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“Belief” and “conviction” are not the same thing.
The reason I believe it’s not a good idea to walk out in front of the proverbial MAC truck is because I’m convicted that what I believe might happen to me actually would happen to me if, in fact, I were to do such a thing. Belief, when appropriately placed, should always lead to conviction; and conviction is a two-way street. That is, contrary to popular opinion, conviction is manifested not only in those actions we do take, but also in those we don’t.
You might very well believe that touching a live electrical wire will shock, or perhaps even kill you, and it is your belief in that scientifically proven principle which moves you to the conviction that, in the interest of self-preservation, it’s probably best that you not test whether or not the principle is indeed true.
This is no less the case in the political realm as it is the physical.
The positions, platforms and candidates we choose to support (or not) are merely evidence of the convictions we hold as a result of what we have chosen to believe about those positions, platforms and candidates. How you and I choose to vote is no less a matter of conviction than how a husband or wife chooses to operate within a marriage, or as parents in rearing their children, or as employers or employees in conducting themselves in the workplace. For better or worse, how we choose to function in any of these roles is a matter of conviction as influenced by our beliefs, not merely our beliefs themselves.
For example, as followers of Christ, we may believe that, as the Creator of all life, God knows us before we are formed in our mother’s womb (Jeremiah 1:5), however, if I choose to set aside that belief in deference to voting for someone who supports a “woman’s right” to terminate the lives of those whom God Himself says He already knows, then, I’m obviously not convicted of the biblical doctrine in which I have professed to believe. The same goes for marriage. As a Christian counselor, I have yet to speak to a husband or wife who would admit to being content with their spouse living up to only certain aspects of their marriage vows. To believe in the sanctity of marriage is not necessarily to be convicted of it. Just ask any adulterer or, better yet, the offended spouse.
These are only a couple of examples of where America stands as a nation today, due in large part to the failure of those of us who profess to be born-again followers of Jesus Christ to be convicted of that which we say with our mouths we believe.
According to Web site patheos.com, on November 6, 2012, 92 percent of black protestant Christians and 42 percent of white protestants voted to re-elect Barack Obama as President of the United States. This is important to point out not on the basis of any personal agenda I have toward the President, but in the context of his policies, particularly as it relates to Christian voters. For example, it is unarguable that, over the course of his political career, Barack Obama has been blatantly unapologetic in his support of Planned Parenthood, so much so that he both believes and is convicted that women should have the right to kill their unborn child at any point during the pregnancy – and sometimes even after birth – and for practically any reason.
What I am saying is not so much in an attempt to argue against either abortion or President Obama (though I am opposed to both) but, in a much broader context, to challenge those of us who profess to follow Jesus Christ to live out our beliefs as convictions. In the Greek, the word ‘conviction’ (peitho) signifies “to bring about a change of mind by the influence of reason or moral considerations.”
With this definition in mind consider what the Bible says, for example, in Hebrews 11:1 (NASB), “Now faith is the assurance (belief) of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” God’s Word is clear that for the Christian, conviction should be a constant based on the objective truths of God’s Word, not a subjective, on-again-off-again, “Well, it depends…” type of mentality that boils down to nothing more than situation ethics, a construct of right and wrong depending on the situation at-hand. And yet, this latter attitude describes far too many Christians in America today.
The aforementioned statistics should logically lead us to contemplate just why it is that so many professing “born-again” Christians felt compelled to support someone whose policies are so unambiguously antithetical to the principles set down by the very God in whom they say they believe. For years now Barack Obama and the Democrat party have been unwavering in their advocacy of such anti-biblical issues as homosexual marriage and abortion on-demand. And yet, many Christian voters seem totally unphased by this.
Could the fact that Obama is black be such an impetus to black Christians that more than 9 out of every 10 supported him despite his anti-biblical positions? Is the desire to expand the welfare state of such significance as to motivate nearly half of all white Christian voters to abandon the concepts of the Bible in favor of an open-ended promise of government entitlements such as “free” health care, housing and college tuition?
The answers to these and other questions notwithstanding, that they are being posed in the first place is a disheartening testament to the fact that as “salt and light” (Matthew 5:13-16), Christians in America have failed in our efforts to live lives of obedient conviction as opposed to selective or situational preference. In Colossians 2:6, the apostle Paul writes, “Therefore, as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him…” and in Ephesians 5:1, “Therefore, be imitators of God as beloved children…” To both “walk in” Christ and “be imitators” of Him is to commit to living as He would in every aspect of our earthly existence, not just those to which we selectively pick and choose.
Conviction precedes commitment, not the other way around.
The reason a married couple manages to stay together for 46 years, as did my own parents until my father’s death in 2002, is not simply because they were “committed” to one another, but because they each held a common and fundamental conviction regarding the sanctity of the institution of marriage.
That conviction is best described in the words of theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer as conveyed in his work, ‘Letters and Papers from Prison‘:
“As you gave the ring to one another and have now received it a second time from the hand of the pastor, so love comes from you, but marriage from above, from God. As high as God is above man, so high are the sanctity, the rights, and the promise of love. It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, it is the marriage that sustains your love.”
In other words, it’s not the contents of the box that are most important, but the box housing the contents.
The “box” housing the “contents” of our worldview as Christians should be the Bible. Period. The application to us of Bonhoeffer’s statement is that just as our motivation in marriage should be the institution of marriage itself – as God designed it and intended it to be – likewise, our motivation in responding to the political, societal and cultural issues facing us today should be the Word of God and that alone, not our personal feelings, sentiments, worldview or any external attribute, such as race or the promise of some government entitlement.
As believers in Christ commit to employing a worldly construct that is oriented from a conviction about God and the truths of His Word, that a particular political candidate is either Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal, will be of no consequence, if not rendered completely irrelevant, because our sole motivation will be to please God, not ourselves.
At which point we can rest in knowing that we have been obedient to God’s commands and be fully content to leave all the consequences of our obedience up to Him.