We’re coming out of an election cycle like no other, and most of us probably find ourselves just a little more wrapped up in current events than ever before. Even proud connoisseurs of the “low-information diet,” like me, have found ourselves tuning into news sites, scanning headlines, and feeling angrier than we normally tend to be. My personal news consumption is up about 900%.
Now, I’m all for being an informed citizen. My high school civics class just left out the part where you bash political opponents on social media and lose sleep/mental health in the process. (Although in fairness, we only had MySpace back then!)
In times like these, it’s easy to attach part of your heart – even a sense of who we are – to a political candidate and their agenda. We define ourselves by who we’re “with” and who we’re “against.”
I have a theory about why we do this. It’s not because we really like or aspire to be like our favorite Washington celebrities. Rather, we’ve placed our hope in them. We have an agenda for our lives and our families – hopes, expectations, and dreams. And we know that people in power have agendas that will impact those hopes and dreams for better or worse. So, we attach our hopes to a political candidate. We place some of our faith for the future in their platform.
Rather than placing our hope in Jesus, we attach our hopes and dreams to Jesus and treat Him as an instrument to get what we want.
Once again, I’m all for participating in the political process. I want you to be an informed voter! But we run into trouble when we attach our ultimate loyalty as believers to any earthly ruler, party, platform, or agenda. It’s scary that we’d place our hope in anyone other than Jesus, right?
I’m afraid a far worse spiritual problem may lurk beneath the surface here. As believers, we understand Jesus to be our Lord and Savior. Sometimes, though, we mistake Jesus for a politician. In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis describes this spiritual problem through the voice of his demon character, Screwtape. As he advises a junior demon on how to lead humans astray, he tells him, “On the other hand we do want, and want very much, to make men treat Christianity as a means; preferably, of course, as a means to their own advancement.”
This isn’t a new problem. We read about the first time Jesus was mistaken for a politician in John 6. After multiplying loaves and fish to meet the needs of thousands, the people (rightly) declared, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world.” The trouble came next: We’re told that “perceiving then that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him King, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself” (John 6:14-15).
The crowds got the identity of Jesus right. He was and is God’s promised Messiah. But they completely misunderstood the purpose of His mission and its implications for their lives. They understood Jesus as Lord. But they wanted Him to be the kind of Lord who would get them what they wanted, not a Lord to whom they would surrender their selfish plans and desires. They wanted a Savior who could meet their needs and fulfill their aspirations. They weren’t looking for a Savior who could save them from themselves.
People who fall into the “Jesus the Politician” trap are fine with acknowledging who Jesus is. But rather than placing their hope IN Jesus, they attach their hopes and dreams TO Jesus and treat Him as an instrument to get what they want.
Okay, “they” might be a bit misleading. When I say this is a trap someone might fall into, I’m talking about you and me. I’m not talking about that preacher on the late-night infomercial who promised health, wealth, and prosperity if you would just fill out a pledge card and send his ministry a monthly donation. We might not fall for that. But almost certainly we have mistaken Jesus as a means to our own selfish ends.
How many of us are, or have been, that single Christian struggling to stay pure, who made a deal with God that we would do things His way if only He would hurry up and bring us an awesome spouse? Or how many of us have faced a sudden tragedy in our family and tried to bargain with God about the changes we would make if only He would miraculously intervene? How many of us have gotten frustrated with God when life hasn’t delivered on our dreams and expectations? How many of us have served God faithfully for a really long time, and we’d just like a little recognition for all our efforts.
Here’s the answer – all of us!
What’s the antidote to the “Jesus the Politician” fallacy? I think the only way short-sighted people like you and me get past this is by developing a clearer view of who Jesus really is, with the help of His Holy Spirit.
In Mark 8:27-33, when Jesus asked His disciples who they thought He was, Peter correctly declared that He was Christ. However, when Jesus shared that His mission would include incalculable suffering, Peter protested. His vision of who Jesus was and what He would accomplish wasn’t big enough. After Jesus corrected Peter, He shared a hard but liberating truth: Following Him would mean suffering, denial, and pain. It would mean taking up their cross daily. It would mean the death of many of their dreams and plans for the future. But then He shared a paradoxical truth: By losing themselves in His mission, they would find real life. “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 9:35).
Jesus didn’t come to be commander in chief of my little earthly kingdom. He is Lord over all creation and is coming again to rule and reign. His Kingdom will have no end (Luke 1:33).
May He reign in us now. May His reign be the death of our agendas and selfish ambitions. Because only when we lose ourselves in the mission of His Kingdom will we find the true life and joy we were designed to experience in Him.