Thoughts on the humility proper to politics

I’ve argued before that there’s an idolatrous spirit about American politics these days, and that we as Christians need to reexamine our attitude and approach to politics and the political arena. There are various reasons why this is a significant problem; one that I don’t think I’ve written about to this point is that it leads us to overidentify our cause with God’s, and thus to conclude that our opponents are necessarily God’s enemies.

To be sure, there are real evils in this world, and thus in our politics, and some of them have powerful political constituencies and advocates; we as Christians have the responsibility to identify those evils and oppose them to the best of our ability. However, we have to be very careful as we do so, because there are traps for the unwary that go along with that, and if we aren’t wise we could easily fall into them. One is the trap of assuming that those who disagree with us must necessarily do so out of evil motives; there are no doubt those for whom this is true, but there are many others who are seeking to do what’s best, to the best of their ability and understanding. The correctness of our own positions is by no means as self-evident as we too often assume it is. We need to give people who hold opposing positions the benefit of the doubt unless and until they give us strong, certain reason to do otherwise. The other is the trap of assuming the purity of our own motives—that because we are in the right, it makes us better people with purer hearts. If we look at ourselves honestly, we have to admit that our motives are just as mixed as anyone else’s, and our understanding just as flawed; if on any given point, we believe what is right and true, that doesn’t mean it’s right and true because we believe it, it simply means that God has given us the grace to perceive the truth. It’s a gift, no credit to us, and we need to see ourselves accordingly.

The truth is—and we must never forget this—we’re all sinners. Some of us sin less, some of us sin more, we’re at different levels of spiritual maturity and going different directions, but even the most godly people among us are still sinners saved by grace. We have died with Christ, we have been raised with Christ, we have been given new life in Christ—but in the same old flesh, well-practiced in all the same old sins. We are justified, we are saved, we are being transformed into the image of Christ, but we’re still in process. That’s just how it is in this world, and we need to keep that in our minds. In our disputes and disagreements, in our wants and desires, in the issues we face and the decisions we must consider, we must always remember that we too are sinners, and take that fact into consideration. No matter who we are, our positions, our preferences, our ideas, our desires, our plans, are all tainted by sin, and we have no right to pretend otherwise.

Posted in Faith and politics.


  1. You’ve hit on two big issues for me. The first is the most valuable thing about ‘utter depravity’ – using it as a limit on hubris or perfectionism, its washed-up cousin.

    The other is, for me, a huge ongoing question, essentially:

    If salvation, whence sin?

    That is, if some people (or all…) are saved from sin, why do we still sin?

    I think this is one that the bible honestly leaves open, and I’ve read lots of responses, none of which ultimately satisfy.

    It definitely makes me see the appeal of pie-in-the-sky theology of the repent now and go to heaven when you die variety – because repenting now is sort of a hard sell (you have to keep doing it, it seems, and you’re never ‘finished’).

  2. Huh. I guess I don’t see that as a problem, so I’m not quite tracking with you; I’m not sure why justification should necessarily be expected to entail instant sanctification.

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