By Tim Keep
How should we respond as citizens when we see our constitutional freedoms eroding, our government overreaching, and our Christian values being trampled? Some say we should protest; others say that we should submit. Some believe we must resist, and others want us to retreat.
Here are three big-picture biblical principles that have helped shape my understanding of Christian citizenship. These have helped me find and keep my balance and guide my responses.
First, I must keep the church of Jesus central to my mind and heart. The New Testament church turned the world upside-down because they responded to crisis, threats, and persecution as a community of believers rather than as isolated individuals.
As a true believer in the gospel, I am a member of a church being built by Jesus; a united church that the gates of hell cannot prevail against; a Spirit-filled church through whom His perfect kingdom is coming—a kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit; a bold-preaching, gospel-proclaiming church through whom the sins of society are called out and through whom sinners are being saved; a united, Spirit-led church which acts with discernment; a praying church which acts with power; a salt and light community of saints preserving society from total decay; a victorious church which will never be defeated or stop expanding. Culture rises or falls with the church. And to the degree that the church is not being the church, society decays, and freedoms are lost.
From every truly New Testament church will emanate the fragrance of Jesus in a sinful world. From a Christ-centered, Spirit-filled church will radiate the beauty of Jesus to a darkened world. Wherever this church is operating, it is making disciples who are permeating educational institutions, the business community, the media, the arts and entertainment industries, the judiciary, and the government; it is forming ministries to serve the most vulnerable and promote righteousness; it is transforming culture from the inside out. Wherever a holy, Jesus-saturated church exists, it proves to be the best vaccine for its sick and dying community.
Isolated from the body, lone actors become imbalanced, paranoid, irrational, and sensational. Isolated, I will lose my focus on Christ and my eternal hope in a kingdom that will never be shaken. Alone, I will end up walking by fear and not by faith, by conspiracies rather than in God’s Word. And every lie I choose to believe will become smoke in my eyes, blinding my vision of God at work in our land and keeping me from praying, in faith, “Thy kingdom come!” Fear can cause me to forget that history is His-story, that world events follow His decrees, and that calamities are His mercies drawing the nations to their only Savior and chastening the church toward holiness.
Second, I must respond as a foreigner in exile because that’s who I am. I must participate in the good of the land where God’s providence has placed me but always as a stranger and pilgrim. I should defend it, beautify it, and seek its welfare. I should use my gifts and resources to make it more just, prosperous, fruitful, and good. I should push back the darkness wherever I find it but all the while remembering that only the kingdom of God will stand forever.
In Jeremiah 29:4-9, listen to how the prophet Jeremiah exhorted Jewish citizens living in exile: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord.”
Apparently, some pseudo prophets were discouraging Jewish exiles from participating in the good of Babylon, but Jeremiah says this is not God’s way. It still isn’t.
Like Daniel of old, I should exercise faithful citizenship in my Babylon. I should do good work, demonstrate godliness, participate in society, and preserve our nation a few days, months, or years longer, but I must never forget that the splendor of Babylon is fading. Her image of gold is falling before an invisible kingdom of God growing up in her midst.
Third, I must fight against evil but only with spiritual weapons. “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal” [power, money, hate, name-calling, belittling] “but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:4 NKJV). I must fight with God’s Word and the gospel and with humility, kindness, peace, love, and prayer. I must use whatever platform, means, and voice God has given me to do good but do it righteously.
These words may seem counterintuitive, but they are reshaping families, communities, and nations where they are obeyed: “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For ‘Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.’ Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:9-18).
The principles listed here are general, but they have helped me keep my heart, perspective, and balance in a world going just a little bit crazy!
Timothy Keep and his wife, Rebecca, pastored for five years in the USA and served for thirteen years as missionaries to the Philippines, where they trained and equipped rising Christian leaders. They have been blessed with three daughters, two sons, a son-in-law, a daughter-in-law, and three grandchildren. From 2010 to the present, Tim has served as the Missions Director for the Bible Methodist Connection of Churches, USA, and has directed Shepherds Global Classroom since its founding in 2012. He holds a BA in Intercultural Studies and an MA in Pastoral Theology.