We live in a fractured world filled with violence and hatred. The last place these evil traits should manifest themselves is the church, but sadly the world often has more influence on the church than the church has on the world.
During the presidential campaign in 2016, many family relationships were strained and many friendships were broken, even among Christians. People became enraged that those close to them were thinking about voting for him—or that they were not voting for him—or that they were going to vote for her.
Four years later, a lot of folks still have brooding resentment over how votes were cast in that election. Yet here we are again, facing a similar situation in an even more tense social environment. A divided nation is preparing to make a decision that is going to bring heated anger to half the populace, however the election goes. The pot is boiling over, people are taking sides and launching assaults online and in the streets. We in the church are not immune. Many followers of Christ, whomever they are voting for, feel vindicated in their wrath because they are certain that Scripture is on their side. And many of us seem to have traded our hope in the gospel of Jesus for hope in the gospel of politics.
Am I saying that we should not exercise our right to vote? Of course not. Are there social and moral issues at stake in this election (and every election)? Yes, most assuredly. But we have to keep things in perspective, and humility and love must be at the helm if we are to navigate these turbulent waters.
Abandoning the gospel for politics is a horrible idea. Here are just a few reasons why.
- We lose sight of the fact that the human heart is depraved. No national leader or political party is immune from the fallenness of humanity. One party or president may do a better job than another, but at the end of the day—or at the end of the century—life remains pretty much as it has through the course of human history, and the human heart is still “deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jeremiah 17:9).
The gospel tells us that we are in a helpless state and that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). But in His great mercy, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
- We see our party as “the power of God that brings salvation,” which is only true of the gospel itself (Romans 1:16). It is tempting to believe that if our guy gets elected, then he will fix all of the problems in society and bring prosperity, safety, and peace to all. That’s not going to happen, and that’s not what government was designed to do. It simply does not have the power to bring lasting change.
On the other hand, the gospel is powerful enough to take dead men and make them alive “because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2).
- We forget which kingdom demands our total allegiance. While we are called to obey our governmental authorities, our ultimate allegiance does not belong to a political leader, a party, or even a nation. Jesus said in John 18 that His kingdom is “not of this world.” The kingdom of God is greater than any earthly kingdom, and it operates on a completely different value system. The kingdoms of earth say, “Blessed are the rich and powerful”; the kingdom of heaven says, “Blessed are you who are poor” (Luke 6:20).
- We allow our heavenly citizenship to be eclipsed by our earthly citizenship. When that happens, we can find ourselves sucked into the political vortex and filled with anger, vitriol, hatred for the other side. We become consumed with what happens here and now and forget that we are only on earth for a short time. This is not the way of Christ. The gospel says that we are but “sojourners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11) and that “our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).
- We focus on the temporal instead of the eternal. Politics, campaigns, and cultural issues are all significant parts of our lives on earth, but they won’t last forever. Scripture reminds us that life is but a vapor, “a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14). The gospel, however, will be relevant for all of eternity. So we must not lose sight of what matters the most—namely, our relationship with Christ and telling others about Him.
- We underestimate the sovereignty of the God who raises up kings and brings them down (Daniel 2:21). We can be tempted to think that “we the people” determine the fate of the nation when we go to the ballot box. Yet God is ultimately the one who calls our leaders and grants them authority to govern. So should we even bother to vote? By all means, yes, for the same reason we pray even though God has marked out the future. There is great mystery and tension in between the sovereignty of God and the moral responsibility of man. But Scripture is clear that God is the one who “makes nations great, and destroys them; He enlarges nations, and disperses them” (Job 12:23).
- We set aside humility and love, and pick up pride and anger. We can hold so tightly to our own views on a candidate or an issue that we lash out against those who see things differently. Believe it or not, it is possible to disagree with someone without hating them. The gospel calls us to “be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2). Since we are in Jesus’ kingdom, we need to refrain from vitriolic rhetoric and dialogue, “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).
- We view our candidate as a messiah. Most followers of Christ would not actually believe that a presidential hopeful is the Messiah, but it can sure seem that way sometimes. We can act as though we are electing someone who will lead our nation into an age of glory and righteousness. But no mere human could ever attain such heights.
The gospel says that the true Messiah has already come. “We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know Him who is true. And we are in Him who is true by being in His Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20).
And it says that He is coming again. “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:10).
- We forget who the ruler of this present evil age is. If it seems like politics can be filled with lies and vitriol, there is a reason for that. Jesus refers to Satan as the “prince of this world” (John 14:30), and he is a master of division and deception. There is actually “no truth in him,” Jesus says, “for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). No wonder the Internet and airwaves are filled with political ads that slander and defame.
The Scriptures tell us that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). Christians must be careful not to partake in such divisive and vicious assaults, for in so doing, we employ the worldly tactics of our enemy.
- We want a “fixer” rather than a Redeemer. We look to our political leaders to provide perfect solutions for the problems of our day, but even the most effective politician can only put Band-Aids on societal wounds. A fixer provides temporary solutions to temporary issues. A redeemer, on the other hand, lays down his very life to bring complete restoration. Jesus did not come to “fix” us; rather, He “gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own” (Titus 2:14). Because of this great redemption, “you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness” (Romans 6:18).
At the end of the day, my greatest concern is not so much whom you vote for, important as that is, but rather that you keep a proper perspective on the purpose and limits of politics, and the power and glory of the gospel. Do not abandon the gospel for politics. Rather, let us be humble and loving toward others, even those with whom we adamantly disagree, because “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5). We must not allow temporal struggles to distract us from our eternal joy, “so we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18). We must trust in the sovereign power and will of Almighty God, remembering that “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Do not exchange the infinite beauty of the gospel for temporary political fixes. If you find yourself placing more hope in politics than in the gospel, know that you will find no rest there. Instead, regardless of the outcome of this and future elections, rest in the promise and hope that the gospel brings. “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).