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New eBook: Thinking Theologically about Racial Tensions

New eBook: Thinking Theologically about Racial Tensions

Our elders recognize that there is a need to offer biblical instruction on the topic of race. This is not because we believe that we are demonstrating sinful thoughts or attitudes on this topic as a church. Not hardly. Our purpose is not corrective but instructive. This topic—filled as it is with human beings, human history, and human conflict—deserves nothing less than our best biblical thinking in order that we might honor Christ as Lord in our conversations with one another and with our neighbors.

Here’s how pastor Kevin DeYoung put it:

As Christians, we should always be eager to reason carefully and winsomely from God’s Word. While I don’t believe every controversial issue surrounding race in this country is theological in nature, I do believe that every culture-wide conflict is bound to have a number of theological issues at its core. The issues in the early church may have looked like practical disagreements about meals and food and ceremonies, but the apostle Paul saw in them the most important issues of the gospel. Paul always brought his best theology to bear on the most intractable problems facing his people. We ought to do the same.

We concur.

With that commitment in mind, last summer DeYoung set out to help the church honor Christ as Lord on the topic of race in a series titled, Thinking Theologically about Racial Tensions. DeYoung teaches at Reformed Theological Seminary and pastors at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He’s a pastor and a scholar devoted to sound doctrine for God’s glory in the church. DeYoung and Christ Covenant Church were kind to allow us to put this material into an eBook for you as a means of instructing you in the Word.

Download the eBook with an introduction from Heritage’s elders.

 Here’s how DeYoung set up his series:

Over the coming weeks I hope to explore several theological issues related to our ongoing racial tensions. I fear that we are going about our business in the wrong order. We start with racial issues we don’t agree on and then try to sort out our theology accordingly, when we should start with our theology and then see how racial issues map onto the doctrines we hold in common. Good theology won’t clear up every issue, but we might be surprised to see some thorny issues look less complicated and more hopeful.

Lord willing—and with the caveat up front that this list could change as we go along—I’d like to write about three topics over the next month: The image of God, Sin and guilt, Life together in the church. In short, I want to explore how Christian anthropology, hamartiology, and ecclesiology might encourage, confirm, clarify, and correct our thinking.

Working from the Scriptures, DeYoung published several articles. Read these articles alone or with a friend. We wrote an introduction from our elder team and drafted some questions to help you along. The questions are provided at the end of each section. We hope they help.

If you’d prefer to read this material on the web in its original article form, here you go:  

For many of you these articles will be a tall glass of water, refreshing and clarifying your understanding with the Word of God in a way you’ve longed for. Jesus always speaks as one having authority and when we give ourselves to his Word we grow all the more to trust him. For many, these pieces might feel heavy. We’d encourage you to work through them slowly, but to work through them nevertheless. For all of us, this is a good exercise in slowing down to think God’s thoughts after him in order to live faithfully as Christians.

May this equip us all to be more faithful to our mission: to preach the gospel to any person at any time at any place. May this famously difficult subject be an entry point for us to speak the good news to a world that needs good news.

For the elders,


Your Journey Through The Psalms: Where to Begin

Your Journey Through The Psalms: Where to Begin

Editorial Comment: Mark Centers is a member of our Preaching Cohort, a small group of pastors and preachers in training that meets monthly to work on the preaching craft. He is also an Elective class teacher on Sundays. This year the group is working on preaching poetry with a focus on the Psalms. Mark presented some excellent work on the Psalms and so I’ve asked him to write a series of posts for our church to help us better understand and employ the Psalms. —Trent


If you’ve been in church long enough, you’ve probably been told to, “open your Bibles to the book of Psalms, right in the middle of your Bible.” Measured by chapters, Psalms is the longest book in our Bibles so it’s not hard to find. In it are the prayers, hymns, and laments of our ancestors to our great God. It’s filled with familiar lines that we rightly recall: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,” or, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (1:1; 23:1). But whatever you might think of the Psalms individually, they were compiled as a book. In this and several follow-up posts I want to help you hear the overall message of the book of Psalms.

As we begin, let’s get a common misconception out of the way. The Book of Psalms is not a hymn book. It is filled with songs of various kinds, yes, but it is not organized like our hymnbooks and not all of the Psalms were sung. It is a five-part story that chronicles the rise and fall of the Davidic dynasty (Books 1–3) while calling the nations to join Yhwh (Book 2) and mourning the “failure” of the Davidic covenant (Book 3). But this story does not end in despair. Book 4 takes the reader on a journey back to the roots of authentic biblical Judaism, while anticipating the deliverance of the world by David’s greater Son—marked by the return of the King, the Messiah (Book 5).

Enter at the Gate, Look Both Ways

As with any unified work, it begins in a very deliberate way. Psalms 1 and 2 act as the introductory gateway into this story. Imagine yourself beginning a hike through the vast forest of the Psalter—but in order to find a clear path into the heart of the woods you must first pass through a massive gate. The gate is supported by two hand-carved posts. The left post represents Psalm 1, the right post Psalm 2.

The word “Blessed” is clearly carved into the top of the left post (Ps. 1). Under this word you see two men, one walking a path to destruction and the other walking away towards a tree. The tree is carved in the center of the post. The tree is healthy, fruitful, and full of leaves. Underneath the tree a great river that never ends supplies life to the tree. The last image at the bottom of the Psalm 1 post is a court room scene where God sits as Judge. All those who are his stand with him, and those who do not stand with him are blown away like chaff.

You turn to examine the right post (Ps. 2). At the top is etched a congregation representing the world’s elite deliberating on how to break free from God and his Messiah. This deliberation is cut short with the laughter of God from heaven. In the middle of the post, you see a king with the full authority of heaven in his hands accompanied with this announcement: “I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.” The Son is given the nations as his inheritance and commanded to exercise dominion over the whole earth. The final carving is a concise warning to all people, but especially the world’s elite: “Pay homage to the Son, lest he be angry and consume you.” At the very bottom of the right post, we see the King on his throne with people all around him with this same word again—blessed.

Look Out for These Two Themes on Your Journey Ahead

These dual themes of the fate of the righteous and wicked, and the authority of the Messianic King are woven through this deliberately ordered anthology of the Psalter. The author of Psalm 1 and 2 purposefully introduces these dual themes for you. As you pass through the gateway into the forest of the Psalter, these images from the pillars will pop up again and again as a reminder of the bigger story. Always anticipate the juxtaposition between the righteous and wicked and the hope in the coming Messianic King.

In the next blog post on the Psalms, we will take a fast-paced journey through the 5-book arrangement. We will look for these themes, and we will see how the book of Psalms tells a story.

Reading the Bible in 2021

Reading the Bible in 2021

The original title for this post was, “Reading the Bible in 2071.” I mistyped the date. But then, that’s actually how we are so often tempted to approach Bible reading. It’s something we’ll get to later. That’s where habits come in. When we build out a regular pattern of doing just about anything, it becomes more natural, and dare I say, easy. When it comes to Bible reading, a reading plan can help.

Remember Jesus’ words, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). He was talking about himself! You don’t need to read the Bible in a year, but in 2021 you can certainly read the Bible regularly if you haven’t. The New Year is a great opportunity to decide how you’ll do that.  

At the risk of overwhelming you with options, here is an overwhelming number options. At least you’ll know there’s no one-way to read the Bible every day. Browse around a bit and pick something that seems doable and encouraging:

  • Chronological Reading Plan: Reading God’s Story: A Chronological Daily Bible, by George Guthrie is a unique resource. This Bible is published with a one year daily reading plan in mind, ordering the Biblical material chronologically along the Bible’s own narrative framework. George Guthrie has also published a one year chronological Bible reading plan, Read the Bible for Life.
  • The M’Cheyne Plan with Daily Devotional Commentary: For the Love of God is a two volume series of books written by D.A. Carson providing daily reading to supplement the M’Cheyne reading plan. This plan, named after its designer and Scottish minister in the 1800′s, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, takes you through the Old Testament once and the Psalms and New Testament twice in one year. Four readings are assigned to each day, but you can easily approach this with two readings a day and spread it across two years. 
  • Several Places A Day: Crossway’s Daily Bible Reading Plan is available as a PDF form to print out for a series of bookmarks. This plan gets you through the Bible in a year, reading from several different places in the Bible each day. Crossway has published 10 reading plans to supplement the ESV, including RSS, email, audio, and print versions daily. Also, the Discipleship Journal “Bible Reading Plan,” by NavPress, takes you through the entire Bible by reading from four different places each day.
  • Just a List of Chapters: The Bible Reading Record, by Don Whitney, is a simple list of every chapter in the Bible. With this, you can read at whatever pace you like and keep track of what you’ve read until you’re through the Bible. This, of course, wouldn’t necessarily be a one year plan, but it could be. To get through the Bible’s 1089 chapters in a year, you need to read an average of 3.25 chapters a day, which comes out to about four chapters per day if you commit to reading five days each week.
  • A Plan for Following God’s Redemption Plan: The Bible Eater is a simple one-page print out with a list of every chapter in the Bible and a reading pattern. Print it out and cross off chapters as you go. This plan highlights the Bible’s chapters that are especially significant for grasping the Bible’s storyline centered in Christ.

If you need some help reflecting on some of the spiritual dynamics involved in our struggle to read the Bible, check out Ryan Kelly’s article, “How’s Your Bible Reading Going?.” For some encouragement in the formation of some new habits like Bible reading, pick up a copy of David Mathis’, Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines.

Thanksgiving, 2020

Thanksgiving, 2020

Thankfulness isn’t the banner most of us would naturally fly over 2020. Only a few things come to mind: a pandemic, violence, and an election season that exposed so many of our nation’s contradictions. Even Thanksgiving is at least legally curtailed for some brothers and sisters in other states. 

But I’m not writing to rehearse reasons why we might not be thankful. I’m writing to give thanks and to do so out loud in front of you. I know you well enough to know that you are not shaken or pressed down or unhappy or unthankful. You are a thankful people and thanks is on your lips. But I know your computer screens well enough to know you need to hear someone speak words of thanks before you and over you. Best I can tell, that was part of Paul’s strategy to strengthen a church a little worn down with trouble. So, after some meditation this morning on thankfulness in Paul’s letter to the Colossian church, here four reasons I’m thankful today.  

1. I’m thankful for your faith, love, and hope

That may not sound like a terribly pithy way to start into a blog, but it is a profound reason for thanks today. It’s how Paul began his letter to the Colossian church, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven” (Col. 1:3–5). It’s also on the top of my mind today. Seeing things you don’t is one of the blessings and difficulties of pastoral ministry. But the blessing part far outweighs the difficulties. I see your faith growing as you inquire about the Word. I hear about your love for one another in countless ways as our elders talk and pray and report to one another. And I am reminded of our shared hope as you struggle through every kind of suffering, and kinds we didn’t see coming these past many months. All of this is a reason to “[give] thanks to the Father who has qualified you” for salvation (1:12).

2. I’m thankful for your faces 

Yes, some of these will be a play off of the themes of our unforgettable year. And no this is not a statement about mask science or the need for some to isolate. I really am genuinely thankful for your faces. I’ve been reflecting on this a bit lately and I think it needs some more reflection from all of us. The Apostle Paul recognized that some of his readers had not seen him face to face, “For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face” (Col. 2:1). On the one hand, he struggled for the saints at Colossae, whether he had seen them face to face or not. On the other hand, he had to acknowledge that second group because perhaps they would not assume it. In other words, face to face encounters are the norm. The Lord’s Day is a face to face encounter with God and with one another, a grace that we might read one another’s faces and in that way read one another’s souls, the second most important book in the world next to the Bible. I love all your faces and I thank God for them today. If we haven’t seen yours in a while, know this: we love you and we miss your face.

3. I’m thankful for your voices

They say not to overuse a word in your writing. Swap it out for a good synonym. Maybe Paul was the culprit that our style guides are trying to fix. “…be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:15–17). That makes three. And at the heart of this flurry of thanks is a word about speaking and singing to one another with thanksgiving. Yes, in 2020, I’m thankful for all the things I heard you say and all the songs I heard you sing.

4. I am thankful for your many names

Paul named names. In his closing words to the church, he mentioned Tychichus, Aristarchus, Mark, Barnabas, Justus, Epaphras, Luke, Demus, Numpha, and Archippus (4:7–17). He wrote from prison but he wasn’t writing from pity. He wrote from thankfulness toward God and thankfulness to others. If I start naming names, I’ll break this blog. So, let me just name the names of those I work with every day.

I’m thankful for Aaron Bednarski’s work ethic and excellence in the details, Dan Cruver’s example as a dad, Abe Stratton’s persistence with Scripture memory and the lost, Lisa Hansen’s commitment to know everyone’s name and help me with names, Brad Hilgeman’s tender and tenacious care for saints in every kind of crisis, Caleb Greene’s ability to bring theology to life through artistry, Brian Burch’s resolve to adorn the Word with technology and not the other way around, Liz Stratton’s discerning leadership among our ladies and insight for me, Kevin Delp’s famous way of taking both the Bible and our children seriously, and Barb Illsley’s rare ability to focus intently on a task and feel deeply about people mingling about the office throughout the day.   

There are some names that need a little more attention this thanksgiving. I’m thankful for my beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord, Sandy McCormick, and for Karen, his loyal support and our sister. Sandy has been on our vocational team for some 25 years and he retires in a week. I’ve known Sandy for almost exactly four years now, but it feels like many more. We shared a lunch this week and talked about all kinds of things, as usual. He will remain an elder, so we’ll keep lunching together. I hope you have friends like this. If you don’t, follow our example as leaders and go to lunch with someone in our church to talk about everything like we do. I thank God for this man.

Here is another set of names we can thank God for today: the Read family, Jason, Deb, Hudson, Norah, Paton, Rose. Jason will be moving into the office this coming week, easing his way into the role Sandy has filled so faithfully. They have been filling their days this past week with many hard “goodbyes,” so let’s be sure to fill their early days with us with many warm “hellos.”        

Watchfulness and Witness in 2021

2021 could be harder than 2020. I expect we have much harder years ahead, actually. One reason to give thanks is for our great country and the occasion for this holiday. Tim Keesee reflects on its significance in his recent post, “The 1620 Project.” On that note, let’s give thanks for the right decision made yesterday by our Supreme Court concerning limits on corporate worship in New York.

Come what may, we will still brim with thanks if we are filled with the fullness of Christ. In all of our eating and relaxing today, let’s remember where Paul was and what Paul wanted for us: “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak” (Col. 4:2–4).

Give to God What Is God’s: Rule 3, Reserve Your Greatest Energies for the Most Lasting Society, the Church

Give to God What Is God’s: Rule 3, Reserve Your Greatest Energies for the Most Lasting Society, the Church

This is the fourth in a series of posts during election week 2020, titled, Give to God What Is God’s: Three Rules for (Political) Engagement. Read the Introduction, Rule 1, and Rule 2.


Political engagement takes energy. Mental energy, emotional energy, and an investment of time. As it should. Our heavenly citizenship is good for many things, including good citizenship here, for human government is part of heaven’s plan for our welfare on earth. That hardly means everyone who takes Christ’s name understands what they are doing with it. It just means that the world and everything in it is God’s, and that includes the buildings in the District of Columbia.

My purpose in this series so far has been to make this case and to give it some direction, to frame up and to fuel energetic participation in politics, the activities of human government. I’ve hoped to do so in a way that keeps us pretty close to the Bible, pointing in the directions it points without getting too far into our immediate political challenges except to land the Bible’s own emphases.

To this point I have largely turned over the question, what does it mean for those who belong to God to “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Mk. 12:17)? In this post I want to flip that coin over to ask, what does it mean for those who belong to Rome, to “[Render] to God the things that are God’s” (Mk. 12:17)? My thesis is captured in the title for this post, the third rule for political engagement: reserve your greatest energies for the most lasting society, the church. Or, in other words, be a better church member than a party member. This minimizes nothing of the importance of our earthly endeavors. It makes sure we understand the infinitely greater place of the church in God’s plan for our welfare and that of our neighbors.

If the title for this post was the only thing you expected to hear from a pastor, then you probably needed the other three posts. If the title for this post is the last thing you expected to hear from a pastor, then this post is especially for you. Thank God, Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. Thank God, Jesus’ kingdom has broken into this world. I want you to know all about it.

Here are three reasons the church is worth your greatest energy: we have a perfect leader, a more perfect union, and a more powerful story.

There is no contest for Lord

The matter of Jesus’ kingship is settled. There are no delays to find out if it’s really certain. There are no higher courts to settle disagreements. There’s no corruption, no counting, and no competition. Not that some have not taken up the challenge. But remember Psalm 2: “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed … He who sits in the heavens laughs” (Ps. 2:1–4). That’s right, he laughs. He laughs at the fiercest opponents of his greatest gifts. Which is to say, he is in perfect control and he is perfectly relaxed. He is our perfect Lord and there is no contest.

We engage in politics with a full sense of what’s at stake. That means at our best we take these things more seriously than anyone. It also means that we too can laugh when our human efforts are met with failure. Not from some kind of deficient understanding of his providence. We do not laugh as someone breaks into our house because, after all, Jesus is king! We don’t laugh because our causes are not a big deal, but because to him the nations are a drop in the bucket, and he counts even this exceptional nation as dust.

That Jesus is the uncontested King of the universe is good news because he is good. There is no one better for the job. No one is more competent, more wise, more powerful, more benevolent, more forgiving, more merciful, more sympathetic, or more truthful. He never overstates what he can do for us, because what he will do for us is beyond imagination. If he seems slow in keeping those promises, it’s because there is no one more patient than him and he wants everyone to come to repentance (2Pet. 3:9).

This is what we talk about every Sunday. So, let’s keep going for a second reason the church is worth our greatest energy.

Your presence and vote with the church on the Lord’s Day is more important than your presence and vote on election day

Unless we are all fools, this is emphatically true. Sunday is the first day of the week, the day Jesus rose from the dead. If he really did suffer as the Son of God for sinners, then our sins really are removed as far as the east is from the west. If Jesus really is raised from the dead, then the society—city, people, community, assembly—he is gathering is more lasting and beautiful and secure than any city on earth, no matter how weird we get around election season. The universe has a throne and a city in the middle of it and Christ has his name on both.

Jesus gave two ordinances to his church, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Both of these dramatize all that is ours together through union with Christ. Every baptism is a bigger deal than any inauguration. When we are baptized, we are baptized into his death, his resurrection, and his city. Every meal around the Lord’s table is more meaningful than the most intimate meal with the most important human ruler. We eat and drink to the King. When we come together to sing, we sing together, the sound of what Jesus has done in us and to us. Through our union with him by faith, we are united to one another as family. 

We are not united by a donkey or an elephant or even an eagle. We are called together by a Lion and a Lamb. As human kingdoms go, America is an exceptional nation. But our spiritual union in Christ is a truly more perfect union. As an important aside, this is why we don’t have an American flag on our platform. We are a church in America, and we are a church made up of Americans for the most part, but we are not an American church, whatever that could possibly mean. Yes, there are cultural trappings that tie us to this place and time, and as citizens we should be the best patriots. But local churches are outposts of a kingdom without borders, made up of men and women from every tribe and language and tongue. We are a people in Christ and that eclipses every other earthly association.

What we do when we come together and the decisions we make for our shared life and mission are more important because they are an engagement with eternal things. So, come to church.

Your prayers for the government do more than the signature of our President

It makes sense that we would end this series by speaking of prayer and of power. In our system of government, we can elect a bad President and then check him or her with the House or the Senate. And if our representatives don’t do their job, we can replace them. Our system is difficult to crash. Power is diffused. But if there’s one man whose signature is powerful it is the signature of the President of the United States.

Our prayers are more powerful by a longshot. In fact, besides submission, prayer is actually the one other explicit New Testament command we are given concerning human government: “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions” (1Tim. 2:1, 2). The purpose of this prayer is so that “we may lead a peaceful and quiet life,” and this is because God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2:3, 4). America has a powerful story. But through the church our Lord is weaving a more powerful story still. He is bringing about a whole new creation.

There’s much we can do as citizens, but this is our precious work as the church. Even the very best legislation signed into law cannot change the human heart, cannot take away our sin, and cannot give us life everlasting. But God is pleased to do all of that in answer to our prayers, and he is doing so among us today.

So, let’s land this series with a prayer.

Father in heaven, you are in heaven and you do all that you please. You are more powerful than the most powerful office over the most powerful nation on earth. No one checks your power because you are the source of all power and authority. No one fact checks you because you are the source of all truth. No one judges you because you are the standard of all righteousness.

You, the God of heaven, have put us on earth in this place for this time. You guide the nations on the earth, and you steer the hearts of kings. Would you steer our land and our leaders to righteousness, to enact and carry out and enforce laws that are good and not evil? Would you show our lawmakers that the freedom of American citizens to exercise their religion free of compulsion is a sacred duty? Would you see that we may live peaceful and quiet lives? Would you save our neighbors from the tyranny of sin and guilt and of Satan and the fear of death? Would you make them, with us, citizens of your glorious and everlasting society, your church?

America is great. But we, your church, have a perfect leader, a more perfect union, and a more powerful story. Bless this country and especially your church.

In the name of Christ and for his kingdom,


Give to God What Is God’s: Rule 3, Reserve Your Greatest Energies for the Most Lasting Society, the Church

Give to God What Is God’s: Rule 2, Engage in the Political Process as a Christian

This is the third in a series of posts during election week 2020, titled, Give to God What Is God’s: Three Rules for (Political) Engagement. Read the Introduction, Rule 1, and Rule 3.


Jesus is never not Lord for the Christian. To be a Christian is to confess Christ as King of Kings and Lord of Lords forever. Which includes every second of time and every sector of life, from what’s under our own roof to the voting booth. To confess Christ King of Kings, after all, is to make a political statement. Our lives are his and our government is his. He is over this whole operation.

The second rule for political engagement is this: engage in the political process as a Christian. That sure sounds right, but what can this possibly mean in practical terms? Are we out to set up a theocracy? Are we like Israelites in the promised land setting up God’s kingdom? Do we see American law as a means to making people obey all that Jesus commanded? From another angle, does Christianity, like Islam, build a Christian nation-state if you give it the chance?

Back to Jesus with that coin. When Jesus said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” he communicated at least two nuanced intentions for the relationship of the state and the church (Mk. 12:16). First, there is a legitimate separation between the two spheres of authority in the new covenant age. Israel was a theocracy. That is not what Jesus outlines for his followers. Second, there is a primacy to the sphere of God’s worship. Caesar was owed taxes. But not our worship. And that was Jesus’ not so subtle religious and political claim; Caesar is not God. We might rather call them tensions rather than intentions, because that’s what they create.

This is a post about how to follow Jesus where we live within this framework he set up. We must give to God what is God’s. Which means in one way or another, we fulfill our civic responsibilities as Christians, for our whole lives are his.

What then does it mean to engage in the political process as a Christian? Here are three answers to that question: engage with your first allegiance to Christ, engage with biblically ordered Christian convictions, and engage with expectations calibrated by the promises of Christ.

First things first

Life is full of allegiances, allegiances to the companies we work for, the teams we root for, and the nations we die for. No, there is no necessary contradiction between our allegiance to Christ and our allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. Nations were established by God with certain responsibilities for our good. We can be for God and for the nations in which we live. Some may wed God and country a little too tight, but that doesn’t mean we should be filing for divorce. When Jesus said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, he affirmed a proper national loyalty. There were Jewish zealots that taught that you could not recognize God as God and Caesar as king. Jesus corrects that notion. The King of Kings is the King of actual kings. So, worship God and be patriotic. 

In a moment we’ll get to how that allegiance works itself out in the voting booth. But first things first, to engage as a Christian is to engage with our first allegiance to Jesus Christ. We may identify as Americans, but we are first and foremost and forever Christ-ians. The Apostle Paul wrote, “to all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints,” that is, to Romans who nevertheless confessed “Jesus Christ our Lord,” descended from David, raised from the dead (Rom. 1:3–7).

This first allegiance informs our view of humanity. We do not see in red and blue, though those differences are not meaningless. Rather, we see humanity in Adam or in Christ. Death reigns through the one man, life through the other (Ro. 5:14, 17). This first allegiance informs our hope. Emperors come and go, but “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). Empires crumble, but we have received “a kingdom that cannot be shaken” (Heb. 12:28). This first allegiance informs our understanding of history and where it is headed, putting every earthly citizenship in its place, for “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 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” (Phil. 3:20, 21). That is, all things. Which means he is first.

Jesus is King forever and that is good news. Even better news, he is a great and gracious Lord and Master. This explains the happy allegiance of his early followers under Roman rule. The Romans restricted the preaching of the gospel, and the Apostles replied, “’Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard,’” and “’We must obey God rather than men’” (Acts 4:19–20; 5:29). It was right to keep speaking, and they also couldn’t help themselves. Christ was first.

This is not a post about civil disobedience. It’s a post about how our loyalty to Christ works for everything before that. So, let’s get into that.

What we take with us into the voting booth

The second thing faithfulness requires of us is to engage with biblically ordered Christian convictions. Let’s keep this simple and focus again on the act of voting. What does it mean to honor Jesus as Lord in the voting booth? What does it mean for us to render to God what is God’s in that moment? What are the convictions that we bring to this responsibility? More could be said, but not less than two things.

Take your view of humanity into the voting booth

Everyone goes into the voting booth with a view of humanity. The question is from where it comes. The first thing Christians must take into the voting booth with us is God’s view of humanity as his special creation. Here is the plain beautiful truth about every one of us: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (1:27). This means at least four truths precede human government.

First, humans are made in God’s imageWe are not advanced animals. We do not derive our worth from our size, or our level of development, our environment, or our degree of dependencySLED. We have this dignity from our very conception, when biologically speaking as an embryo we are a fully integrated human being, until our death. We do not derive our worth from our abilities, our class, or what contribution we can make. Our worth is from God and it extends to every human.

Second, humans are created binary, male and femaleThis is a truth so beautiful that it comes to us in form of poetry. It couldn’t just be said; it had to be sung. This is also a biological reality that extends to every cell in the male and female body, except for the presence of female cells in the male sperm.

Third, humans are made for each other, for the two became “one flesh” in marriageIn this story of origins, Moses explained the origin of human society: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Gen. 2:24, 25). In this, he also gave us a foundation for sexual ethics.

Fourth, a married husband and wife are responsible before God for the welfare of their children“And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth’” (Gen. 1:28). Children come from a mother and a father and God’s design is for children to come into the world in a home where mom and dad are married. That the leading indicator that an individual will be poor is whether he is in a one or two parent home confirms this basic truth of nature.

All this is true before government is there. So, take your view of humanity into the voting booth. What else should we take?

Take your view of human government into the voting booth

Everyone who goes into the voting booth has a view of human government. This is shaped by the particular government of which we are a part, but also our more basic assumptions about what government is there for. The second thing Christians must take into the voting booth with us is God’s view of human government as his servant.

According to Scripture, governing authority is a derived authority, “for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Gen. 13:1). Government is, literally, “the servant of God,” otherwise translated, minister. Remember, “governors [are] sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (1Pet. 2:14). In other words, as we believe the Scriptures, we believe that human government exists because God established the institution of government. Which means we don’t leave behind his mind on the matter as we enter the voting booth.

With our vote we should direct our government to fulfill God’s purposes for government, as best we can, given the circumstances. Often those circumstances involve less than ideal options. Remember, the electoral process is a negotiation between millions of people on who gets the power to make decisions on our behalf.

This work of directing the government with our vote involves three things.

First, we should direct the government to serve God by punishing evilThe Decalogue, or what we often call, the Ten Commandments, do not apply to modern governments in a direct fashion. But they do instruct us concerning what humans are owed and, with a little reflection, reveal to us God’s intention for humans from creation. For example, the commandment, “You shall not murder,” assumes the right of persons to live, a truth rooted in creation (Ex. 20:13). The commandment, “You shall not steal,” assumes the right of persons to property (20:15). The command, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor,” assumes the right of persons to due process (20:16). One of the jobs of government is to protect people and property and to punish those who violate either. Government does not have to punish everything that is sin, but a government that rewards or overlooks these things is wrong to do so.

Concerning the right to life and the government’s responsibility to punish evil, our government, and by extension the American people, are complicit in the legal and lethal murder of 60 million unborn children since Roe. This is not what the sword is for. There is forgiveness available to any of us who will come to Christ, but this remains a challenge that demands our strategic effort. Roe was a bad decision by the Supreme Court, who found a right to privacy in the constitution and decided a matter by fiat that in our constitutional system should have been decided by the people. Per our constitutional system, the question should go to the states. As with slavery, it is not a matter to relax on, even if we do choose strategic incremental avenues for its abolition. Christians may judge one avenue more strategic than another, but the question of what human government owes unborn human beings is straightforward.

Second, we should direct the government to serve God by praising what is goodThis means the government should enact policies and promote a culture that normalizes good behavior. Again, here the Decalogue points us to prior creational realities to which all humanity is accountable. The command, “You shall not commit adultery,” assumes the right of married partners to the sexual faithfulness of their spouse and teaches us about the natural and moral context for human sexuality (20:14). All governments regulate human sexual behavior to one degree or another. Good government recognizes marriage for what it is and regulates marriage for the good of children and, by extension, of society at large. Government cannot legislate on the basis of a moral fiction concerning marriage without harming its people, even with good intentions. History bears this out. In a 1934 study, “Monogamy as a Condition of Social Energy,” J. D. Unwin shows his results from a study of 86 different cultures and concludes that apart from a culture of sexual marital monogamy, societies do not last: “In human records there is no instance of a society retaining its energy after a complete new generation has inherited a tradition which does not insist on pre-nuptial and post-nuptial continence.”

The command, “honor your father and mother,” assumes the context of the natural family with a mother and a father who are owed obedience because they are responsible (20:12). The government should promote the stability and health of the family, which involves protecting the rights of parents and holding parents to their basic responsibility to care for their children. Even the command, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house,” assumes that humans have a problem of envy that is destructive enough to make God’s top ten (20:17). The government should promote economic policies that reward hard work, productivity, innovation, and responsibility, and in this way channel our self-interest for the common good.

This emphasis on the truths about humanity embedded in creation is reinforced by what happens when these truths are opposed. Following humanity’s fall into sin in Genesis 3, Genesis 4 reveals the disintegration of human society with the sin of Lamech, who “took two wives” and boasted, “I have killed a man” (Gen. 4:19, 23). Life and marriage are precious and basic.

Third, we should direct the government to serve God by staying in its placeRome imposed its religion by force, requiring the worship of Caesar as god. On that coin before Jesus was the image of Rome’s god, “Tiberius Caesar Augustus, Son of Divine Augustus.” But neither Caesar nor Tiberius nor Augustus were divine. The Roman state was pedaling in a lie and coerced its people into false worship. Several commands in the decalogue point to the basic human responsibility to worship God, “You shall have no other gods before me,” “You shall not make for yourself a carved image,” “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” (20:3, 4, 7). What this means for human government requires reflection.

Why don’t we believe that America should establish Christianity as the official and required religion of Americans? There is a long tradition of thinking this kind of question through that has brought us the “freedom of religion” which we enjoy today. This freedom is a profoundly Christian commitment, and one Christians hold for their own sake but also their neighbor’s. As Robert Louis Wilken outlines in his book, Liberty in the Things of God: The Christian Origins of Religious Freedom, Christians are committed to several things: freedom of religion or conscience is a right that precedes government that belongs to all human beings, conscience is a form of spiritual knowledge that brings with it an obligation to act, and human society is governed by two powers, God and the state. The state should not compel religion, nor should it prohibit religion. In other words, as our first amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” That is a profoundly good commitment. Christians do right by the household of God and our neighbors of all faiths to hold America to this promise.

Two notes to close this section. First, I’ve interacted some with the Old Testament laws of ancient Israel. That has to be done carefully and I have deliberately pointed us back to truths embedded in creation. For more on applying the Old Testament law to life today, including its application to the role of government, see Stephen Wellum’s chapter on Christian ethics, in Progressive Covenantalism. Second, I have stayed away from specific policy prescriptions, even though I may have my own (hopefully) informed judgments on these things. Andy Naselli has a helpful lecture and book answering the question, “how can I love fellow Christians with different politics?”

Now, a final way we can engage politics as Christians.

Calibrating our expectations

Our final way of honoring Jesus as Lord in our politics is to engage with expectations calibrated by the promises of Christ. Take caution, courage, and comfort in these three beautiful truths.

First, as you vote, do so with a proper humility about the possibilities of human government in light of the coming and return of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ had to suffer on the cross and rise from the dead because there are some things government can’t do for us. It can’t give us meaning and it can’t take away our guilt. This is true regardless of what politicians promise to do for us. Government can’t fix our deepest problems. Insert government bureaucracy joke here. Even our country with its unparalleled prosperity and security is nevertheless, in light of all God intended for humanity, a cold and lonely place to live. Human government is instituted by God to punish evil because there is still a whole lot of evil that goes on. But in Christ we have this: the forgiveness of our sins, the removal of our guilt, and life everlasting. We are not engaging in the remaking of humanity or the elimination of all human wronging. The Lord will bring his perfect justice on the Day of Jesus’ return.

Second, as you vote, do so with a proper expectation of reproach, division, trouble, and incomparable blessing for honoring Christ in your engagementThe things we believe about human beings and what they are owed are contested ideas. We believe they are of great moral consequence, and if you follow the money so does everybody else. This matter of voting which is inherently simplistic is bound to get us in trouble with people we love. Remember Jesus’ words, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:10).

Finally, as you vote, do so with eager anticipation for the coming of our LordWhatever current hopes we have for life here in America, even the best outcome in our best days, they cannot compare with what is to come for those who are in Christ. At the coming of our Lord all of our sorrows will be erased and all of earth’s joys will be entirely eclipsed. Remember Paul’s words, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18). Politics is exciting for some of us and there are victories to celebrate along the way. There is also reason for profound disappointment. But there is no disappointment in the end with Christ who is the King of Kings.

Keep all this in mind as you vote. That’s what I’m heading out to do right now.

And remember, Caesar’s image was on that coin. But you, dear friend, bear the image of your Maker. You can’t leave him behind in the voting booth, and why would you want to?