Christians are all of a sudden in love with the idea that it’s ok to do the wrong thing as long as it ultimately leads to the right thing. We’ve become pragmatists in the worst sense of the word.
I call this Bonhoefferism; it’s ingrained deep within evangelical mythology. When the Nazis came to power in Germany, Deitrich Bonhoeffer was involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler that failed. Ultimately Bonhoeffer died in a concentration camp after refusing to be rescued because he wanted to remain and minister to his people. He was an unbelievably admirable man of God. Somehow, though, this has translated into the trademark story for anyone who wants to be the exception to the rules. Bonhoeffer was a great guy, and he tried to murder Hitler because in that situation it was justified; ergo, I should be able to do something wrong even though it will lead to a good end.
But there’s one problem. We’re not Bonhoeffer. We don’t get to up and decide that we’re the exception that God didn’t foresee when he told us what he requires of us. I’m not convinced Bonhoeffer was wholly justified in what he did, but let’s say he was. I’m still fairly sure that was a once in a generation situation. Unfortunately, the logic has become the norm.
The thought struck me earlier this week as I was reading Proverbs 28:20, “A faithful man will abound with blessings, but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished,” Why is it that we feel the need to take matters into our own hands? I feel this desire as deeply as anybody I know. There is something to be said for doing everything you possibly can to advance the mission of God in the world. I don’t believe for a second that trusting God means doing nothing.
But there is a line between doing what we can to bring justice to our society and advance the cause of Christ and doing things that are just plain wrong.
What do we stand to lose? Last week, President Trump held a meeting with evangelical leaders, and during his address, he warned them that they were one vote away from losing everything. I know what he was trying to do. He got elected because he was the lesser of two evils and a clear path to continued religious freedom in this country. Because he was elected, things have been much more comfortable for Christians from a legal standpoint than they would have been otherwise.
But we need to make one thing clear; President Trump doesn’t know what it means for Christians to lose everything. Jesus is clear on this point; all the political power in the world gains you nothing if you forfeit your soul. The President actually underestimates what we stand to lose.
I’m not talking about whether or not you voted for Trump or Hilary. I’m talking about the choices we make every day between doing what we know is right and doing what we know is wrong.
Christians have a unique opportunity in the next two years to show the contrast between the people of God and the people of the world; a distinction that is all but disappearing. One of the primary ways we can do this is by declaring our allegiance to the truth. In John 8, Jesus was having a conversation with the Jews and religious leaders, and he told them, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Here’s the million dollar question - free from what?
Jesus goes on to tell them that everyone who sins is a slave to sin and that you can tell who is a slave to sin by how they respond to his word. This is a hard passage - at the end, the Jews pick up stones to kill Jesus for the things he said. Those who love God and do what pleases him are from God, and those who do not are not from God, they are from the devil, and they do the things that please the devil. Then Jesus makes an astonishing claim; you can tell who belongs to whom by how they react to the truth. The children of God love the truth and respond to it, and everyone else does not. It’s such a bright contrast that Jesus says, “Because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.”
Christians are serious about the truth. It is one of our distinguishing marks. A few chapters later in John, Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” A few chapters after that, he says, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” Even later, he says, “For this reason I was born and for this purpose I came into the world - to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”
In the coming days and years, we will identify ourselves by our allegiance to the truth.
I want to go back to that first question again. Freedom from what? Sin most immediately, but it is deeper than that. Freedom from slavery to sin is freedom from idolatry. One of the most potent forms of idolatry today is the belief that we need to gather power, prestige, wealth, favor or anything else to accomplish the will of God in the world.
It is idolatry to believe that God ordained certain ends in the world, but he’s left the means entirely up to us. For God, the ends do not justify the means when it comes to our actions. As usual, Spurgeon probably said it best, “What have you and I to do with maintaining our influence and position at the expense of the truth? It is never right to do a little wrong to obtain the greatest possible good... your duty is to do the right: consequences are with God.”
When we do the wrong thing - even if we believe it will eventually bring about the right thing, we reveal that we’re trusting in something other than the power and wisdom of God to accomplish the will of God.
We’ll have several opportunities to show our mettle in the coming months. Whatever happens with the President, we need to show we’re more loyal to truth and the rule of law than we are to a political party or a wave of outrage. As tension rises with the lack of integrity in the press, we can show our commitment to truth by not slandering and being judicious about what we believe. As the church continues to lust after the approval of the culture, we can show that we find out approval in God alone.
What we cannot do is justify the wrong thing - even if we think it might lead to the right thing.
Cole Feix is the founder of So We Speak and a regular writer. Follow him on Twitter, @cfeix7.
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