Why Jesus Was Not a Socialist (or a Republican, or a Democrat, or Vladimir Lenin)
In the beginning, God created us because He loved us so much. Then we messed up and separated ourselves from Him, so He created laws to show us how to behave and treat Him and treat other people. But we messed those up, too, because laws might change behavior, but they can’t change the heart. God got frustrated by us because when we got the laws all right, our hearts weren’t in it. So He spoke through the prophet Micah and said, “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil?…What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and love mercy and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:6-8). Then we still weren’t getting it, so He told Hosea, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).
So, from the beginning, God has been chasing our hearts and wants our sacrifices to and worship of Him to be a reflection of the state of our hearts. He never expected for sacrifices to change the heart. Love must be the motivator, not the end result. Love was and is always the motivator for God. 1 John 4:9 says, “This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him.” God didn’t sacrifice His son for us in hopes that He would eventually learn to love us. Sacrifice cannot produce love, but love can produce sacrifice.
If you take two 3-year olds and give one of them a toy and not the other, the second child will want the first child’s toy. If you take the toy from the first child and give it to the second, the first child will be upset and resentful and will probably cry and try to snatch it back. But if you explain to the first child that we need to share with others because that’s what Jesus wants us to do and that’s a big boy thing to do, he will eventually catch on and share his toy and will feel good about it because he wanted to, not because someone made him.
I really like to read and I always have. But when I was forced to read books in high school, that sucked most of the fun right out of it. I felt a different kind of pressure and didn’t like that a grade now rode on a usually enjoyable activity (and we all know how much I care about grades). I had to read The Great Gatsby junior year, and I liked it alright, but I wanted to spend my time reading Pride and Prejudice instead, because nobody was making me read Pride and Prejudice. I reread The Great Gatsby last month and I liked it a whole lot. No one was making me read it. I wanted to.
When Jesus tells people to sell everything they have and give it to the poor (Luke 12:33), I don’t believe He is really concerned that the poor amass as much stuff as the rich. Jesus loves everyone and holds a special place in His heart for the poor (Luke 6:20-25). He knows the poor are generally more accepting of Him, because they are a lot less satisfied in this world. Neither is Jesus really concerned that the rich have so much stuff. No, Jesus is concerned about what riches can do to a man’s heart. He tells us where our treasure is, there our hearts will be (Matthew 7:21). And He tells us it is impossible to serve both God and money because no one can serve two masters (Matthew 7:24). He knows that material possessions can provide a false sense of security, a false foundation, a false hope. Jesus is the true security and foundation and hope.
Yes, Jesus is concerned about the material needs of the poor. He fed and healed and them. Unfortunately, those people got hungry again, and the healed got sick again. Jesus used the physical needs of the poor as a gateway to the spiritual needs of all of humanity. Yes, Jesus cares about the poor. But He’s a lot more concerned about the state of people’s hearts in every economic and social situation across the world. “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:7-8). God isn’t really worried whether we have all the things we need to survive or not. He can and will provide them if we trust Him (Matthew 6:25-34). But if we don’t trust Him and give to the poor only because we feel pressured by a guest speaker at church with slideshows and stories to guilt us, or because everyone else on the pew put a chunk of change in the basket, God’s not happy. Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Jesus knows the act of giving can more easily soften a hard heart than the act of receiving. Jesus is concerned about the heart of the giver, not necessarily the needs of the receiver. He can provide those.
I am frustrated by this idea and movement that Jesus was a socialist. Jesus wasn’t a socialist. He wasn’t a white Republican either. Nor was He a black democrat, or a Russian communist, or a military leader, or political activist. Jesus never went to Rome, but He was so disruptive and revolutionary with his methods of love, not laws, that Rome came to Him and killed Him. Jesus didn’t work as a political activist in the Roman Senate to make laws to force everybody to have the same amount of material possessions. He worked to change hearts, not laws. He knew laws didn’t work to change people. “If perfection could have been attained through Levitical priesthood - and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood - why was there still need for another priest to come?” (Hebrews 7:11). “The law was only a shadow of the good things that were coming - not the reality themselves” (Hebrews 10:1). The law didn’t work to change people’s hearts, so Jesus had to come to earth Himself and spread love and reach out to the lowliest of people and be sacrificed for all of humanity. His most enduring legacy is not that He healed and fed people physically. Those people got hungry and sick again. No, Jesus gave them spiritual food and spiritual healing that could come from no one else, and He claimed to be the Son of God, the only way to life, and that’s why He caused so much chaos and made people so mad.
I am also frustrated by some contemporary Christian writers (and some of my friends) who try to make people feel guilty about being white. I can no more help that I was born into a white, middle class American family than a boy in the Sudan can help that He was born into a time of war and taken as a child soldier. The only person who ever had control over their time and place of birth was Jesus, and He chose to be born in Bethlehem to a poor family among people who would reject Him. Guilt is not a good motivating factor for change. “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death (2 Corinthians 7:10). Guilt is a tool of the devil to make us feel worthless and hopeless. Grace is a gift from God to give us worth and hope. I cannot be made to feel guilty about being white and American. I can only control what I do with the blessings and opportunities I have been given. If I choose to use my education and money and freedom to build a huge house for myself and not actively work to feed and clothe the poor, I am not being a good steward of God. But judging every white middle class American for how you think they spend their money does nothing to further the kingdom of God and only causes dissension and division. Have you seen their budget? Do you know how they spend their time?
Socialism logically cannot work. Of necessity, there must be someone, a leader, a group of leaders, to monitor the flow of goods and who gets what in a country. Since we are so messed up, how long do you think it would take for that leader or group of leaders to give themselves just a little bit more than the average citizen? How long do you think it would take for this group to amass great wealth and lead to corruption? The socialist leaders of the world haven’t generally been concerned about the needs of the poor; usually they seek power and want to subdue the masses. Margaret Thatcher said, “The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.” Even if socialism did work, even if the leaders weren’t corrupt, people would not be happy when what they worked for was taken away, and God would not be happy because nobody would be giving out of love. Even if you don’t agree with anything I’ve said so far, you cannot ignore the fact that socialist and communist countries don’t generally breed equal and happy people. In fact, socialism makes everyone poorer. I don’t suggest that God loves America more than any other country. I don’t want God to bless America and curse all the other nations. I do believe that we have been presented with more educational and health and living opportunities than most people in the world, and we are wasting what God gave us if we don’t use them to further His kingdom in America and in every country in the world. I’m not even talking about “success” by American standards - big house in the suburbs, cushy office job with benefits, a family that looks like movie stars. I’m talking about how we have the opportunities to stretch and expand our minds through world-class education, to travel all over the world, to pull ourselves up from whatever situation we were born in, to become who we want to be. Most of the world doesn’t have those opportunities.
Ed Will writes the following:
An economics professor at a local college made a statement that he had never failed a single student before, but had recently failed an entire class. That class had insisted that Obama’s socialism worked and that no one would be poor and no one would be rich, a great equalizer.
The professor then said, “Okay, we will have an experiment in this class on Obama’s plan”. All grades will be averaged and everyone will receive the same grade so no one will fail and no one will receive an A…. (substituting grades for dollars - something closer to home and more readily understood by all).
After the first test, the grades were averaged and everyone got a B. The students who studied hard were upset and the students who studied little were happy. As the second test rolled around, the students who studied little had studied even less and the ones who studied hard decided they wanted a free ride too so they studied little.
The second test average was a D! No one was happy. When the 3rd test rolled around, the average was an F. As the tests proceeded, the scores never increased as bickering, blame and name-calling all resulted in hard feelings and no one would study for the benefit of anyone else.
To their great surprise, ALL FAILED and the professor told them that socialism would also ultimately fail because when the reward is great, the effort to succeed is great, but when government takes all the reward away, no one will try or want to succeed. It could not be any simpler than that.
These are possibly the 5 best sentences you’ll ever read and all applicable to this experiment:
1. You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity.
2. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving.
3. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else.
4. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it!
5. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that is the beginning of the end of any nation.
We cannot funnel the Creator of the universe, He who was before all things, He who holds all things together (Colossians 1:17), the Alpha and Omega into a little box called “socialist” or “democrat” or “republican.” Who am I to label God? I am not suggesting that democracy is the end-all, be-all or the perfect government. Democracy is a flawed and corrupt system because we are flawed and corrupt people. The most perfect government is and will be the kingdom of God, where everyone loves and serves God and each other because we want to, not because anyone is making us. God is the King and the Ruler not because He was elected, or because He was the wealthiest, or because He was born into a royal family. He is King because He brings us into his royal family. He is King because of who He inherently is, and He will always be King whether we serve Him or not. He is the greatest King and Power of the universe because He doesn’t use His power to make us love and worship Him. He wants desperately for us to, but He doesn’t make us.
That is the difference in a socialist government and the kingdom of God. Socialism is forcing people to give to others, creating resentment, dissension, bitterness, corruption, and laziness. God changes us with love, not laws, so that we want to give to each other. He wants us to love so that we will give and sacrifice and serve Him and each other. He does not want us to sacrifice so that we will love. That is not how love works. That is not how God works. God can’t force us to serve Him. That’s called slavery. He risks rejection and hurt and us running around like prostitutes loving and serving other things because maybe, just maybe, we will realize He is the Creator of the universe and also of us and that He’s been fighting with Satan over us since Eve at that apple and the entire history of the world is God trying to win us back. That’s called love.
*This is not to offend anyone who works in politics or votes a certain way. Because we are flawed people, government is necessary for the functioning of society. I am not pro- or anti-Obama or Romney or anyone. I know millions have died and killed for the right to vote, so I’m working on my political apathy. I shouldn’t waste a privilege.