Christians and Political Advocacy

February 25, 2010

What does the Bible say about political advocacy?

In Romans 14, Paul discusses a specific issue: Should Christians have concerns about whether or not the meat that they eat has been killed according to Old Testament regulations? Paul does believe one side is right in this disagreement. But he emphasizes that loving our brothers and following our convictions are both much more important than being on the right side.

Today, the way animals are killed is not an issue many Christians worry about. But, as usual, Paul resolves the issue by looking at bedrock principles of who we are in Christ, and what motivations should underlie all that we do. His argument in this chapter is thus helpful for every issue not fundamentally related to salvation on which Christians may disagree.

What follows is a reworking of Romans 14, replacing Paul’s specific discussion of food issues with present-day, American political issues. I’ve arbitrarily labeled one side Democrat and the other Republican – feel free to reverse the labels if you wish. Verse 14 moves furthest from the original text, while verses 7-13, 18, and 19 are all unchanged.

The central point in Paul’s discussion is found in verses 7 to 9: We are not to live to ourselves. We are not to live aiming to increase our own comfort or status. All we do– from our seemingly trivial decisions like what we eat to our political decisions – should be focused on giving God honor, on glorifying Him.

So I encourage you: Read Romans 14, then read over this reworking of the chapter. See if this helps you to take to heart the lessons Paul is teaching. Ask yourself if my reworking is true to the basic principles Paul lays out. And then ensure that whatever you do  – eating, drinking, or political advocacy – you do all to the glory of God.

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions, or to convince him of your opinion.  2 One person believes he should vote Democrat, while another votes Republican.  3 Let not the one who votes Democrat despise the one who votes Republican, and let not the one who votes Republican pass judgment on the one who votes Democrat, for God has welcomed him.  4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

5 One person esteems one party as better than another, while another esteems all parties alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.  6 The one who supports a party, supports it in honor of the Lord. The one who votes Democrat, votes in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who votes Republican, votes in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.  7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself.  8 For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.  9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God;  11 for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.”  12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.

13 Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.  14 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that one party is better than the other, but it would be wrong for another believer to support that party to please me if he is convinced otherwise. 15 For if your brother is grieved by your political advocacy, you are no longer walking in love. By political advocacy, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.  16 So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil.  17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of political advocacy but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.  18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.  19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.  20 Do not, for the sake of politics, destroy the work of God. One party is indeed better than the other, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by political advocacy.  21 It is good not to support a political party – or to do anything else – if that causes your brother to stumble.

(These related blog posts examine similar issues: Christians and Politics, How Should a Christian Vote?)

Who Can Be Against Us?

February 18, 2010

Romans 8:31   If God is for us, who can be against us?

Really, Paul? Don’t you know who can be against us? Lots of people! Former friends – like Judas was against Jesus. Relatives – even our very children or parents, as Jesus Himself warns us (Matthew 10:35-36).  Then add to that the political authorities, the religious authorities, as well as our neighbors and colleagues – it seems that everyone potentially is against us. So how can you ask such a question? Instead, shouldn’t the question be, “If I proclaim that Jesus is Lord, who won’t be against me?”

What’s that you say? Sure, I’ll keep reading. God has done what is hardest for us in sacrificing His Son – will He not then graciously give us all things? And who can bring a charge that will lead to condemnation against anyone whom God has chosen, who is in Christ? For Jesus is there, always making intercession for us, saying, “These wounds paid the penalty for those sins! They are covered!”

OK, Paul. So you’re saying no one can be against us in the sense that no one can take away the salvation that is ours in the new heavens and the new earth. If we believe in Jesus, if we are in Christ, then we will spend an eternity with Him. No opponent can change that.

Yes, that is a precious truth. And it indeed is some comfort. I didn’t mean to question that.

But, Paul, don’t you understand? I am hurting now. And as precious as that promise of future hope is, I still have to endure the pain of betrayal and opposition from those I love now. It still seems to me that your question in verse 31 is the wrong question. God is for me in eternity, but there are still many who are against me now.

Oh, I’m sorry, I was talking and didn’t hear you. Keep reading some more? Ok. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Oh! Is that what you mean by someone being against us? “Who can be against us” means “Who can separate us from Christ’s love”? That must be what you mean for you then say: They might persecute us, they might make us starve, they might expose us to the elements, they might threaten to kill us, they might even fulfill the threat and kill us –  and they do! – yet we more than overcome all of this through the One who loves us.

So, Paul, even the worst things that happen in this life won’t separate us from the love of Christ? Not even torture and murder? Not even that? Praise God!

But, you know, there are these spiritual forces out there that are powerful – what about a demon, a fallen angel? What about Satan himself? Can he separate me from Christ’s love? No?

Well, even if I am in Christ’s love today, and He has overcome those powers that assail me, might not a greater power come along tomorrow to separate me from His love? No? Really? Nothing in all creation?

But there’s one more enemy to consider, my greatest enemy: What about myself? What if I separate myself from Christ’s love? If His love is dependent on my own faithfulness, I can surely be separated! Indeed, I certainly will be separated eventually!

Yes, I’m listening. Yes, I am a created being. Therefore I am in creation. And you said nothing in all creation can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus if indeed I am in Christ, if I am God’s elect. Yes, I do remember that Jesus said: “This is the will of the one who sent me– that I should not lose one person of every one he has given me, but raise them all up at the last day” (John 6:39).

Ok, Paul. I see now how you endured so much tribulation – how you were sorrowful and afflicted and perplexed and persecuted yet you rejoiced in God through it all. You knew the love of God – you experienced the love of God in all of that pain. And to be in Christ – to know Him – to be loved by Him – was worth more than all the pain. Yes, I do see that this is what all the Old Testament saints knew: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4).

If God is for us, who can be against us? No one can condemn us, and thus separate us from His love for eternity; nor can anyone put up a barrier between God and us even now, even in the most severe trial.

Thank you for explaining that to me, Paul. I look forward to the next lesson.

The Calculus of Temptation

February 11, 2010

Why do you disobey God? Why is disobeying God attractive to you?

Sin promises us greater joy, greater fulfillment, greater life. The temptation may be to internal sins like anger, bitterness, lust, pride, greed, cowardice, and self-centeredness, or it may be to external sins like hurtful words, illicit sex, physical violence, duplicitous lies, or outright theft. But in every case, the motivation is similar. Just as the serpent tempted Eve in the Garden (Genesis 3:1-5), so sin tempts us today: “Following God doesn’t lead to true fulfillment. Be all that you can be! This is the way to pleasure, to status – to life itself!”

The tempter tries to portray God as an out-of-touch authority who likes to throw his weight around, and get those under him to do meaningless tasks for his pleasure. So the tempter asserts that the costs of following God and the benefits of sin are high. He furthermore asserts that the benefits of following God and the costs of sin are low. So it’s only logical, he alleges, to sin. It’s in your self-interest.

How can we combat this calculus of temptation?

The Bible does not tell us to avoid the calculus. Rather, the Bible tells us to do the calculus rightly. Look at the true costs. Look at the true benefits. Do what is truly in your own best interests.

Consider Romans 6:20-22. Paul has said that we have only two choices: We are slaves to sin, or we are slaves to righteousness. He then instructs us to think clearly about what life is like as a slave to sin. What are its benefits?

What fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. (Romans 6:21)

In effect, Paul acknowledges that there were some short-term, seeming benefits of sin. There is some pleasure in contemplating the words you will say to get back at the co-worker who belittled you. There is some enjoyment that comes from spending the tax dollars you lied to avoid paying.

But, Paul says, consider the end of those sins. Consider the long term. Even in this life, there may be long-term, negative consequences: You may remain bitter and angry for years; you may end up in jail. But much more importantly, the end of those things is life without God. Life without the Giver of life. Life without the source of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). Life that is not life at all; life that is death.

So the benefits of sin are brief and temporary, at best lasting a few decades. Furthermore, the costs are huge – and eternal.

Now move to the other side of the calculus, says Paul.  Consider the benefits of being God’s slave – that is, the benefits of the obedience that comes from faith in Christ:

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. (Romans 6:22)

Note that in this passage Paul says nothing about the costs of obedience. Those are real, as He details elsewhere (2 Corinthians 4:7-18, for example), and as Jesus Himself tells us (John 15:20, for example). But here in Romans 6 the Apostle focuses on the surpassing greatness of the fruit of faithful obedience: Sanctification. That is, becoming like Christ. Taking on His image. Being His image-bearer. Displaying His likeness, and thereby being His ambassador. And the end, rather than death, is eternal life. Union with the Giver of life, the Giver of every good and perfect gift. And that must be true life.

So Paul concludes in Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death” – the natural consequence, the just desserts of sin is not joy, pleasure, and life, but the absence of everything good. Death itself. “But the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Union with Christ now, in this life, and all the joy that accompanies His presence even as we go through trials and difficulties; but then, the new heavens and the new earth, when we see Him face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12), when there is no more mourning or crying or pain (Revelation 21:4), and we will be with the Life-Giver forever.

So Paul invites us: Do what is in your self-interest! Do the calculus! But judge the costs and benefits rightly. Look at the time frame of eternity. Look at each act not only in isolation, but consider how it enslaves you further under sin or under righteousness. Look at the end to which you are moving – and get off the road that leads to death.

The battle in my heart, the battle in your heart, is to truly believe that every commandment of God is for our good (Deuteronomy 10:12-13), that in His presence alone is fullness of joy, at His right hand alone are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11). This is the testimony of Scripture; this is the testimony of our brothers and sisters in Christ over the centuries – including those who have given their lives for Him.

So what about you? Do you believe? Will you do the calculus rightly? Will you fight the tempter? And, saved through His blood, will you walk in newness of life to the glory of God the Father (Romans 6:4)?

Self-Absorbed or Self-Forgetful?

February 6, 2010

“What’s that in your pocket?” The TSA officer looked sternly at me.

“My wallet.”

“Take it out and show it to me.”

I comply.

“There’s still something in that pocket!”

“Oh, yes – it’s a granola bar.” I pull out my Quaker Chewy Low Fat Chocolate Chunk granola bar, unopened, and hold it up.

She glares at me. “You’ll have to go back through the metal detector, and put that granola bar through the scanner.”

What is welling up in me as I turn around and walk back?

There could have been a question about public policy – that is, a question of truth: “Have we made air travel any safer through all these regulations, or just more of a hassle? Have the terrorists indeed won? Was this their goal – to make our lives more difficult?”

Those are legitimate questions. Had those been the questions in my mind, there would have been no sin involved.

That’s the way I am tempted to tell the story: I care about the efficiency of air travel in the US, the hassles faced by other travelers, the economic impact of making travel tedious and difficult.

But in fact, the thoughts in my head did not concern those matters of truth and policy. Instead, my immediate thoughts were annoyance at the hassle she put ME through. My immediate action was to demean her in my mind for making me take 15 seconds to put the granola bar through the scanner.

Note: I complied. I smiled at her. I was over it in a few minutes. No one could see my annoyance. I don’t think Fred noticed anything when he saw me on the other side of the security checkpoint.

But my being good at covering up sin does not lessen the depth of sin.

What is so bad about this sin?

Fundamentally, the sin I engaged in is a denial of the cross.

The cross says, “Coty Pinckney is so depraved, so rotten, so despicable, that the only way to make up for those sins is the shedding of the blood of Jesus.” I have Jesus’ blood on my hands. I deserve His punishment. And He came and gave up everything to save me.

So what do I deserve from the TSA officer? My mind functioned as if I deserve her service to me, her kindness to me. But actually, I deserve to be told I cannot board the plane, because I am dangerous and I stink.

When we truly see the cross, we cannot be defensive. As in this case, there may be a matter of truth involved: Someone may accuse us of something we did not commit, or (as possibly in this case) the procedures used may be ineffective and unproductive. There could be some value in discussing these matters of truth. But we are not defensive, because the reality of our sin is always greater than the accusation made against us.

In essence, my sin described above is self-absorption. And the opposite of this sin, the Christian goal, is self-forgetfulness. When I take on this attitude, I no longer am concerned with how others are responding to ME – but instead am desirous that others are responding to the TRUTH of who Jesus is.

Self-forgetfulness also leads to “omnivorous attentiveness” (a phrase Alan Jacobs uses to describe C.S. Lewis). That is, seeing God’s gifts everywhere, from the way light shines through a window to the way a cat curls up on a chair; and seeing evidences of God’s grace in others, as they become more Christlike.

What will DGCC look like if we become more self-forgetful and less self-absorbed, more cross-centered and less me-centered?

  • Time and again Scripture will come alive to us as we are amazed at who Jesus is and what He does.
  • Time and again we will share with one another what we have seen recently of who Jesus is.
  • Time and again we will be attune to and thankful for the common grace God gives others, including unbelievers.
  • Time and again, we will speak of Christ and His work on the cross as an encouragement to our fellow believers and as a witness to unbelievers.
  • Time and again we will be generous with time and money – and think not at all about OUR sacrifice or OUR work.

This is what we want DGCC to be; this is what we want our small groups to encourage; this is what I want in my own life: That is, we want us as a community to live out Galatians 2:20:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

So we want each of us to say: “I am dead. The me that takes offense at being told to go back through the metal detector is dead. Christ is in me. He loved me, He died for me, He raised me with Himself, He made me alive so that He can display who He is through me. That is the only reason I live.”

May God make us self-forgetful and thus omnivorously attentive. And may we so marvel at the saving cross that we cannot but speak of the One who died so that He might live through us.