Q&A: What does the Bible say about Christians being involved in political affairs?

Q: I was recently confronted with the idea that Christians should not concern themselves with politics since our hope is in Christ and His eternal kingdom. I was wondering what the Bible has to say on our involvement in political affairs. 

 This question has been debated for years.

It's true we're told in the Word to focus our minds on "things above." We're also told that our "citizenship is in heaven." (Colossians 3:1-2, Philippians 3:20) I guess someone could use those passages to make the point that political involvement is unwarranted for believers. But the Apostle Paul also urged us to pray for the leaders of our government (1 Timothy 2:1-2 ESV). That command shows that God wants our presence in this world to make a difference.

"Wait a minute!" someone might say. "Praying for our nation's leaders is one thing. But voting and running for office is quite another! We're never told to participate that way!" And that's true. But remember...the kind of political involvement you and I are privileged to have here in America was virtually unknown in biblical times. Democracy as we know it was unheard of, and a political process that involved citizens casting a vote was incredibly rare in the ancient world. No wonder the Apostle Paul never spoke of it. Even when citizens were allowed to vote in ancient Roman elections, often the outcome was determined by the upper-class or by those in power who had already pre-selected their candidate of choice. The voice we have today in the USA along with our ability to change the political landscape is truly unique.

I believe it's possible to take advantage of our political freedom to cast our vote and still keep our minds focused on things above. It's true, we are citizens of heaven, but we are also citizens of the country in which we live. And as those who are commissioned to be "salt and light" in this world, I believe we have a responsibility to positively affect the way our country operates. In fact, throughout the centuries it was believers in Jesus who spearheaded change in areas like the slave trade both here and in Europe. They did it by affecting the political process and changing the laws of the land.

Participating in the political process does not mean we've sold out to the world or that we're trusting in man. Biblical Christians fully understand that the heart of mankind is corrupt and deceitful. Furthermore, we know that the condition of this world will go from bad to worse. (2 Timothy 3: 1-5) But until the Lord calls us home, we ought to be using whatever opportunities and freedoms the Lord has granted us to bring the light of His presence into this dark world.

Q&A: Are Christians required to forgive when there is no repentance?

Question: Are Christians required to forgive when there is no repentance? 

I suppose it depends on which passage of Scripture you're looking at. Here's one that supports that idea:

Jesus said, "If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” Luke 17:3-4 (ESV)

So, I suppose based on a passage like this an argument could be made for withholding forgiveness when repentance has not been expressed. But, to be fair, there are other passages which speak of extending forgiveness while mentioning nothing of repentance. Check out the two passages below...

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times." (Matthew 18:21-22 ESV)

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32 ESV)

When it comes to forgiveness I have a question of my own: Why would you not want to forgive? As believers we come to learn that unforgiveness is not unlike a poison that courses through our hearts, corrupting our thoughts and ultimately leading to bitterness. And bitterness ruins everything — including our relationship with God. (See Hebrews 12:15) So I think it's better to err on the side of seeing forgiveness as a mandate regardless of what the offender does or doesn't do.

But let me be quick to add that real forgiveness is a work of the Holy Spirit. That means if you and I are waiting around for the desire to forgive someone who has hurt us we're in for a long wait. Forgiving others is first and foremost an act of obedience. And secondly, it's just a smart thing to do. If you're struggling with forgiving someone you need to come to God and confess that inability and ask for His grace to forgive.

Does God forgive without repentance?

This is a common follow-up question but I have to be honest that I feel uncomfortable comparing the forgiveness we extend to others with the forgiveness that God offers. The sins and offenses we commit against one another are made by sinners, against sinners. But the sin that is committed against God is a wholly different matter since we are offending One who is perfect in purity and holiness. In other words, it's not comparing apples and apples. The One eternal, almighty God is on a level that is entirely His own when it comes to such things.

Q&A: What does the Bible say about where you are immediately after death? Do we soul sleep?

Question: What does the Bible say about where you are immediately after death? Do we soul sleep?

It's not uncommon to run into Christians who think that after death we enter into a state of sleep, often called soul sleep, and the reason for this is the many usages of the word "sleep" in the Bible when referring to physical death. Some examples are:

Then David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David. 1 Kings 2:10 (ESV) 

A New Testament example is used by the Apostle Paul:

...we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-15 (ESV) 

Three times in 3 verses Paul uses the idea of sleeping to describe those who died in Christ. You can see why for some the idea of soul sleep is a slam dunk. 

But when the Bible uses a reference to sleeping in place of death it is employing a euphemism which is defined as:

a mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing.

In death, the physical body takes on the appearance of sleep, thus the usage of sleep-related terms to describe it.

But we have to have a good biblical reason to consider that a euphemism is being used in all these cases, otherwise we're just projecting nothing more than a personal opinion. And there are very good reasons for not believing in soul sleep. The first comes from the Apostle Paul who, when speaking of life both in the body and out of the body wrote:

Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 (NIV) 

Paul declared that he much preferred to be absent from the body because that meant he would be present with the Lord and enjoy all those wonderful blessings.

But perhaps the best reason for not embracing soul sleep is a story — not a parable, mind you — that Jesus told about the death of two men. This story is located in Luke's Gospel chapter 16. It concerns a wealthy man and a diseased beggar by the name of Lazarus.* In this story, both men suffer physical death. Lazarus is transported by the angels of God to a place of comfort and the wealthy man is sent immediately to a place of suffering where he awaits judgment. In the case of both of these men, they are fully conscious and aware of their present circumstances and surroundings. Since there's no reason to consider this story anything other than a telling of real events, it shows that Jesus taught something other than soul sleep. And since His is an unimpunable authority I believe we are left with some very concrete reasons to believe that the human soul does not sleep after death.

*The fact that this man is mentioned by name along with Abraham tells us Jesus was not using a parable but instead was relating very real events with very real people.

Q&A: What happened to all those who died before the time of Christ?

Q: What happened to the souls of all those who passed before Christ? Obviously they couldn't keep the law and they didn't have a Savior. Could they be saved?

We know that Jesus came to die on the cross bearing the penalty of our sin. But we also know the death of Christ happened at a specific point in time. Many Christians wonder how those who lived before the time of Christ were saved or if eternal life for them was a possibility.

There are many who believe that before the time of Christ, people were saved by keeping the Law. However, if you carefully read the Old Testament you find that among the promises outlined for obedience there was never a promise of heaven. This is confirmed in the New Testament in passages such as Romans 3:20, which says: "Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law..." (NIV)

In Ephesians 2: 8-9 the Apostle Paul reminds us that we are saved by grace through faith. He says that salvation is not a work of our own effort or merit, but is instead "the gift of God." Although this is what we refer to as "the Gospel" (which means good news), there is no reason to believe the way of salvation has ever been different. Faith in God has always been the key.

As far back as Genesis chapter 15, we're told that Abraham "...believed the LORD, and [God] credited it to him as righteousness." Genesis 15:6 (NIV) And in the Psalms we see that God has always been communicating to His people that "Blessed are all who take refuge in him." Psalm 2:12 (NIV)

People who lived and died before Christ had to trust God and rely on His mercy just like we do. Their faith looked forward to Christ's work on the cross while ours looks backward. I'm not suggesting they had the full picture of God's redemptive program — not by a long shot. Their faith was based on the amount of revelation they had been given.

The important thing to remember is that there has never been a different way to be saved other than placing one's faith completely in God's mercy.

Q&A: Are personal words of prophecy biblical?

Q: In my church people often prophesy over one another and give messages from the Lord. Is this practice biblical?

What you're describing concerning personal prophecy is called a "word of knowledge" or a "word of wisdom." The Apostle Paul talks about these gifts in 1 Corinthians 12. We also see these gifts operational in the book of Acts.

Such prophetic utterances are very biblical but they are also greatly abused in the Body of Christ today. Personally, I am very wary of receiving a prophetic word from anyone I don't know or anyone who doesn't have a proven track record of maturity and prophetic sensitivity.

Additionally, we are exhorted to "test everything" and that especially includes prophetic messages. There are many ways we can test such things, such as:

1. Through the inner witness of the Spirit. Does the message resonate in my heart as true, or does it give me a check in my spirit?

2. Through the Word of God. Is there anything in the message that violates what I know to be true in the Bible?

3. Through the test of time. If the person spoke to me of a coming event, did it come to pass as they said?

4. Through prayer. We should always pray about any personal message that is supposed to have come from the Lord and I would encourage you to ask the Lord to confirm it through other sources. If God is speaking to you He doesn't mind repeating Himself for the sake of clarity and confirmation.

Anyone who becomes annoyed or angry when we tell them we will test their message to see if it holds up is not operating in the Holy Spirit and should be avoided. Not everyone who claims to have a message from the Lord is truly walking in the Spirit.

Prophetic messages are a wonderful way for the Lord to encourage or warn us, but we must be diligent to test everything.

Q&A: Should Christians pray out loud when praying by ourselves?

Question: Should Christians pray out loud when praying by ourselves? I know God knows our thoughts but is there something more powerful about the spoken word during prayer?

You're asking if a spoken prayer is more powerful than a prayer expressed without words from the heart. I would have to say no, for two reasons.

1. There is nothing in the Word that directs us specifically to pray out loud as a means of making our prayers more effective.

2. There are biblical examples of prayers being offered up without words that were answered by the Lord.

Example one: Hannah, (as recorded in 1 Samuel 1) was a woman who poured out her heart to God in prayer, and we are told that as she prayed "...only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard." (:13) And yet, God powerfully answered her petition.

Example two: Nehemiah (in Nehemiah 2) was tending to King Artaxerxes in his official role as Cupbearer, and during a conversation with the King, Nehemiah relates that he "prayed to the God of heaven" before answering a specific question that had been put to him by the king. Nehemiah hardly had time to go off and pray on his own, so it seems obvious from the text that he shot up a quick and silent prayer to the Lord his God, which was wonderfully answered.

Some believe the best passage in support of silent prayer is 1 Thessalonians 5:17 where the Apostle Paul exhorts us to “Pray without ceasing.” This verse speaks of a constant and ongoing communication with God throughout our day, which would most certainly involve verbal and non-verbal petitions and thanksgiving.

We're clearly told in the Word that our heavenly Father knows what we need before we ask Him (Matthew 6:8). And yet He wants us to come to Him and to pour out our needs before His throne of grace. There is certainly a place for verbal prayers, and whenever possible I try to pray out loud. In my own case, it just gives me a greater sense of talking to my Lord. But obviously that's not always possible. When voicing my prayers out loud isn't feasible, I move into silent prayer confident that my Father in Heaven hears with equal clarity and eagerness.

Q&A: If I'm saved and my sins are forgiven why then is it important to try and sin no more?

Question: If I'm saved and my sins are forgiven why then is it important to try and sin no more?

This is actually an excellent question. And the Bible has no shortage of information to satisfy the answer. So, why should a believer be concerned with curbing sin since forgiveness and eternal salvation are secured through faith in Christ? I will give you seven reasons.

1. A life of sin is incompatible with the life of the Holy Spirit now indwelling us.

For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other... Galatians 5:17 (NIV) 

A believer who gives in to a life of sin will be in constant conflict with the Holy Spirit who now indwells them. In a word, they will be miserable! (See Psalm 32:3-4 to see how David described this kind of conviction.)

2. Although it can be a difficult concept to grasp, the Bible says we have "died to sin."

The Apostle Paul wrote:

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Romans 6:1-2 (NIV) 

When we come to Christ as Savior we literally enter into His death. That means we are now dead to the control of the old sin nature that once dominated our behavior. We are now free to follow Christ and make Him Lord of our lives. To live in sin would be a complete denial of the freedom Christ won for us on the cross. Living in sin means walking back into a life of slavery and bondage to the flesh. 

3. Victory over sin is the sign that we have come to know Him and are born of Him

We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. 1 John 2:3 (NIV) 

Also, check out 1 John 2:29; 3:6 and 5:18.

4. Living to please God enables us to test and approve God's will.

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2 (NIV) 

5. We owe Jesus our obedience, gratitude and worship.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. Romans 12:1 (NIV) 

6. Because sin always brings death 

Don't be lulled into the idea that just because you're a Christian that sin can no longer produce death in your life. I have personally witnessed born-again believers who have suffered great loss because they became careless with allowing sin in their lives. Everything from the death of a marriage, family, and career can easily develop from a life of reckless ignorance.

For the wages of sin is death... Romans 6:23 (NIV) 

...after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. James 1:15 (NIV) 

And finally...

7. Because of sin, the wrath of God is coming.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.  Colossians 3:5-6 (NIV) 

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19-21 (NIV)

All in all, I think these biblical reasons for avoiding sin are compelling. Obviously, I could have come up with many more witnesses from God's Word, but I think the point has been sufficiently made. As a new creation in Christ, a life of sin no longer fits with our eternal destiny and blessing. In fact, it's the opposite of what God wants to do in our hearts.