John Piper wrote yesterday what I believe will long be remembered as some of the most faithful and Christic words from a pastor about this—and every—election cycle.
“This article is probably as close as you will get to an answer on how I will vote in the upcoming presidential election.
Right. Only God knows what may happen in the next days.
Nothing I say here is intended to dictate how anyone else should vote, but rather to point to a perspective that seems to be neglected. Yes, this perspective sways my vote. But you need not be sinning if you weigh matters differently.
Actually, this is a long-overdue article attempting to explain why I remain baffled that so many Christians consider the sins of unrepentant sexual immorality (porneia), unrepentant boastfulness (alazoneia), unrepentant vulgarity (aischrologia), unrepentant factiousness (dichostasiai), and the like, to be only toxic for our nation, while policies that endorse baby-killing, sex-switching, freedom-limiting, and socialistic overreach are viewed as deadly.
The reason I put those Greek words in parentheses is to give a graphic reminder that these are sins mentioned in the New Testament. To be more specific, they are sins that destroy people. They are not just deadly. They are deadly forever. They lead to eternal destruction (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
Forgiveness through Christ is always possible where there is repentance and childlike trust in Jesus. But where humble repentance is absent, the sins condemn.
To which you may say, “So what? Rejecting Jesus as Lord also leads to death, but you are willing to vote for a non-Christian, aren’t you?” I am, assuming there is enough overlap between biblical uprightness and the visible outworking of his character and convictions.
My point so far is simply to raise the stakes of what is outwardly modeled in leadership, so that Christians are given pause. It is not a small thing to treat lightly a pattern of public behaviors that lead to death.
In fact, I think it is a drastic mistake to think that the deadly influences of a leader come only through his policies and not also through his person.
This is true not only because flagrant boastfulness, vulgarity, immorality, and factiousness are self-incriminating, but also because they are nation-corrupting. They move out from centers of influence to infect whole cultures. The last five years bear vivid witness to this infection at almost every level of society.
This truth is not uniquely Christian: “A little leaven leavens the whole lump” (1 Corinthians 5:6). “Bad company ruins good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33). Whether you embrace that company in your house or on social media, it corrupts. There are sins that “lead people into more and more ungodliness” as “their talk [spreads] like gangrene” (2 Timothy 2:16–17).
There is a character connection between rulers and subjects. When the Bible describes a king by saying, “He sinned and made Israel to sin” (1 Kings 14:16), it does not mean he twisted their arm. It means his influence shaped the people. That’s the calling of a leader. Take the lead in giving shape to the character of your people. So it happens. For good or for ill.
Is it not baffling, then, that so many Christians seem to be sure that they are saving human lives and freedoms by treating as minimal the destructive effects of the spreading gangrene of high-profile, high-handed, culture-shaping sin?
This point has a special relevance for Christians.
Freedom and life are precious. We all want to live and be free to pursue happiness. But if our freedoms, and even our lives, are threatened or taken, the essence of our identity in Christ, the certainty of our everlasting joy with Christ, and the holiness and love for which we have been saved by Christ — none of these is lost with the loss of life and freedom.
Therefore, Christians communicate a falsehood to unbelievers (who are also baffled!) when we act as if policies and laws that protect life and freedom are more precious than being a certain kind of person. The church is paying dearly, and will continue to pay, for our communicating this falsehood year after year.
The justifications for ranking the destructive effects of persons below the destructive effects of policies ring hollow.
I find it bewildering that Christians can be so sure that greater damage will be done by bad judges, bad laws, and bad policies than is being done by the culture-infecting spread of the gangrene of sinful self-exaltation, and boasting, and strife-stirring (eristikos).
How do they know this? Seriously! Where do they get the sure knowledge that judges, laws, and policies are less destructive than boastful factiousness in high places?
Where does the wickedness of defending child-killing come from? It comes from hearts of self-absorbed arrogance and boasting (James 4:1–2). It comes from hearts that are insubordinate to God. In other words, it comes from the very character that so many Christian leaders are treating as comparatively innocuous, because they think Roe and SCOTUS and Planned Parenthood are more pivotal, more decisive, battlegrounds.
I think Roe is an evil decision. I think Planned Parenthood is a code name for baby-killing and (historically at least) ethnic cleansing. And I think it is baffling and presumptuous to assume that pro-abortion policies kill more people than a culture-saturating, pro-self pride.
When a leader models self-absorbed, self-exalting boastfulness, he models the most deadly behavior in the world. He points his nation to destruction. Destruction of more kinds than we can imagine.
It is naive to think that a man can be effectively pro-life and manifest consistently the character traits that lead to death — temporal and eternal.
May I suggest to pastors that in the quietness of your study you do this? Imagine that America collapses. First anarchy, then tyranny — from the right or the left. Imagine that religious freedom is gone. What remains for Christians is fines, prison, exile, and martyrdom. Then ask yourself this: Has my preaching been developing real, radical Christians? Christians who can sing on the scaffold,
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still;
His kingdom is forever.
Christians who will act like the believers in Hebrews 10:34: “You joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.” Christians who will face hate and reviling and exclusion for Christ’s sake and yet “rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, [their] reward is great in heaven” (Luke 6:22–23).
Have you been cultivating real Christians who see the beauty and the worth of the Son of God? Have you faithfully unfolded and heralded “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8)? Are you raising up generations of those who say with Paul, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8)?
Have you shown them that they are “sojourners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11), and that their “citizenship is in heaven,” from which they “await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20)? Do they feel in their bones that “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21)?
Or have you neglected these greatest of all realities and repeatedly diverted their attention onto the strategies of politics? Have you inadvertently created the mindset that the greatest issue in life is saving America and its earthly benefits? Or have you shown your people that the greatest issue is exalting Christ with or without America? Have you shown them that the people who do the most good for the greatest number for the longest time (including America!) are people who have the aroma of another world with another King?
Where does that leave me as I face a civic duty on November 3? Here’s my answer. I do not require anyone to follow me (as if I could) — not my wife, not my friends, not my colleagues.
I will not develop some calculus to determine which path of destruction I will support. That is not my duty. My calling is to lead people to see Jesus Christ, trust his forgiveness for sins, treasure him above everything in this world, live in a way that shows his all-satisfying value, and help them make it to heaven with love and holiness. That calling is contradicted by supporting either pathway to cultural corruption and eternal ruin.
You may believe that there are kinds of support for such pathways that do not involve such a contradiction — such an undermining of authentic Christian witness. You must act on what you see. I can’t see it. That is why I said my way need not be yours.
When I consider the remote possibility that I might do any good by endorsing the devastation already evident in the two choices before me, I am loath to undermine my calling (and the church’s mission) to stand for Christ-exalting faith and hope and love.
I will be asked to give an account of my devotion to this life-giving calling. The world will ask. And the Lord of heaven will ask. And my conscience will ask. What will I say?
With a cheerful smile, I will explain to my unbelieving neighbor why my allegiance to Jesus set me at odds with death — death by abortion and death by arrogance. I will take him to Psalm 139 and Romans 1. And if he is willing, I will show him how abortion and arrogance can be forgiven because of Christ (Ephesians 1:7). And I will invite him to become an exile — to have a kingdom that will never be shaken, not even when America is a footnote in the archives of the new creation.”