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Where Do You Pledge Allegiance?
“Jesus said to them, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they marveled at him.” — Mark 12:17
If your neighborhood looks anything like mine in this season, it is full of lawn signs endorsing various political candidates. The “Lawn Sign” has become a modern symbol of our democracy. This phenomenon is so common throughout our country that recently, a popular comedian released a viral video depicting two Christian neighbors with very different partisan views. Each morning, as an act of their “patriotic duty,” they tried to one-up the other by placing dueling lawn signs in their front yard. This duel lasted for days until there was no space left on either of their lawns, and eventually, one neighbor, so fed up with the other, moved from the neighborhood. This type of political polarization among those whose calling is to be brothers and sisters in Christ is not too far from the truth. While humorous, this creative video tells us a much deeper story about the human heart.
To be clear, lawn signs, in and of themselves, are harmless. For most people, they are simply a common sense, low-cost way of sharing with others our support for a particular political candidate or issue. Praise God that in America, we still have this type of freedom. However, for some, they reveal something far deeper within our hearts. They act more like a sacrament of worship than a symbol of our freedom of political expression.
For those of us who know the Bible, this should not be a surprise. Human beings are wired to worship. We have been designed by God to pledge our allegiance to someone or something. Once we have given our hearts to a particular person or pursuit, our time, talent, and treasure will soon follow. No one knows this truth better than the one who created us, God. As our creator, He knows that the questions are never, “Will we worship?” It is simply a matter of, “Who will we worship?” Right worship is directed to God alone and shows our desire to see Christ glorified in all things.
Once we have given our hearts to a particular person or pursuit, our time, talent, and treasure will soon follow
Whenever we place our hopes for fulfillment or social salvation on someone or something other than Jesus, that person or thing becomes an idol. Idols demand the total surrender of our affections and require our worship. One of the undeniable effects of the Fall (Genesis 3) is that you and I are idolaters at heart. Sadly, our tendency to transfer our trust and allegiance from Christ alone to people or earthly pursuits is the dominant theme of human worship. Our sinful nature produces shortsightedness that causes us to become impatient with the Lord’s redemptive plan for our world, and instead, we tend to exalt the creature over the creator and look to the government to take the place of God.
The promise of the Gospel is that Jesus comes to deliver an idolatrous world from our idolatry. When we place our faith in Him, He saves our souls, captures our hearts, and restores the right worship to our lives. God warns His covenant people Israel with these words,
“I am the Lord your God…You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:2,3).
God is jealous for the hearts of His people, and He knows that our constant temptation is to over-amplify the good things He has made, like government, to a place in our life that they were never intended to occupy.
History has proven that we who profess faith in Christ often struggle to have single-hearted devotion to God. Arguably, one of the greatest competitors for our hearts and our worship has been the politics of this world. We see this throughout scripture. In 1 Samuel 8, we see Israel rejecting God’s theocratic rule and instead begging Samuel the prophet to “Give us a King to Judge over us” (Vs. 6). Later in that verse, we are told that this request displaced Samuel and, no doubt, the Lord.
One of the greatest competitors for our hearts and our worship has been the politics of this world
Early Christians were not exempt from the lure and temptation of looking to earthly politics to bring about their salvation either. Jesus’s dialogue with His disciples in the opening stanza of Acts 1 reveals a group of men who were hoping that Jesus would disrupt the balance of political power in their day by displacing Caesar and establishing Himself as Emperor and Israel back to a place of governmental dominance (Acts 1:6). But, this was far from Jesus’s plan. What they had missed and we are often blind to is that Jesus’s mission was spiritual and that His redemption would not come through earthly political upheaval. Instead, the salvation that Christ brings comes as we bear witness of His grace to our neighbors, networks, and the nations (Acts 1:8).
This does not mean that Christians cannot or should not engage in civic affairs. On the contrary, we are stewards of His grace in every sphere of life. However, we must guard our hearts with all diligence from political idolatry.
Scripture forbids us from allowing the partisan politics of this world to define our identity. As God’s redeemed people, we are in Christ. Our political engagement must be tempered by the reality that salvation will never fly in on the wings of Air Force One. Since we are His Ambassadors, we belong to a different Kingdom, and our ultimate hope is in our eternal King Jesus. Mark 12:17 offers us two very powerful truths that, when understood, can guard our hearts against falling prey to political Idolatry.
1️⃣ The first truth is that, while it is permissible for us to give Caesar our taxes and our vote, we are never permitted to give Caesar our hearts. Jesus reminds His followers that the politics of this world only has a limited claim on our lives. America is blessed to have a tradition of limited government codified into our founding documents. Our Founders recognized and affirmed that ultimately the allegiance of the human heart is pledged to God alone. Correctly understanding and applying this truth allows us to “Speak the truth in love…” (Ephesians 4:15) to our politicians, which is one of our primary obligations to them as disciples of Christ. Our political leaders need us to offer them both grace and accountability. We should never fully endorse all of their actions, nor should we withhold our appreciation for the things they do to uphold what is virtuous and true. A failure to give them either grace or accountability, regardless of their party affiliation, is a sure sign of idolatry of the heart. We can neither dismiss their failures or refuse to acknowledge their good deeds as we evaluate their governance. Only when we give our hearts to God and not Caesar can we provide those who govern us with the grace and accountability they need.
2️⃣ The second truth found with Mark 12:17 is that we will reflect the image of the person who owns our hearts. Notice that Jesus rightly asks, whose image is on this coin? The answer was Caesar’s image. Why was this true? It is because the coin belonged to Caesar. The text begs us to ask a second question, “whose image is on us?” The right answer is God’s. Genesis 1:26 tells us that God made us “…in His image and after His likeness.” Since we belong to God, we should reflect His image in our actions and attitudes. Peter tells us that God calls us to “Be holy because HE is holy” (1 Peter 1:16). Without question, we will take on the image of the one that we “belong” to. One way to know who owns your heart is to answer the questions, whose image am I reflecting in my political engagement? The answer to this question reveals if we are becoming more like Christ or more like our civic discourse that grows more polarizing and vitriolic each day. Is your political engagement marked by the fruit of the Spirit or the spirit of the age?
A divided church will never reach a divided worldName of Person
My friends, you need to remember that our spiritual enemy desires nothing more than to see the Church divided. He loves when Christians exchange their call to love their neighbors for the temporal victory that comes from placing dueling lawn signs in their front yards as a way of antagonizing one another. However, God’s will is for you and me to live as salt and light in a hyper-polarized, hyper-partisan culture. Never forget a divided church will never reach a divided world. My prayer is that our political engagement in this season will reflect the ultimate hope that we have in Christ and our unwavering commitment to love God and our neighbors fully.