come a time when government must be resisted? Peter answered that question in Acts 5:29 when he said, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” (NKJV) He was not speaking to the Roman authorities as he spoke but rather to the Jewish authorities. Nevertheless, the principle would be the same. If our government was to fall into the hands of Islam and we were commanded by Iaw to abandon the Bible and Jesus as Lord do you think God would say okay, obey the government you are now under? To ask is to answer. When I say that under such circumstances we ought to resist the government I do not mean by taking up arms. Christians do not go to war to fight, kill, and maim but we ought to do as Peter and the other apostles did. What did Peter and the other apostles do? They simply continued to go on about their business of being Christians and doing the Lord’s will. Now I grant you some Christians did die because of it (Stephen and later James come to mind) but they were to “rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings.” (1 Peter 4:13 NKJV) “Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to him in doing good, as to a faithful creator.” (1 Peter 4:19 NKJV) The Christians in the church of Smyrna were told, “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” (Rev. 2:10 KJV) Here is an example of the government throwing Christians into prison (who else had that power) and possibly, if I understand the passage correctly, ending in their death although the phrase does not have to mean that. It is certainly, however, an admonition to faithfulness even if death is the result. The Bible teaches not that every single government that has ever existed has been good and has done what is right. If so why did God destroy the nations he did in the Old Testament? If so why were so many Christians murdered by the Roman government in the first two to three centuries after the Christian faith came to be? It does teach we are to submit to government and only resist in the way I have spoken of and only do that when the laws made by men violate the law of God. The resistance consists solely of living as a Christian despite what the government might do to prevent it. The God given purpose of government is for the good of man. However, as long as men are the governing body men will be men which inevitably means there will be some ungodliness in them. That is not God’s fault but man’s. So, to what extent should a Christian become involved in politics? I think I should ask a better question, one that is also easier to answer, and is more personal. To what extent do you think you can do so and still maintain the fruit of the spirit and be the person God would have you to be? When I answer that question for myself I know it pretty much sets some severe limits on my involvement. As a Christian living in a democracy and having been given the right to vote I feel I have the duty to go vote even if it means for the lesser of two evils so to speak. Beyond that I think I need to leave it with God for my soul’s sake. If we believe God is still an active God in the affairs of man (I believe the Bible teaches he is) then he is going to work it all out eventually in the way that is in accord with his will and righteous nature. Yes, that may mean sometimes evil men rule but they rule for a reason if they do (God knows why). But, always bear in mind God is in charge. Daniel talks about a decree made against King Nebuchadnezzar in Dan. 4:17 and says it was made, “In order that the living may know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, gives it to whomever he will, and sets over it the lowest of men.” (NKJV) God is in charge. Evil governments may arise for a time but they shall be punished for their evil eventually. If you think your government is evil and doing wrong and you are right about that God will take care of it in due time one way or another unless there is repentance. Sin never goes unpunished unless repented of and forgiven. But the question is for me as an individual – what do I do as it relates to politics and the government? The answer is I live as a Christian.
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