How Should Christians Vote?
As we in the United States quickly approach yet another “most important election of our lifetime,” tensions are running high, and we, who are eternally bound to one another by the blood of our crucified Savior, are finding ourselves divided over so many poignant problems, popular politicians, and polarized political parties. And when these passionate divisions arise, the Devil is always pleased to take our side, ever so tenderly assuring us that wherever we happen to be standing is the side of righteousness and that those who stand on the other side of whatever line we have drawn must be pretenders and could not possibly have anything to do with the true Church. What makes such assurances all the more powerful is that they are not entirely without Biblical grounds. If we are indeed born again and led by the Spirit of Christ (1 Cor. 6:17, 12:4-13, Eph. 2:18, 4:1-5, Php. 1:27-2:2 ⟴), ought we not expect to agree with one another, and all the more so on issues of great import? How then ought we understand these divisions, and having understood them, how should this affect how we vote and how we view those who vote differently from us?
Before I address voting in particular, I think it important to consider how such sincere differences in belief and action are both possible and even helpful within the Body of Christ. When a man is saved, he is not saved out of a vacuum, but out of a very particular amalgamation of life experiences and state of spiritual decay. God has begun in him a process of regeneration which will at first slow, then arrest, and eventually reverse the rot that sin has left in him, restoring him in the end to full, unblemished health. But at the moment of his salvation, he is a spiritual corpse whose particular state of disrepair cannot help but have consequences in how he understands the world. Perhaps his eyes have rotted out, but his ears, by God’s grace, are relatively sharp, whereas his brother can see well enough, but is all but deaf to the world around him. And perhaps neither of them have regained their spiritual sense of touch, while a third brother has neither sight nor hearing but is somehow able to feel. If the Church is merely the summation of so many dead men slowly being restored to their proper spiritual function by the continual work of the Holy Spirit within them, then we cannot expect that every member of this Body should be able to see or hear or feel the world around them as a healthy member would (Eph. 2:1-10 ⟴). Thus, though their hearts have been restored, so as to enable in them a common faith and experience of Christ, they will inevitably perceive the world in different and sometimes conflicting ways. They themselves are incomplete and cannot help but see the world through the lens of their shortcomings (1 Cor. 13:12 ⟴).
Yet in the midst of their incompleteness lies an unprecedented opportunity to learn to love one another. Just as Christ came to us while we were dead in our sins and helpless before a holy God (Rom. 5:6-11 ⟴), so He has placed each of us in a particular position of advantage in respect to our fellow Christians, that we might exercise whatever spiritual gifts or advantages He has given us to aid our fellow members in those areas where they are weak or helpless (1 Cor. 12 ⟴). He expects us to do in some limited sense what He has done for us in a far greater and unlimited sense, pouring that life which He has poured into us into one another and thereby overcoming our individual frailties and inabilities through our reliance on those members who are strong where we are weak and capable where are impotent (Rom. 15:1-3, 2 Cor. 12:7-10 ⟴). Were we all upon our conversion instantly made complete in our various senses, we would have no real need to love one another. But in order that He might make us complete in love, God has left us incomplete for a time in our spiritual senses, that we might have cause and occasion to love one another.
Now as long as we are lacking in one sense or another, we are dependent upon others to compensate for us in what we lack. And because all of us will lack in some manner or degree in this life, we will always be dependent upon the Body of Christ to aid us in living well. We can apply this reasoning to any area of Christian living, but in regard to the question of this chapter, it is particularly important that we apply it in the realm of ideas. Even the wisest and most knowledgeable of us does not have a complete picture of what is or ought to be and is capable of being enlightened by the unambiguous musings of the simple. How much more so then can we who are simple benefit from the sight of the wise and the understanding of the knowledgeable? If God has so gifted certain men, then we should be quick to avail ourselves of their insight. On the same note, if we fancy ourselves the wise ones, then we should be even quicker to listen to brothers and sisters whose compassion or empathy or kindness might inform our view of the world in ways that our own hearts cannot presently fathom. No man who has been made alive with Christ has any excuse for going life alone, and should he try, both he and those whose weakness his strength was meant to complement will suffer the consequences of his pride.
What does this mean practically? It means that, in all matters, we who claim Christ ought to be in constant, respectful conversation and personal contemplation regarding our differences. We should not adjust our beliefs just for the sake of compromise or the appearance of unity, for this would be dishonest—we cannot force ourselves to believe that which our hearts have not already been prepared to accept—but we should listen to one another in humility, knowing that we are not where we ought to be and expectant that God would use some aspect of our dialog with one another to change us. And we should want to change. A Christian who does not experience a lingering dissatisfaction with his present standing in life either believes that he has already arrived at that Heavenly perfection promised him at the resurrection or has contented himself with those sinful inclinations that he would have to crucify in order to attain it. Though every soldier of Christ needs his rest and, by God’s goodness and grace, can look forward to times of refreshing on his journey to Calvary (Luke 14:27, Acts 3:18-21 ⟴), he dare not allow himself to become comfortable on the field of battle lest he bare himself to attack. To the contrary, he must actively pursue whatever discomfort His King requires of him, that by it he may grow to be the man God would have him to be in days ahead. Whether we want this change or not, every one of us needs it and stands to benefit from listening to those who in good conscience hold differing views.
Speaking of differing views, all of us have them and hold them to one degree or another. When we sit next to each other in church or enjoy social activities with one another in the middle of the week, we may get the impression that we are all in perfect agreement, which may in turn grant us a sense of unity and peace, but in reality we have simply not made time to interact with one another enough to understand just how divided we are on certain matters. Elections and the like provide us opportunities to see just how varied our thinking can be on certain subjects, even within the local church, and we should not hesitate to embrace these challenges when they come, for real Christian unity is built on knowledge, understanding, and tolerance—not ignorance or the false sense of security which so often accompanies it. We do not debate one another to justify ourselves, but rather to justify Christ within us, proving His love both by the content of our speech and our manner and sharpening one another to better discern His truth (Pro. 27:17, 1 Th. 5:11, Heb. 3:12-14 ⟴). In whatever aspects of belief we differ, this should be our aim.
In view of this goal and the attitude in which Christians are called to approach their disagreements, how ought we individually conduct ourselves in these discussions, so as to arrive at God-honoring conclusions, which will in turn lead us to God-honoring actions?
First of all, we must be open to correction from God’s Word. If I disagree with someone as a result of where my own errant speculations or passions have led me and am given clear Scriptural justification for abandoning my present stance, I have no appeal. I must either move or stand condemned. If in my blindness or ignorance my conscience has come to approve of something which God has condemned, I dare not rationalize God’s Word so as to conform it to the sin which still clings to and influences my conscience, but rather I must discipline my conscience through faith so as to conform it to God’s Word. If Scripture is not clear on a particular matter, I may do well to stand my ground, at least until I have had time to clarify my thoughts on it and seek God’s direction. But if, in my honest reading of Scripture, I understand that God has spoken on a particular matter, either directly or by way of implication, then I am bound to obey His ruling or suffer the consequences of going my own way. If my conscience permits what He has forbidden, it is not because God has released me from obeying His law by some special allowance, but because my conscience has yet to be fully healed from the ravages of sin and is an untrustworthy foundation for human action.
This last thought is something that we must be careful to keep in mind as we go forward. Just because my conscience does not object to a particular thought or course of action does not, therefore, mean that it is good or true. Nor does my conscience’s insistence that I go one route over another mean that doing so would be wise or helpful. The fallen human conscience, operating within the intricate context of a complex, morally confused world, should never be taken as a measure of what is right, nor should it be relied upon to direct us in paths of righteousness, for such is the place of God alone (Ps. 5:8, 23:3, Is. 42:6-7 ⟴). My only assurance, when following my conscience within the bounds of God’s expressed Word, is that God, who judges me according to my heart’s intent, will not condemn me for choices made in faith, however foolish or misdirected they may be or whatever unfortunate consequences may arise from them.
Consider what Paul has to say regarding matters of conscience in Romans 14:1-9:
Accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls—and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
One person regards one day above another. Another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God. And he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself, for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
He shortly thereafter continues:
Let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. Therefore, do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil, for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then, we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats because his eating is not from faith, and whatever is not from faith is sin. (Rom. 14:13-23 ⟴)
A few points here are worth noting.
First, though we may be called to serve one another, we belong to God. Only He, who knows the intent of our hearts and the wanderings of our minds, is our master and is capable of judging us justly. We have neither the insight nor the right to judge one another, particularly when it comes to the finer details of the unique path that God is using to lead us out of our particular shade of darkness and into His light. We cannot expect that other believers will instantly see clearly regarding matters which we ourselves have taken years to fully comprehend or which we were already predisposed to understand. God moves each of us along the path of sanctification in His own time and way. We are not called to move other believers, but merely to tend the road by which God is leading them to Himself and see that it remains clear of obstacles. The power to move men to godliness, whether in heart or intellect, belongs solely to God.
Second, our believing something in good conscience neither makes it true nor renders our belief in that thing free of adverse consequences. God told Noah and his sons, “Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything” (Gen 9:3 ⟴), and Jesus Himself pronounced all foods clean (Mark 7:19 ⟴). Paul suggests that no day is in itself special or to be regarded over any other (Gal. 4:8-11, Col. 2:16-17 ⟴) and agrees with Jesus that drinking wine is perfectly permissible, even for the godliest of men (John 2:1-12, 1 Tim. 5:23 ⟴). Those who strictly refrain from drinking wine or eating certain sorts of food or who hold one day as more important than the next as a matter of conscience are said to be “weak in faith.” They are acting as best they know how to please God, given their present growth in Christ, but they have not yet accepted the reality of things. And, though they do not sin by acting according to their consciences as their present state of maturity requires, Paul’s hope, as expressed in so many of his letters, is that they should move towards maturity, becoming stronger in their faith so as to embrace the world as it is.
Third, until that moment when our faith becomes sight and we reach full maturity in Christ, we must bear with one another in love, acting out of deference to each other in reverence to Christ and for the good of the Body. “If we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” We are living sacrifices to our God (Rom. 12:1-2 ⟴), and to live sacrificially for Him is to live sacrificially for one another, removing any stumbling blocks in our brother’s way, inasmuch as it is in our power to do so and building up those who are weak, that their ailing consciences may be strengthened by God’s truth.
Bearing these points in mind, my tendency at this point is to breathe a sigh of relief. Because God is the Judge and Redeemer of every man, I am released from the weighty obligation with which I sometimes saddle myself when I try to become these things in someone else’s life. And because I am not bound by the consciences of others, I understand that I am free to do as I wish according to my own conscience without fear before God.
Yet just as I begin to relax in these thoughts, it occurs to me that I have made a very subtle, selfish error in the latter that is all too common among Christians, leaving them exposed and vulnerable to Satan’s attack. Perhaps the error is already apparent, given my preceding comments, but in case it is not, let us draw it to the surface by asking some related questions. Is a thing good because my conscience permits it? Is it true because my conscience demands it? Is it harmful because my conscience forbids it? From the passage above we know that a thing may be good or harmful for me in particular based on where I am in life, but that does not mean that the thing is good or harmful in itself. And clearly, the truth of a thing has nothing whatsoever to do with my belief in it. My conscience neither guarantees that I am acting in truth nor in goodness, but only provides bounds in which I am free to act in accordance with my present understanding of the world without incurring guilt before God, provided that I am acting in faith. It is entirely possible for me to act in good conscience and in the same motion act foolishly and in a manner that will lead to significant setbacks in my walk with Christ. How then can I think that I am free to do as I wish? Am I not a slave of Christ (Rom. 6:18, 1 Cor. 7:22 ⟴)?
My concern here is that many Christians, including myself at times, like to conflate the idea of freedom of conscience with the notion that they are free to follow the desires of their heart. In one breath, they affirm with Jeremiah, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick. Who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9 ⟴), and in the next they act as if their own heart is a sufficient guide and eagerly follow it to the bounds of conscience and beyond. The scenario is much akin to a near-sighted driver, who has misplaced his glasses, speeding confidently along a highway. He can barely see where he is going, yet it does not occur to him that he might be headed the wrong direction until he smashes into the railing or plunges into a ditch. Our aim as Christians should not be to follow our hearts until they break us against the bounds of conscience, but to stay the course which God has set for us and of which only He has clear sight. If we are not constantly seeking Him to live our lives in His presence from one moment to the next, then no matter how wide our road may be at a given stage of life, we will surely find our way off of it.
Ironically, though we have an innate tendency to go our own way in the name of freedom, the mature Christian understands that the further along he travels with the Savior and the more his road narrows, the greater his freedom becomes. He can eat, drink, and worship as he wishes—not because God has loosened His standards on the man’s outward behavior, but because He has tightened His grip on the man’s heart, such that he sees more clearly and his wishes more and more align with His own nature. And equally ironically, the more clearly the man himself comes to see, the more fervently He trusts God to be His sight, for He knows that it is only through the eyes of his Creator that he will come to know the boundless freedom of selfless love. Earthly men seek earthly freedom. They find the narrow road to Heaven repugnant and take every opportunity to turn from it. But Heavenly men seek Heavenly freedom, and the longer they walk that narrow road to Heaven, the closer to the stars they find themselves and the more muted the earthly things which they once treasured appear in comparison.
I say all of this simply to say that it is not enough that we Christians act in good conscience, for if we act in good conscience but do not also act in faith, we sin, for “whatever is not from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23 ⟴). Faith requires much more of us than merely staying in bounds of a desensitized or, at best, imperfect conscience. Faith is not merely a rejection of those things which presently lie beyond the bounds of conscience, that we might run aimlessly about therein, but the active pursuit of the perfect person of Christ, through whom those bounds are steadily drawn in and conformed to love. It is running with purpose and passion towards a very particular end while daily preparing oneself for the morrow’s trials so as not to be prevented from achieving it. If such is faith, then we are not free to do as we wish in good conscience, but are rather compelled by faith to seek Christ relentlessly in all that we do. When we fail to seek Him in faith, we sin, regardless of whether our conscience has been wakened to life enough to feel the flames of our failure.
Some may think that I am splitting hairs by this distinction, but Paul clearly hints at it when, in spurning human judgment, he writes, “I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted, but the One who examines me is the Lord” (1 Cor. 4:4 ⟴). Thus he concedes that a clear conscience is insufficient grounds for establishing one’s innocence before God. Men are no more fit to examine themselves truthfully than they are others, and their unawareness of sin in a particular matter does not mean that they have not sinned therein, nor does it mean that they will not later be awakened to their sin and the guilt with which it has burdened them. Only he who acts in faith to please the Lord can be assured of his innocence before God (Rom. 14:5-9, 1 Cor. 10:31 ⟴). Where faith does not coincide with good conscience, we have no such assurance (Acts 24:14-16, 1 Tim. 1:5, 18-19, 3:9 ⟴).
I suspect some examples may be helpful in fleshing out my meaning on this point. Allow me to offer a couple.
Suppose that I am engaged to the woman of my dreams and have come to quite enjoy kissing her as the opportunity presents itself. Suppose that I understand the act of kissing her to be not only permissible but an important affirmation of my affections for her and something that God would have me do not only for my sake, but for hers also. If I kiss her with the Creator of our relationship in mind and in view of the selfless love that He instills in us a little more with each kiss, then every kiss becomes an act of faith. It is not only permissible, but the path by which she and I together pursue Christ. But if my focus drifts from Christ to my own pleasure as a single kiss gradually progresses to an extended series of kisses, increasingly accompanied by inappropriate, sexual touch, then regardless of how oblivious I am to this drift due to the numbness of my conscience, I have fallen into sin by the very thing which I had previously used to honor God. I may still be acting within the bounds of my conscience, but I am faithlessly following the desires of my own sinful heart, and whatever is not of faith is sin.
As another example, suppose an attorney is called upon to defend a man whose guilt has already been determined by the court of popular opinion and, because this attorney has already convicted his client in his heart, he is lax to perform his job as he ought. He may feel perfectly justified in his negligence or even think of himself as performing the world a service by hastening the man’s encounter with justice. Yet, though his conscience does not condemn him, he is guilty of sin. Had he acted in faith, his awareness of the true Judge’s watchful eye over his own soul would have prevented his premature judgment of his client and would have led him to assemble a proper and honest defense that exemplified the impartial, righteous judgment of God rather than following after the roar of the crowd. When men judge as if seated in God’s throne or fail to pursue truth out of a love for God, they do not act in faith, and whatever is not of faith is sin.
I could offer many more examples, but I believe these illustrate the point. It is quite possible for our fallen consciences to approve of that which faith condemns. Therefore, the test of all human action for the Christian is not whether it falls within the bounds of conscience, but whether it results from faith, and this is precisely what Paul describes in the passage above. The man who in good conscience eats or refrains from eating only because he wishes may well be in sin, whereas he who eats or refrains from eating out of faith is justified before God. The former act, more often than not, is an offering of worship to the self, whereas the latter is an offering of worship to God. If we wish to stand before our holy God, then we must resolve to lay aside every idol that our hearts muster and worship God alone. We must resolve to act in stalwart, intentional faith, which draws us into our Creator’s presence and pursues His pleasure rather than our own. Only then shall we be safe from sin.
Now if such things apply to human action in general, then they must also apply to how we choose our leaders. How should the principles that we have discussed thus far in this chapter influence how we vote?
The most important rule is this: voting must always be an act of worship offered to God in faith, or it is sin. I do not see any exceptions to this rule. Either we shall serve God by our vote or someone else, and we cannot serve two masters. Now this is not to say that we cannot have anyone else in mind when we vote or that we should not be mindful of our own concerns any more than God’s command to love Him above all else prevents us from loving our neighbors or loving ourselves. To the contrary, when we love God first above all else, that is when we love our neighbors and ourselves most truly. In the same way, when we act with God’s pleasure as our highest priority, subjecting all else to His service, that is when we best serve the pleasure of both our neighbors and ourselves in the long run. This is why Jesus instructs His disciples, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Mat. 6:33 ⟴). He does not tell them to seek God’s kingdom only, but first, for if all created things are “from Him and through Him and to Him” (Rom. 11:36 ⟴), then they are best served when serving God. Thus, if we wish to benefit ourselves, our neighbors, our future countrymen, and all the world, we must vote with His service as our highest aim and subjugate all other considerations to this end.
But if we are to please God by our vote, then we must vote in faith, not merely according to our conscience. “Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb. 11:6 ⟴). If God is not at the center of our thoughts and the foundation and focus of our intent when we vote, then we are not voting in faith, but according to our own wayward desires, in which case our conscience’s lack of offense—far from being an indication of godliness—only testifies of how far we have fallen and how much we have yet to grow in love.
Given the immense stakes of an election and the considerable complexities and passions involved, I suspect that even the most faithful Christians may struggle to understand themselves when they vote. Perhaps they tell themselves that they are voting out of a love for God when, in fact, they are only voting for a candidate out of personal disgust for his opponent or because they have slothfully accepted false reports about one or both of the candidates that portray them dishonestly or because they fear conflict with friends and family and have conceded to their political stances for the sake of peace. How can a well-intentioned follower of Christ be certain that he is voting in faith and not merely following after his own passions? The problem lies in our tendency for idolatry, so allow me to offer some guidelines that I hope will help us clear the way of our most beloved idols and focus us on God.
First, we should vote in humility. If we think much of ourselves, we will most assuredly think much of our own opinions as well and will tend in turn to dismiss others’ perspectives without giving them due consideration. Not only will this attitude further any divisions that we may have with those on the other side of a particular issue, but it will deny us whatever insight we might otherwise have gained from a civil exchange. Thus, we should always assume that those who oppose us, however unwise or immoral they may seem, have at least some shred of insight from which we would benefit for their having been made in God’s image, and we should then proceed to love them well enough to find it out. This is not to say that we should minimize or ignore the gifts of wisdom and insight which God has given us through His Spirit, for such humility would be false and would mean lying to ourselves. But we would do well to remember the God whom we serve—a God who is able to speak wisdom through a stupid, stubborn ass (Num. 22:21-41 ⟴). If he can do this through a donkey, He can also do it through an enemy created in His image, and if through an enemy, then also through a friend. In all of creation, we must be attentive to listen for His counsel, that upon hearing it we may honor it in our life and actions.
Second, we should vote as an offering to God. God called upon Israel to offer blemishless sacrifices in all that they set upon His altar, and He Himself offered up His blemishless Son for our sake. We should bring our vote before Him with no less seriousness, regardless of how unpleasant or even painful the act may be for us. We must be firmly convinced that we are giving Him our best, understanding that when we vote, we are not offering up a candidate, but every moment of our lives that we have invested in vetting him, thoughtfully considering his positions and their long-term impact, and praying for God’s guidance. God has not called our candidate to be perfect, but us (Lev. 19:2, Deu. 18:13, Mat. 5:48 ⟴), nor does He approve of our vote because we feel good about casting it (Jer. 17:9 ⟴). To the contrary, if we say that men are sinners yet feel no tension in elevating one of them to rule over us, then it is likely that we are voting for our own idealistic caricature of a candidate rather than the man himself and that any peace that we experience in choosing him comes not from God, but from our own naive hope that the candidate will live up to our expectations. Only that vote which has been thoroughly scrutinized for defect through concentrated reason, prayer, and love is suitable to be cast. If we cannot vote in service of Christ, we would do better to abstain.
Third, we should vote in view of the new creation (2 Pet. 3:10-18 ⟴). Everything that mankind has built or will build will all too soon be undone. When we vote as Christians living in the United States, our concern should not be for the survival and success of our country as a thing in itself, but as a vessel for the propagation of God-honoring principles, embodied, however imperfectly, in the lives of its people. As the American people turn from God and forsake their country’s founding principles, they hollow it of everything that makes it worth preserving. And when only the superficial husk of its ideological greatness remains, it will collapse, just as every similarly great nation before it. One day, the United States will end. Our place as voters then is not to preserve by our vote the outward appearance of a united body, whose foundations for unity have long since eroded, but to preserve those critical, life-giving organs that individually feed and further our diverse growth as one nation under God, using whatever crude implement we must in order to excise the decay of godlessness. If the jagged edges of a particular politician are necessary to this unpleasant task, then we may preserve our country for another generation by electing him. But no matter whom we elect, we shall not preserve it forever. Only the nation which God Himself makes will ultimately endure (Gen. 12:2, 1 Pet. 2:9 ⟴).
Fourth, we should vote in service of our fellow man (1 Cor. 10:24 ⟴). As emotional and tense as elections can be, I suspect that, though many of us tell ourselves that we are thinking of others and that we are good people as we attempt to justify ourselves in whatever stance we have taken, we have not used our vote to serve them, but have instead used the idea of them to serve ourselves. We think about them only insofar as we must to feel good about ourselves, but not so far as is necessary to actually do them good by the policies that we espouse. We are content to feel like caring people rather than following the much harder and more time-consuming course of becoming caring. If we are to serve others by our vote, it is not enough for us to support policies that merely sound compassionate. Instead, we must support policies that accord with Biblical principle, even when they sound rather harsh and arduous on their face, for our goal is to strengthen our neighbor, so that he can help both himself and others—not to “help” him to death, as is the effect of so many of today’s “compassionate” policies. Such a course may not offer us the mindless, emotional reward that we would get from pursuing popular compassion, and it will surely set against us a great many, whose sense of virtue is indistinguishable from their own self-importance, but it is the hard path of love, and for our neighbor’s good, we must not hesitate to walk it.
Fifth, we should vote as a redeemed people. Like the slaves whom Moses freed from Egypt on their way to the promised land, Jesus may have freed us from sin, but we know that we are not yet where we ought to be. We know that God can change people but also that He does so gradually and by many an unlikely means. So when we look at other sinful men, rather than condemning them for what lies behind them, we should direct our attention to the path which lies ahead of them. We ought not be so naive as to think that they will follow it perfectly or without some taint of their past dragging along behind them and should do our best to think well of them when they stumble on their way, for we would wish no less of others when they look at us. We should be less concerned with all the specifics of their current surroundings than with the direction in which they seem to be headed. Are they coming out of their past evils or only circling around to plunge back into them? If the former, then we would do well not to condemn them, lest we condemn ourselves in the process. If we deal with all men in this manner, then we should approach choosing our leaders in the same way. It is not our place to condemn any candidate, regardless of his political leanings, but rather to discern as best we can where he is heading and, hence, where he is likely to lead us—and to do so as best we can without regard for his past, except in such cases where some specific aspect of his history is relevant to his present course. By the grace of God, no man is bound by the failures of his past, and we must vote in a way that honors God’s ability to redeem even the most vile of our number.
Sixth, we should vote in view of men’s fruit. This principle applies to all men, but it is especially important when we are dealing with politicians, who so often rely on smooth words and clever turns of phrase to conceal the reality of who they are and to make themselves appealing to people captivated by outward polish. We cannot know what is in a man by how he looks or what he tells us. Paul warns us, “Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore, it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds” (2 Cor. 11:14-15 ⟴). Appealing talk means nothing if not fleshed out in action (John 7:24, James 2:14-26, 1 John 3:18, Titus 1:16 ⟴), for it is a man’s deeds which reveal him for who he is and for which God will judge him (Mat. 7:17-20 ⟴). Though God is the sole Judge of man, we are called to be wise and discerning of good and evil in one another (Mat. 10:16, 1 Cor. 5:11, Heb. 5:12-14, 1 John 4:1 ⟴). We are not judges, but we are called to make judgments about those with whom we associate and in whom we invest power, and we are to make these judgments based upon the fruit that a man bears in how he lives. And given that we live in a fallen world where every man’s fruit is tainted by sin’s decay, we should always prefer the candidate whose actions most nearly accord with those of a godly man, however ungodly he may seem to us.
Finally, we should vote as servants of truth. Given the narrative-driven nature of our society and the pervasive reach of modern media in all of its various forms, this point is perhaps the most difficult of all to put into practice. How can we pursue truth as God sees it amid a self-infatuated world bent on affirming the veracity of its own visions? How can we distinguish the story of what is from those told us by secular, self-aggrandizing men, who care only for their own name and cause? First, we must understand the power of a lie. Satan did not bring man down by direct assault. Rather he mixed the slightest falsehood with the truth that God had given him, that out of man’s distrust of God might spring covetousness, and out of his covetousness the new god of self. Mankind plunged himself into darkness and death because he elevated the counsel of his own heart over God’s Word, and he did this on the basis of a lie. Because lies directly target our ability to trust, they are the most dangerous threat to our faith and the favorite and most fundamental tool of Satan for leading men astray. But just as the lie paved the way from man’s innocence to every other sin, so in the truth lies the way to his salvation. Jesus says, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32 ⟴). If truth is so vital to our welfare, then we must direct all our energies at discovering it, regardless of the pain and humiliation involved. We must reject the comfort and security afforded us by mindless agreement with popular sentiment and test all things by God’s Word (1 Th. 5:21, 2 Tim. 3:16-17 ⟴). If we are not intentional in all areas of life to pursue the truth, we will fall to the lie.
These guidelines, of course, are not exhaustive, but I do believe that they provide a helpful lens through which to evaluate our would-be leaders as well as our own hearts as we take on the heavy responsibility of voting. And I should hope that they also drive home the point that, like all acts of faith, voting in faith—far from being merely an impulsive indulgence of our emotional leanings within the bounds of a sin-numbed conscience—involves our intentional pursuit of God on every front of our souls which has yet to come under His rule. Our passions are a part of us and cannot help but fuel our decisions in one way or another, but if they are not processed through the God-informed engine of faith, not only will they fail to launch us into the heavens, but they will leave us burned and wrecked on the earth.
So if you vote, do not do so merely because you can or want to, but because you believe that God would have it of you, for voting when God would have you to abstain is sin. And when you vote, do not vote for the man who presents himself as “presidential” or otherwise sophisticated, for you will inevitably end up voting for your impression of the man rather than the man himself. Instead, vote for the man who by his actions will best serve the interests of God and His Church.
Many Christians, for example, could never vote for a candidate who condoned abortion, since they believe that doing so would make them complicit in the deaths of the innocent. If God has drawn such a line in a man’s soul and he is certain that it is from God and not a product of his own self-righteousness leading him to make distinctions where God has not, then he would do well not to cross it. Faith for him is to abstain. On the other hand, though I consider all abortion murder and find the practice utterly abhorrent, I would not see myself as any more or less complicit in my candidate’s advocacy of abortion than I would any other evil that he pursues while in office. My place, as I understand it, is not to elect someone who measures up to whatever arbitrary standard of righteousness I have decided upon for the day, but to actively seek out the man who will do the greatest good or the least damage while in office. So if I have a choice of two candidates, both of whom favor abortion and the latter of whom favors the forced redistribution of weatlh, then I will vote for the former, for God’s purposes are better served by having men keep what they earn, so as to have the opportunity to love one another through personal giving, than to have their love of neighbor outsourced to the government through legal confiscation. For me, to abstain under such circumstances would be a dereliction of duty. Despite my disagreements with my favored candidate, my faith demands that I vote or be guilty of sin.
It may be difficult for us to understand, coming from our particular places in life, how God can be just as pleased with a stance that we have taken in faith as He is with our fellow believers who oppose us. But we must understand that His pleasure is not in any stance in itself, but in where the faith that has caused us to take that stance will eventually lead us. He is concerned that we love Him and that we prove that love through faithful obedience. Every worldly issue over which we now divide will eventually fade, but our love for Him and for one another will only grow stronger. Those who are strong in faith are aware of this. They do not defer to the weak in faith as a concession of truth, but as a concession of love that will ultimately strengthen the weak and draw them into the truth, just as they themselves were once drawn. Never did the Devil devise a cleverer trick than to use truth as a means of preventing our loving one another. We must not give him this victory by looking down on those whose faith has taken them a different route from our own.
At the same time, truth is truth, and in this life there will always be those who are further off from it and those who are nearer to it in some aspect of their belief. There will always be those who are objectively weaker in their faith and those who are objectively stronger. If we consider ourselves strong, then we should be all the more patient and loving towards those who appear weak—or if we cannot be these things, then perhaps we have reason to doubt our strength. If we find that we are weak, then we have all the more reason to open ourselves to those who are stronger and seek to see the world from a more mature perspective. But whether we consider ourselves weak or strong, we know by faith that this life is a journey and that none of us have yet arrived at our destination. Only the dead never venture from their place of rest. If ours is a living faith, it must move us. And if we belong to Christ, then more and more we should find ourselves participating in the unified motions of His Body on earth. In the end, whether you vote in faith or abstain in faith, live in faith for the pleasure of God and the good of His Church (1 Cor. 10:31, Col 3:23-24 ⟴), loving God and neighbor in all that you do (Mat. 22:36-40 ⟴). With such things, God is always pleased.