Power, Pride, and the Lordship of Jesus
The most political statement that a Christian can make is “Jesus is Lord.” While that may sound like a spiritual utterance to modern ears, first-century Christians lived in a world where the norm was to declare “Caesar is Lord.” A commitment to following Jesus, therefore, represented a transformation, not only in followers’ hearts but also in the way they related to the political realm around them. How, then, can Christians today live under the lordship of Jesus while also seeking the good of our cities and nations? We must pledge allegiance to Christ the king while also being aware of the temptation of national pride and the allure of political power.
The Temptation of National Pride
I’ve travelled the world enough to know that America is a great place to live. And it’s not just the luxuries of paved roads and stop lights. Our country truly has more freedom and opportunity than most civilizations that have existed in the history of our planet. But because there is much that is good about America, there is a danger of making an idol out of America.
Idolatry is making a good thing an ultimate thing. People often make idols out of money, sex, career, and image. But it’s possible to make an idol out of a nation and for patriotism to become nationalism.
Sadly, this type of national and ethnic idolatry has been all too present in our country. Many Christians see Americans as “God’s chosen people” and America as the new Promised Land. But we must remember that we are citizens of the kingdom of God before we are citizens of America.
Russell Moore says, “National identity is important but transitory. There will come a day…when the new republic succumbs to a new creation. We must not shirk from our calling as citizens, but we also must not see our citizenship of the moment as the final word. We are Americans best when we are not Americans first.”
Jesus is Lord and our allegiance to him must shape (and override, when necessary) our loyalty to our nation. There is much to be grateful for about America, but may we never forget this important truth: the mission of the church is not to make a Christian nation but to make disciples of all nations.
The Allure of Political Power
Power is the currency of politics in our country today. And Christians must beware of the allure of using political power to accomplish the church’s purposes. History teaches that this is a temptation on both sides of the political aisle.
In the 1930s, liberal-minded Christians began preaching a “social gospel” that redefined the message of the gospel around what we can do for the world (rather than what God has accomplished in Christ) and often sought political means for their social goals. This liberal movement in the church, coupled with the sexual revolution of the 1960s, led to a conservative reaction in the church that sought to “take back America,” also using political means for this goal. The Moral Majority, as the movement become known, tried to accomplish moral goals by wielding political power. It often promoted a gospel-less Christianity that focused on family values and select virtues that advantaged people like themselves while ignoring other biblical virtues that would’ve benefited people different from them.
For both liberals and conservatives, the ends justified the means and the influence of the church was leveraged for political agendas, resulting in what could be called a prostitution of power. The church became a voting bloc, a demographic to be pulled to the left or right instead of what it should be, a different species altogether who defy cultural categories because our allegiance is to Christ the king.
The Surprising Kingdom of Christ
Jesus addressed power and pride one day as he was walking with his disciples. James and John had pride that led to a desire for power, and they asked Jesus if they could sit at his right and left in glory. Jesus doesn’t rebuke their desire for power, however, because power is not bad in and of itself. Instead, he redefines greatness by service. Jesus says, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you…whoever would be great among you must be your servant” (Mark 10:42-45)
Jesus reveals that power in the kingdom is different than power in the world:
Worldly power is used for selfish ambition.
Kingdom power is used for sacrificial love.
Worldly power exploits the weakness of others.
Kingdom power empowers the strengthens of others.
Worldly power is self-seeking.
Kingdom power is self-denying.
Worldly power is used to suppress.
Kingdom power is used to serve.
Worldly power is about building up ourselves.
Kingdom power is about laying ourselves down for others.
Jesus paints a picture of the kingdom of God where power is used to bless and serve others. And he said all of this on his way to the cross, where Jesus displayed a greater power than this world has ever seen—the power of the gospel.