I was born shortly before Jimmy Carter was elected president. I can’t remember politics playing much of a role in my family during my childhood. The first real memory I have of anything political was in 1992 when Al Gore made a speech at a community college near my home. I went because Bill Clinton had been on MTV (which I thought made him pretty cool) and it meant I could get out of school. I can’t recall anything he said, but I do remember realizing that it was kind of a big deal.
After high school I didn’t get involved in politics like many do in their young adult years. To this day, my main involvement is in praying for my leaders, doing my best to understand the issues and candidates when it’s time to vote, and thinking and teaching carefully about what God’s word has to say about how God means His people to engage in matters of civil government. In other words, because the bible speaks to the issues of civil engagement, government, and voting, I care about those things, but I’m a long ways from being a political junky.
With all of that having been said, though, it seems clear to me that in a time like ours—where virtually everything (including government and politics) is being de-tethered from a Christian worldview—it is especially important for us to learn what it means to think biblically about the issues that are front and center in our society. My aim in this sermon, then, is not to help you impress people with your whit or OWN THE LIBS or counter some mischaracterization of Christians as Trump worshipers or tell you who to vote for. Instead, my aim is to hold up the word of God for you in order that you might be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15) and know what it means to “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution” (1 Peter 2:13).
For all of those reasons, you’re not going to hear alarmist rhetoric in this sermon. You’re not going to hear a call to vote for a certain candidate. You’re not going to hear me say that this is the most important election of our lifetime (even though it might be). Instead, you’re going to hear me try to carefully and faithfully bring the word of God to bear on this election; particularly as it relates to voting in a manner that is pleasing to God and responding in a godly way regardless of the outcome. In other words, the point of this sermon is to answer the question of what it looks like to for us to participate in this election season in a distinctly Christian way. To that end, let’s pray that God would truly open His word for us and His Spirit to us.
CHRISTIANS AND VOTING
This sermon consists of ten principles (with no sub-points! except #7) that, I believe, capture the essence of the bible’s teaching on Christians and voting. For your own sake and for the sake of your neighbors, I invite you to lean into each of them, pressing your current thinking and practice up against them. This isn’t everything the bible says about voting, but it is, I believe, very much the heart of it.
Voting as a Christian means…
1. God’s Word Is Your Guide
It is absolutely critical that we begin here. But this is not only the beginning of our understanding of voting, it is the beginning of a Christian understanding of everything. God’s word is our guide for life and voting.
I’ve covered this point recently—several times—and so I’ll simply restate the point and then share one verse to show you where I get the idea.
The point is this: God has given this world everything we need to know about God, ourselves, and all that He requires of us in the bible. It is our sufficient guide (we don’t need anything else) for living in a manner pleasing to God. Therefore, when it comes to voting God’s word must inform every circle we fill or lever we pull.
And 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is an example of the kind of passage that teaches this.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
The first thing we need to understand about voting as a Christian is that while others may have “common sense” or their parents’ beliefs or their party’s platform or whatever else as their guide, the bible is our highest authority. If you don’t know explicitly what God’s word says about an issue, you cannot vote Christianly on it. Grace, test your every thought (political and otherwise) against God’s Word.
2. God’s Glory Is Your Goal
Much like the last point, we simply cannot miss this next one: God’s word tells us that God’s glory is to be our goal in all things, including voting. And, much like the last point, I’ve covered this several times recently. Again, then, I’ll content myself to give you a foundational verse and then restate the simple point.
“If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:11).
When it comes to Christians and voting we need to vote in a way that will bring the most glory to God. While others might vote mainly for the “greater good” or to limit injustice or to ensure equal rights for all or because they are passionate about a certain issue or candidate, or whatever else, the first and main thing for us is always the glory of God. Grace, everything about your political posture and voting must be aimed first at expressing the fact that God is greater than any of us could ever imagine!
Voting as a Christian means that God’s word is your guide and God’s glory is your goal. These first two points leave us wondering how, specifically God’s word tells us about voting for the glory of God. The remaining eight points are meant to answer that question.
3. Remembering Your True King and Kingdom
To vote as a Christian means remembering that your true citizenship and your true king are not on this earth. By God’s design we are all American citizens and that is good. By God’s design Donald Trump is our president, Tim Walz is our governor, Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar are our senators, eight individuals represent us according to our district, and on a local level we have mayors, counsel men and women, congresmen and women and more, and all of that is good. We need to care about these things. But none of that is first for us as Christians. Our first allegiance is to King Jesus and His kingdom.
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 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).
…Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all)…(Acts 10:36).
… Christ Jesus… is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords…(1 Timothy 6:13-16).
This means that our vote can’t be mainly about blessing and victory on earth. It means that our savior, protector, provider, ensurer of justice, and ultimate authority is not on the ballot. And it also means that we must vote according to the priorities and for the purposes of the one who is, the Lord Jesus Christ. We must not vote as if this is our true home or as if we are electing our true leader. Grace, remember your true King and kingdom when you vote.
4. Understanding the Purpose and Authority of the Government
Though no one in this world is our true King and our true citizenship is in heaven, God has established governments on earth for His good purposes. That’s the fourth principle.
God has established the world such that there are three primary spheres of delegated authority: the family, the Church, and the government. Each sphere has a particular, God-given mission (or purpose) and God-given authority to carry out their mission.
Within the family, God has charged husbands to love and lead their wives as Christ loves and leads the church (Ephesians 5:25) and parents to discipline and instruct their children in the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). He has given parents the authority of prayer (Philippians 4:6), persuasion (Proverbs 22:6), and the rod (Proverbs 13:24) to carry out their purpose.
Within the church, God has given the mission of making disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20). To accomplish this purpose God has given the gospel to proclaim (Romans 10:13-15), elders to rule (Hebrews 13:17), prayer to make spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6), and church discipline (Matthew 18) to save the souls of the rebellious.
And within the government God has given various leaders to promote/commend good (which is different from doing good) and punish evil (1 Peter 2:14), so that its citizens may live quiet and godly lives (1 Timothy 2:1-2). The authority to accomplish this is the sword (Romans 13:4); that is, physical force. In other words, God designed the government to (1) hold back evil and punish it where it breaks through, and (2) create a context where its citizens are free and encouraged to do good.
(I’ve listed the primary biblical texts teach this in the endnotes of the manuscript.)
Practically, this means that we should vote for people and policies that align with God’s design for government. It also means that we shouldn’t vote for or expect our government to do that which is beyond its God given scope. For instance, it is the role of the church to care for the poor, the orphan, and widow (James 1:27), not the government. Therefore, when a political candidate expresses concern for the vulnerable we ought to be glad. But when a candidate promises to use governmental power to do the good God has given to the church we should be concerned. This kind of thing is very misunderstood today. Whenever one sphere steps outside of its God-given mission or authority bad things happen; and we’re seeing that in great measure today.
To be clear, (1) governments exist because God made them and (2) God uses governments according to His purposes. This means that God is the god of government and that we ought to come under it wherever we can as an act of coming under God. Government has no authority of its own, but we need to gladly submit to the authority God has given it; such that, as Romans 13:2 says, to resist the government is to resist God. Voting as a Christian means voting with all of this in mind.
With all of that in the way of a foundation, it must clearly be said that in a country like ours, Christians we must vote. For many years I didn’t believe this and so I didn’t vote. Let me tell you a bit of how I came to think this way and then the simple message and passage in the bible that God used to change my mind.
As a young college student and new Christian I studied political science/philosophy. In one of my classes the professor spent a good deal of time arguing that our individual vote didn’t matter. His reasoning was fairly straight forward. He said two things in particular. First he said that in all probability none of us would ever vote in an election of significance where the election was decided by one vote. That alone means, he argued, that our vote doesn’t truly matter. And second, he argued that the law of large numbers (or averages) means that if 55% of Americans prefer Biden and 45% prefer Trump, it doesn’t matter if 50 million or 90 million actually vote (which means that it doesn’t matter if you or I actually vote), because in the end 55% of whoever does vote will vote for Biden and 45% will vote for Trump. My professor’s argument coupled with the fact that I was pretty sure there was no direct biblical command to vote, led me to avoid the hassle for many ears.
To be clear, my point is not that any of this is right; only that I found it compelling for a number of years. You might wonder, then, what changed my mind.
One day (I can’t remember which election cycle it would have been) I was driving in my car and a Christian radio station was on. Because it was lunchtime one of those way-too-happy pastors came on with one of those way-too-unnuanced one minute sermonettes. I reached to change the channel, but before I could he said something that grabbed my attention. He said that Christians must vote. Having thought a decent amount about this, I stayed tuned to hear his reasoning. Given the shallow nature of these kinds of messages and the fact that I’d pressed on the subject myself, I didn’t expect to be persuaded. And yet I was. He simply read Matthew 22:15-21 and then concluded with the biblical principle he understood it to contain.
Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle [Jesus] in his talk… 17 “Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s (Matthew 22:15-21).
That was the passage and the simple principle is this: Because (as we just saw) governments are established by God and endowed with a particular purpose and authority, God expects us to give to our government whatever it rightly expects of us. Our government rightly expects us to vote. Therefore, Christians ought to vote. Even if my professor was entirely correct, Christians still ought to vote. What’s more, although voting as we vote is an entirely foreign concept in the bible, it seems that God used the confirmation of the Israelites as a part of His process of appointing kings over Israel (1 Samuel 5:1-3). In other words, though the specific practice of voting is missing in the bible, we see the goodness of God’s people being involved in determining their leaders from the earliest days of Israel. Grace, let us vote.
6. Voting for the Greater Good
To vote Christianly means voting not just for your own interest, but for the good of the country (or state or city). This is a key application of God’s command to love our neighbors as ourselves. This might not mean voting for what our neighbors most want, but it will mean voting for what God says they most need.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matt 22:37–39).
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…( Philippians 2:4-5).
The point is that when you vote on Tuesday, voting Christianly means voting for individuals and issues that are good for others as well as yourself. Let us “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:17).
7. Doing Candidate and Issue Triage
This seventh point—voting Christianly means doing candidate and issue triage—is perhaps the most difficult. With the word of God in our hand, the glory of God as our goal, our true citizenship the nature of government in our minds, and the good of our neighbors in our hearts we must vote. But what must we vote for?! Figuring that out is the aim of political triage. Doing political triage is about identifying God’s priorities. Political triage is where we work to find the most important things in the bible and make sure to keep them the most important thing in our voting. In addition to keeping the God-given role of the government in mind (point #4), doing triage well means at least the following three things.
First, political triage is necessary because neither Jesus nor the will of Jesus are on the ballot. We do not have the option of voting for a perfect candidate. Likewise, we don’t have the option of filling in the oval of “God’s will”. Instead, all we have are flawed candidates and, only occasionally a ballot measure that comes close to allowing us to vote directly for a specific issue. Until Jesus returns we will never have a perfect “candidate” so we need to vote for the best among non-perfect options.
Second, we must place the right weight on the right issues. God’s word speaks of justice, racism, abortion, poverty, freedom of religion, family, the environment, law and order, homelessness, euthanasia, marriage, the dignity of all people made in God’s image, the economy, taxes, and immigration, for instance. But it does not speak of all of those things with the same weight or importance. The bible does not place the same importance on our tax rate as it does the lives of the vulnerable and neither should we when we vote. We must know what the bible says about the key issues of our day and how much weight the bible places on them.
Finally, doing political triage means doing whatever we can to understand the candidate’s take on the issues, the candidate’s track record of following through, and the likelihood of the candidate being able to deliver on their convictions. In other words, uniting all of the issues is the character of the candidate. The character of the candidate is what determines their positions on issues, priorities, and their willingness to hold to their convictions in the face of opposition. Our primary concern with character is the candidate’s fear of the LORD, for that is the beginning of wisdom and the disposition that holds everything else in place.
Voting Christianly means knowing what God’s word says about the nature and importance of the issues and the candidates who hold them. And that means making sure that we are rightly prioritizing the things the bible prioritizes.
8. Not Putting Your Hope in the Outcome of the Election
It seems to me that every candidate is trying to get us to believe that they are able to bear the weight of our hope. If we simply trust them, they will fix our every health, relational, financial, legal, and social problem. Christians know that this can never be the case, for no mere man can ever deliver on such promises. Christians vote, then, in full knowledge that should every candidate we vote for win or lose, we stand perfectly secure in the promises of God. Our hope is not in man. It is in the LORD; and neither He nor His kingdom can ever be shaken.
Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken…(Hebrews 12:28).
No matter what happens on Tuesday (or whenever we end up finding out the results), voting as a Christian means knowing that all things (all election results) are being worked out for our good by God. It means hoping wholly in Him as we cast our vote and await the outcome.
9. Making Room For Different Conclusions Among Christians
While certain issues are black and white for Christians, how exactly those issues work out in our voting is not always as cut and dry. Likewise, while a few issues clearly rise to the top for anyone looking to the bible for understanding, not every issue is as clear. For that reason, we must encourage one another to think and pray carefully over the scriptures and then make room for different conclusions, convictions, and consciences among the people of God. That’s the heart of Romans 14.
So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. 13 Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. 14 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean (Romans 14:12-14).
Voting as a Christian means making room for different biblically-based conclusions. Our primary unity is around the fact that Christ Jesus died to save sinners. Our primary unity is around the essential elements of the gospel. Our unity is not primarily around a person’s conviction on tax rates or voting district lines.
10. Praying Earnestly for Whoever Wins and Those with Whom you Disagree
Finally, voting as Christians means praying earnestly for whoever wins and those with whom you disagree.
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people (Titus 3:1-2).
It’s not hard to see that much of this is missing in politics today. That is to say, while civics has been entirely choked out by politics in the world around us, for Christians, civility and political disagreements are not mutually exclusive. God calls us to respect and pray for the office even if we struggle with the person holding it and those advocating for him or her. Likewise, God calls us to listen carefully and lovingly to our neighbor—to treat them with “perfect courtesy”—wherever possible. May we stand out not only in our positions, but also in the way we respond to those who see things differently (inside and outside of the Church).
Voting as a Christian means God’s word is your guide, God’s glory is your goal, remembering your true King and kingdom, understanding the purpose and authority of the government, voting, voting for the greater good, doing candidate and issue triage, not putting your hope in the outcome of the election, making room for different conclusions among Christians, and praying earnestly for whoever wins and those with whom you disagree.
Let us all turn from our sin and look to Jesus. Let us give ourselves to all that God has called us to in this visible kingdom, even as we acknowledge that in Christ, our tue citizenship is in heaven. Amen.
iFirst of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good (1 Peter 2:13-14).
Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his talk. 16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s (Matthew 22:15-21).
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed (Romans 13:1-7).
Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people (Titus 3:1-2).