Bargaining with the Devil

The newspaper editorial was scathing. The writer charged insecure white evangelical Christian men in America with hypocrisy in electing a conspicuously broken president. A “morally destitute, insecure narcissist.” The writer’s thesis is that we—I’m an evangelical Christian man—made a bargain with the devil in an effort to restore our former social hegemony in the country.

I’ve heard this claim before—and it certainly hits home in some settings and fits some people. It also reminds me that some angry post-Christians use evangelical Christians as punching bags. Partly, I’m sure, to distract readers from their own efforts to replace living faith with their own spiritual darkness. Life, after all, is a conflict between competing spiritual forces: between God and his ultimate Foe.

Yet the issue this man raised isn’t something I want to debate.

Instead the real problems he raises—taken along with his own hidden biases—remind us Christians that we must maintain bold Bible reading. Bold in the sense that we need courage to embrace what we read.

In the Bible we see how Jesus confronted and also lived above the polarized world of his own day. Herod, as one opponent, was as spiritually destitute as any of our current politicians. Between killing the infants in Bethlehem and building a temple to Zeus in Caesarea while also rebuilding the Jerusalem Temple for God, he was reprehensible. He wore the masks of hypocrisy with the best of them. So too, was his later relative, another Herod.

Jesus also confronted the Bible-thumping Pharisees with gusto for their own forms of hypocrisy. They loved positions of power and honor. They called on people to be more religious than they were. They loved money and the praise that came from mutual glory. So they distorted godliness by violating God’s heart while still maintaining religious appearances.

In his great prayer in John 17 Jesus dismissed every form of worldly accommodation. And he prayed to the Father on our behalf in very realistic terms: “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one” (v.15).

The point is that the whole world is engaged with the Satanic Lie, “You can be like God,” as well as with the Devil’s particular schemes. Paul made that clear in Ephesians 2:1-3 just as John did in 1 John 5:19—“the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” It’s a reality Jesus faced in his exchange with the Devil in his temptations. The Devil offered Jesus his control of “all the kingdoms” of the world if Jesus would only worship him. It was an offer Jesus instantly dismissed, but he didn’t deny the premise!

Jesus, instead, stood apart from the devilish politics of his day and offered the message the Father sent him to share: “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world” (John 17:14). So Jesus rejected playing politics—“bargaining with Devil”—and it got him crucified. And we thank God for that!

That’s a lesson for today as we wrestle in America with tragic trajectories on both sides of the political landscape. No one among our key leaders is really ambitious to be godly—to be what William Wilberforce was for the Brits as he opposed slavery and, against all odds, won a victory in the early nineteenth century. That’s a noble but unlikely alternative today!

Instead the truly Christian option today is this: be crucified if we need to be. Let the pundits scorn us as much as they like. Yet we must never trade off godly integrity to fight the absence of integrity in others. We need to abide in God’s word and allow Christ’s love to prepare us for whatever comes.

Why focus on the Bible? Because we need to keep our eyes on Jesus to live righteous lives in a fallen world. And with that it comes by praying, in every moment, “Lord, let me delight you!” And if enough people share that value, we may make a difference.

It’s called living by faith.

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4 Comments

  1. Ronald Frost

    Thanks, Matt. I can only imagine what the US scene looks like from your setting in Ljubljana …

  2. Rich

    Thank you, Ron. What a timely reminder that all the fracus is not really about political ideology but spiritual forces and where our true citizenship is.

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