Honorable Leadership Needed: A Few Thoughts on Last Night’s Debate

I stared in disbelief at my laptop last night as our Vice President interrupted Congressman Paul Ryan 96 times in about as many minutes of debate. When I observed his arrogance, his degrading laughter, his angry responses, and his dismissive attitude, I was deeply troubled.

These debates are first and foremost about policy. But when one’s attitude is so belligerent an honest dialogue of substantial issues can scarcely take place. It is not enough to excuse our Vice President by simply saying that he was trying to overwhelm the congressman like a tsunami, or to say, “That’s just the way Joe Biden is.” No one should act that way.

A burning issue was raised last night that is not on a party’s political platform, nor on a moderator’s list of questions, but is crucial for our nation. That’s the issue of relating to each other with dignity. Titus 3:2 reminds us “To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men.” Even if we believe that another person is wrong and must be publicly corrected (as in a debate), we should do it in a way that shows courtesy and respect (2 Tim. 2:24; 1 Pet. 3:15–16).

In a word, you might boil it down to honor. The Bible says in 1 Peter 2:17, “Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.” We have a special responsibility to give honor and respect to those in authority. But we have a general responsibility to honor all human beings. If for no other reason, we should honor them because man was created in the image of God (James 3:9).

Honor is especially crucial for leadership. God requires that leaders in the church be “grave” (Titus 3:8), which means dignified or honorable. When God commands us to honor those in authority, He implicitly commands leaders to act in a manner worthy of honor. Leaders should not let people despise them (Titus 2:15). But how? They must be examples of honorable character (1 Tim. 4:12).

Sadly, we live in an age without honor. Our culture neither gives honor nor does it know how to act in an honorable manner. Our heroes are insolent rebels who demand honor but do not deserve it. Disrespect is fashionable, and dignity is discounted as stuffy pride.

Ironically, we gain honor by being humble. Proverbs 29:23 says, “A man’s pride shall bring him low: but honour shall uphold the humble in spirit.” In other words, we cannot gain true honor by attempting to steal it from other people. We become men and women of honor by giving honor—first to God, secondly to our fathers and mothers and other authorities, and thirdly to all people. Pride makes us into mockers (Prov. 21:24). If we disrespect other people, then we provoke them to anger and forfeit our moral influence over them (Eph. 6:4). When a leader serves people he wins their loyalty, but if he acts with harsh arrogance he loses their respect and support, as we see in the foolish pride of Rehoboam (1 Kings 12:1–16).

The Vice President’s behavior last night was anything but honorable, precisely because he refused to give due honor to a fellow human being and a fellow government official. He has brought shame to the office he bears and to the American people. Vice President Biden should repent and publicly apologize for his conduct.

However, Mr. Biden’s behavior points to a broader need for honorable leadership in America. When George Washington completed his job as commander of the American army during the Revolutionary War, many people expected him to make himself the king of the American colonies. In fact, some people urged him to do so. When the news spread that instead of reaching for a crown, he resigned his military powers and humbly yielded to the civilian government, King George exclaimed, “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.” This is true greatness: humbly serving others (Matt. 20:25–28).

Our culture once recognized and valued honor, even among those who did not embrace biblical Christianity. Some years after Washington died, Thomas Jefferson said of him, “He was incapable of fear, meeting personal dangers with the calmest unconcern. Perhaps the strongest feature in his character was prudence, never acting until every circumstance, every consideration, was maturely weighed; refraining if he saw a doubt, but, when once decided, going through with his purpose, whatever obstacles opposed. His integrity was most pure, his justice the most inflexible I have ever known, no motives of interest or consanguinity, of friendship or hatred, being able to bias his decision. He was, indeed, in every sense of the words, a wise, a good, and a great man.”

In the midst of all the questions and issues swirling about this election, many of which have profound importance for our nation’s future, let us not forget the question of character. Without humility, the most skilled leaders are just powerful men without honor.

Heartfelt Questions about Christ (V)

Question: You have said that Christ made satisfaction to God’s justice for the sins of the elect. Did Christ do that for every person or only for the elect?

Christ made satisfaction to God’s justice only for the elect. By the “elect” I mean those whom God chose in Christ before the creation of the world.

Paul said that those for whom Christ will certainly be saved, and they are God’s elect. In Romans 8:30–34 he wrote, “Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.”

That is not to say that there is anything lacking or insufficient in Christ’s blood. Christ’s death would have been sufficient to save many worlds of sinners, if God had willed it to be so. But though Christ’s blood would have been sufficient for all and every sinner, it is efficient only for God’s elect. God chose them; Christ died for them; they will be completely saved.

But doesn’t the Bible say that Christ died to save “the world”?

Yes, the Bible says that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16). Christ is the propitiation “for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). It also says that Christ is the only Mediator, for He gave Himself “a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:5–6). We affirm and rejoice in these truths.

Doesn’t that mean then that Christ came to save every person?

No. The Word of God uses the terms “world” and “all” in a variety of ways; each usage must be understood in its own context. “World” can refer to (a) the created earth (Matt. 13:35), (b) sinners in a general way (John 15:18), (c) people from among both Jews and Gentiles (Matt. 26:13), (d) persons of all social and economic classes such as kings and subjects (1 Tim. 2:1–2), (e) a great number of people (John 12:19). Similarly “all” has a variety of applications defined by context (Matt. 3:5). We cannot force each use of “world” and “all” into the strait-jacket of meaning every individual person (Rom. 1:8; Col. 1:6). For example, in Romans 8:32, “us all” is clearly “God’s elect” (v. 33), those “whom he did predestinate” (v. 30).

Therefore we should not believe in universal redemption.

Could you define universal redemption please?

Universal redemption is the idea that Christ died to redeem every person without exception.

In its most unrestricted form, universal redemption is the teaching that all men (perhaps even the devils) will one day be saved. It is especially prevalent when people imagine God to be only love and ignore His justice. This doctrine denies eternal damnation in hell (Matt. 25:41, 46).

In a modified form, universal redemption teaches that Christ made satisfaction to God for every man’s sins, but their salvation hinges not on what Christ did but their free will. Salvation is pictured as a gift God bought, wrapped, and offers to all men in the death of Christ, but that gift has no power to do anything until each one accepts it. This doctrine denies God’s election, the Son’s finished work of accomplishing our total salvation, and the Spirit’s effective work to draw sinners to Christ (John 17:2; 19:30; 6:37, 63).

If universal redemption is not true, then how can we do evangelism?

We must do evangelism in a biblical way. We repeatedly hear today in evangelistic messages, “Christ died for you. What will you do for Him?” But where in the Bible do we ever find someone being told, “Believe that Christ died for you”?

Rather, we find faithful witnesses explaining the work of Christ and calling everyone who hears them, “Repent and believe the gospel.” The gospel message is not, “Believe that Christ died for you,” or, “Believe that you are one of the elect.” It is, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31).

There is more than enough in Christ’s death to save you if you will but trust in Him. He does not need us to add anything born of our free will. The only thing we contribute to our salvation is our bondage. But Christ is not defeated by the chains that bind us. He has purchased a full redemption for all who trust in Him, including their very faith. Glory be to God!