Christian Character Not Of the World

Why as a Christian I stopped caring (so much) about politics

There was a time not long ago when I cared a great deal about politics and government, but as I read the Scriptures and became more shaped by them, my understanding began to change. What I saw in Scripture was that Christians can influence governments peacefully, and in special cases, sometimes God places Christians in positions to influence their governments directly (Daniel, Joseph, and Esther come to mind). But I also saw that we are called not to strive or labor against earthly governments. Rather we are to labor solely for the kingdom of heaven, a spiritual kingdom of hearts. (Luke 17:20-21; Romans 14:17)

I began to ask myself, why would I strive to improve a world that is passing away? (1 John 2:17) Why would I strive to improve a world that hates me? (John 15:19) Why would I strive to improve a world in which I am not its citizen? (Philippians 3:20) Why would I set my mind on an earthly goal, when God commands me to set my mind on things above? (Colossians 3:1-2) Why would I fight in an earthly war, when I am enlisted by a heavenly king? (2 Timothy 2:4) As salt and light in the world, Christians can lawfully participate in government, (Romans 13:7) but this involvement should not consume or control, because such work is for a nation in which we are not citizens. Indeed, we are citizens of a greater nation, an unshakable nation that can never be defeated, a nation of heaven itself that will never pass away. The apostle Peter said, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10) God does not call us to toil and vigorously labor for a kingdom that is temporal and passing away. Rather, we labor as a holy nation for an eternal kingdom that will never end!

I began to realize that even if every single law were made perfectly just and fair, we would all still be sinners in need of a Savior, (Romans 3:23) and this world and its rulers would still pass away. (1 Corinthians 2:6) Even the most perfect government would still result in everyone outside of Christ incurring the judgment of God in hell. That is why Christians are called to something so much higher and greater than the improvement of worldly governments. Yes, we should promote justice and mercy within our government peacefully and without being vengeful, hateful, or idolatrous, but we must understand that this is not the primary calling of Christians. We are called to be a holy nation, a royal priesthood,  (1 Peter 2:9-10) set in vivid contrast to the worldly governments that God Himself has established. Why then would we strive with such vigor to change these governments, when God Himself is glorified by the contrast of His own design between the people of God and the lovers of this world? (Romans 9:21-23)

I have concluded then that all Christians should seek to influence their respective governments for good as a loving neighbor of those made in God’s image. We should do so wherever God grants a peaceful and lawful way to do so. Voting would be one example of this. However, as Scripture states, we are not to do this through resistance. We obey our government under all circumstances unless it asks us to do something that is against God’s law, because God’s law is above all governments.

Daniel is a good example of this. It is remarkable that God raised up Daniel with such powerful influence in the Babylonian government, yet Daniel did not strive to radically change the government. Why? Because Daniel himself understood that God was the one who set up the Babylonian government:

He changes times and seasons;
he removes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those who have understanding; (Daniel 2:21)

Joseph and others recognized this as well, and they all sought to honor God by influencing others and promoting justice and mercy within their appointed roles. But they did so with a correct theology; a correct understanding that God Himself set up the governments in which they were employed. They did not strive against what God had ordained. They did not seek to Judaize their governments.

Likewise, Christians are not called to change earthly governments by might and force. Scripture teaches that Christians are to live in submission to the governments in which they are placed, because God Himself is the one who has set up those governments. (Romans 13:1ff.) I am reminded of the words of Christ when He said, “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) Jesus says that we are not to fight for the kingdom of this world–not with guns, swords, or political parties. The kingdom of Jesus, the kingdom that Christians would claim to be a part of, is not from the world, says Jesus. Why then would we fight for a kingdom that not even Jesus is part of?

Our influence of government, then, I believe should happen as a byproduct of our obedience to God’s command to love our neighbors in every area of life, (Matthew 22:39) but it is not to be our chief objective, even momentarily. It should never control us or direct our thoughts and desires. We wrestle not with flesh and blood, (Ephesians 6:12) but we are fighting a spiritual battle within the hearts of men that are changed by the Spirit through the preaching of the gospel. (Romans 10:14-15, 17) Jesus instructs us to render to Caesar what is his, (Mark 12:17) and through Paul, God instructed us to pray for our leaders, (1 Timothy 1:1-2) not resist them, (Romans 13:2) so that we may live quiet and peaceful lives, minding our own business as foreigners in this life, (1 Peter 4:15; 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12) while we eagerly await our citizenship in the life to come. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Philippians 3:20-21)

As the author of Hebrews so perspicuously explains,

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:13-16)

As those great people of faith have come before me, I am a stranger and exile on this earth. I have come out from the world in which I once lived. I do not wish to reform this land, because I am not from it. I am not from this world, but I am seeking a better one, my true homeland, with which the world has no part. I will never return to the land from which God graciously brought me out. It is a dying land, a land prepared for judgment and destruction. Rather I look forward to a better country, a heavenly one, a great city that God has prepared for all those who love Him, in which I will live forever and ever. That is the land for which I will labor.

Christian Character Holiness

Why Christians Should Pray For The Military

Recently I contacted a longtime friend and brother in the Lord who is currently a chaplain in the U.S. military. At the end of our conversation, I inquired about specific things I could be praying about. The first thing he said was, “Pray for the military leadership, that God would move their hearts like rivers of water to ensure that, as Chaplains, we may continue to minister the Gospel.” My brother fears that the end of evangelical military chaplains draws near.

In fact, Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary wrote several days ago about about the increasing pressures that military chaplains face as homosexuality becomes normalized within society. Tom Carpenter, a PCUSA elder and co-chair of the Forum on the Military Chaplaincy, believes that Southern Baptist chaplains have no choice but to resign from their stations if they are not able to follow in accordance with the homosexual-friendly policies of the U.S. military. His reason? Because military chaplains “have a duty not only to God, but also country” and also because “they are not salaried by the NAMB but by the American taxpayer.”

The sobering part of this story is this: Carpenter believes that if a chaplain views homosexuality as a sin, then he cannot serve his country. And this is one reason why Christians should pray, because I think as Mohler rightly points out, this mentality will seek to spread outside the military, especially since the broader context of government leadership is moving ever closer to classifying anti-homosexual speech as a hate crime.

But there is still hope, if the children of God in this country will pray for their leaders to do what is right and good. Christians should model the example given in Paul’s letter to Timothy,

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4 ESV)

The primary reason we are to pray for our leaders is this: That we as followers of Christ might follow our Savior in peacefulness and quietness, living godly and dignified lives. We are to pray on behalf of all people, both for the righteous and the unrighteous, including those who are in high positions. This is pleasing to God. There are several reasons for this:

First, praying for our leaders acknowledges trust in God as the ultimate Ruler of our country. Praying in such a way acknowledges that God, not men, sets up rulers of nations, both righteous and wicked. God is in control. God is sovereign. He rules over all the nations in His own perfect timing. Praying for our leaders confesses trust in God, rather than men. This pleases God greatly.

Second, praying for our leaders is an opportunity to love our enemies, even corrupt leaders who may not fear God. Remember that the Lord Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44) Notice how Jesus put together both the practices of loving and praying for our enemies? This is important. In Romans 12, Paul elaborates further on loving one’s enemies,

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:19-21 ESV)

Praying for our leaders is difficult at times, especially when they make foolish or selfish decisions. But it is important to realize that at the heart of grumbling about our leaders is often the sin of vengeance in the heart. When we set our hearts to love our enemies, we learn to trust and hope in God, but when we resist acknowledging God’s control, we can become selfish, bitter, or cynical. Lamenting over the deeds of the wicked is a righteous act, but it is only righteous if that lamentation causes us to cry out to God for help. We would do well to learn from David who hopefully prayed, “But you, O LORD, laugh at them; you hold all the nations in derision. O my Strength, I will watch for you, for you, O God, are my fortress.” (Psalm 59:8-9 ESV)

Third, praying for our enemies actually results in change! Remember the words that God spoke to Moses,

Then the LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings…
(Exodus 3:7 ESV)

And also the words of David,

The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.
And those who know your name put their trust in you,
for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.
(Psalm 9:9-10 ESV)

The prayers of God’s people are divinely intertwined with His sovereign will. Time and time again God acts in response to the cries of His people. Remember the words of Paul that God is pleased by our prayers to Him for salvation from those who oppress us. The Lord wants us to come to Him. He wants us to hope in Him. He wants us to wait on Him. This is worship to Him. That is why He redeemed us in Christ, so that we should live for Him and not ourselves! (2 Corinthians 5:15)

Remember the words of James,

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. (James 5:16-18 ESV)

Be encouraged. Follow God. Pray!

Christian Character Holiness Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit, Part 2: No Spirit No Church

The Holy Spirit, not an inspirational speaker, preacher, or writer, is the One Who stirs up the hardened conscience (1 Corinthians 2:13). The Spirit is the one Who softens the heart to recognize the need for repentance and bear good fruit (Galatians 5:22-23). The Spirit illuminates the mind to desire the truth of God’s Word in faith concerning the hope and salvation of Jesus Christ (Galatians 4:6). It is not by the words, methods, cleverness, or intelligence of men. God has ordained one method only to change the heart of stone–the hearing of the Word of God by faith. (Romans 10:17; Galatians 3:2). In fact, the Church itself could not exist without the Holy Spirit, as John Owen writes,

In this promise he founded the Church itself, and by it he [built] it up. And this is the hinge on which the whole weight of it turns to this day. Take this away; suppose it to cease, as to actual accomplishment, and there is an end of the Church of Christ in this world. No dispensation of the Spirit, no Church. He that would utterly separate the Spirit from the word, had as good burn his Bible. The bare letter of the New Testament will no more produce faith and obedience in the souls of men, than the letter of the Old Testament does among the Jews, 2 Cor. 3:6, 8., p. 93, A Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit

Owen here says that without the Holy Spirit there is no Church. In the letter to the Corinthians Paul teaches this when he writes, “…who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:6 ESV). The Spirit is the One Who gives life through faith in God’s Word, not the outward methods of men. Owen writes,

The kingdom of Christ is spiritual, and in the animating principles of it, invisible. If we fix our minds only on outward order, we lose the rise and power of the whole. It is not an outward visible ordination by men (though that be necessary by rule and precept,) but Christ’s communication of his Spirit, that gives being, life, usefulness, and success to the ministry…, p. 109-110, A Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit

And upon this act of faith, when the Holy Spirit gives this life by entering the new believer, He dwells within him permanently (1 Corinthians 6:19), supernaturally sealing him and sanctifying Him until the day of redemption when Christ returns (Ephesians 4:30), building Him up into greater and greater degrees of holiness in the peace of righteousness (Hebrews 12:11).

How unbelievable a thing it is to imagine that the very Spirit of God might condescend to dwell within sinful flesh! But this is the overflowing generosity of God toward sinners, who otherwise seek a joy from from a source that gives no joy, a hope from a place that gives no hope, and a peace from a place that gives no peace. Without the work of the Spirit, a person knows only to seek happiness in serving himself and his interests. For all we like sheep have gone astray, says Isaiah. Each one has turned to his own way, but the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)

But through the Lord Jesus, He sets us free by the Holy Spirit so that the believer no longer lives for himself, but rather for Jesus Christ Who lives even today (2 Corinthians 5:15), and although every day the believer will have struggles in the flesh both great and small, as he endures and perseveres through his trials, his joy will be greater than his struggles. All of this is possible only through the supernatural work of God the Spirit.

Against Federal Vision Grace and Law

Machen on differences between Christianity and Judaizers

As a matter of fact, however, Paul did nothing of the kind; and only because he (and others) did nothing of the kind does the Christian Church exist today. Paul saw very clearly that the differences between the Judaizers and himself was the differences between two entirely distinct types of religion; it was the differences between a religion of merit and a religion of grace. If Christ provides only a part of our salvation, leaving us to provide the rest, then we are still hopeless under the load of sin. For no matter how small the gap which must be bridged before salvation can be attained, the awakened conscience sees clearly that our wretched attempt at goodness is insufficient even to bridge that gap. The guilty soul enters again into the hopeless reckoning with God, to determine whether we have really done our part. And thus we groan again under the old bondage of the law. Such an attempt to piece out the work of Christ by our own merit, Paul saw clearly, is the very essence of unbelief; Christ will do everything or nothing, and the only hope is to throw ourselves unreservedly on His mercy and trust Him for all.

J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism

Christian Character Words Of Ryle

Minorities Move The World In Christ

Here is your encouragement, if you stand alone. You have no reason to be cast down and faint-hearted. You are not weak, though few, if God is with you. There is nothing too great to be done by a little company, if only that have Christ on their side. Away with the idea that numbers alone have power! Cast away the old vulgar error that majorities alone have strength. Get firm hold of the great truth that minorities always move the world. Think of the little flock that our Lord left behind him, and the one hundred and twenty names in that upper chamber in Jerusalem, who went forth to assault the heathen world! Think of George Whitefield assailing boldly the ungodliness which deluged all around him, and winning victory after victory! Think of all this. Cast fear away. Lay out your talents heartily and confidently for God.

— J.C. Ryle, A Sketch of the Life and Labors of George Whitefield[1] .