Jesus taught his disciples and all who came in reach of the sound of his voice to eschew the lifestyle promoted by Satan. He evicted demons from persons who had been forcibly enslaved by those demons for years, and he taught people how to live in harmony with God’s plan for human beings. In the gospel stories, there is obvious justification for the claim that Jesus taught a high standard of morality and lived by that standard as a perfect example.
However, Jesus was not a legal instructor. The scribes and Pharisees were religious legal minds, and they argued with Jesus constantly on fine points of the law. They argued, because the fine points were more important to them than the law itself. They thought that picking at the fine points made them look even more righteous.
Jesus was not interested in the appearance of righteousness. Everything Jesus taught was rooted in the transformation of a person at the heart level, deep inside. Jesus said that people who wanted to follow him and be like him had to stop fretting over the way they looked to other people and let go of themselves altogether. He said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”(Mark 8:34) There was no room in a call such as that one for primping to look righteous in public.
Jesus made that teaching very clear when he talked about what happens when Satanic power is driven out of someone’s life. Jesus cast out many demons. When he came into view, the demons often screamed at him to go away. And when he prevailed over them, expelling them from their enslaved hosts, they reacted violently, often throwing the victim into a seizure. The demons did not willingly abandon their residence in human beings too weak to fight back. It always was occasion for great joy when Jesus cast out a demon.
But Jesus said that there is danger in casting out a demon if nothing replaces it. Jesus told this story:
“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.” (Luke 11:24-26)
This is the risk when Christian advocates for godly morality in public law prevail against godless campaigns for social and political purposes. Christians rightly enter into public discourse on all topics: presidential campaigns, proposed legislation, military action, international diplomacy, and civil and criminal justice. Jesus said that Christians are to be salt and light in the culture, constantly holding up his perfect Truth as the standard to which the civil society should adhere.
However, those who sneer, “You can’t legislate morality,” are correct, as far as that statement goes. Passing good laws does not change anyone’s heart. If good law were enough to transform a society, ancient Israel would have been heaven on earth after God wrote the Ten Commandments on the stone tablets Moses carried down from Sinai. Even if excellent laws are administered by righteous officials, the human beings that make up civil society can barely be corralled into compliant behavior. Nothing about good law changes evil hearts. In other words, the society governed by good law will always still contain people whose hearts are evil and whose every imagination is only to construct ways to get around the law or simply to ignore it. Good laws create pressure for officials to enforce and administer laws with integrity, but even if good law pressures a person to temporarily evict an indwelling demon, that person will be nothing but an empty shell waiting to be invaded again if he is not indwelt and transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. Good laws do not produce a holy people.
It is not enough for good people to advocate for good law and to elect good officials who will administer the law with righteousness and justice. The Bible demonstrates graphically that righteous law and righteous administration of the law is not enough. The entire Old Testament is a narrative of what happens when a society has good law and even the blessing of God in the choice of national leaders. Good law and godly administrators do not change the hearts of evil men. Good law and godly administrators do not drive demons out of human hearts, and they do not fill such hearts as have been vacated temporarily by the demons who lived there. When those demons tire of looking for new homes and return to the evil hearts where they once lived, the people who cleaned up their acts without inviting the Holy Spirit into their hearts are as empty and hollow as they ever were, and the demons feel quite welcome to take up residence again, along with new friends.
It is very important for Christians to be active in public life. We must speak up for God’s ways, and we must demonstrate God’s ways in our own lives. We must advocate for good law and vote for good candidates. We must do all that is within our power to help our communities, our states and our nation to uphold and act on godly principles. But that is all window-dressing compared to our most important responsibility.
Our most important responsibility is to share Jesus with a world suffering from too much housing stock available for demons. Jesus did, indeed, task us with the responsibility to be salt and light in the world around us. We should, therefore, always be vocal and active in our advocacy for good law and good administration of law. But we should never confuse that part of our lives with our primary objective—to lead people to invite the Holy Spirit into the empty shells of their lives where demons love to dwell. If more Christians speak and act and vote, we will certainly have an influence on civil society that will be beneficial, but no amount of speaking and acting and voting will change hearts. Our civil responsibilities as citizens in a nation where government is of, by and for the people do not transcend or replace our primary responsibility—to share Jesus.
Erick Erickson’s book You Will Be Made To Care makes this point. In Chapter 16, “The Resurgent Believer,” on page 194 he says, “When the time of testing reaches your front door or place of business, it will be too late to study up on your beliefs.” We need to be solidly anchored in the principles of our faith in Christ, and sharing Christ needs to be our first and foremost concern. When we meet a person who is enslaved by Satan, we need to share Jesus. When we meet a people who are empty shells, trying to do good and stay out of trouble, we need to share Jesus. When we meet a person who has wandered from his faith, deceived or shamed or simply overpowered by the argument that “all roads lead to God, so don’t be snob about Jesus,” we need to share Jesus. When the city council in our home town decides to vote on a law that will promote immorality, we need to stand up for Jesus and use our rights and powers as citizens to advocate for what is right. After all, Satan’s minions have no hesitancy to use all the rights and powers of free citizens to advocate for what is wrong. We must be salt and light, we must stand up for the moral high ground, and we must not be ashamed of Jesus when the spotlight is on us for being on the “wrong side of history.” No matter what is happening, however, we need to share Jesus.
A Chinese pastor knew that he was being targeted by his government, because he was sharing Jesus in authorized ways and in unauthorized places. He did not stop sharing Jesus, but he did tell people that he knew his days of freedom were numbered. When the day came that he was arrested in the act of preaching in an unauthorized location to an unregistered church, he dutifully marched off to prison. On the way to the prison, he shared Jesus with the arresting officers, and during his term of imprisonment, he shared Jesus with his fellow prisoners. When he was finally released, he gave thanks to God for his opportunity to share Jesus with many people he would never have met if he had not been arrested. He knew that he could never change the government of China, but he could be used of God to change the people of China.
Christian advocacy for good law and good government does not change hearts, but it does make the world a better place to live. Under a dictator or a despotic monarch, Christians have no voice and no right to advocate for changes in law and government. In that setting, a Christian’s civic responsibility might be different. However, in the USA, under the Constitution, Christians are obligated by the responsibility of citizenship to speak and act and vote, but their even higher obligation is to share Jesus. The principles for which we advocate as citizens are shaped directly by our commitment to Jesus on the day when we let go of ourselves and stopped worrying about the way we look to other people and started following Jesus, trying to be like him. When we let Jesus shape our lives, we see all the empty shells around us, encircled by demons who want to take up residence. We certainly want to advocate for good law and good government in order to make our country a great place to live, but above that obligation, we remain committed first and foremost to helping the empty shells of human beings around us to become filled with the Holy Spirit and hang up “No Vacancy” signs for demons.