2016 has been quite the year in American politics.
We are accustomed to political polarization among citizens during an election cycle, but this year is different. Evangelicals were deeply torn over how to cast votes this November, which raises a couple important questions for believers. What is the role of government? How are Christians to respond to government? Two principles from the Scriptures:
- God established government for our good.
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. -Romans 13:1-4
Human structures of authority are God’s design, and he is sovereign over all of them. Those who are in positions of authority have the responsibility to judge between right and wrong, to reward and punish, and to promote order and the wellbeing of society. Of course, some rulers and governments have been far more faithful with this than others. And although authority should never be used for personal gain, we know that is often not the case. Sinful rulers and leaders are a reminder of the fallen condition of the human heart (see Romans 3:10-23).
Believers in Jesus must wrestle with what it means to be temporary residents here, awaiting our permanent dwelling place with God. As long as we are here, we must recognize the goodness of government, even if they are presently led by corrupt or evil leaders. Throughout Christian history, believers have suffered under evil governments, yet in such conditions, Christ-followers have opportunities to glorify God with faithfulness and courage (see Daniel 3:16-23; Acts 5:29).
- Christians must strive to influence government for good.
How can we do this? American Christians have the privilege of casting votes for their government leader and should take every opportunity to cast informed votes.
In addition, we should aim to influence government to make laws that honor Jesus, such as laws that value and protect human life and that practice love for our neighbors.
Followers of Jesus desire others to come to know him, thus we promote the gospel among all people, including governing authorities (see Paul’s example in Acts 24:24-25).
And finally, believers must pray for government leaders. I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. -1 Timothy 2:1-2
The Scriptures encourage us to pray for those who rule and lead, and we must not evade this responsibility and privilege. We may not agree with those who represent us, but we should always want them to know Jesus and to be led by him.
In closing, let me caution us against two pitfalls representing unbiblical responses to government:
Never put your ultimate hope in a political leader or political party, for you will be let down. There is only one Messiah. His name is Jesus, and true satisfaction and lasting hope is only found in him.
On the other hand, never stop asking God to do a great work in the lives of those who lead us. You may not have much hope for the future of this country or for the next president, but the God of the Scriptures is a God who works wonders and changes lives. May he lead his people to trust him and to continue shining the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ.