The political scene is heating up. Many Christians need to know how to think about and act upon civil engagement. The ERLC will be hosting our 2015 National Conference, “The Gospel & Politics,” on August 5 in Nashville, TN in order to better equip you to apply the gospel in this area. Click here to find out more information and register an individual or a group.
Regardless of how you interpret the data from the latest Pew poll, it is no great mystery that America is becoming less amenable to faithful Christian witness. This shouldn’t cause Christians to succumb to hysteria and alarmism, but a joyful courage. After all, the gospel has always been counter-cultural.
This is why I think 1 Peter is so prescient for Christians. In this short epistle, Peter addresses the Church and reminds them they are exiles, temporary residents of this world. They belong to another Kingdom, the Kingdom of Christ.
At the end of 1 Peter, the apostle closes with a stirring call to courage. You will notice in the text the words, “stand firm” and “be firm.” He encourages the believers to “resist, to testify to the truth.” In a word, Peter is calling the people of God to courage, to stand strong, defending and proclaiming the very words of life found in the Scripture: the gospel story that God has rescued mankind from sin and offered hope and forgiveness in the person of Jesus Christ.
This is what gospel-shaped cultural engagement looks like, for every generation of believers. Every generation must stand for justice and prophetically speak to the image of God in every human soul. Every generation of the church must “hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21) must “guard the deposit of faith” (2 Tim. 1:14), must “contend for the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3).” We cannot just “assume” the gospel, we must study it, articulate and proclaim it anew in our day.
D.A. Carson has said that a church is never more than three generations from losing the gospel: one generation to believe it and proclaim it, a second generation to assume it and a third generation to lose it.
For this, we need courage. Every generation needs leaders willing to sacrifice, to stand, to hold firm to the faith once delivered to the saints.
Peter here is writing to believers—he’s an apostle soon to pass from the scene. His words give us a four-fold blueprint for courage:
1. Embrace godly ambition (1 Pet. 5:6-7)
We often talk of ambition as something less than godly. But clearly, in Peter’s famous words about humility, he doesn’t condemn ambition. Notice Peter says that “in due time” God will exalt you. Now, this exaltation isn’t a promise of success in the way we might identify it. It could be pointing to exaltation in Heaven, when we’ll be in glory with Christ. But the words “in due time” seem to indicate, to me, that this is referring to the point in your life when you are most used by God, when your gifts, your desire and the world’s needs maximize into God’s calling for your life.
You will notice that the pathway to this kind of platform is humility. You’ll notice that it is God who exalts, not us. You’ll notice the words “in due time.” I think courage has to include the willingness to live out a radical mission for God and the humility to accept the call when that opportunity comes. It turns the world’s economy on it’s head by reminding us that greatness in God’s kingdom begins by stooping low.
2. Engage the battle (1 Pet. 5:8-9)
It’s not fashionable to talk about such things in polite company, but the Bible teaches us that there is an enemy out there who prowls the earth looking for souls to devour. Sometimes Christians say ridiculous things about the devil that are worthy of satire. But a courageous Christian is mature enough to understand reality. He realizes that he is in a war, not against people, but a spiritual war against the “rulers of darkness” (Ephesians 6). Every temptation, every opportunity to sin, every chance to give up the gospel is a skirmish in a long, losing cosmic war against God.
Courage rejects both head-in-the-sand naiveté and conspiracy-mongering panic. Peter’s letter warns against both. Genuine courage has an honest appraisal of the war between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, understands that God’s people are enlisted soldiers in the war and rests in the confidence that God has already won at Calvary. In my experience as pastor, I find two disheartening extremes among Christians: those who see a world-dominating conspiracy behind every news story and those who are blissfully ignorant. Both are wrong approaches.
3. Entrust your life to God (1 Pet. 5:10-11)
Peter reminds us that our lives are not our own. To be a disciple of Christ is to die to the old life and to live anew. It is to entrust our whole selves to God. At first glance, courage seems like the opposite of faith. How can one be brave and yet dependent, fearful and yet fearless? The answer is this: we are not the source of our own strength. I love how Peter writes that God will “restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish.”
The only way we can live for God is to live in God through Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who equips us for the battle. All Jesus asks for is the one thing we can give: our lives.
4) Enjoin yourself to Christian community
Courage is not a solo enterprise. When you are baptized by the Holy Spirit into the Christian community, you are enjoined to the family of God, with members of every nation, tribe and tongue. You are joined not only to God’s people alive today, but to God’s people gone before, the great “cloud of witnesses (Heb. 12:1)” who have gone before. You are linked to 2,000 years of Church history.
American evangelicalism has too often individualized faith. It’s a mistake to live apart from Christ’s body, for doing so severs you from the life and love and fellowship you need to fight the good fight. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with God’s people is courage. Standing alone is foolishness and leads to a Messiah complex, like Elijah in the wilderness (1 Kings 19).