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Cart before horse
Magazine Article

Getting the Political Cart Before the Christian Horse

When we place our hope in rulers to bring substantive change in a nation, we too often forget that we must have a people with changed hearts before we can as a people dwell in a changed nation.

  • Byron Snapp,
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"And he did right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father Uzziah had done; however he did not enter the temple of the Lord. But the people continued acting corruptly." (2 Chr. 27:2)

So writes the inspired chronicler as Jotham replaces his recently deceased father, Uzziah, on Judah's throne. I was struck, as I read this passage recently, by the difference in his desire for righteous law and the people's desire to pursue wickedness. Many of the people, no doubt, were familiar with that incident in Uzziah's life. Proudly, he entered the Lord's temple to do what God had appointed the priests to do burn incense unto the Lord (2 Chr. 26:16). The holy God struck him with leprosy. He remained a leper until he died. He even had to occupy a separate house. Thus, the writer notes that in this aspect Jotham did not follow in his father's footsteps he did not enter the temple. Yet, in spite of this very visible reminder that God is a holy God and that we are to obey God, as evidenced in Jotham's life, the citizens preferred wickedness. Surely this is a lesson for our day. We hear many cries today for a righteous ruler. The desire among many in each election is for a President to be elected who will oppose abortion and homosexuality and stand for family values as set forth in Scripture. If such a President were elected (and I wish for this myself) would this change our nation?

No, not according to this passage. Yet we do not have to stop here. Scripture provides a number of other similar illustrations. Moses led a people who refused to enter the Promised Land. God would have given them the victory. They gave in to democracy and believed the false report of the ten spies rather than the accurate report of the two. They refused to follow the righteous leadership of Moses. Thus, "the Lord said to Moses, 'How long will this people spurn Me? And how long will they not believe in Me, despite all the signs which I have performed in their midst?" (Num. 14:11). That generation was destroyed over the next 40 years in the wilderness. Of course, the best example is that of the Lord Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Readers are familiar, no doubt, that He came unto His own yet His own did not receive Him (Jn. 1:11).He wept over Jerusalem because they would not come unto Him in faith and repentance (Mt. 23:37-39). Prior to His crucifixion, the people cried out for Barabbas' release ("a notorious criminal," Mt. 27:16) and for the innocent Jesus to be crucified. Matthew tells us that the crowd was persuaded to make this decision by the chief priests and the elders (v. 20).

Jesus was not just good. He was without sin. He was God's eternal Son. Yet that was not acceptable to the multitude. They wanted a king who would throw out the Romans from Israelite territory, not One Who would overthrow sin and its reign in the territory of their heart.I do want to stress that there is nothing wrong with wanting, working for, and voting for rulers who will rule justly. The problem arises when we place our hope in such rulers to bring substantive change in a nation. We too often forget that we must have a people with changed hearts before we can as a people dwell in a changed nation. We can easily eye the physical (what we can see) and overlook the spiritual (unseen) needs of a nation. Following Jotham's rule, his wicked son, Ahaz, reigned for sixteen years. He did great evil in God's sight. I would imagine he was a more popular king than his father, who sought to please God. Christians cannot allow a desire for a changed nation to supersede the need for changed hearts. As hearts are changed, change will also flow into society as Christians live out their faith.

We must never think that we are doing God a favor by using the Lord's Day to campaign for Christian candidates. The Lord's Day is not a day to put sample ballots on car windshields in church parking lots. It is a day to worship the One Who holds even the king's heart in His hands (Pr. 21:1). It is a day to worship the One Who can change hearts and grant man faith and repentance (Eph. 2:8-10). It is not a day to "press the flesh" in an attempt to impress our fellow churchgoers to vote for our candidate. Our prayer life is not to be so filled with asking God to give our candidate the needed votes among the populace, that we have no time or thought to pray for God's Spirit to work in the hearts of the lost around us.

We must be mindful that Satan can use over zealousness for a political cause or candidate to his advantage. By focusing on the prospect of the change the right elected officials can bring to a society, it is very easy to endorse a liberal theme that the state is the citizen's messiah or savior from a conservative perspective. We can place our security and hope in political change to produce the fruit that can only grow among a multitude that has had a spiritual heart transplant. By working overtime for political candidates, we can neglect evangelistic opportunities. "Christ," "Calvary," "the cross," and "conviction of sin" can be seldom used words in our vocabulary, having been replaced by such words as "victory" and "voting." By neglecting open doors for the gospel, we overlook the very path down which true change comes.

As God raises up good candidates to run for office, let us not lose sight of the fact that civil government is but one facet of government under God. We must never forget the importance of self-government that comes from a heart made new through salvation and its application to the individual's life. Once this change occurs, then we can expect to see change occur in family government and, yes, even in civil government itself.

  • Byron Snapp

Byron Snapp is a graduate of King College (B.A.) and Reformed Theological Seminary (M.Div.). He was Associate Pastor at Calvary Reformed Presbyterian Church, Hampton, Virginia, from 1994 until his retirement in December 2014. He is a native of Marion, Virginia.  He has had pastorates in Leakesville, Mississippi, and Gaffney, South Carolina.  He served as Assistant Pastor in Cedar Bluff, Virginia prior to his ministry at Calvary Reformed. He has served as editor of the Presbyterian Witness and was a contributor to A Comprehensive Faith and Election Day Sermons. He is currently a member of Westminster Presbytery in the PCA. He and his wife Janey have 3 children and several grandchildren. 

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