This past Sunday our preaching series at our church through the Book of Revelation focused on Jesus’ letter to the church at Ephesus. If you are at all familiar with these seven letters from the book’s opening chapters, the phrase “you have abandoned your first love” probably popped into your mind when you heard the name of the church. After affirming them for doctrinal fidelity and their strong stance against believing the wrong things, Jesus indicts the believers in this church on the basis of their hearts being misaimed. You can listen to our pastor Gerald’s sermon here, if you’d like.
One of the most pernicious lies we can buy is that doctrinal fidelity alone is enough to evaluate our spiritual health, both personally and corporately. This lie is exposed by Jesus in this letter to the Ephesian church. We must be careful that we aren’t taken captive due to a failure to understand the deception in that idea as well. Our hearts are prone to wonder. And often they become aimed onto what can be considered good things. The problem is when those good things become supreme things.
This is a persistent danger in our current cultural climate in regard to politics. One of the great gifts of living in a democratic republic is that we the people have the opportunity to be involved. That is a gift that few in our world and throughout history share. Being politically involved is a good thing–God’s people should be involved. But we are incredibly susceptible to that involvement encroaching on idolatry. If we are not careful, our political engagement can begin to shape our hope, our emotions, and our attitudes in ways that are simply antithetical to the Kingdom. And this can absolutely happen from any and every side of the political aisle.
Much has been written about this, and I’m not writing this as an attempt to draw a picture of what that can look like. Too often I believe that those pictures, although timely and helpful, can elicit an immediate response of self-justification, rather than true introspection. Too often they call believers to measure themselves according to those pictures, rather than what should be our true measure: Jesus and his Word. As I have thought about how I might consider my own heart in this matter, I have searched for questions that I might evaluate in order to gain a true picture of the status of my heart, and that would expose any aspects of my own participation in politics that have resulted in a misaiming of my heart or false understanding of the gospel.
As I formed questions in my mind I noticed that each one inevitably seemed to overlap with a tool I designed not long ago in answering the question “How is the state of my soul?” I wrote about this question several months ago and then offered six specific elements that comprise this proposed tool to use in answering it a short time later. As I considered the present question, though, I realized that not only can this tool be employed in asking the broader question of “How is the state of my soul,” but these elements can also be used as an evaluative tool in answering more specific inquiries like the present one.
Walk with me through these six elements, along with questions raised by each, relevant to the question at hand.
Key Question: How would I describe my current personal relationship and walk with Jesus?
I believe we should always begin here. Although this is not specific to the overarching question per se, the answer to this question will always have ramifications on every aspect of my life. Simply put, when I begin to drift from close and intentional communion with Christ the much more vulnerable I become to being taken captive by “philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8). Notice this question probes deeper than a simple yes or no response. It’s not are you walking with Jesus, but how would you describe that walk, that relationship? We should be willing to lean into the struggle of capturing the appropriate language in accurately capturing the current status of this communion.
Key Question: Are you currently struggling with any specific sins of omission or commission for which you need to confess or repent?
In evaluating my actions, my words, my attitudes, my emotions, my thoughts, etc., am I confronted with any sinfulness of which I need to confess and repent? I need to remember here that the question is, “Are there any areas of my life in which I am missing the mark of God’s righteousness, of his goodness?” This question should not be answered in light of the actions of others, but in light of God’s holiness as revealed through his Word. We can far too easily default to a “but, they…” that inevitably leads to self-righteousness rather than repentance.
Specifically in regard to the present question, has my participation in political matters developed any sinfulness that I need to confront, and of which I need to confess and repent?
- What is the fruit that my political engagement is producing from my life?
- How is my engagement shaping my attitude?
- How is my engagement shaping my thoughts?
- How is my engagement shaping my emotions?
- How is my engagement shaping my view and posture toward others (towards other brothers and sisters in Christ, towards those who disagree with me, or even set themselves in opposition to me)?
- When it comes to sins of omission, is my political engagement preventing me from pursuing the Great Commission as I ought? Is it distracting me from what I ought to be doing in any unhealthy ways?
The Key Question: What does your life reveal about the aim and direction of your heart, or affections?
What impact is my participation in political matters having on my heart? What is it shaping me to love, to desire? The truth we must remember is that we are not propelled forward by what we know, rather we are pulled along by what we love. This was true for the believers who made up the church in Ephesus, and it is true for us today. What we love will set the direction of our hearts, which in turn directs our passion. Our passion will determine how we invest our resources. We will most naturally and most prominently talk about what we love and pursue what we love and hold as supreme.
- Through my political engagement and participation, what are others prone to conclude about what I love most?
- What do I find myself thinking about most?
- What do I spend most of my time and influence talking about with others?
- Try to finish this statement: Based on how others perceive my social media presence, they would be prone to say, “Boy, Jason sure is passionate about _______________, he sure loves _______________!”
- How is my political engagement shaping my response to others–especially to those with whom I disagree?
- Is my political engagement stripping me of the peace and joy that I should be experiencing through abiding in Christ’s love? What do any fears I develop expose about what I ultimately love?
The Key Question: Are the things you are consuming promoting health and life, or corruption and death?
What is my participation in political matters compelling me to consume? What am I most driven to consume? When I wake up in the morning, where am I most eager to turn for information or influence first? Even our consumption of good things, if not appropriately moderated, can begin to carry our hearts away from what should be primary in our hearts.
- Am I spending a healthy amount of time on social media?
- Am I consuming a healthy amount of news?
- What is the time that I consume these in relation to how much I am consuming God’s Word? What is the balance?
- Is what I am consuming reliable? Is it presenting primarily speculation and opinion, or truth and facts?
- Of what I am consuming, what is having the greatest impact on my thoughts, emotions, and worldview?
- Is what I am consuming causing me to press into Jesus for rest? Are the non-biblical forms of media and social media that I am consuming promoting peace, joy, and life?
The Key Question: What is the current impact of your life on others within your scope of influence?
How is my participation in political matters impacting the world around me? The question is not “Am I impacting others?” but “What is the current impact of my life?” Our lives are always impacting the world around us, beginning in our homes, spreading out into our communities, and now, because of social media, as far as our friends list takes us. We need to be careful to maintain our awareness of just what sort of impact our lives are actually having.
- What is my political engagement calling others to love?
- In what is my political engagement calling others to hope?
- Is my engagement ultimately inviting others to rest in Christ?
- Is my engagement clearly proclaiming my own ultimate rest in Christ?
- To what or to whom am I most likely pointing people to look to for resolution? Is my political engagement in any way conflating the gospel or distorting its clarity?
- Based on my political engagement, how would others define the mission of my life?
The Key Question: Is there anything you can point to in the outward expression of your life that reveals the reality of ongoing inward transformation?
How is my participation in political matters presenting the reality of spiritual rebirth and the inward supernatural work of the Holy Spirit? How does the outward expression of my life convey the reality of Jesus’ resurrection and presence in my life? Authentic Christianity is the result of the inward transformation of the Spirit that works its way to the outward expression of our lives. We can always work backwards in order to evaluate what is actually at the center of our hearts. As the Scripture explains, “from [the heart] flows the spring of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Whatever is in our hearts will indeed flow out.
- How has my participation in political matters provided a context for the producing of the fruit of the Spirit?
- What evidence do I see in my ongoing political engagement that points to the reality of steady inward supernatural transformation?
- Would those watching my political engagement align it more with Ephesians 5:20 or Ephesians 5:22?
- What does a majority of my political engagement point back to as being the controlling factor of my heart (cf. Colossians 3:15)?
- How is my political engagement most threatening to this ongoing spiritual transformation?
At the end of such an exercise I may not be settled on a definition for a specific ideology, but I have put myself in position to “see if there be any grievous way in me” (Psalm 139:24) so that I can be intentional to “let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in [his] sight” (Psalm 19:14). Working through these questions ALWAYS exposes things in my heart that I need to confront. I invite you to use this tool in this way as well. And as we do, may we be open to the Spirit in helping us to see the true state of our hearts, may we submit to his work in growing us by grace day-by-day, and may we seek to live and love in rhythm with God’s will as revealed by him.