Living as Christians in an Election Year

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Regardless of background or beliefs, every American I talk to seems on edge, as if the sky were about to fall. But the sky is not falling.

Do you feel a faint sense of panic in the back of your mind? Does it seem to increase whenever you glance at the latest headlines? 

If so, you are not alone. Regardless of background or beliefs, every American I talk to seems on edge, as if the sky were about to fall. But the sky is not falling. Something worse is afoot: we are living in an election year!

Forgive the dark humor. The political discord between Americans is no laughing matter, but it would do us good to gain some perspective. I am old enough to remember that every election is "the most important in our lifetime," yet I know enough about history to see that this era is not uniquely awful. Nevertheless, the panic so many feel is real enough. Christians in the United States are asking hard questions about how we should engage with our fellow citizens in this difficult historical moment.

I will promote no candidate, party, or policy position here. Instead, I will offer hope based on God's promises. Followers of Jesus Christ may experience fear in response to world events, but nevertheless we can hold fast to the promises made by our Father and fulfilled by his son and given to us through faith. 

Below are four reminders of these promises during this election year.

God's Plan is Certain and Trustworthy

Our anxiety about world events is often due to the mistaken belief that we are in control. Living in a relatively free society can lead Americans to assume they have a greater influence on world affairs than is truly the case. Yes, every vote counts, but few elections are decided by one vote or even one hundred. Someone may change their mind based on a well-written Facebook post, but it is unlikely to shift society. Everything we do has some effect on the world, but we cannot shape history to our desires. Mistakenly thinking you are responsible for saving the world is likely to induce ulcers.

Fortunately, that political leader who scares you is not in control either. It is God who is sovereign over history, and his purposes will be accomplished. He is the one who grants authority to human rulers, and they hold power only as long as he allows. 

The apostle Paul assures us that "there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God." (Romans 13:1) Likewise, when Jesus was brought before Pontius Pilate, he told the Roman governor, "You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above" (John 19:10). This does not mean sinful actions taken by rulers are caused by God, but it does mean that no matter how hard they rebel against God, they will not overcome the divine plan for history.

We serve a God "who brings princes to nothing, / and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness" (Isa. 40:23). The hardest of hearts are not beyond the influence of the Almighty. "The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will" (Prov. 21:1).

We also know that those who are in Christ were chosen before the foundation of the world and will persevere in salvation. "And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified" (Rom. 8:30). Our salvation is not a matter of random chance! That is what Paul means when he tells us that "for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose" (Rom. 8:28).

God is in control, and we can trust his plan.

Christ's Kingdom is Come

We receive further comfort when we remember that "our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself." (Philippians 3:20-21)

The kingdoms of this world are temporary, whereas Christ's kingdom will last forever. That kingdom is our true home.

Jesus repeatedly referred to Satan as the ruler of this world (e.g. John 12:31, 14:30), but that does not mean Satan controls history. In fact, Satan's kingdom, along with all the kingdoms of men, will one day end, and all authority will be turned over to Christ (1 Cor. 15:24-26).

Jesus told Pontius Pilate, "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) This caused great confusion for Christ's disciples and the rest of the Jewish people, who were longing for a political leader to free them from Roman oppression. But Christ's kingdom is characterized by the phrase "already but not yet." It is inaugurated, but it has not yet been instituted in its fullness on earth.

In a vision granted to the apostle John, he saw the world's greatest empires brought to nothing, and Christ raised over them all. "Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, 'The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever'" (Rev.11:15).

This is why Christ tells us to "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you" (Matt. 8:33). He alone is the perfect king in whom we will find our rest, and he has come to earth for us.

We Live Now for the Good of Our Neighbor

Trusting God's plan and seeking Christ's kingdom does not mean disregarding our neighbors. On the contrary, our assured salvation in Christ frees us to serve our neighbors well. The fear that kept us apart from them is stilled, and we are free to shower them with grace.

As Luther wrote in The Freedom of a Christian, "Each person lives only for others and not for himself or herself." But importantly, "No one needs even one of these works to attain righteousness and salvation." This very fact—that we are already fully righteous in Christ—allows us to love our neighbors not for hope of gain but simply from the outpouring of love that God has freely given to us. Our mission is now "to serve and benefit others in everything that may be done, having nothing else in view except the need and advantage of the neighbor." [1]

This naturally leads to the question, "Who is my neighbor?" When a lawyer asked Jesus this question, the Lord responded with the Parable of the Good Samaritan, in which a Samaritan man showed mercy to a Jewish man (Luke 10). Christ chose two people divided by politics, religion, ethnicity, and likely social class. He wanted to emphasize that our neighbors will not always agree with us, look like us, or live like us. 

Few things Christ said were more radical than this: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, 'Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven'" (Matt. 5:43-45). How on earth can we do that? Not by any earthly power but by the heavenly power of God himself. When we know we are righteous, safe, and loved in Christ, we no longer need to war with our neighbors. We can love them freely. 

The Gospel is for Everyone

While earthly governments may improve their citizens' quality of life, there is only one thing that can truly save us all. Promoting morality in society is worthwhile, but we must be careful not to only give people the law. What they desperately need is the gospel.

The law of God reveals that we are all sinners incapable of saving ourselves: yes, both we and our political enemies are fully dependent on the grace of God. But the gospel reveals that God loves people of every tribe and tongue so much that he died on the cross, taking our sins upon himself and granting us his righteousness. The proclamation of the gospel is now the central purpose of human history. As Jesus said, "And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come" (Matt. 24:14).

When the apostle Peter was arrested for proclaiming the gospel, he told the Jewish religious authorities, "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). There are few circumstances in which a Christian is justified in defying the civil authorities: the attempted silencing of the gospel is one of them.

No weapon of this world allows us to conquer the devil, but the gospel will never be defeated. "And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death" (Rev. 12:11). We have the certain word of Christ that our redemption is accomplished. No one can take the forgiveness of sins from us. The gates of Hades will not prevail against Christ's bride. How much less the machinations of politicians? Let's share that good news with our neighbors!

Our Lord has promised us, "Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end." (Rev. 22:12-13). He holds the nations in his hands. All of history is in his control. Because of his perfect love, we are no longer bound by fear. (1 John 4:18) That is good news for you, for me, and for our neighbor. 

May these words encourage you in a contentious election year. All glory to the King of Kings!

[1] Luther, Martin. The Freedom of a Christian, The Annotated Luther Study Edition, trans. Timothy J. Wengert (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2016), 520.