Is Political Activism the Solution to Spiritual Decline?
How should a Christian approach moral decay and other issues plaguing our nations? Is political activism the way to solve these problems? Is there another way?
Many would agree that the nations of the world, particularly the Western nations, are becoming increasingly morally bankrupt. More and more of those who identify as Christians have come to believe that societal problems should be dealt with politically.
The idea is that moral decline can be reversed by Christians who become actively engaged in politics to advocate Christian values—either by running for political office or supporting parties or candidates who make aspects of Christian morality a part of their platform. These politically active Christians often see the other side as their enemy—forces of evil that must be politically defeated.
However, it seems modern nations are continuing in a downward moral spiral despite many well-meaning religious people holding office and being engaged in the political process. Should this just motivate religious people to get even more involved?
Christians should look to God’s Word for guidance on how to engage with the world around them. Does the Bible advocate Christians’ engaging in politics to fight the moral downturn they see around them and to push for biblical morality?
Should a Christian fight in the political battle?
During Jesus’ final hours, He was brought before Pilate to answer the false accusations brought against Him by the Jewish leaders. If there ever was a good reason to fight, wouldn’t it have been to prevent the “Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:8) from being handed over to the ruthless Romans?
Instead, Jesus told Pilate that His servants wouldn’t fight because His “kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). This is a remarkable statement considering who He was and how brutally evil the Roman Empire could be. Instead of resisting an evil culture, Jesus taught the opposite. He taught His followers “not to resist an evil person” (Matthew 5:39; compare Romans 12:17-19; 1 Thessalonians 5:15; 1 Peter 3:9).
The Christian battle is not physical—it’s spiritual.But why should Christians refrain from fighting against what is evil—and for what is right—in our world?
Because the Christian battle is not physical—it’s spiritual. It should not surprise us that our nations are sliding into greater and greater immorality. The Bible tells us that the world is “under the sway of the wicked one” (1 John 5:19) and that Satan is now the “god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4) and “ruler of this world” (John 16:11).
If we consider this world and its culture a battlefield, then we are no match against the power Satan currently wields over this world. No amount of political engagement will save this world from the moral slide greased by Satan himself.
Instead, we are told to fight spiritual battles with spiritual weapons (Ephesians 6:11-18). To learn more, read “How to Put on the Armor of God.”
Should Christians fight the government? If so, how?
The history of human governments has shown that human leaders typically seek their self-interest over the good of the people (1 Samuel 8:11-17). Jesus said that the natural approach of gentile rulership is to “lord it over” their subjects (Matthew 20:25).
(Though this is a general truth, we are not saying that every single political leader governs this way. There are some who have genuinely tried to govern for the good of their people. But throughout history such leaders have been the exception, not the rule.)
Since many governments are immoral and abusive, does that mean Christians should actively resist them through any means possible, including politically?
The apostle Paul wrote that “whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves” (Romans 13:2). The only time a Christian is exempted from obeying civil authority is when he or she is asked to do something that contradicts God’s law (Acts 5:29).
But does the Bible provide us any way we can resist morally corrupt governments and cultures?
Notice what the apostle Peter wrote: “Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men” (1 Peter 2:13-15, emphasis added).
How a Christian should resist the evil in our world is summed up in those three words—“by doing good.” In other words, by our example!
We are to set an example of how the world should be by the way we live our lives.We are to set an example of how the world should be by the way we live our lives. We can’t force people to live morally or change our government to enforce morality. But we can reflect goodness and morality by the way we live our everyday lives.
This was one of the essential teachings of Jesus Christ. He said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
One of the ways we set a good example is by being respectful to all people—including governing authorities and people we disagree with (1 Peter 2:17).
These are remarkable statements, considering that Jesus, Peter and Paul all lived under the Roman Empire at a time when it was dominated by despotic rulers, enslaved thousands of people, perfected torture and levied onerous taxes.
True Christians understand that all human governments will be dealt with at the return of Jesus Christ. He is coming to install a new government over the earth (Isaiah 9:6-7). That is the time when governments truly will be changed. But in the meantime, Christians are expected to live under human governments and model righteousness by their examples.
To learn more about how Christians should relate to human governments, read “Citizens of Heaven Under Governments of Men—Three Principles to Live By.”
A problem with the heart
In recent years, the United States has seen political and legal battles about displaying the 10 Commandments in the public square. Though we strongly support the importance of the 10 Commandments, the question needs to be asked: Will public displays of the 10 Commandments actually change the people and culture?
There is a big difference between merely displaying God’s laws on a monument and actually being spiritually transformed by God’s laws.
Consider ancient Israel. For many years, the Israelites were in possession of the actual tablets of the 10 Commandments written by God’s finger (Exodus 31:18; 34:1; Deuteronomy 9:10; 10:1-2). Yet being in possession of those tablets didn’t make the people moral. The ancient Israelites famously fell into deep spiritual decline and were eventually sent into captivity by the hand of their enemies.
So what was the problem?
The problem was with their hearts.
God described their hearts as “flint, refusing to hear the law and the words which the LORD of hosts had sent” (Zechariah 7:12). The Hebrew word for “flint” refers to a very hard stone. God was saying their hearts were so hard that they couldn’t be spiritually impacted by God’s law. They were hostile toward and resistant to the law of God (Romans 8:7).
As long as a people are rebellious and hard-hearted toward God’s ways, no display of the 10 Commandments—or any other attempt to promote morality—will change them.
So, what’s the solution?
The solution is a spiritual heart transplant—a complete change of heart (Ezekiel 11:19-20). The stony heart has to go and be replaced with a new heart—a heart of flesh that is sensitive to and can be molded by God’s law. This can only occur when someone repents and receives God’s Holy Spirit.
What our people need is to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). This begins with seeking genuine repentance. To learn more about this crucial topic, read our article “What Is Repentance?”
The Bible tells us a time is coming when Jesus Christ will return to this earth and write God’s laws on human hearts (Hebrews 10:16). His return is the only solution to the moral slide of our societies today.
Whose side are you on?
Yet we Christians may feel drawn to choose a side—to choose one political candidate over another or to choose one side of a debate over another. After all, if one side promotes lifestyles that God deems sinful, then those who oppose them must be the good guys, right?
That’s how our minds naturally work: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
But this thinking has some fatal flaws.
No political ideology in any nation is totally aligned with God and His Word.The reality is that no political ideology in any nation is totally aligned with God and His Word. Though some sides may advocate for certain aspects of biblical morality, they don’t support all. The truth is that all political ideologies that try to appeal to religious values pick and choose which biblical principles they advocate. For instance, a political party or candidate may oppose abortion, but take no position against the sexual sin that causes out-of-wedlock pregnancy.
Christians can’t involve themselves in political activism and stay thoroughly faithful to God’s Word. The politics of our world will always force a Christian to choose the “lesser of two evils.” But nowhere in the Bible do we find God urging us to make decisions this way. Instead, Christians should focus on living by “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
This is how Christians can really fight the spiritual decline they see around them.
A third side?
The political landscape of our world generally puts people in one of two camps, liberal or conservative. We see everything in life as us versus them.
But Jesus Christ taught an entirely different way of thinking when it comes to the political issues of this world.
During His ministry, Jesus Christ was confronted about one of the hot-button political issues of His day, taxation. (Interestingly, it remains a divisive issue nearly 2,000 years later.) Some in first-century Judea thought the Jews should just comply with Roman taxation, while others thought they should resist, believing it was wrong for God’s chosen people to pay taxes to an evil gentile empire.
This is precisely where the mind of the Pharisees went when they posed this issue to Jesus: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (Matthew 22:17). There seemed to be only two sides. If Jesus said to pay Caesar, then the Pharisees would turn many of the Jews against Him, saying He was a Roman collaborator and enemy of the Jewish nation. If He said not to pay taxes to Rome, they could inform the Romans that He was a zealot who was leading people against Rome.
Jesus did not take the bait. He refused to align Himself with either side.
He simply asked them whose image was on the coin. When they answered that it was Caesar, He said, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (verse 21).
Jesus’ answer was neither pro-Rome nor anti-Rome. It was neither pro-tax nor anti-tax. It was neither pro-collaboration nor pro-resistance.
Instead, He completely separated the things pertaining to man and the things pertaining to God. He did not insert Himself into the two-dimensional political debate.
Instead, He transcended it by teaching God’s perspective. When it comes to the us versus them political debates of today, Christians can, and should, do the same.
Be on God’s side
When Joshua took the Israelites into the Promised Land, he saw a Man standing with a sword in hand. Joshua asked, “Are You for us or for our adversaries?” (Joshua 5:13)—in other words, whose side are You on?
Instead of choosing a side, the Man said, “No, but as Commander of the army of the LORD I have now come” (verse 14). The being who spoke these words to Joshua was very likely the One who would later come to earth as Jesus Christ. To learn more about Jesus’ identity in the Old Testament, read “Jesus in the Old Testament?”
The Kingdom of God—not any political ideology, liberal or conservative—is the only solution to this world’s problems.He refused to align Himself with either side—instead completely transcending this human way of viewing the world.
The continuing lesson for today is that Christians shouldn’t be seeking human sides. Instead they should transcend human politics and squabbles and align themselves with God’s perspective.
As we continue to witness our world breaking further apart and our societies becoming more divided, it is best to remain firmly entrenched on God’s side and unaligned with any political ideology or personality of this world.
Christians are wise to follow their Savior’s example of transcending this world’s politics. Instead of getting caught up in the us versus them of this world, Christians should put their focus and energy into modeling, proclaiming and seeking the Kingdom of God first in their lives.
The Kingdom of God—not any political ideology, liberal or conservative—is the only solution to this world’s problems.