Roe v. Wade and the Temptation To Do Good

On June 24, 2022 the Supreme Court made the wonderful decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. When the news broke it was immediately recognized as a time for celebration for Christians, and for good reason. But along with the positivity, there’s been another side of the Christian response which has been troubling. That is, many Christians have pointed to this as evidence of the good that Christians can accomplish by pursuing political influence and power. It is argued that Roe v. Wade would have never been overturned without Christians using the political strategies and choices that were necessary to bring about this change.

Although I unapologetically celebrate the Supreme Court’s decision, I do not believe that Christians should look to earthly power as the primary, or even as one of the ways to bring about good in the world. Not only do I whole heartedly oppose abortion, I also believe that the kingdom of God must be kept distinct from the kingdom of the world; not only in what we say is wrong, but also in how we fight against what we recognize as wrong. As a believer in moral absolutes, I believe abortion is wrong and is destructive to society. I also think it is important for Christians to heed the warning of Psalm 146:3, to “put not your trust in princes.” As a Christian, I celebrate the Supreme Court for their decision which could potentially save millions of lives, and I call on Christians to faithfully follow the way of Jesus, who rejected earthly political influence in order to establish a kingdom which is not of this world.

Yes, I know I’m being redundant. But that’s because some Christians still just don’t get it. Let me make myself perfectly clear: I oppose abortion. Abortion is murder. Abortion is selfish. Abortion is immoral. Christians should actively fight against evil, and abortion is evil. But none of this should be viewed as justification for Christians to fight against evil in ways that blur the distinction between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world. This is precisely what most (if not all) activities and decisions made in the pursuit of earthly power cause Christians to do.

A Kingdom Not Of This World

My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.

John 18:36

When Jesus claimed “My kingdom is not of this world”, He pointed to the observable fact that his disciples were not fighting to substantiate that claim. Of course, you could say that in a sense Jesus’s entire ministry was a fight against evil. But even still, Jesus’s disciples were not fighting in the same way that other revolutionaries would fight.

When Jesus used the phrase “of this world” He was not speaking of the geographic location of His kingdom, but rather He was referring to the world’s way of doing things. For example, Jesus said He came to testify against “the world” because its deeds are evil (Jn. 7:7). Elsewhere, John would say, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). The contrast between “of this world” and “not of this world” is referring to the world’s ways of doing things and a godly way of doing things.

If Jesus’s disciples had a reputation of fighting in the same way the world fights, Jesus’s claim would have been completely meaningless. Can you imagine Pilate’s response if this had been the case? “What do you mean your kingdom is not of this world? Then why is Peter standing out there handing out picket signs at the political rally? Why did Matthew just send a donation to a Roman senator? And why is Simon recruiting more zealots?” But as it was, Jesus’s disciples were not fighting, and so Jesus’s teaching stood with the weight of observable truth.

Yes, Jesus’s early followers, like us, also had an earthly citizenship. But despite the fact that they lived under subjection to the kingdoms of this world, their distinction from the world remained apparent. They were “in” the world but not “of” the world.

Scripture drives home this distinction when it teaches us to view ourselves as soldiers stationed in a foreign country, and thus refuse to let ourselves get entangled in “civilian pursuits” (2 Tim. 2:4). It teaches us to view ourselves as “strangers” and “exiles”, just like Abraham did (Heb. 11:8-10, 13-16; 1 Peter 2:11).

Note this carefully – preserving our “exile” status is at the very core of who we are. That’s why Scripture repeatedly stresses the fact that we are called to be a “holy” people (2 Cor. 6:17), indicating that we are to be “set apart” (Ps. 4:3). Like Israelites coming out of Egypt to be “set apart” for God, Christians are instructed to “come out” of Babylon (Rev. 18:4). We are to be holy in the same way that God is holy. Our holy and distinct relationship with the world should be every bit as holy and distinct as Jesus’s relationship with the world.

Our Mission

It’s important to understand that I’m not arguing that Christians should adapt an escapist position, where we simply isolate ourselves from societal problems such as abortion. When God called Israel to be a “holy nation”, the purpose was not to isolate them from other nations. Israel was to be a holy nation so that they would serve as a light to the other nations (Isa. 49:6; 55:4-5, etc). God’s plan was always to bless all nations through Abraham’s family (Gen. 12:1-3).

So too, Christians are called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Mt. 5:13-16). But in order for us to be salt in the world, we must maintain our distinction from the world.

If salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

One way we maintain our holy distinction from the world is by refusing to pursue ruling authority over others. That’s the way the world tried to accomplish great things, but Jesus explicitly instructs us not to seek that kind of power.

You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But is shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.

Mark 10:42-45

God so loved the world that He sent his only begotten Son (John 3:16), and we are to imitate His love for the world by imitating his self-sacrificial behavior (Eph. 5:1-2). If we really love the world, and want to make a positive difference in the world, we would do well to love the world in the same way God did. The reason we are not to be “of” the world is so that we can be “for” the world.

We are not simply called to do “good”. We are called to be faithful. We are called to “imitate Christ”. We are called to be holy.

Jesus and the Temptation to Do Good

Paul says that we must be careful not to be outwitted by Satan’s designs (2 Cor. 2:11). With this in mind, we would be wise to reflect on how Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness, so that we do not fall into a similar trap.

The Devil tempted Jesus by offering him all the kingdoms of the world (Luke 4:5-8). The Devil essentially offered Jesus what he came to get (Mt. 28:18-20), but by way of an immediate shortcut that would bypass his sacrificial death on the cross.

Think about it. Without having to suffer and die, Jesus could have immediately taken all the kingdoms of the world into his possession. Can you imagine how much “good” Jesus could have done if he had accepted Satan’s offer? He could have quicky overturned every evil law in Roman society. Jesus could have immediately outlawed abortion throughout the world. The Devil’s temptation would not have been a temptation if there was not a lot of “good” wrapped up in it.

Yet Jesus refused. Why? Because Jesus did not come just to give us an improved and more “godly” version of the kingdoms of this world. Instead, Jesus came to bring a kingdom that is not of this world. In fulfillment of Psalm 2, Jesus came to replace “the kingdom of the world” with “the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ.” (Rev. 11:15-18). He didn’t just come to fix the kingdoms of this world. He came to put them out of business, thus turning all nations to him.

As tempting as the immediately good consequences may have been, Jesus refused to lose the radical distinction of his Kingdom in exchange for the Satan-ruled kingdom of this world. No matter how much good he could have done. He refused to rule like the Gentiles did. If we are dedicated to following Jesus’s example, we must resist the temptation to trade our holy mission regardless of how much “good” we might think we can accomplish by using other means.

Continue the Fight

Abortion is a great evil. Its existence testifies to the fact that Satan is, in a very real sense the “ruler of the world” (Jn. 14:30; 16:11), “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:1-4), and the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:1-2). Abortion thrives only under Satan’s “domain of darkness” (Col. 1:3). That’s why it is so important that in our fight against abortion, we are careful not to be “conformed to this world” (Rom. 12:2).

So what do we do now? Christians should continue the fight against abortion as they have done in the past, yet without the pursuit of earthly power. Keep finding ways to serve the poor and the needy in your community. Keep inviting them into your homes. Keep supporting single mothers. Keep volunteering at pregnancy crisis centers. Keep adopting. Keep getting involved in foster care. Keep donating to children’s homes. Keep praying. The church has long led the charge in these type of actions, and that must continue. Yes, all of these things require a degree of personal sacrifice, but imitating the sacrificial savior is precisely what sets us apart from the world. Because of the gospel, sacrifice is how we believe we will win.

If we want to see Satan’s dominion weakened, we must remain faithful to God’s kingdom. Two thousand years ago, Jesus pointed to his disciples’ refusal to fight as proof that his kingdom was not of this world. When Jesus looks at our fight against abortion, does he see that our actions still bear witness to that truth?

On Recognizing Authority

A teacher walks into a noisy classroom, and suddenly all the students rush back to their seats and become silent. A policeman knocks on the door to interrupt a college party, and suddenly the music is turned off and the drinks are shuffled out of sight. A military officer walks into the barracks, and suddenly all the soldiers scramble to stand in attention.

In all three of these scenes, it is clear who holds the authority.  The children immediately recognized that the teacher had the ability to enforce rules. The college students immediately recognized the police officer’s uniform and badge, and knew he had the force of law to back him up. The soldiers knew better than to treat the military officer like a peer. When they saw authority, they recognized it, and they responded.

When Jesus finished teaching the sermon on the mount, Matthew tells us that the crowds were “astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Mt. 7:28-29). Immediately following the sermon, Matthew gives us several real-life examples of Jesus’s authority. Jesus had the authority to heal diseases (8:1-17), command a storm into submission (8:23-27), cast out demons (8:28-34), forgive sins (9:1-7), and overturn tradition (9:8-17).

Jesus’ authority was real, and yet it was different from that of a police officer or military officer. Jesus didn’t demand to be recognized as an authority because of his uniform, his badge, or his official position. He had none of those things. But Jesus had something none of the official positions of authority did not have. Jesus had real power over disease and even over the forces of nature.

This contrast between these two different types of authority makes Jesus’ interaction with the centurion in Matthew 8:5-13 all the more interesting.

When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,” and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith… And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go, let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.

In this scene, who had the authority? Yes, there was a high ranking military officer present, but this time, the centurion was powerless. Despite having an official position of authority, the centurion was helpless to ease the suffering of his paralyzed servant. But the centurion recognized in Jesus a different and real kind of authority. The centurion addressed Jesus as “Lord”, and confesses that was not even worthy to invite Jesus into his house.

The centurion recognized that Jesus had the same kind of authority over diseases as the centurion had over soldiers who were under him. Just as the centurion merely had to issue a command, so he recognized that all Jesus had to do was speak the words, and his servant could be healed. Jesus responded by praising the centurion for his faith.

In this context, we can see what is meant by the word “faith.” The word “faith” is used in all kinds of different ways today. Sometimes it is used to describe someone who has a general religious attitude towards life. Sometimes the word “faith” is used as an opposite of evidence, or perhaps the opposite of works. None of these uses of the word “faith” fit what we see in this text about the centurion.

“Faith” in this text is something much more specific. Faith was the recognition of the reality of Jesus’ authority.

What would it mean if we recognized that Jesus’ authority was real today? How would that impact the way we respond to the latest headlines? How would it impact the way we respond to threats of disease? If we recognize just how real Jesus’ authority is, and just how powerless earthly authorities are, how would that change the way approach life? What would it mean if we didn’t simply say “Jesus is Lord”, but if we really let the reality of His lordship determine our thinking?

“Faith” in Christianity mean recognizing that Jesus’ authority is real – far more real than the authority of those who wear uniforms, carry badges, or hold official positions. If Jesus holds all authority, why would we ever pledge our allegiance to any other authority? Why would we ever look to earthly authorities to solve problems that only Jesus has the power to solve?

Who has the authority to save people from death?
Who has the authority to heal diseases?
Who has the authority to protect people from forces of nature?
Who has the authority to provide us with our daily bread?
Who has the authority to define right and wrong?
Who has the authority to demand our loyalty?

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Matthew 28:18-20

Christianity and Social Movements

In their sincere passion to fight against evil, many Christians try to promote and uphold whichever social and political movements they feel best represent their Christian values. Far too often, this results in Christians fighting against one another about which social movements best reflect Christian values, rather than actually uniting with one another to fight against Satan.

There are debates over racism, politicians, political parties, facemasks, vaccines, immigration, economics, the narrative presented by the mainstream media, education strategies, and on and on. Whenever these innumerable social debates occur, Christians can usually be found on opposing sides, with each side arguing that their side best reflects Christian values. Christians latch on to whichever side seems the most right, and they do their best to actively support the right side, with the goal of defeating the wrong side.

The Christian Response to Ungodliness in Culture

As people who live in a democracy, Christians are for the most part free to voice their opinions however they see fit. But, when Christians choose to actively support and participate in various political and social movements, it is crucially important that they realize that there is nothing distinctly Christian about their activism. Their opinions may be completely correct. They may even be founded on godly ethical principles taken straight from Scripture. The wrongs they seek to address may in fact be very real and harmful evils. But being correct and noble does not mean that a particular social movement is “Christian.”

Being a “Christian” means being “Christ-like”. Don’t misunderstand what I’m about to say. Jesus Christ most certainly fought against the ungodly aspects of his culture. Christ encouraged his disciples to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Mt. 5:12-16). The movement led by Christ was so successful in doing just that, they were accused of “turning the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). But Jesus never showed the slightest interest in joining in any of the various social movements of his day. Nor did his earliest disciples.

Jesus’s complete lack of interest in picking sides between the various social movements becomes even more significant when we remember that he lived in political volatile times that were filled with competing social movements. Not surprisingly, as Jesus gained popularity and influence, Jesus was continually challenged to voice his opinion on the various movements of his day to see which side he would choose. But Jesus continually refused.

The Taxation Debate

For example, on at least one occasion Jesus was asked about the divisive issue of whether or not the Jews should pay taxes to the oppressive Romans. Notice Jesus’s response:

Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore, render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.

Matthew 20:19-21

Some have mistakenly thought that Jesus was saying “Yes, be a good citizen. Pay your taxes, vote, do whatever your country asks of you.” But if we pay attention to Jesus’s response in its original context, it means nothing of the sort.

The coin bore the image of the emperor, which the Jews saw as a direct violation of God’s law (Ex. 20:4; Lev. 26:1). The coin bore an inscription claiming that Caesar was the High Priest and Lord. Scripture teaches that the God alone is the only true Lord, and everything rightly belongs to Him (Ps. 24:1; 50:10; Hag. 2:8) and man is created in His image (Gen. 1:26-27).

By holding up the coin and asking about the image and inscription, Jesus skillfully pointed out that the claims of God and the claims of Caesar are mutually exclusive. If one’s loyalty is to Caesar, Caesar is owed everything, beginning with the coin that bears his image. If one’s loyalty is to God, God is owed everything, beginning with man himself who is created in His image.

In this way, Jesus transformed the question pertaining to the political and social movements of his day into a question that pertained to the kingdom of God.

The Uniqueness of Christianity

This episode and others (e.g. Lk 12:13-16) make it clear that Jesus did not come to answer our political questions or offer a new and improved way of running the kingdoms of this world (Mt. 4:8-11). Rather, Jesus came to establish a radically different kind of kingdom, one that is “not of this world” (John 18:36). The only instructions Christians are given in connection with governing authorities are to respect and submit to them, pay taxes to them, and pray for them (Mk. 12:13-17; Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17). And even these instructions are given not out of concern for how the government should be run, but rather to facilitate the spreading of the gospel (1 Tim. 2:1-6).

The point of all this isn’t to argue that Christians can’t have opinions about the various social movements that divide our society. The point isn’t to say that Christians can’t vote, can’t peacefully protest, and can’t voice their opinions. But Christians must remember that when they engage the problems of the world using these methods, they are not being unique from the world.

Anybody can add their two-cents on social media about the problems in the world. Anybody can donate to a political campaign. Anybody can rally support for a particular cause they believe in. This approach is not a uniquely Christ-ian approach, because Christ himself did not take that kind of approach. Our unique call as disciples of Christ has nothing to do with gaining enough influence to run the kingdoms of the world, and has everything to do with our unique way of living under the authority of God’s reign.

Ultimately hope for the world does not reside in the success of failure of our particular political or social movements. It resides in the willingness of Jesus’s disciples to follow His example by keeping His kingdom set apart from the world (the Bible’s word for this is “holy”). We are to be unique from the world by not getting sucked into the innumerable social and political conflicts that characterize the world.

Our citizenship is in a kingdom that is not of this world. The heavenly kingdom is a unique one, where we believe the world is changed, not by gaining enough power and influence to defeat our enemies, but by trusting in God’s righteous judgment even when our enemies defeat us. In Jesus’s kingdom, we find greatness, not in ruling over others, but rather in serving them (Mt. 20:25-28).

Next time social division raises its ugly head and we are tempted to pick a side and join the fight, let’s pick the holy side. Let’s pick the unique side. Let’s pick the sides the wins the same way Jesus won; by self-sacrificial love. Let’s pick the Kingdom of God.

How The Early Church Approached Entertainment

I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. – John 17.14-17

Christianity requires separation from the world. From the very beginning, Christians were urged to keep themselves “unstained by the world” (Jas. 1.27), to avoid “friendship with the world” (Jas. 4.4), not to be “conformed to this world” (Rom. 12.2). John urged Christians not to “love the world or the things in the world” (1 John 2.15-16).

Therefore when it comes to our entertainment choices, almost all Christians agree that to at least some extent, Christians should be different from the world.

Christians often disagree about where to “draw the line”. “How much bad language and content can be in a movie before it becomes inappropriate for a Christian?”  “How ‘worldly’ does a party need to be before it before a Christians can no longer go?” These type of questions can sometimes be tricky. That is why it is worthwhile to consider thoughts from the early Christians.

By “early Christians” I am referring to Christians prior to the year 313 AD, the year the Emperor Constantine ended the persecution of Christianity. Going from a persecuted religion to a government-endorsed religion greatly lessened the degree to which Christians remained separate from the world.

Just like Christians from all generations, these early Christians were flawed. Sometimes they made mistakes. They were certainly capable of “drawing the line” in the wrong places. They wrote uninspired words, and we are free to disagree with them. But they were very sincere. Some of these early Christians personally knew the apostles, and they all personally knew the first generation of Christians. When it comes to questions of entertainment, we would be wise to at least consider the points they raise.

The Early Christians Were Not Opposed to Entertainment

The early Christians were not opposed to having fun and enjoying life.  But they did have different values from the world around them, and thus they found different kinds of things to be entertaining.

For example, consider the words of Tertullian (160-220 AD), one of the most prolific and well respected early Christian writers:

We renounce all your spectacles, as strongly as we renounce the matters originating them, which we know were conceived of superstition, when we give up the very things which are the basis of their representations. Among us nothing is ever said, or seen, or heard, which has anything in common with the madness of the circus, the immodesty of the theater, the atrocities of the arena, the useless exercises of the wrestling-ground. Why do you take offense at us because we differ from you in regard to your pleasures? If we will not partake of your enjoyments, the loss is ours, if there be loss in the case, not yours. We reject what pleases you. You, on the other hand, have no taste for what is our delight. – Apology, chapter 38

For clarification, when Tertullian speaks of “circuses”, he isn’t referring to clowns and acrobats, but to chariot races. He objected to chariot races because of how dangerous they were and because of the madness of the crowds that attended such events.

According to Tertullian, Christians were not opposed to finding certain things delightful and entertaining. What made Christians different was their consideration of the content of the entertainment. Christians did not find violence, idolatry, or immorality delightful, therefore they refused entertainment based upon these vices. Christians are delighted by different kind of things – things which the world may or may not recognize as entertaining.

The Importance of Considering Content

Athenagoras (133-190 AD) pointed to the fact that it would be hypocritical to support the death penalty or abortion while refusing to even enjoy violent entertainment such as gladiator events.

Who does not reckon among the things of greatest interest the contests of the gladiators and wild beasts, especially those which are given by you? But we, deeming that to see a man put to death is much the same as killing him, have abjured such spectacles. How, then, when we do not even look on, lest we should contract guilt and pollution, can we put people to death? – A Plea for New Christians, Chapter 35

For modern Christians, it can often seem very easy to separate the things we watch from the things we actually support. Yet for at least some of the early Christians, they refused to make such a separation. For Athenagoras, to see be entertained by watching a man be put to death was the moral equivalent of actually killing him.

Similarly, Theophilus (died in 183 AD) believed that the things we watch and hear can cause defilement.

We are forbidden even to witness the shows of gladiators, so that we do not become partakers and abettors of murders. Nor may we see the other spectacles, lest our eyes and ears be defiled, participating in the utterances they sing there.

For if one should speak of cannibalism, in these spectacles the children of Theyestes and Terus are eaten. As for adultery – both in the case of men and gods… this is made the subject of their dramas.

But far be it from Christians to conceive any such deeds. For with them temperance dwells, self-restraint is practiced, monogamy is observed, chastity is guarded, iniquity exterminated, sin extirpated, righteousness exercised, law administered, worship performed, God acknowledged. Truth governs, grace guards, peace screens them. The holy word guides, wisdom teaches, life directs, God reigns. – To Autolycus, III:15

Theophilus believed the things we watch and hear can defile us. Since Christians are of a different character, they refused to be entertained by violent, immoral, idolatrous, or adulterous entertainment.

Avoiding Hypocrisy

Around the year 200 AD, Tertullian wrote a treatise titled “De Spectaculis”, also known as “The Shows”, in which he argued that entertainment can be an offense to God. One of Tertullian’s chief concerns was the hypocrisy of those who typically avoid worldly passions, while continuing to expose themselves to those very same worldly passions through their entertainment choices.

The father who carefully protects and guards his virgin daughter’s ears from every polluting word, takes her to the theater himself, exposing her to all its vile words and attitudes. – “The Shows”, Chapter 21

Evangelistic Concerns

Closely related to Tertullian’s concerns about hypocrisy are his concerns about how a Christian’s entertainment choices impacts the influence on others.

We should have no connection with the things which we abjure, whether in deed or word, whether by looking on them or looking forward to them; but do we not abjure and rescind that baptismal pledge, when we cease to bear its testimony? Does it then remain for us to apply to the heathen themselves. Let them tell us, then, whether it is right in Christians to frequent the show. Why, the rejection of these amusements is the chief sign to them that a man has adopted the Christian faith. If any one, then, puts away the faith’s distinctive badge, he is plainly guilty of denying it. What hope can you possibly retain in regard to a man who does that? When you go over to the enemy’s camp, you throw down your arms, desert the standards and the oath of allegiance to your chief: you cast in your lot for life or death with your new friends. – “The Shows”, Chapter 24

The early Christians didn’t purposefully seek to be odd or different, but when they refused entertainment with immoral content, people took notice. They saw their different choices, and they wondered “Hmm… I wonder if so-and-so is a Christian now.”

The opposite was also true. When Christians stopped rejecting certain types of entertainment they lost their badge of distinctiveness. According to Tertullian, this was the equivalent of forsaking their baptism and joining up with the enemy.

Entertainment’s Influence

Cyprian (200-258 AD) also believed that entertainment was extremely influential. Through entertainment, we are introduced to thoughts – thoughts of sinful things which have been done, or could possibly be done, and we learn from what we see.

In the theaters also you will behold what may well cause you grief and shame. It is the tragic buskin which relates in verse the crimes of ancient days. The old horrors of parricide and incest are unfolded in action calculated to express the image of the truth, so that, as the ages pass by, any crime that was formerly committed may not be forgotten. Each generation is reminded by what it hears, that whatever has once been done may be done again. Crimes never die out by the lapse of ages; wickedness is never abolished by process of time; impiety is never buried in oblivion. Things which have now ceased to be actual deeds of vice become examples. In the mimes, moreover, by teaching of infamies, the spectator is attracted either to reconsider what he may have done in secret, or to hear what he may do. Adultery is learned while it is seen; and while the mischief having public authority panders to vices, the matron, who perchance had gone to the spectacle a modest woman, returns from it immodest. – Cyprian’s Epistle 1.8

Entertainment Matters

It should be noted that during this time there was never any such thing as plays or dramas that didn’t contain things such as pagan mythology and idolatry, sexual immorality, or murder. There were no such things as chariot races or sporting events that did not glorify idolatry and violence. The primary concern of the early Christians was avoiding the immoral content of entertainment rather than avoiding entertainment for its own sake.

It should also be noted that the early church didn’t have any mandated rules when it came to entertainment. They didn’t put anybody out of the church if they “drew the line” in a different place and decided to attend a play or a sporting event. But they did continually emphasize the importance of avoiding immoral influences.

Were these early Christians right? Did they did they draw the lines in the right places? Maybe or maybe not. They were not inspired, and we are certainly free to disagree with them. But they also made some really good (and challenging) points that we should all consider. It is so easy to make moral compromises for the sake of entertainment. Yet there is no reason why Christians should not continue to strive to be different from the world, even when it comes to our entertainment.

Does God Expect Governments to Love Their Enemies?

Must governments love their enemies? Are militaries required “turn the other cheek”? Does “do not resist an evil person” apply to police forces? In light of all that the Bible teaches about how to treat enemies, should nations have militaries at all?

Was The New Testament Written to Reform Governments?

The New Testament was not written as a moral code to reform all the disorders and evils of the political powers. The New Testament was not written to fill the world with so-called “Christian nations.”

Matthew 4.17 identifies the theme of Jesus’ teaching as “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Jesus’ hearers knew what the word “kingdom” meant. They were familiar with the Egypitians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and now the Romans. But the Kingdom preached by Jesus was to be distinguished from any of these earthly kingdoms. The kingdom preached by Jesus was the “kingdom of heaven.” That is, it was a kingdom from heaven. In other places it is described as the “kingdom of God.” In John 18.36, Jesus made the nature of his kingdom clear. “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this world.” Yes, Jesus came to establish His kingdom in the world, but his kingdom is not of this world.

There is an important distinction made between the kingdoms of this earth and the kingdoms of this world. Earthly kingdoms are under the authority of earthly rulers. The heavenly kingdom is under the authority of the heavenly Father. Earthly kingdoms fight. Those in Jesus’ kingdom do not fight.

The teachings found in the Sermon on the Mount (and throughout the whole New Testament) are the teachings of the kingdom of heaven, not the teachings of any earthly kingdom. Their purpose is not to reform the world by making earthly kingdoms moral, but rather to set apart the disciples of Jesus as “salt” and “light” to be distinguished from the rest of the world.

Paul understood that “loving your enemies” is an essential requirement for those who follow Jesus (Rom. 12.14-13.2). But Paul also understood that we cannot please God unless we have the Spirit of God (Rom. 8.5-16). We cannot love our enemies unless we first present our bodies as living sacrifices and are transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12.1-2).

Paul recognized that those who are outside of Christ are in darkness (Eph. 2.1-3). Therefore Paul appealed to Christians not to judge those who are outside the church, but rather to leave their judgment to God (1 Cor. 5.11-12).

The New Testament Is Silent on How Earthly Rulers Should Govern

God’s divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness (2 Pet. 1.2-3), but the New Testament is silent when it comes to how earthly rulers are to govern others. Christians are commanded to submit to earthly rulers (Rom. 13.1-4, 2 Pet. 2.13-18), pray for earthly rulers (1 Tim. 2.1-2), and pay taxes to them (Mt. 22.15-22; Rom 13.7), but nowhere are we given instructions to seek to reform or rule over the nations of this world.

In fact, Jesus taught nearly the opposite.

But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. – Matthew 28.25-28

When Jesus was approached with political questions, he used these as opportunities to advance the Kingdom of God (Mt. 22.15-22; Lk. 12.13-15). The point of His teaching was never to rule over others with more godly principles than other men. The point of his teaching was to establish a separate kingdom, founded on entirely different principles.

Paul encouraged Christians not to yoke themselves with unbelievers (2 Cor. 6.14-18), not to fight with earthly weapons (2 Cor. 10.3-4), and not to fight against flesh and blood (Eph. 6.12). He encouraged Christians to remember that earthly rulers and authorities have been disarmed (Col. 2.15). Therefore, Christians should not feel compelled to rule over earthly authorities, but rather they should submit to them (Rom 13.1-4).

The mission of the early church was not to solve the problems of the world by making Rome great, but rather to proclaim the Kingdom of God as the place where those problems will be solved. When disciples of Jesus display the peaceful principles of God’s kingdom, they will draw men out of the kingdoms of darkness into the kingdom of light.

Should Governments Turn the Other Cheek?

Sure, it would be great if every nation on earth followed the golden rule. It would be great if every military on earth acted with love towards their enemies. If every nation on earth were to turn the other cheek, there would probably be a lot less evil and war.

Yet for Christians, this is asking the wrong question. Governments don’t spread the kingdom of God. No military, no violence, and no sword can ever spread the gospel of the Prince of Peace. Neither do governments stop the spread of the kingdom of God. The New Testament is not concerned with reforming the Roman Empire into a Christian nation.

The New Testament never commands Rome, America, or any other nation to have a military. Neither does the New Testament command nations to get rid of their militaries.

The Bible does continually teach that nations will be held accountable for the wicked things they do. But when Paul wrote to the church in Rome, where wicked Nero reigned on the throne, Paul did not charge the church with disarming Nero and his forces. Rather Paul encouraged the church to remember that God can use even those who bear the sword for wicked Nero to accomplish good. Therefore, rather than seeking to disarm Nero, Christians should submit to him, recognizing that God uses earthly governments for the necessary work of executing wrath on evildoers (Rom. 13.1-4).

Rather than resisting the desires of evil earthly rulers, the duty of the Christian is to refuse to take vengeance against their enemies (Rom. 12.14-21). When Christians love their enemies and convert them from their evil, they reform society by removing the necessary reason for the existence of earthly governments and their militaries.

Does This Imply a Double Standard?

Some will object that this implies a double standard. That is, some will argue that if something is a sin for one person, it must be a sin for all people. And if something is right for one person, it must be right for all people. Interestingly, this same objection is raised by two different groups, each raising the objection with very different intentions.

On one hand, sometimes pacifists will argue since it would be wrong for Christians to violently resist evil, it would be wrong for anyone to resist evil. Therefore, Christians should actively call their governments to account whenever their government fails to love their enemies.

On the other hand, others will argue that since governments “do not bear the sword in vain”, and since God must be consistent, Christians must not be sinning when they bear the sword against their enemies. This objection argues that since God allows the world to use violence for a necessary purpose of executing wrath on evildoers, God must also be pleased when Christians when they use violence for the same purpose.

In response to this objection it should be noted that God has always held His people to a higher standard. For example, in the Old Testament, God always held priests to higher standards of holiness than other Israelites. When God commanded the Israelites to go to war, the priests were not to be numbered among those who would fight (Num. 1.47-54). This doesn’t make God inconsistent. Rather, because we know that God does not change (Mal. 3.6), we should come to the New Testament, expecting that God would hold the church, His holy priesthood (1 Pet. 2.5) to a higher standard.

The entire Sermon on the Mount is founded upon the idea that Christians are to be salt and light. Paul’s commands about loving enemies in Romans 12 are founded upon the idea that Christians are not to be conformed to this world (Rom. 12.1-2). Yes, God may use those in the world to bear the sword, but it is not be problematic to think that God holds Christians to a higher standard. It should be expected!

Hope for the world doesn’t rely on reforming the governments and militaries of this world with Christian ethics.  The command, “love your enemies”, is directly connected to the work and teaching of Jesus, who turned the other cheek when he was crucified by the Roman government.

If we were to succeed in infusing every earthly kingdom with godly principles, but we failed to spread the gospel of the kingdom of God, we will have failed. We cannot expect the world to conform to Jesus’s teachings without first being transformed by the work of Jesus. The answer to wars and violence does not lie in political reform of earthly kingdoms. The answer is found in following the Prince of Peace and inviting the world into His kingdom.

How the Early Church Approached Politics

In the early church there was widespread agreement that it was inappropriate for Christians to seek political power. These early Christians believed that their separation from the state was an important part of following the example of Jesus. By “early church” I mean the church prior to the year 313, the year Emperor Constantine ended the persecution of Christianity. When Christianity transitioned from a persecuted religion to a government-endorsed religion, this led to a rapid change of perspective and practice on many issues.

Why Care What the Early Church Did?

The early Christians were fallible human beings. They wrote uninspired words. They were just as capable of error as men in any other generation. Although the early church’s practices and teachings did correspond to the New Testament in many ways, they made errors as well. We shouldn’t just agree with everything the early church said or did. The Bible is our authority, and where the early church departed from Scripture, we are always to go with Scripture.

These early Christian writers were not inspired, and they are not authoritative. But they were dedicated disciples of Jesus, and they were knowledgeable students of Scripture with very strong convictions (convictions they were often willing to die for). They also lived in a time and culture not far removed from the New Testament itself.

Their opinions aren’t authoritative, but we should still pay attention to what they had to say, and carefully consider their words. This is especially true in those areas where we find all of the early Christians speaking on a subject unified in agreement with one another.

Polycarp (69-155, Smyrna)

Perhaps the earliest post-New Testament indication of the church’s relationship to government from The Martyrdom of Polycarp (read chapters 9 and 10 here). Polycarp was personally taught by the Apostle John, and was an elder at the church in Smyrna. As he faced martyrdom, he was given a simple request,

Swear by the fortune of Caesar… Swear, and I will set thee at liberty!

Polycarp responded to this request in the following words:

Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: How then can I blaspheme by King and Savior?

According to John’s disciple, Polycarp, to swear an oath of allegiance to the fortune of Caesar was to blaspheme against King Jesus. Yet even while facing death, Polycarp went on to respond further:

To thee have I thought it right to offer and account [of my faith]; for we are taught to give all due honor (which entails no injury to ourselves) to the powers and authorities which are ordained of God.

Even though Polycarp refused to swear his allegiance to Caesar, he was committed to continually showing honor to governing powers and authorities.

Justin Martyr (100-165, Rome)

Justin Martyr wrote a defense of Christianity to the emperor , explaining that while Christians do not encourage open rebellion against the emperor, there are limitations to what services they can offer. (Read “First Apology” chapter 17 here)

And everywhere, we more readily than all men, endeavor to pay to those appointed by you the taxes both ordinary and extraordinary, as we have been taught by Him… Whence to God alone we render worship, but in other things we gladly serve you…

But if you pay no regard to our prayers and frank explanations, we shall suffer no loss, since we believe (or rather, indeed, are persuaded) that every man will suffer punishment in eternal fire according to the merit of his deed.

From Justin Martyr’s apology, we observe:

  • When Christians are unhappy with the unsound judgments of their rulers, they are not to rebel against them. Rather they are to continue to gladly serve them.
  • If Christians want to positively influence their rulers towards sound judgment, they may offer prayers and “frank explanations”
  • If these prayers and explanations are not sufficient to bring about positive change, they are to have confidence that God will hold their rulers accountable with the punishment of eternal fire.

Tertullian (160-220, Carthage)

Tertullian was one of the most prolific and well respected early Christian writers. In His treatise “On Idolatry” (Read chapter 18 here) Tertullian wrote:

He [Jesus] exercised no right of power even over His own followers, to whom He discharged menial ministry; if, in short, though conscious of His own kingdom, He shrank back from being made a king. He in the fullest manner gave His own an example for turning coldly from all the pride and garb, as well of dignity as of power. For if they were to be used, who would rather have used them than the Son of God? What kind and what number of fasces would escort Him? What kind of purple would bloom from His shoulders? What kind of gold would beam from His head, had He not judged the glory of the world to be alien both to Himself and to His disciples.

According to Tertullian:

  • If Jesus had wanted to hold earthly political office, He would have achieved the greatest honors any king has ever known.
  • Yet Jesus rejected the opportunity to become an earthly king.
  • In so doing, Jesus set an example that all Christians should follow.

Tertullian went on in the same chapter to describe political power as an enemy of God.

Therefore what He was unwilling to accept, He has rejected; what He rejected, He has condemned; what He condemned, He has counted as part of the devil’s pomp. For He would not have condemned things, except such as were not His; but things which are not God’s, can be no other’s but the devil’s. If you have forsworn the devil’s pomp, know that whatever you touch is idolatry. Let even this fact help to remind you that all the powers and dignities of this world are not only alien to, but enemies of God.

In another place, as Tertullian was writing a defense of Christianity, Tertullian observed that the testimony of Jesus was so convincing that even the Caesar’s themselves would have believed. The Caesars, however, were prevented from accepting Christianity because they understood that Christians cannot be Caesars. (Read Apology, chapter 21 here)

The Caesars too would have believed on Christ, if either the Caesars had not been necessary for the world, or if Christians could have been Caesars.

Origen (184-253, Alexandria)

The most complete discussion of Christianity and politics in the early church can be found in the discussion between Celsus and Origen”. Celsus was a pagan philosopher who wrote a serious attack against Christianity in his book “True Doctrine”. Although his book has not been preserved in its entirety, a good portion of it is preserved through Origen’s response, “Against Celsus”. Origen was one of the greatest scholars and most prolific writers in the early church.

Celsus’ Attack

One of Celsus’ primary attacks against Christianity was the way they separated themselves from the state. He viewed Christianity as a “new state of things” that was caused by “rebellion against the state” (3.5). Celsus believed that each nation’s form of government had been preserved for the public advantage.  Therefore, “it would be an act of impiety to get rid of the institutions established from the beginning in various places” (5.25).

At the heart of Celsus’ concern was his understanding that when one becomes a Christian, they withdrew themselves from participating in political powers.

If everyone should do the same as you, nothing would prevent the emperor from being left alone and deserted, and the affairs of the earth would come into the hands of the most lawless and the wildest barbarians; and then there would no longer remain among men any of the glory of your religion or of the true wisdom. (8.68)

Celsus was certainly prejudiced against the Christians, but he was well informed of their way of life. And it is apparent that Celsus did not know of any Christians who had become involved politics, and viewed the rejection of political powers as a matter of principle among them.

Origien’s Response to Celsus

It is interesting to note that Origen did not respond to Celsus’ attack by saying “You are wrong. Look, here are lots of Christians who have sought to reform, strengthen, and support the Roman Empire.” Rather Origen accepted the accuracy of Celsus’ claim, and sought to justify Christians in their separation from the state. Origen pointed out that as a matter of principle, the talent of the church should be devoted to the service of building up the church, rather than to be involved in politics.

“Celsus also urges us to take office in the government of the county, if that is required for the maintenance of the laws and the support of religion. But we recognize that in each state the existence of another national organization, founded by the Word of God, and we exhort those who are mighty in word and of blameless life to rule over Churches… And it is not for the purpose of escaping public duties that Christians decline public offices, but that they may reserve themselves for a diviner and more necessary service in the Church of God – for the salvation of men. (8.75)

Origen encouraged Celsus to think through his accusation to its logical conclusion. What would really happen if everyone became a Christian, and thus withdrew themselves from the political powers?

For if, as Celsus says, “everyone should do the same” as I, it is evident that even the barbarians, having come to the word of God, will be most law abiding and civilized, and every religion will be destroyed except that of the Christians, which will prevail. (8.68)

According to Origen it was a “religious act” of Christians to turn people away from the customs of the Romans and to turn them to the better laws enacted by Jesus (5.32). Origin’s understanding of the Christian’s relationship with the state in the early church could be summed up in these words:

We are to despise integrating ourselves with kings or any other men. (8.65)

What Can We Take Away From These Early Christians?

From the preserved writings of early Christian authors, it appears that the early church believed that there were two kingdoms: the kingdom of Rome and the kingdom of God. Since Christians are committed to imitating the example of Jesus, it would be inappropriate for Christians to seek political power.

And the church grew. Without any Christians in positions of political power, the church increased. Without any “religious freedom” or “Christian principles” in government, the church triumphed.

These early Christians aren’t authoritative. Only the Bible is. Perhaps these Christians were wrong, but their convictions should cause us to think about, and perhaps question, why we believe it is so important for Christians to get involved in politics.

An early Christian named Speratus wrote:

The empire of this world I know not; but rather I serve God… Because I know my Lord, the King of kings and Emperor of all nations.

Speratus refused to give his allegiance to Rome. Speratus went on to defeat the Roman Empire. He was martyred in 180 for his faith. (Read “The Passion of Sciliitian Martyrs” here)

Can A Christian Seek Political Office?

This question is important. It must be carefully considered in light of several scriptural principles before we can determine if we, in good conscience, can faithfully serve Christ while seeking political office. If, after examining everything the Bible has to say about a Christian’s relationship to the world and to its governments, a Christian can still in good conscience, seek political office without compromising their commitment to Christ, then yes, a Christian may seek political office.

To ask such a question does carry certain risks. There is little doubt in my mind that rulers with godly values are better than rulers with wicked values. Political power requires popular support. To even raise questions Christian involvement in politics increases the risk of having wicked rulers in power. This would almost certainly have negative consequences.

Yet even at the risk of hurting the church’s political influence, we must be willing to consider the question. I am convinced the risk we face from wicked earthly rulers is far less dangerous than the risk we face if political involvement causes us to lose both our body and soul in hell (Mt. 10.28). If our devotion to politics is so strong that we can’t even entertain questions raised by our faith, we don’t have a devotion to politics, we have a religious devotion to politics. Jesus is Lord, and we must be willing to examine every aspect of our lives in light of that fact: the church, our families, our careers, and even our approach towards politics.

Two Reasons Why The Question Is Important

I believe that one of the reasons that questions of Christian political involvement are often overlooked is because two important Biblical themes are likewise overlooked or ignored. When we consider that the political realm is under demonic control, and the kingdoms of this world are in conflict with the kingdom of God, it should cause us to view politics in a much darker light. This, in turn, brings questions of Christian political involvement to a higher level of importance than they are typically given.

  1. The political realm is under demonic control

Biblically speaking, Satan is the “ruler of this world” (Jn. 12.31; 16.11). Paul describes Satan as the “god of this world” (2 Cor. 4.1-4) and the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2.1-2). Paul understood that the non-Christian world was part of Satan’s “domain of darkness” (Col. 1.13). Satan’s influence is especially powerful in the political realm. The kingdoms of this world have been handed over to him, and he has the ability to offer those kingdoms to individuals to tempt them away from worshiping God (Lk. 4.5-8).

Yes, Satan is an unlawful ruler, with limited and temporary power. Yes, the Bible teaches that God can ordain even wicked rulers as His ministers and therefore they do not bear the sword in vain. But Satan’s power and influence is real. Due to misunderstandings of passages such as Luke 20.25 and Romans 13.1-4, many Christians remain ignorant of Satan’s rule and influence over worldly governments. Those who are ignorant of his power are the most susceptible to his influence.

See also: “The “God” of the World”

  1. The kingdoms of this world are in conflict with the kingdom of God

The kingdoms of this world were established by God as a result of the fall of man, and God’s kingdom was established for the purpose of confronting and ultimately destroying these kingdoms (Dan. 2.44; 1 Cor. 15.24-26). Throughout the Old Testament, God continually shows himself superior of the pagan rulers and authorities. The prophets continually showed God as more powerful than these political powers and promised to deliver His people from them. Jesus showed himself to be the fulfillment of the law and the prophets by announcing a “kingdom” to a world where Caesar thought of himself as the only “Lord” and “Savior.” In reflecting on the resurrection and reign of Jesus, Paul understood that the kingdoms of this world are among the enemies of the Kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15.24-26).

See also: “Kingdoms in Conflict: An Important, Yet Overlooked Theme in the Bible

The Importance of Wrestling With What Scripture Teaches

While it is true that there is no explicit command which forbids Christians from seeking political office, we must not ignore all that Scripture does say that could impact the question. There is likewise no explicit command which forbids Christians from owning a Casino, but we all understand that such a career would be wrong because it would obviously violate so many Biblical principles. We must not look to the absence of an explicit command as permission to ignore or disagree with what the Bible does teach on the subject.

If seeking political office causes one to compromise our commitment to Christ and to His kingdom, then no, that Christian may not seek political office.

It may be wrong to seek or obtain political office if:

  • It tempts someone to love their enemies less (Mt. 5.38-48)
  • It tempts one to have their heart focused on earthly things instead of heavenly things (Mt. 6.19-21)
  • The office requires one to act as a judge over those outside the church (Mt. 7.1-5; 1 Cor. 5.12)
  • It causes a Christian to “lord over” others like the gentiles did (Mt. 20.25-28)
  • It causes one to fail to render to God what is rightfully His (Mt. 22.15-22)
  • The office requires one to do harm to enemies if necessary rather than doing good to them (Lk. 6.27)
  • It causes a Christian to lose their distinction from the world (Jn. 15.18-19)
  • It leads one to fight like the world fights(Jn. 18.36-37)
  • It requires one to take vengeance on evildoers, something that Christians are forbidden from doing (Rom 12.19)
  • The office requires one to resist other earthly rulers (Rom 12.29-13.4)
  • It tempts one to think forget that God can even use their wicked political opponents for good if He so chooses (Rom. 13.4)
  • It causes division between Christians (1 Cor. 1.10)
  • It causes one to be yoked together with unbelievers in a way that gives them influence over them (2 Cor. 6.14-18)
  • The office’s duties include the use of earthly weapons instead of spiritual ones (2 Cor. 10.3-4)
  • It tempts one to treat as enemies those who have flesh and blood (Eph. 6.12)
  • It causes one to feel like earthly authorities have more power and influence than they actually do (Col. 2.15)
  • It distracts one from their Christian fight (2 Tim. 2.3-4)
  • It causes one to lose their distinction as a stranger and exile (1 Pet. 2.11-12)
  • One is motivated to do so out of the intimidation of wicked rulers (1 Pet. 3.13-17)
  • It keeps one from separating from Babylonian-like powers (Rev. 18.4)

Satan’s influence over the political realm is real. Earthly kingdoms are among God’s enemies who are destined to be destroyed (1 Cor. 15.24-25). No Christian should ever offer any service to their government that would cause them to compromise their commitment to Christ (Acts 5.29).

Being “Christian” means “Christ-like”. Even though Jesus did oppose ungodliness in His culture, Jesus never showed the slightest interest in politics, and resisted the temptation of earthly political power when it was offered to Him (Lk. 4.5-8).

Can it be wrong for a Christian to seek political office? It absolutely can be.

The Importance of Respecting Biblical Silence

In spite of all these principles which must be considered, I find it significant that no Biblical author ever sets forth a rule that forbids Christians from seeking political office. While it is true that Jesus never sought to use political means, neither did Jesus establish a law against it. We also have the example of men such as Joseph and Daniel, each of which held positions of authority in pagan kingdoms. In the New Testament we read about a Christian named Erastus, who was a city treasurer (Rom. 16.23), as well as saints who were in Caesar’s household (Phil. 4.22). And while scripture is silent about whether Cornelius the centurion or the Philippian jailor continued in their posts after becoming a Christians (Acts 10.1-7; 16.25-40), the Bible doesn’t rule out that possibility.

There are several Christians (myself included), who after meditating on all that the New Testament has to say about a Christian’s relationship to the world and to its governments, will conclude that it is inappropriate for Christians to seek positions of political power. But no matter how much wisdom there may be in such a conclusion, we must remember that there is only one lawgiver, and we are not Him.

Is it possible to consistently love your enemies, if your political position requires that you order the dropping of bombs against them if necessary? Is it possible to enforce even the best intended of laws without becoming a judge of those outside the church? Is it possible to spend years of your life dedicated to politics and to avoid Satan’s influence upon you? I personally don’t see how it can be done. But (and this is very important), no matter how firm one may be in that conviction, we cannot, and we must not, make a rule where God Himself has not spoken.

If another Christian wrestles with all of those same New Testament scriptures, and concludes that they, like Erastus, can faithfully follow Christ and hold political office at the same time, there is nothing in the New Testament that plainly says that seeking a political office is itself a sin.

If we attempt to elevate our personal convictions to the level of scripture, it is not our personal convictions that we have elevated, but rather scripture that we have brought low. If Satan tempts us to turn personal convictions into a rule for others, we have in practice jumped up into the judgment seat of God and proclaimed ourselves to be equal with God.

Can a Christian Seek Political Office?

If, after wrestling with all that the Holy Spirit has to say, a Christian concludes that they can, in good conscience, faithfully follow Christ and execute the demands of the office, then yes, a Christian may seek political office. If we cannot consistently and faithfully follow Christ while seeking political office, it would be wrong to do so.

As Christians, we must remember that hope for our world doesn’t hang on which people get in power. It hangs on Christians using the power God has given us. And this isn’t a power that we release by getting more godly people into positions of political power. It’s a power we release by how we unite together, as God’s kingdom, and show the world God’s love in how we live, in how we share, and how we sacrificially serve the needs of others. And when we, as the church, address the needs of the world, the glory goes to God and not some version of government.

9 Things Peter and John Said That Should Impact The Way a Christian Approaches Politics

Like Jesus and like Paul, John recognized that the nations of this world are under demonic influence. Peter likewise understood this and encouraged Christians to endure persecution from their rulers, while maintaining honor and reverence towards them. Together, with the rest of the New Testament writers, Peter and John encourage Christians to remember that Jesus is Lord, and Caesar is not.

1.The World Is Under The Power of the Evil One

We know that we are of God and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. – 1 John 5.19

Even after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, John still viewed the whole world as being under the power of the evil one. The church is God’s, but outside the church is Satan’s (1 Cor. 5.1-5; 1 Tim. 1.20; 1 Tim. 5. 15). Three times Jesus referred to Satan as the ruler of the world (Jn. 12.31; 14.30; 16.11). In other words, Satan holds the highest position of authority in this world. Paul frequently taught the same thing (2 Cor. 4.4; Eph. 2.2; Eph. 2.2).

Of course John understood that God ultimately holds more authority and power, which is why He will win (1 Jn. 5.4-5). But in the present, Satan is the one who exercises the most power and influence over this world.

If you’ve ever wondered why the governments of this world have continually failed to provide lasting solutions to social and global problems, or why they continually gravitate towards violence and oppression, this should help answer those questions. If we recognize that Satan is the ruler over this world and its kingdoms, we shouldn’t be surprised.

2. God’s Kingdom Will Be Victorious Over the Nations

The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign forever and ever… We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign. And all the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bondservants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth.” – Revelation 11.15-18

John’s Revelation describes two different kingdoms that are at war against one another: The kingdom of the world and the kingdom of Christ. In keeping with John 5.19, these verses do not describe God as having unilateral control over the nations of the earth. When the Kingdom of Christ is victorious over the kingdom of the world, the nations become enraged. The nations are thus described as being on the side of the kingdom of this world. How can Christians seek to build up and strengthen those nations which exist in opposition to Christ’s kingdom?

3.Earthly Governments are Deceived by the Destroyer

Satan will be released from his prison, and will come out and deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, God and Magog, to gather them together for the war the number of them like the sand of the seashore. And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. – Revelation 20.7-10

The dragon, through His deception, has rallied all the nations of the world together against God’s kingdom. But when they are confronted with God’s justice, everyone who has refused to be a part of God’s kingdom will be destroyed. And so the dragon, the nations, and all who chose them are eternally punished, never again able to corrupt God’s good creation.

Abaddon, the Destroyer, is identified as the king of the nations of this this world (Rev. 9.11; 11.15). The world is deceived by the power of the great beast, and thus they worship the beast and give authority to the beast (Rev. 13.11-15). In John’s Revelation, it’s not just a few of the “bad” nations, or particuraly powerful “empires” that are deceived. Rather all the “nations which are in the four corners of the earth” are deceived by Him. These nations are collectively identified as “Gog and Magog”, an archetype of earthly governments who trust in military power (Ezekiel 38).

4.Babylon Will Be Destroyed

 Fallen, fallen, is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful bird. For all the nations have drunk the wine of the passion of her immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed acts of immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality…

And the kings of the earth, who committed acts of immorality and lived sensuously with her, will weep and lament over her when they see the smoke of her burning…

So will Babylon, the great city, be thrown down with violence, and will not be found any longer… and the light of a lamp will not shine in you any longer; and the voice of the bridegroom and bride will not be heard in you any longer; for your merchants were the great men of the earth, because all the nations were deceived by your sorcery. – Revelation 18.2-3, 9, 21-23

Babylon, the great and evil earthly nation that swallowed up the Israelites in 597 B.C. became a symbol of the wickedness, idolatry, immorality, and violence of later earthly nations. In John’s Revelation it is stated that “all the kings of the earth” have committed acts of immorality with “Babylon,” for the nations were deceived by her. “Babylon”, the great kingdom of this world will be destroyed. When she falls, all the earthly governments will mourn, for they have long loved the sensual pleasures that she provides.

5.Come Out of Her!

Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues. – Revelation 18.4

God’s people should recognize Babylon and come out of her! Come out of her who is deceived by Satan. Come out of her who seduces kings in their lust for wealth and power. Come out of her who oppresses and kills God’s people.

Why? Because she will suffer plagues for her sins. And when she does,  kings and merchants (vs. 9-18) will share in her plagues when she is punished. Meanwhile the saints and apostles and prophets, who have avoided her seductions, will rejoice when she is judged (vs. 19-20).

God’s saints should be careful to distance themselves from the deceptive allure of the prostitute named Babylon.

6.Christians Are Strangers and Exiles

Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation. – 1 Peter 2.11-12

Peter recognized that Christians should fill the role as strangers and exiles. These words were used to identify those who live in a city, but do not identify as permanent residents of that city. It should be no wonder that Peter, who lived long after the earthly nation of Babylon had been destroyed, identified himself as living in “Babylon” (1 Pet. 5.13). Peter was picking up on the same concept that was to be described in the book of Revelation. Peter and his readers did not have permanent ties to the earthly city or nation in which they lived. As exiles, they did not wage war against the enemies of their earthly nation, but rather they waged their warfare against fleshly lusts.

7.Be Subject to Them

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may be able to silence the ignorance of foolish men…. Fear God. Honor the king. – 1 Peter 2.13-17

Christians are instructed to subject themselves to earthly rulers. Why? Not for the sake of the rulers themselves, but for the Lord’s sake. The Lord is the one Christians should fear, yet we should still show honor to earthly rulers by subjecting ourselves to them.

By showing honor and subjecting ourselves to earthly rulers, the ignorance of their foolishness is silenced. If Christians want to see the ignorance of foolish rulers silenced, they must keep their behavior excellent, submissive, showing honor to their enemies in power.

8.Do not fear them.

Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. “And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled,” but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.. – 1 Peter 3.13-17

Christians are not to fear earthly rulers. Neither are they to consider their earthly rulers as “Lord.” Rather they are to set apart Christ as their Lord. When earthly rulers slander disciples of Christ, we must be ready to give an answer for our hope, while continually maintaining gentleness and reverence towards them.

9. Recognize that Jesus is our King

Baptism now saves you – not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience – through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him. – 1 Peter 3.21-22

When Jesus rose from the dead, he was exalted above the authorities and powers. Earthly governmental powers have been defeated in the resurrection. Like the flood which delivered Noah from the wicked world in which he lived, baptism delivers Christians from their wicked world. It is for this reason that Peter, living right under the nose of the Roman emperor, could boldly proclaim, “To Him [Jesus, not Caesar] be dominion forever and ever” (1 Pet. 5.11). When we are baptized, we confess that Jesus is the Lord, the ruler. And by implication, if Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not.


Peter and John stand firmly in agreement with Jesus and Paul. They never encouraged Christians to become involved in earthly politics, but rather they sought to overcome those powers by peacefully submitting to them.

Shouldn’t Christians Use Political Means to Help the Poor?

Then He will also say to those on His left, “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.” Then they themselves also will answer, “Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?” Then He will answer them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.” These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. – Matthew 25.41-46

In an earlier article I wrote about 9 things that Jesus said that should influence the way Christians should approach politics. Should Matthew 25.41-46 be added to that list? Did Jesus intend for Christians to become involved in political means to help the poor?

It is imperative that Christians help the poor. Helping the poor must never become just as small side project that Christians do when it is convenient. If Scripture ever clearly identified an issue as a “salvation issue”, this is it. Our decision to help or neglect the poor is directly tied to our eternal destiny.

Not only that, but Christians should go to whatever extent they possibly can to help the poor. Notice Jesus’s words in verse 45: “To the extent that you did not do it to the one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.” Think about those words, “To the extent…“. That is a very broad challenge.

The church doesn’t have the power and resources to help all the poor everywhere. Shouldn’t Christians at least vote to help the poor? Shouldn’t they at least do their part to pressure government to enact compassionate economic policies? If we really want to defend the poor and disadvantaged, shouldn’t we seek to use government to defend them from the injustices they face?

No. Emphatically, no, they should not. I can totally understand why some Christians would choose to take this course of action, and I recognize that they do so with righteous motives. Yet I hope that you will consider some thoughts in response to this idea.

Which Version of Government is Best?

I write this to passionately encourage Christians not to think they are doing God’s work when they try to rally others around the particular version of government that they think is best. Like anyone else, I can imagine how governmental decisions impact the poor and disadvantaged. I don’t find it that hard to recognize how minimum wage laws increase the pay for some at the expense of others who are left unemployed. It is easy to see that all the government interference in health care markets has reduced competition, lowered quality, and driven health care costs to a point where it is affordable for many to pay for the care they deserve. It hurts me to think about how many jobs are destroyed through the high taxation and heavy regulations that businesses face, and how this has a big impact on the lower classes. And I’m not alone. There are lots of really bright people out there who understand that regulating free markets is, in the long haul, the worst possible thing you could do to the poor.

What if I were to take Matthew 25.41-46 as instruction to get Christians active in politics for the sake of the poor? Now that I’ve decided to get Christians involved in righteous political causes, I stand in my pulpit next Sunday and encourage the church do everything in their power to help the poor, which includes getting out there and stopping those liberals from regulating free-markets.

At the same time, you are encouraging Christians to get out there and help the poor by supporting minimum wage laws, wise regulations on big businesses, increasing funding to compassionate welfare programs that support the poor, and funding those programs by taxing the top 1% of earners. You wouldn’t be very happy with me, and I wouldn’t be very happy with you. We both agree that we should help the poor, but instead of using our pulpits to actually encourage Christians to help the poor, we are driving a wedge of division into the church with our message.

As a result, the left and the right argue over which particular kind of government is best for the poor. We spend our time, energy, passion, and sometimes even our money arguing over what our rulers should do about the poor (something the Bible never commands us to do), instead of working together in unity to actually help the poor (which is precisely what we are commanded to do). This leads to one more important point.

The Church Must Do More To Help The Poor

If Christians were to take all of their time, energy, passion and money that they currently invest into political arguments, and were to put that same level of passion into actually helping the poor, the church could make a huge positive impact on the poor, not only in their community, but throughout the country and throughout the world. And what’s even better, when the church works together to help the poor, the glory is given to God rather than to some particular style of government (2 Cor. 9.12).

There is no doubt in my mind that the church needs to do more to help the poor. One of the big reasons we don’t is because we are too busy arguing over what Caesar should do about poverty. This will only change when Christians stop thinking that it is their job to tell the authorities how to rule and start to do what Jesus commanded us to do. We must trust that God who makes all kinds of bad things work together for good (Rom. 8.28), will use even the worst rulers for good (such as Nero, who was the ruler when Romans 13.1-5 was written). Therefore we can simply submit to our rulers, trusting that God will somehow use them for the good He has promised. Only when we learn to trust that they are God’s ministers, and not ours, will we stop clamoring for greater political influence, and actually start working to serve the poor.

Ultimately, the hope for the poor, as well as anyone else, doesn’t hang on which party gets put in power. It hangs on the power that God has given to the church. The church’s power isn’t a power that we release every four years when we unify together and make our voice heard in the voting booth. It is a power that we release when we unite together to show God’s love by how we live, by how we share, and by how we sacrifice to serve the poor.

Jesus’ Shocking Teachings: Divorce (Part 2)

In our series on Jesus’ shocking teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, we come to His teachings on marriage, divorce, and remarriage.

It was said, “Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her A certificate of divorce”; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Matthew 5:31-32

It’s clear enough to see what Jesus said, which was discussed in Part 1. Let us now explore some questions about what was unsaid.

1. Do Jesus’ teachings apply to everyone, or just Christians?

Many have tried to make it easier on people by saying that Jesus’ teachings on marriage, divorce, and remarriage only apply to those who are Christians. Therefore, if someone breaks this commandment outside of covenant with Christ, he or she is not accountable for it.

First, there is nothing in Scripture that indicates that those outside of covenant with Christ are not accountable for their sins. In fact, if Jesus’ teachings don’t apply to them, then who are the lost? I was under the impression that those who do not know God and those who do not obey the gospel of Jesus will receive judgment (2 Thess. 1:6-10).

Notice how Jesus presents His teachings on divorce in Mark’s gospel.

And He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery.” Mark 10:11-12.

“Whoever” applies to whomever, just like it would in other Scriptures (cf. John 3:16).

Second, we also cannot say that this teaching applies to Jews only. In Matthew 19, Jesus was not trying to present Jewish understandings of the Scriptures. If He were, then He would have enforced the punishment of adultery, which was death, instead of permission to divorce.

So, Jesus’ teachings on this subject are universal.

2. What if my husband or wife lusts in his or her heart for someone else?

Earlier in this chapter, Jesus says, “everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28). A woman whose husband that has used pornography may ask, “Since my husband has committed adultery in his heart, may I divorce him?”

The simple answer is, no, not on those grounds. The sin committed during lust is an inward, non-physical act. It is very serious in the sight of God and anyone else affected by it, but it is not the same as πορνεία, which is, “voluntary sexual intercourse between persons not married to each other.” Only the person lusting is active, and the other person is passive, and in some cases of lust, ignorant and innocent; therefore, fornication has not occurred.

3. Am I trapped, then?

What about those whose marriage is in serious trouble, but neither party has committed adultery? First, let us be reminded that God hates divorce, and so should we (Mal. 2:16). God understands, however, that there are things that trouble marriages other than adultery.

For instance, in 1 Corinthians 7, if a believer is married to a nonbeliever, and if the nonbeliever is unwilling to dwell with the believer, the marriage can be separated. In this case, neither is permitted to divorce the other, and neither is permitted to marry another person, but they are permitted to live separately.

Let it be said that in the case of an abusive marriage, both parties need to seek help, and the victim should seek safety away from the abuser immediately.

4. What if someone becomes a Christian after entering into an unbiblical second marriage?

In this case, does Jesus’ blood make an unsanctioned, unbiblical marriage an acceptable marriage?

And He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery.” Mark 10:11-12.

Again, this applies to “whoever,” and not just the Christian. Notice the literal translation: “she is committing adultery” The KJV says committeth. Whenever you encounter a verb with that suffix (eth) in the KJV, it indicates a continual action.

John 3:16 talks about whosoever believeth on Him. Faith is not a one-time action, but a continual one. Therefore, when people stay in an unbiblical marriage, they continually commit adultery.

So, what is someone who is continually sinning to do in order to enter covenant with Christ? What would a fornicator, drunkard, or thief be told to do? Repent, which comes from godly sorrow and involves the ceasing from sin, and turning to Christ (2 Cor. 7:9-10; Acts 26:20)! In the case of one who is committing adultery in an unbiblical marriage, he or she should repent and turn to God.

5. What should I do?

Someone is looking at the perfect law of liberty as a mirror, the way James describes. He now realizes the mess his decisions have put him into. What should he do? When the disciples had this question, they concluded, “it is better not to marry” (Matt. 19:10). Jesus said that in some situations, that’s true.

For those who would sin by beginning or remaining in a relationship, Jesus would teach them to become celibate, that is, refrain from sexual activity (Matt. 19:12). In other words, there have been those who have made drastic decisions and deprived themselves of temporary happiness in order to stay pure for Christ.

Previously in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches that if something in your life causes you to sin, it would be better for you to lose it, in this case an unbiblical relationship, than for you to lose your soul (Matt. 5:29-30).

6. But doesn’t God want me to be happy?

In an emotional response to such difficult teachings of Christ, many have thought either Jesus just wants to see me unhappy, or Jesus will make an exception for my unbiblical marriage, because I am “happy” in it, and God wants me to be happy.

God does not provide eternal joy in return for sinful lifestyles. Instead, He provides gladness to the disciple who is storing up treasure in heaven.

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:10-12.

This logic of, “God wants me to be happy, and therefore, He will make an exception for my relationship,” is flawed from the beginning. Should we make an exception for those who are “happy” living together before marriage? What about the thief who has built a comfortable and “happy” life off of the wealth of others? What about the person who gains happiness by abusing others? No, and so it applies to the one who is living in adultery.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.

7. What if it’s too late?

You may be looking at Jesus’ commandments and saying, “It must be too late for me.” An example may be a man who divorced his wife several years ago for reasons other than adultery. First Corinthians 7 would teach that this man has two options:

  1. Remain unmarried.
  2. Be reconciled with his wife.

But she has now moved on, moved away, and started a family with someone else; therefore, reconciliation is impossible. Is it too late to feel complete again?

Christ is the provider of true hope and completion. Are you breathing? Do you have blood running through your veins? Do you have a sound mind? If so, that’s an opportunity for you to respond to the gospel! It’s not too late.

No matter the situation we have gotten ourselves into in the past, Jesus can provide a new life through the new birth. Does that mean the consequences will disappear? In many cases, no. A murdered who repents will not be able to bring his victims back to life. The blood of Jesus does not immediately undo damage to relationships.

However, you can still be given a new life today by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Won’t you respond?


I know there are more questions to explore with this topic, but I am sure they can be answered by faithfully looking at Jesus’ teachings and applying them consistently. I also know that anyone who speaks on this subject so straightforward may be charged of being insensitive.

If I have been insensitive, first, please don’t hold that against Jesus. He came to this earth because of His sensitivity toward sin and His love for you. Second, please accept my apology. My goal was to teach the truth with heartfelt conviction, not with heartless attacks.