This election season is a good time to remember that the Christian life is a paradox.

Take, for example, the question of where our citizenship resides.

The apostle Paul once warned that “no soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits” (2 Tim. 2:4), and he insisted that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20). This sounds like a single citizenship with only a heavenly zip code.

However, the same apostle Paul also declared that he was “a citizen of no obscure city” (that is, Tarsus) and avoided torture by appealing to his Roman citizenship, which gave him certain rights and prevented certain actions from the Roman authorities (Acts 21:39; 22:25-29). Paul knew that his fundamental identity was “hidden with God in Christ” and that he was to set his mind on “things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:1-3), but he also knew that he had earthly obligations and rights and that they were not insignificant.

Or, we can ask: Which city should we care about?

“Here we have no lasting city” (Heb. 13:14). Like Abraham, we look “forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10).

And yet, as “sojourners and exiles” (1 Pet. 2:11) we are commanded to “seek the welfare of the city . . . and pray to the LORD on its behalf” (Jer. 29:7).

And so the paradox goes.

We are not to be of the world—but we are sent into it (John 17:15-16; cf. 1 Cor. 5:9-10).

We must always be on guard to be transformed by the word—instead of conformed to the world (Rom. 12:2).

We are to keep ourselves “unstained from the world” (James 1:27)—and yet we must taste and shine like “salt and light” (Matt. 5:13-16) to a dark and rotting culture around us (cf. Phil. 2:15).

It is true that “this world is not our home,” but it’s not true that “I’m just passing through” like a leisurely amusement park ride.

We are dual citizens, responsible and active members of both God’s spiritual kingdom and earthly kingdom. And if we seek to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and strength—and to love our neighbor as ourselves—then we should care to some degree about politics and elections and the role of government in our land.

Caring Too Much

Yes, some of us can care too much.

The political junkies among us follow every field poll and breaking-news alert and instant-debate analysis and breathless report on the latest pseudo-scandal, always craving our latest fix.

We find ourselves tempted to believe the worst about the candidates we disdain and to look the other way when our preferred candidate stretches the truth.

When our candidate loses the debate, we’re not just disappointed but depressed. And when our candidate wins, we feel unusually elated and expressive.

There’s a reason that 1 John ends rather abruptly: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” We all are tempted to idolatry and we all need to be warned against it. “Some trust in chariots and some in horses [and some in political candidates], but we trust in the name of the LORD our God” (Ps. 20:7).

Caring Too Little

And yet others of us care too little about politics.

Some argue that we should be invested in evangelism or preaching or social justice instead of politics. But most of us can care about both. Let me offer two reasons why we, as Bible-believing, gospel-centered evangelicals, should care about politics at varying levels and degrees.

First, we care about politics because we care about God’s glory and God’s good gift.

Everything is designed to be from God and through God and to God (Rom. 11:36)—including our government. Everything we do—from drinking our coffee in the morning to having a sandwich for lunch to voting at the booth to serving as an elected official—is to be done for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). There is an objective and a subjective dimension to God’s reception of glory. As C. S. Lewis once said:

You will certainly carry out God’s purpose, however you act, but it makes a difference to you whether you serve like Judas or like John.

Why not serve and vote and work to move things in a more God-glorifying direction?

It is easy to despair about our government, especially in a time when the protection of life and the pursuit of liberty are being undermined. And it’s not wrong to feel frustration, especially when it is not going according to it’s God-given design. But we must never forget the goodness of God in instituting this system in our fallen world. God has appointed our rulers (Rom. 13:1-2) for our good (Rom. 13:4), and we are to respect and honor them (Rom. 13:7). (Before you object, don’t forget what the rulers were like when this was written!)

Government is a gift from God, designed to promote and protect good while serving as a deterrent to that which is bad (Rom. 13:2-4). One of the reasons we are to pray for our rulers is so that government will function in such a way that we have the sort of conditions that allow us to live godly lives (1 Tim. 2:2).

Second, we care about politics because we care the good of our neighbors and the good of our country.

If you have to choose between evangelism and politics, choose evangelism. Saving an eternal soul is more important than fixing a temporal need. But most of the time, we don’t have to choose. And just because something is not ultimate does not means it is unimportant. Martin Luther King Jr., speaking from personal, painful experience, put it well:

While it may be true that morality cannot be legislated, behavior can be regulated.

It may be true that the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless.

It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me but it can keep him from lynching me and I think that is pretty important, also.

There are more important things in life than politics. It’s easy to become an idolatry. But it’s also easy to be too apathetic. As the Lord leads, let us commit to letting our politics be shaped by the gospel and informed by the word of God as we prayerfully work to become informed and to fulfill our roles, seeking the good of the city even as we wait for the city to come.

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16 thoughts on “Dual Citizens: Getting Oriented during Election Season”

  1. Mark says:

    Thanks a lot… This is almost exactly my sermon for Sunday… Now anyone who reads your blog will think I ripped it offline! Good stuff…

  2. Seth Fuller says:

    I appreciate the article. What in your mind would ‘caring about politics’ look like in a practical sense? Besides voting, what other ways do you see as God-glorifying involvement in the political process?

  3. Blane says:

    What issues determine how we vote? Are there key issues that determine who we vote for? Do moral issues override others such as economic ones? Also, is it ever right to not cast a vote?

  4. Dean P says:

    “Besides voting, what other ways do you see as God-glorifying involvement in the political process?”

    Great question Seth! In my experience venturing outside of just the realm of voting has made it a lot easier for my heart to drift towards partisanism and then just straight up party idolatry. Not that this is the case for everybody, but for me it has always been very easy for me to slide in that direction.

  5. Len says:

    And here’s where the conflict lies, along with the question of what REALLY is good for both our neighbors and country: “Why not serve and vote and work to move things in a more God-glorifying direction?”

    Which direction is this? Left? Right? Middle?

  6. DavidY says:

    I’m quite surprised that you included the quote, “While it may be true that morality cannot be legislated,” without commenting on how contradictory that statement is.

    All legislation is somebody’s morality. A law that says that murder is wrong is somebody’s morality. A law against theft is somebody’s morality.

    Saying that morality cannot be legislated is equivalent to saying that there should not be any laws.

    1. CG says:

      David makes a good point. Even the smallest, most insignificant regulations are technically moral statements, codified in legal format.

  7. Aimee Byrd says:

    God sovereignly rules over his civil kingdom by the natural law written on everyone’s heart and by his common grace. Saying that morality can’t be legislated is saying that the law cannot make someone a “moral” person. We know right from wrong, and the civil law helps protect that.
    This dual citizenship is such a good point. And as we realize this, we can benefit our unbelieving neighbors even more. Our citizenship to God’s spiritual kingdom (ruled by his saving grace) affects our citizenship in his civil kingdom. Now we can truly serve our neighbor out of gratitude and love, trusting in God to do his work. We don’t work to earn our salvation, or the salvation of the world. Christ has already done this.

  8. RyanA says:

    I appreciate and recognize your thoughts on why Christians should take part in the political process, however, I think that there is reason for concern in this stance. By voting for a representative I am supporting the political and social system as well as associating myself with that representative. Since unfortunately politics revolves around compromise, that representative will enact or allow things that are directly opposed to God’s heart and character. I see no way in which this is glorifying to God. I could then argue that in other areas the representative is enacting laws glorifying to God, but is that truly how we wish to proceed?
    Additionally, it is important for Christians to see the nation-state (any of them including the US) as a powerful idol that attempts to pull the allegiance of man from God. Nations are not benign entities that remain passive toward things that compete for the loyalty of their members, nations DEMAND loyalty to them. The people of the church ought to fear association with the nation-state.
    In other words, voting to increase God’s glory is based on the assumption that the government is “ordained” by God and therefore we should take part. I would argue that government have been used by God, but this does not mean that we should attempt to control it. At a deeper level, this assumption that voting is glorifying to God is based on the insidious individualistic, “rights” oriented culture to which we as Chrisians are to represent an alternative.
    In all, I appreciate your article and hope that my thoughts have not been taken as anything other than a dialogue between people seeking to follow God.

  9. Brad says:

    “There are more important things in life than politics.”

    You probably should have left it there, Justin.

  10. John says:

    Why not serve and vote and work to move things in a more God-glorifying direction?

    This is one of the more disturbing things I have ever read on this site.

  11. Jed Paschall says:

    Justin,

    There’s a lot to commend in your post here, I think you are offering a very balanced 2 kingdoms approach to Christ and culture matters here. Hopefully more of this can catch on in TGC circles. My only question after reading your piece is what you mean by having the gospel shape our view of politics. Could you briefly elaborate?

    I only ask because typically we view the gospel as the work of Christ on behalf of sinners to bring salvation to them. I would personally opt for a robust understanding of Natural Law to shape the this world matters such as politics, and the gospel to shape our hope of the world to come. But, I could be missing your meaning here.

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Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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