As I mulled this question, I asked myself, what is the Christian’s purpose? Many would respond to that question by quoting the “Great Commission,” and they wouldn’t be wrong in doing so. But does going and making disciples of all nations represent the totality of a Christian’s purpose? I think we miss out when we narrow our focus to simply reaching the lost. For starters, the Great Commission doesn’t say “Go and convert the nations.” Rather, “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20, emphasis added) Nowhere in this charge is anything about preaching the gospel or winning souls. Rather, it’s implied, and the focus is given to making disciples—that is, bringing converts along in their faith. Baptism, the second point of instruction, is meant to identify believers with Christ. It’s a declaration of faith and intent to follow Him. And biblical teaching, as we see throughout the New Testament, is essential to that growth process. So even the Great Commission focuses on far more than just bringing people to faith in Christ.
But is there more? Can Christians define their purpose in life—as so often it seems we do with a quick “Sunday School” answer—solely by the Great Commission? Look at the example of Jesus. What was His purpose? In Matthew 20:28, He said, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” It’s a concept repeated throughout the gospels and the entire Bible. Jesus’ purpose was clearly to die on the cross as the sacrifice for our sins. But was that it? Look at what He told Pilate: “In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth.” (John 18:37) The two aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, Jesus’ sacrificial death and the proclaiming of truth are intimately connected. But if we narrow our focus to one aspect and one only, we miss out on all of who Jesus is and why He came.
Similarly, if we think of Christian purpose as only preaching the gospel message to the unsaved, or as only doing “church” activities like witnessing, teaching or being taught in a church setting, or participating in other church “ministries,” we miss out. You’ve no doubt read the following quote on a Facebook post or refrigerator magnet: Preach the gospel always. If necessary, use words. That’s cute and clever, but it’s also good advice. So how do we do that? Like Jesus, by testifying to the truth.
We start by recognizing that Jesus is Truth (John 14:6). He doesn’t adhere to some arbitrary terms of reality. He defines it. As Christians, our entire lives should match up with that truth. As sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers; as employers, employees, and co-workers; as students, teachers, and classmates; as friends and neighbors, we should live lives consistent with truth. It should pervade everything we say, think, and do. That includes politics. Our political views—on everything from religious liberty to taxes to immigration—should, as Christians, match up with truth, and with the source of that truth, Jesus Christ. We shouldn’t abstain from being politically minded. Rather, we should let biblical truth permeate our views on everything, and then we should live out that truth in every aspect of life, including the political sphere.
It’s true we can’t legislate people to faith in Jesus Christ. And no matter how many wonderful laws we pass, no matter how many societal woes we cure or fix, that won’t in and of itself matter for eternity. But does that mean we shouldn’t do them? Did the people Jesus healed of various afflictions and diseases get an automatic ticket to heaven? No. So in one sense, the healing Jesus gave these people was entirely temporal. Their ailment or malady went away, but they still had a sin problem that prohibited them from heaven apart from faith in Christ. So what good was it?
One, it was an act of kindness, of compassion, of mercy and grace—virtues espoused throughout Scripture. They are the nature of God, and as Christians or “little Christs” as C.S. Lewis put it, we should imitate that nature. Shouldn’t we then also imitate God’s nature of freedom, justice, and righteousness?
Two, they drew attention to Jesus and to His message. Physical healing provided an opportunity for Him to reveal the need for spiritual healing. How many political issues—abortion, gay marriage, racial tension, welfare, terrorism—have direct ties to biblical teaching or represent the clash between a biblical and a worldly point of view—between truth and falsehood?
Three, the healing showed the character of Jesus. He practiced what He preached. He lived a life consistent with the truth He claimed to be. Standing up for truth, standing up for biblical values, and—most importantly—living them out is one of the primary ways in which we can shine the light of the gospel. Sometimes that will be, as the hymn-writer Charles Wesley put it, an overt “quickening ray.” Other times, it will be merely an increase in ambient light that reveals a path through the darkness.
Of course, there is danger in becoming so politically minded, so focused on winning elections or supporting legislation or pushing political or social issues that we drift from the ultimate issue, the sinfulness of man and the need for a Savior. It’s true of any concern the Church or Christians address or take up. And I’m not advocating that every Christian plaster their cars with bumper stickers endorsing a candidate, pass out buttons at the county fair, or devote themselves to informing everyone on social media.
Rather, I’m cautioning against an idea that says Christians need to focus solely on Christian pursuits and leave politics and social causes for the non-believers. When we do that, we stop testifying to the truth with the most powerful voice we have—the voice of our lives. The Christian faith isn’t meant to be something we bring to church once a week on Sunday (and maybe again to a small group mid-week if we’re really devout) in a box, let out for a few hours, then stow away until next week. It is supposed to transform us, impacting our entire lives. We should no less infuse the political world with Christian values than we should parent children, manage employees, teach and be taught, compose music, or write novels with them.
What is a Christian’s role in politics? It is the same as in every other area of life—to “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) And if we do that, we’ll find that the world, our country, our state, our community are not better places if we divert all our energy to “churchy” pursuits and let non-believers run things. Rather, the world is a better place when Christians are actively involved in their family, their workplace, their school, their community, and their voting booth.