4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5 And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. 6 The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7 And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, 8 but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9 Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”
Now, while this wasn’t the point of the message, I thought it interesting to note that the political leadership and moral landscape of Nineveh were transformed and that the transformation came as a result of the preaching of the Gospel. I tried to make the point that too often in conservative, evangelical circles we have operated as if we believe that the hope for our country is more dependent upon right elections, right petitions and persistent boycotts rather than in the transformational nature of the Gospel. Now to be clear, I know no believers that would actually teach that, verbally, but I have spent all my life in a conservative Christian environment that may not verbally teach that, but which appears to endorse that through our behavior.
After the service, however, I was approached by a well meaning individual who took issue a bit about my position on politics and the Gospel. In response to our conversation, I thought it might be helpful to provide a bit more clarification.
First of all, let me be clear that I am absolutely in favor of Christians engaging in the political realm. As with any other domain in society, I believe Christians who are called to work in that domain should do so and in doing so should give example of their authentic relationship with Christ in all that they do. This is true of every domain that a person finds themselves in. I would hope that we would see expressions of faith in Christ in the political domain just as clearly as we would see them in every other societal domain. Having said that, though, my point tonight is too often we believers seem to act as if we believe our hope is in that activity rather than in the Gospel. My point was that political activity can be fine, as long as it does not diminish the work of Gospel. Our hope for cultural transformation will never come through the abolition of gay marriage, the selection of the right Supreme Court judge or the election of the right president, as worthy as those causes may be. These issues may be important but really have little to do with seeing America transformed. True transformation, and our only hope for lasting change, will come as we believe in the sufficiency of the Gospel. The evidence of our faith in Christ and His Gospel will be seen when we invest as much time and energy living and preaching the Gospel as we do in pursuing political change.
Jesus seemed to communicate this well when He deepened the definition of sin in the Sermon on the Mount. By taking sins like murder and adultery and broadening their definition to reach into the heart, Jesus helped to clarify that sin always originates in the heart. The conclusion we can take from that is that authentic transformation must also occur in the heart if we want to see it extend to our actions.
We would do well to remember this as we think through cultural transformation. Limiting behavior will never lead to authentic, lasting cultural renovation. That will only occur as individual hearts are transformed. That is exactly what happened in Jonah 3:6!
So in answer to the question, no, I do not have issue with engaging in the political world, but neither do I place my trust in that world. Instead my hope is in the Gospel and I genuinely believe it is sufficient to lead to the lasting cultural transformation we desire to see.