I cringe when I hear/read political advocacy which says something like, “If Jesus was alive today, he would support this policy …”
The first part of such statements denies the core biblical truth that Jesus IS in fact alive today. Though it seems unlikely, perhaps someone saying this simply means, “If he were still in the world today…” but that still presupposes a distance between Jesus and real life, as if to say, “If he could speak from heaven, he’d agree with me on this …” whereas Scripture claims to be the living, active voice of the Lord in and to the world (2 Timothy 3, Romans 10, Hebrews 4).
It’s much more likely that the person claiming Messianic support for preferred political policy means, “hey Christians – you claim to love Jesus. Well, here’s the kind of political policy he would have supported so you should support it, too.” In that case, the person wants it both ways, denying the central truth of the book by which we learn almost everything we know about Jesus and yet claiming such a confident knowledge of Christ that well, of course Jesus would support the policy in question. As if to say, “We reasonable people know that Jesus is dead and that the Bible isn’t really God’s word, but if you claim to love a risen Savior and to believe the Bible, you should agree with our take on him and support our politics.” Of course, there are lots of disagreements about the true significance of what Jesus teaches in Scripture. But that only makes it all the more incumbent upon us to study Jesus’ life deeply, and honestly.
If we’re going to cite Jesus in support of our politics (or personal opinions about anything), we should do him the decency of studying Scripture seriously, of looking deeply into and taking within their own context his claims about himself, the nature of his ministry, and the nature of God’s kingdom and what it looks like lived out in the world. And that inquiry, if it’s honest, involves serious consideration that Jesus’s claims about life and death and resurrection are actually true (John 11) and serious consideration of his call to personal faith in him (John 3).
Some who cite Jesus in support of their politics want Jesus’s moral teachings minus all that stuff about his being God in the flesh and calling the world to conformity to God’s law. But Jesus’ closest friends believed him to be God (John 1) and Jesus grounded all of his ethics in Scriptural doctrine (Matthew 5-7; 22:37-40). Jesus teaches that loving our neighbor as ourselves only happens fully and consistently when we first love and worship the one true and living God, who makes his moral will for us known in his law. Jesus never separated the call for social justice from the call to personal righteousness. Profound anti-Christian thinkers like Nietzsche understood this: You can’t have Christian ethics without Christian doctrine. We Christians need to remember this, too.
Some who claim to worship Jesus as Lord drag his name into their godless politics. They seem to think, and some have actually said, that America (note: NOT Jesus) is the last great hope of the earth, and they seem to think that when Jesus spoke of the city shining on a hill, that it was shining not with the light of his gospel but with the messianic power of political democracy. Some powerful leaders within those ranks have no problem being associated with and even owning exploitive businesses which profit from life and family-shredding activities which Christ’s law condemns. Yet Jesus says “Why do you call me Lord, and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46). We sometimes call such public figures “baby Christians,” but that’s an insult to Christ - and to babies! Babies learn quickly to recognize their parents, and to act like them (Ephesians 5:1ff).
Whenever we cite Jesus in support of the political causes we care about, let’s do so honestly, in keeping with what he actually said and did in this world. If we give Scripture honest and humble inquiry, the risen Christ may well bless us such that we’re not seeking to sign him up to support us in our activism, but that we become active in supporting his ongoing work in the world. This work begins within us and cleanses our hearts from lawless affections and reconciles us to God. Then he orients our redeemed, freed lives to the all-encompassing, all-inclusive priority which Jesus puts before his disciples, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness …” (Matthew 6:33).
It could be that seeking to enact God's kingdom in the world will take us right back to our pre-existing passions, refining our understanding, broadening our vision and giving us more solid ground to stand upon in our advocacy. Or, it might be that we recognize that our pursuits oppose Christ's, and that he'll call us to a radical reorientation of heart and life. Either way, seeking God's kingdom, sincerely submitting our passions and principles to Scriptural scrutiny, will reach deep, changing our lives and our entire outlook on life. A serious engagement of Jesus and his word can do no less.
God's kingdom is not a political entity whose origins are in this world (John 18:36; Daniel 2:44-45), or whose principles rise from and are ever subject to the ever-changing standards of our (self) righteousness. It’s a kingdom of unchanging and uncompromising justice (Psalm 99; Romans 3:26), of the fullest and truest freedoms we and the world itself can experience (2 Corinthians 5:17;Romans 8:18-23); it’s the kingdom for which Jesus gave his life and whose crown he rose again to claim. It’s the kingdom he’ll bring in full upon his return. As we pursue that kingdom, we can be absolutely certain that we have Jesus’s support; he’s promised it! “Make disciples of the nations...teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”