Unity and Conviction

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I have been planning to start a blog for some time, but there always seems to be something more pressing to work on.  But I feel like this is a good time to finally give it a go.  Election season is always… shall we say, interesting, but this one seems to be in a class by itself.
Since the onset of 24 hour news networks, and the rise of talk radio, we have been inundated with broadcasts of all sorts of ideas, opinions, and soundbites.  It is difficult to escape the constant barrage.  And over the last few years, with the arrival of social networking, we have now become the broadcasters.  All of our thoughts and opinions can be broadcast to thousands with the click of a mouse.  And, we can give immediate responses to anyone else’s opinion that we have access to as well.
I used to be a bit of a talk radio junkie.  I worked in in-home sales, and so I was on the road most of the day.  And if I was in the car, talk radio was on.  As they would play sound bites from prominent politicians, I would frequently find myself talking back to them, sometimes loudly, as if they could hear me.  I’m sure that my blood pressure went up a bit as well.  These days, instead of talking to myself, I can share my thoughts with everyone I know in seconds, by sharing the video clip on Facebook, with my opinions attached.  And, just like with pretty much every new technological advance, these things can be used for much good, and they can be used to cause great damage.
To bring it back to the election, this is easily the most polarizing election cycle that I have been around for within the Christian community.  As far as I can see, for most in our church, as well as most Christians that I am friends with (both on Facebook, and face to face) this election is not Clinton vs. Trump, as much as it is Trump vs. not-Trump, and there are people who are extremely passionate on both sides of the issue.  People who support Trump are calling Christians out who feel that they cannot support him, as if they are in sin.  And those who will not support Trump are calling out Christians who do, as if they are supporting evil, and therefore are in sin.  I think that both attitudes are problematic.
The first thing that needs to be stressed in this election is that we need to pray.  We need to pray for wisdom and discernment, not only in how we will vote, but in how we will discuss these things with one another.  We need to pray that whatever happens, there will still be unity in the church.  We cannot allow this election to divide us as believers.  Paul tells us how we are to conduct ourselves within the body of Christ:
Ephesians 4:1-3 ESV – I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,  (2)  with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,  (3)  eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
This is what we are called to.  But, too often on Facebook, what I see among believers does not resemble this very much.  I see people talking down to one another, accusing one another, and being more that a little snarky with one another.  We need to remember that we are to be identified by our love for one another, not our voting record.
We also need to pray for whoever ends up in office, because they also need Christ.  Paul again, is pretty clear here:
1 Timothy 2:1-4 ESV – First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,  (2)  for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  (3)  This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior,  (4)  who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
We are to pray for them to make God-honoring decisions, and we are to pray for their salvation.  We also need to realize that whoever ends up being elected on November 8th, will be in office because God has appointed them to be there.  In the Old Testament, Daniel put it this way:
Daniel 2:21 ESV – He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding;
And, of course, in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul again:
Romans 13:1 ESV – Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.
This, of course, does not mean that we are not to be involved in the political process.  But are we to vote for Donald Trump, or not?
Either way, it is imperative that we recognize evil for what it is.  We need to make sure that we aren’t downplaying overt sin, simply because it originates from our side of the aisle.  I remember many of us in the 1990’s calling for Bill Clinton to be removed from office, because his actions made him unfit to be president.  The clarion call at the time was that “character matters”, and it still does!
Isaiah 5:20 ESV – Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!
This does not preclude you from still casting your vote in that direction, but let’s be clear and consistent in our characterizations.
Our responsibility, as believers, is to know the scripture; to immerse ourselves in God’s Word, and then to make decisions that line up with it as best we can, trusting God with the results.  In the midst of our sanctification process, there are going to be times when godly people have differing opinions on matters that are not completely clear, and the Bible tells us how to deal with these things in Romans 14.  So, I want to highlight a bit of it here.
Romans 14:1-8 ESV – As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.  (2)  One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables.  (3)  Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.  (4)  Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.  (5)  One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.  (6)  The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.  (7)  For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself.  (8)  For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.
Now, don’t focus on which view is meant to make you the weaker brother (or sister).  That isn’t the point.  The point is, “each one should be fully convinced in his own mind”, and in whatever you do, whether eating meat or not, observing a day or not, voting for a particular candidate or not… You do it with full conviction in honor of the Lord.
Let’s skip down a little bit:
Romans 14:10-12 ESV – Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God;  (11)  for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.”  (12)  So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
I remember a Tuesday night Bible Study that I taught, probably a couple of years ago now.  Within the study, I asked the question of whether it is ever acceptable for a Christian to lie.  This brought up some thought-provoking and spirited debate.
The Bible makes it very clear that lying is sin.  In fact, God lists seven things that are an abomination to Him in Proverbs 6:16-19, and lying is listed twice on the list!  So, we know that lying is sin.  But, some may ask, what about when I am hiding the fact that we are having a surprise party for someone, and I get them to the party on false pretenses?
Or, even more importantly, what about the Egyptian midwives of Exodus, chapter 1, who lied to Pharaoh in order to protect the lives of Hebrew children?  What about Rahab, in Joshua, chapter 2?  She lied to the king of Jericho to protect the Israelite spies.  Were these justified in their lies, or not?
Some will point to the fact that Rahab and the midwives are not condemned in scripture to make the case that what they did was right.  Others will make the case that God extended mercy to them despite their sin.  Of course, neither Rahab nor the midwives were Jews, and so they didn’t have any real knowledge of God’s Word or His character, but they exhibited faith to the extent that they were able.
Corrie Ten Boom is well known because her family risked their lives to hide Jews from the Nazi occupiers in Holland.  Corrie believed that it was acceptable to lie to the authorities in order to protect people, but her sister-in-law, Nollie, had a different conviction.  Nollie would tell the truth, and trust God for the results.  You can look up the stories of how things played out, and how God worked through both of them.  A family member of mine has this same conviction as Nollie, and when he was bringing Bibles into a place where it was illegal, a person with him suggested that he check off on the customs form that he was not carrying any printed material.  He refused, and decided to trust God with the truth.  He checked off yes, and no one even noticed.  And praise God, the Bibles got where they were meant to go.
I don’t share this to convince you of one view or the other, but to share how people need to act according to their convictions.
With every decision that we make, we need understand that we will one day have to give an account.  That is a very sobering realization which should give us great pause.  However, we are not standing before one another, but before God.  Now, this is not talking about issues of open sin, as scripture gives us clear direction about those in Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5.  This is an issue of personal convictions, and our response to those convictions.
As Paul continues a little further down in the chapter, he talks about us not causing a brother to stumble, but he also tells us not to let what you regard as good be called evil.  I think that an application here is that it is not for me to make it difficult for you to uphold your convictions, but I also am not to allow you to put me down for mine.  We each need to have clear consciences before God.
And for someone to act against the dictates of their conscience is sin.  Here is a quote from R. C. Sproul: 
“If we follow our consciences into sin, we are guilty of sin inasmuch as we are required to have our consciences rightly informed by the Word of God.”
“However, if we act against our consciences, we are also guilty of sin. The sin may not be located in what we do but rather in the fact that we commit an act we believe to be evil. Here the biblical principle of Romans 14:23 comes into play: “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” For example, if a person is taught and comes to believe that wearing lipstick is a sin and then wears lipstick, that person is sinning. The sin resides not in the lipstick but in the intent to act against what one believes to be the command of God.”
I think that Sproul is exactly right.  We are to inform our consciences by the Word of God, and then we need to act according to our conscience.  He mentioned Romans 14:23.  If we look at that entire verse, it says:
Romans 14:23 ESV – But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
Of course, the verse is specifically dealing with the issue of eating meat, but the application is the same.  If anyone votes in such a way that it violates their biblically informed convictions, they are sinning, and we are not to lead one another into sin.  And whatever the outcome of the election, we recognize that God, in His sovereignty, has put in place the person that He has appointed to that office.  We certainly cannot allow any of this to divide the family.

We can have discussions; we can share opinions, but let’s please be very careful how we speak to one another, and how we treat one another.  Let us not quarrel over opinions, but let us bear with one another in love, being eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is a lost world out there that desperately needs the gospel, and they are watching.


Soli Deo Gloria,

Pastor Dave