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.