Desiring a Better Country
But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.
- Hebrews 11:16
Mercifully, another election cycle in the United States has come to an end (can I get an "Amen?"). Judging from the panicked tone in the many Christian email newsletters I've received since Tuesday, I think it's safe to say most evangelicals are disappointed by the results. I've already read more than a few emails warning of impending societal collapse and imploring Christians to rise up and fight against the moral decay overtaking us.
While everyone has a right to participate in civics and public discourse, I wonder if Christians have become too invested in our political process at the expense of more meaningful concerns?
The New Testament letters do teach Christians about duty to country, but the country the Bible is speaking about isn't the United States. In fact, the Bible holds little regard for any earthly nation apart from Israel. We are commanded to live in obedience to all governing authorities, since all nations were formed by God and exist to serve His purposes (see Acts 17:24-26), but we are called to invest our passion and resources in a different kingdom.
The writer to the Hebrews reminds us that people of faith are expected to live with eyes for eternity. Though we live on the earth for a time and reside in one nation or another, our relationship with Christ has forever changed our identity and allegiance. We are no longer citizens of this world, as Jesus says:
John 15:19 “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.
We are now citizens of a better country, Hebrews tells us. Our country is currently in Heaven waiting to descend to the Earth. While we wait for that moment, we are ambassadors for Christ. Consider the mission of an ambassador: to represent our home nation to the citizens of a foreign country. This is precisely the role every Christian has been given. We represent our future home (i.e., the Kingdom of God) to the foreign country where we reside temporarily.
While we await the Lord's return, how do we invest our time and resources as ambassadors of Christ? Many Christians have come to believe that our civic duty compels us to engage in a fight for control of our culture and the government in order to influence society for the better. While this may sound noble, it is not the Bible's direction.
On the contrary, we are told to strive on behalf of a Heavenly country. Consider the words of our Lord as He stood before Pontius Pilate shortly before His crucifixion. Pilate refered to Israel as "Jesus' nation" to which Jesus replied:
John 18:36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”
The Israel of Pilate's day was not Jesus' Kingdom. In fact, Jesus Kingdom could not to be found anywhere on Earth, He said. Nevertheless, Jesus says He has servants who are willing to fight, but these servant knew they weren't called to strive for control of human government or against the institutions of Rome. Instead, they were prepared to fight against a spiritual foe seeking a victory for a Heavenly Kingdom. Such is our call today.
Secondly, consider the example of the first century church. The world of the first century church was far worse than our world today. Slavery was common, sexual perversion (including homosexuality) was fashionable throughout society and especially among government rulers, poverty was the norm, while abortion and prostitution were standard practices. Everything we think is wrong with our society today was far more prevalent and far more pernicious in the time of Rome. As Solomon said, there is nothing new under the sun.
Nevertheless, the New Testament letters (written to church communities living in the midst of these immoral practices) never direct Christians to strive for governmental and societal change as a means of addressing these moral wrongs. Instead, the NT writers commanded the church to live a holy and called-out lifestyle while preaching the Gospel, and in that way the Church will labor to build a Kingdom that is not of this world.
In short, the Bible's command for the Christian isn't to make the world better. Instead, we are to rescue as many as possible from out of the world so they may join a better country.
If the first century church was told to focus on building an eternal Kingdom rather than trying to repair the corrupt and decaying society of their day, then I think it's safe to assume the Lord expects we do the same today.