Of What Spirit are We?
“When the days drew near for [Jesus] to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way, they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ But he turned and rebuked them, and said, ‘You do not know what spirit you are of, for the Son of Man has not come to destroy the lives of human beings but to save them.’ Then they went on to another village.” (Luke 9:51-56, NRSV)
This has been a heart-wrenching week, as the deep divisions within American political society boiled over into riot. We all witnessed images we never dreamed we would see. For the first time since it was burned in 1814 by the British, our U.S. Capitol building was inexcusably invaded, pillaged, and vandalized. For a certain fringe, political protest crossed the line to lawlessness.
Throughout the United States, millions have grown to distrust our political system and doubt the integrity of our voting, despite the lack of evidence for widespread voter fraud. There are fringe elements on both sides of the political spectrum that believe an apocalypse will occur if the other side wins an election. Our colorful and long national history proves this incorrect.
Many hold their political beliefs passionately on one side or another. It is natural to want to express those beliefs passionately, as well – that is part of our American democratic system of free speech and self-determination.
As Christians, we should be reflecting a different perspective as we engage with what is going on in our country. Our faith should affect our beliefs and actions. We should reflect the spirit of Jesus in the public square. As Jesus reminds his disciples in the passage above, it is important to know “what spirit we are of.”
When I was a youth, my parents reminded me regularly to be aware of what family I was a part of, and that my actions would reflect on our family. It motivated me to act in agreement with our family’s values and priorities.
In the same way, as part of Jesus’ family and filled with his Holy Spirit, we are called to act in agreement with his values and priorities.
Jesus came “not to destroy the lives of human beings but to save them.” That must be our priority: offering Christ to the world by our words and our actions. Elections are important. But “the kingdom of God is not going to arrive on Air Force One,” as columnist Cal Thomas wisely reminds us. As passionate as we can be about political issues, we are called to be even more passionate to win people to Jesus Christ and help fit them for eternity.
For starters, when Jesus’ disciples wanted to respond violently to those who rejected them, Jesus rebuked them. Christians should renounce violence and coercion of a personal nature, such as what we witnessed in the lawless Capitol vandalism.
Paul was further concerned that Christians live and act in such a way as to open doors for sharing the Gospel with our friends and neighbors. He taught that we are to live, “so that the word of God may not be discredited” (Titus 2:5). He encouraged Titus to be a model for the people in his Christian community of how to speak and act in ways “that cannot be censured; then any opponent will be put to shame, having nothing evil to say of us” (Titus 2:8). We are to act in “complete and perfect fidelity, so that in everything [we] may be an ornament to the doctrine of God our Savior” (Titus 2:10).
Our lives are to attract people to Jesus, not repel them. That’s why it broke my heart to see people with Christian signs and symbols among those attacking the Capitol.
We also need to be careful that political ideology never overshadows our theology – our beliefs about, and relationship with, God. “Jesus is Lord,” is the ancient credo of the Church. That definitive statement makes it clear that nothing else should hold lordship in our lives. Putting anything except God in the place of supreme importance in our lives makes that thing an idol.
Many of us face situations of principled disagreement, and the discord can run so deeply that compromise either is or appears to be impossible. That is how we as traditionalists have felt for nearly 50 years dealing with the progressive theology that seems to overwhelm The United Methodist Church. But it is crucial that we always respect the process. We need to work for change or to promote our views within the established laws and rules. Otherwise, we have anarchy, which is destructive to the fabric of our relationships, whether it is in the church or in our society.
We believe principled, peaceful work for our views, whether religious or political, honors Christ and the church. We would hope that our political leaders and the citizens of our great country would also resolve to work together for a better day with great determination and with a true appreciation and respect for our democratic process.
What can we as Christians do now?
1) We can pray for our country and our leaders, especially during this time of conflict and transition. “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:1-4). We can pray for unity and for healing, for mutual understanding and a new ability to work with others across our differences for the good of all of us, and for the sake of the Gospel.
2) We can be grateful for the resilience of our nation. We have weathered wars, pandemics, and remarkable instances of injustice. We are all in this together. It is essential for us to work together to foster the good of all, especially the poor and marginalized in our society and those hurt by the pandemic. If we can work together in areas where we have common ground, our energy can go toward building a better nation.
3) We can declare, once again, that Jesus is Lord. We can repent where necessary and recommit to putting Jesus first in our lives, no matter what government we have. If Christians in China can thrive and grow in their faith despite an oppressive government, we can surely do that in the U.S. with our far-better system assuring our freedoms.
4) We can strive to speak and act as representatives of Jesus in all things. The way we carry ourselves represents Jesus to the world. It’s been said that you and I are the only Bible some people will ever read. We can make the Bible of our lives a winsome and attractive one, leading people to draw nearer to the God who loves us all so much that he gave his life for us despite our being at enmity with him. Surely, we can do as he did.
We live in a difficult and challenging time. Crisis after crisis has beset us personally and nationally. But in the words of Mordecai, “Who knows but that you have come to your position for such a time as this?” (Esther 414). We have been born to this time in order to make a difference in this world for Jesus Christ. By his grace and the power of his Spirit, we will do so!