The necessity of personal faith in Christ

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The necessity of personal faith in Christ

April 18, 2024 -

Clasped hands in prayer on top of an American flag. By 4Max/stock.adobe.com

Clasped hands in prayer on top of an American flag. By 4Max/stock.adobe.com

Clasped hands in prayer on top of an American flag. By 4Max/stock.adobe.com

“My most cherished possession I wish I could leave you is my faith in Jesus Christ, for with him and nothing else you can be happy, but without him and with all else you’ll never be happy” (Patrick Henry).

How would a non-Christian respond to Patrick Henry’s assertion?

In the same way you probably would if we were to substitute “faith in Allah” for “faith in Jesus Christ.” You would likely recoil from such an attempt to force one particular religion on the rest of us.

You know that I am writing this article as an evangelical Christian and a minister and are therefore not surprised that I would agree personally with Henry’s testimony. But you might be surprised at my claim that such faith is vital, not just for our individual souls, but for our national future.

Upon what basis can I argue that personal faith in Christ is a necessary “pillar” of cultural flourishing for our secular country?

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Democracy requires morality

“Human rights can only be assured among a virtuous people” (George Washington).

America is often called a “democracy,” which is true in the sense that ours is a government “of the people, by the people, for the people,” as Abraham Lincoln famously proclaimed. However, we are not a pure democracy in which the majority vote always prevails. Our founders knew the inherent danger of what James Madison called “the tyranny of the majority.”

As the saying goes, a democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner.

As a result, our nation is constructed as a republic with checks and balances crafted to safeguard the rights of both the majority and the minority:

  • The House of Representatives is weighted toward the more populous states, while the Senate (with just two members from each state) safeguards the representation of the less populous states.
  • Rather than elect our president through a direct majority vote, we have an Electoral College that ensures the significance of votes cast in smaller states.
  • Only the president and vice-president are elected in a national vote. The power of the executive branch is balanced by that of the legislature and the judiciary.

Anyone who has studied our history knows all of this. What fewer of us realize, however, is that our founders believed another set of checks and balances was also essential to our governance.

What the founders thought

In his farewell address on September 19, 1796, President George Washington told the nation:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

Benjamin Franklin similarly observed, “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.”

John Adams, our second president, recorded in his diary these reflections:

Suppose a nation in some distant region should take the Bible for their only law-book and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there exhibited! Every member would be obliged, in conscience, to temperance and frugality and industry; to justice and kindness and charity towards his fellow men; and to piety, love, and reverence towards Almighty God. In this commonwealth, no man would impair his health by gluttony, drunkenness, or lust; no man would sacrifice his most precious time to cards or any other trifling and mean amusement; no man would steal, or lie, or in any way defraud his neighbor, but would live in peace and good will with all men; no man would blaspheme his Maker or profane his worship; but a rational and manly, a sincere and unaffected piety and devotion would reign in all hearts. What a Utopia; what a Paradise would this region be!

In a speech to the Massachusetts militia in 1798, he similarly warned:

We have no government armed with Power capable of contending with human Passions unbridled by morality and Religion. Avarice, Ambition and Revenge or Galantry, would break the strongest Cords of our Constitution as a Whale goes through a Net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

James Madison likewise noted, “To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people is a chimerical [imaginary] idea.”

Explaining why

Why were our founders so adamant that our governance requires virtue on the part of our citizens?

It’s not because they were all godly evangelical Christians.

While an in-depth discussion of this much-debated topic would require more space than we can devote here, we should note with historian David L. Holmes that the founders’ faith commitments fell across a religious spectrum from non-Christian to what we would call evangelical Christianity.

Nor did the founders believe that Christianity should be privileged over other religions.

In a letter to the Hebrew congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, on August 18, 1790, George Washington assured his Jewish readers that their new government “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance” and offered his hope that “the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants.”

A 1796 treaty with Tripoli signed by President John Adams notes: “The government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion [and] has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religious or tranquility of [Muslims]” (Article 11). And the First Amendment of our Constitution expressly states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Rather, the founders believed that democratic governance requires virtue on the part of its people for two primary reasons.

One: A democracy is controlled by the people and thus can only be good if the people are virtuous.

Thomas Jefferson explained the logic of this assertion:

No government can continue good but under the control of the people; and . . . their minds are to be informed by education what is right and what is wrong; to be encouraged in habits of virtue and to be deterred from those of vice. . . . These are the inculcations necessary to render the people a sure basis for the structure and order of government.

He similarly stated, “The government you elect is the government you deserve.” We cannot expect the leaders we elect to represent us to be more virtuous than we are.

Two: Laws enacted by sinful people cannot keep people from sin.

At best, our laws can restrain human behavior, but they cannot change human hearts. And many of our besetting sins (such as adultery and pornography) cannot be prevented through legislation.

Samuel Adams warned: “Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt. He therefore is the truest friend of the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its virtue.”

Three: I would add a factor that has been made clear in recent years: if participants in a democracy do not trust the mechanisms of voting and the behavior of their leaders, they are less likely to participate in the process or support its results.

In the 2000 presidential election, only 48 percent felt George W. Bush won the election “fair and square.” One-third said he won, but only on a technicality, while 17 percent believed he stole the election. Fast-forward to 2023, where almost a third of Americans still believe the 2020 election result was fraudulent.

When voters distrust judges and/or election officials, they are less likely to participate. And as public trust in our elected leaders has fallen from 75 percent in 1958 to 25 percent today, fewer are likely to support their leadership.

All this to say, a thriving democracy requires morality on the part of its participants, both those who vote and those for whom they vote.

Character requires Christ

“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lᴏʀᴅ” (Psalm 33:12).

Here’s the problem: advocating for character does not change character.

We can argue strongly that America’s democratic republic depends on the morality of its people, and we can persuade our nation to agree with us, but will this change the way we act in reality? Will we speak more truthfully? Will we act with more integrity?

America’s founders could endorse the causal connection between “religion” and morality without specifying the Christian content of such religion for one simple reason: they lived in a culture and worldview dominated by Judeo-Christian beliefs.

Look no further than our founding declaration:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

It is inconceivable that these words could have been written—or adopted—apart from a basic Christian worldview. They assume “self-evident” truth, the creation and equality of all humans, their endowment by their Creator of rights, and the value of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness among them. I could go to great lengths defending each word of Jefferson’s sentence on biblical and theological grounds.

As noted earlier, our founders clearly did not describe America as a uniquely Christian nation. This was in part to guarantee the liberties of those embracing all religions and none. But it was also because no nation can biblically be “Christian.” People can be Christians—we can be “born again,” as Jesus said (John 3:3), as we confess our sins and trust Christ as our Lord. But nations have no souls. They are geopolitical entities that cannot enter into personal relationships with a personal God.

Nations can be Muslim by adopting Sharia law as their governance. They can be Jewish by adopting the Torah as their legal system. But the New Testament offers no such theocratic system of jurisprudence and legislation. There is no uniquely Christian way to build an economy, determine a governing structure, or otherwise do the work of building a nation.

All of that said, the kind of foundational character a flourishing democracy requires is impossible apart from the transforming work of Christ.

The Bible teaches that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Here’s one example: “Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17). Is it conceivable that any of us has not failed to do the right thing at some point along the way?

Denying this fact doesn’t change its reality: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).

Nor can human agency change human nature. You and I live in the most technologically advanced society in human history, but we still face the same temptations and commit the same sins as our ancestors. Consider this litmus test:

The works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these (Galatians 5:19–21).

Are these not the subjects of news headlines every day? Pick just one sin on the list: Are Americans getting better at refusing it?

Human words cannot change human hearts. As we have seen, human laws can restrict behavior but they cannot change motives. You and I cannot convict a single sinner of a single sin or save a single soul.

But Jesus can.

Scripture is clear: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Jesus can turn a murderous Saul of Tarsus into the missionary Paul the Apostle. He can transform Peter from a cowardly fisherman into a Pentecost proclaimer and Sanhedrin witness. He can turn William Wilberforce into a champion for abolishing slavery and Martin Luther King Jr. into a transformative leader for racial equality.

Jesus alone can make us into the people—and leaders—our democracy must have to thrive.

This is why:

Democracy requires character, which requires transformation by Christ.

Conclusion

“A corrupted public conscience is incompatible with freedom” (Patrick Henry)

My purpose in this chapter is not just to convince you that America needs Christ—it is to convince you that you need Christ. So do I. We cannot be the change we need to see unless and until we are changed by Jesus.

Here’s a list of resources from our ministry to help you experience Jesus in a transforming way:

  • If you need evidence for the reality and divinity of Jesus, go here.
  • If you’re not certain how to trust in Christ as your Lord and Savior, go to the prayer at the end of this article.
  • If you have questions about your salvation, go here.
  • If you have trusted in Christ as your Lord and need guidance for spiritual growth, go here.
  • If you’re looking for devotionals to guide you into a transforming daily experience with Christ, go here and here.
  • If you’re looking for Bible studies to help you meet God in his word, go here.
  • If you’re looking for daily articles to help you understand the news and culture from a biblical point of view, go here.
  • If you’re a pastor or Christian leader looking for resources to help you lead others as agents for cultural transformation, go here.

As you seek to know Christ and make him known, your life and influence will be the salt and light our culture needs so desperately (Matthew 5:13–16). You’ll “plant trees you’ll never sit under,” as Alfred North Whitehead suggested.

And you’ll be a catalyst for the next spiritual awakening in America.

The Bible promises:

The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue. Behold, the eye of the Lᴏʀᴅ is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love (Psalm 33:16–18).

Is his “eye” on you today?

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