Do Christians really understand what Jesus meant when he said, “Render unto Caesar the things that belong to Caesar and render unto God the things that belong to God.”? If so, they know that “Caesar” represents the authority of government in general. The specific application of this teaching is that Christians are to pay their taxes. However, just as “rendering unto God” isn’t limited to tithes and offerings (“To obey is better than sacrifice.” — 1 Samuel 15:22), Jesus didn’t limit “rendering unto Caesar” to simply paying taxes. He used the phrase “the things”, which includes anything we owe our government.
In 2011 we do not have a Caesar, nor a king who dictates to us (despite Obama’s efforts). We have no literal Caesar to render to. What we have is a constitutionally mandated federal republic — a form of self-government, or representational government — which depends upon citizen participation. The greater the number of citizens who vote, the better they represent themselves. Those who don’t vote aren’t really being represented at all. So, under our form of government, one of “the things” we are to render is our vote. Other “things” due to our government include informing your representatives of your concerns, joining political organizations which support issues important to you, working on campaigns, and even running for office. In a government “of the people” citizens constitute that government. Not voting means you are not “rendering unto Caesar”. You are not obeying Jesus.
If all you are rendering to government is taxes and obedience to the laws, you are not rendering nearly enough. In a “democracy”, the most important thing you can render is your vote. If our government is of the people, by the people and for the people, then your vote becomes part of how government acts. When the people don’t vote, there is no government of the people. If righteousness is not being represented in our government (or as Edmund Burke put it, if good men do nothing), then evil will prevail. So, who will be responsible, if evil prevails?
In Ezekiel 33:7-9 the LORD says that if you see destruction coming and you do not warn others, the calamity that happens to them will be your responsibility. But if you warn them and they do not heed you, even though they are destroyed, you will not be held responsible. While this passage is primarily talking about warning sinners to turn to righteousness, the principle of being responsible to speak up and give voice to the truth still applies. Voting is one way Christians can speak the truth. Voting is how we can influence our “Caesar” to be righteous, noble, principled and accountable to all.
“WWJD?” has been printed on various merchandise and marketed to Christians as a reminder to ask that question when they find themselves wondering just how to live out some specific circumstance of their faith. This assumes that even if you know what the Bible teaches about how to live your life, you still need a string around your finger to remind you. It ignores the concept of being transformed (Romans 12:2) and ignores our relationship with the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:16).
The “What Would Jesus Do?” phenomenon bears a certain resemblance to the idea of a pagan carrying a talisman or a new-ager applying situational ethics to navigate his ever-changing, relative course. While it recognizes the fact that obeying God’s laws isn’t a matter of just “following the rules” (being religious), it assumes that our lives are so unique and diverse that we must each figure out what specific teaching of Jesus applies to our own life choices.
Living by faith means Christianity is more than just a religion. You have an intimate, working, “walking” relationship with the living God. When a problem comes up that makes you unsure of what to do, you don’t need to ask the theoretical question, “What would Jesus do?” If, as Scripture teaches, you are in the Lord, and the Holy Spirit is in you, then you simply and directly ask Jesus, “What should I do, Lord?” If you are a Christian, that’s what you should be doing. He may not answer you that instant. We have to wait for his answers. That is why we are to walk circumspectly (Ephesians 5:15), preventing the need to decide or act rashly.
Living life as a Christian is all about living out the righteousness of Christ, which we do when we live by faith (Romans 1:17 and Galatians 2:20). This is basic Christian doctrine. Every believer has a personal accountability to God. We must seek to know him well with every resource at our disposal. Unfortunately, we live in the age of marketing, where asking “WWJD?” is popularly substituted for walking in the Spirit. It’s so much easier to follow rules or popular fads than it is to study Scripture, develop a close relationship with the Lord and walk in the Spirit.
If you are a professing Christian who doesn’t get involved in politics because you think God has separated you out of the world (2 Corinthians 6:17) I’d like to explain what that separation means. The 2 Corinthians reference derives from Israel in the Old Testament. God chose them as his own people and commanded that they live in a righteous and “clean” manner, not like the surrounding nations who practiced every abomination under the sun. But because Israel was rebellious, they did not live according to his commandments, even though they were physically removed from the other nations.
When Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, the city was a major shipping port. It was culturally diverse (very hip, very metropolitan) and influenced by the moral degeneracy of idolatrous religions which supported such things as temple prostitution. Paul’s message to the church at Corinth was to remain pure in their faith, and not to let themselves be influenced by these other religions. “Come out from them and be separate” means to hold on to your values, despite their influence. He was saying not to have fellowship with them, don’t team up with them.
But he wasn’t saying to get out of Corinth. He knew the Corinthian Christians would be traveling the same streets their pagan neighbors used, buying and selling goods in the same market places, even working with, going to school with and living next door to non-believers. Paul told the Corinthian believers they were to remain spiritually pure, despite being surrounded by bad influences, bumping shoulders with the ungodly on a daily basis. Paul’s message in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 is the strongest argument against ecumenism I can think of, but it doesn’t justify not voting.
If you believe that Christians are to completely, physically separate themselves from the rest of the world, not associate with the ungodly at all, not wear what they wear or live where they live or go where they go, not work where they work or buy where they buy or sell where they sell, then you should join a monastic commune. But I don’t see where the Bible teaches that. God wants us to sweeten the pot. He wants us to be salt and light. He wants us to influence the unbelievers around us. But he doesn’t want them to influence us. That’s what he means when he says be separate from them.
Like Moses, we are “stranger(s) in a strange land” (Exodus 2:21-22 KJV). We are in the world, but not of the world. Christians, you need to vote!