As a Christian in the United States I and the other believers living here have been spoiled. We have enjoyed, for the most part, a relative freedom to believe, worship, and encourage others to join us in our faith. Most of us have taken these freedoms for granted. Some see the recent rulings by the US Supreme Court as a direct affront to those freedoms. Christians are deeply divided over these recent events, with people on both sides attacking the veracity of the faith of those on the other side.
I have been deeply disturbed by many of these recent events, including many of the responses. I’ve asked myself the question, How would Jesus respond if He were living in our culture? What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus today? And what is a godly response when your faith conflicts with government or culture? Where is the line between throwing stones and caving in?
As clear as my beliefs are about the same-sex marriage debate, that’s not what this post is primarily about. I’m looking at something deeper. Issues of justice, religious freedom, and sexual ethics are important. But we must remember that they are not the only important issues, and perhaps are not the most important at all. When Jesus was here on Earth He was most concerned about the state of the human heart. (Matthew 15:19) It’s right and proper for His followers to be involved in social issues, and the Bible has a lot to say to inform our position on those issues. But we must never forget what God’s first priorities are.
For U.S. Christians who faith conflicts with government actions in recent days, remember that most people throughout history and those who are alive today are living or have lived under governments that are not friendly to God’s ways. Actions by any human organization, including the US Supreme Court, “can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth.” (2 Corinthians 13:8) Nothing about God’s kingdom has changed. The US Supreme Court cannot change marriage any more than it can change the kingdom of God.
Whether you live in the US or anywhere else in the world, these things are true when your faith conflicts with government:
- The gospel is not limited by government. Peter and John called before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:5-7, 13) or Paul appearing before Caesar (2 Timothy 4:16-17) were only instrumental in spreading the gospel farther. The early church was often severely persecuted, but that only resulted in more believers. In nations where the gospel is restricted today there are frequently thriving, albeit underground, groups of followers of Jesus spreading the kingdom of God.
- God prioritizes the heart. We easily create a hierarchy of sins, and congratulate ourselves if we aren’t struggling with those we consider the worst among them. What would be our reputation as Christians if we were just as vocal in speaking against greed, hatred, and lust as we are against the more visible sins? (Galatians 5:19-21) It’s not that those visible sins aren’t important: it’s that God looks first on the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)
- “Fear God. Honor the king.” (1 Peter 2:17) The New Testament makes clear that believers are to respect civil governments whether they are godly or not. (Matthew 22:21, Romans 13:7) These directives were made to believers living under pagan Rome. Their taxes went to fund purely evil enterprises. The only exceptions are when governments attempt to force acts that would directly disobey God. (Acts 5:29) When that happens, God honors our suffering for His sake. (1 Peter 3:17) Cultures and governments who do not honor God’s ways eventually reap the results of what they sow. For those of us who live under a representative government, we are also obligated to use every lawful means we can to shape the nature of our culture and nation.
- Our attitudes, words, and actions matter for God’s kingdom. Jesus was often silent on matters of social conflict. When those opposing you are only seeking to stir up a fight, silence may sometimes be the wisest course of action. When God specifically calls you to do something, or when you have no choice but to speak or act in ways that are counter to culture or government, your attitude will make a bigger difference than what you say or do. Others will easily be able to tell whether you are responding out of anger, hate, or pride. An attitude of humility and grief is likely to be more effective for God’s kingdom. (Matthew 23:37)
God has never been, and is not now, limited by human institutions. Man or woman, slave or free, rich or poor, circumcised or uncircumcised, married or single, weak or strong – His call to each one in every generation is the same: “Follow Me!” It is to Him that you, I, and every human being will one day be accountable. (Romans 14:12)
If you want to know what to do in response to recent events:
- Spend some time on your knees. Don’t assume God is calling you to join one particular “side” until you hear His voice clearly. Don’t base your decisions or actions on popular opinion or knee-jerk feelings.
- Check your attitude. Whatever you say or do, make sure it’s not for the purpose of personal gain or to stir up controversy. Courage and clarity is called for: anger, hate, and pride are not.
- Remember God’s kingdom. What you do and say, don’t do or don’t say, and more importantly how you do so, will have an impact. Do all you can to make sure it’s the impact God wants you to have.
I’m calling my own heart, and yours, to remember that “His truth is marching on.” How we follow Him is the only thing that will ultimately matter.
Your Turn: How do you respond when your faith conflicts with government or culture? Do you think it’s a godly response? Leave a comment below.
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