John the Baptist Died Believing Character Matters

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A prominent child of privilege had glaring personal weaknesses. He was overly image conscious, and he constantly got in trouble for indulging his hedonistic sexual desires.

On paper, he followed God. In practice, he did nothing of the sort.

Many of the people ignored his personal transgressions. But a well-known preacher called him out, at great personal cost.

Headlines and History Books

This story sounds like it’s ripped from the headlines. In fact, it’s ripped from the history books. This is the story of Herod Antipas and his chief critic, John the Baptist.

Herod Antipas was the son of the Herod you probably know from the Christmas story, and he ruled the area where Jesus performed most of his ministry. Herod was a slave to his sexual desires. For example, he divorced his first wife (a political marriage) to marry his brother’s wife instead — even though doing so was politically and morally detrimental.

This foolish act heightened geopolitical tensions. When his ex-father-in-law, a nearby king, attacked Herod for divorcing his daughter, Herod had to be bailed out by the Romans. More importantly, for John the Baptist, this foolish marriage was utterly immoral. Under Old Testament law, Herod was guilty of incest for marrying his sister-in-law.

On paper, Herod was a Jew. But he wasn’t living according to God’s standards. So John the Baptist felt compelled to call him out for his sexual sin. “It is not lawful for you to have her,” John repeatedly, publicly proclaimed (Matthew 14:4).

Herod didn’t like to be criticized by a popular public figure, but he was too weak to do anything about it. His new wife, Herodias, had no such qualms. At his debauched birthday party, she sent her teenage daughter (Herod’s niece and step-daughter) to dance seductively for her husband. Carried away by his lust, Herod gave in to whatever the girl asked — including having John the Baptist beheaded.

A Public Faith

Clearly, none of the 2016 Presidential candidates are as flawed as Herod Antipas. For that, we can be thankful. I share this story, though, not to criticize a candidate; I share it so we can learn from John the Baptist’s actions.

The fact that John criticized a leader’s sexual misconduct was unusual. John wasn’t a politician; he was an evangelist. He spent most of his time in the wilderness, urging people to repent and proclaiming the Kingdom of God. But though he primarily dedicated his life to saving people’s souls, he lost his life for calling out a public sin. John defended the sanctity of marriage in the face of one of the world’s most powerful men, and he lost his life for it.

I wonder if John’s friends and disciples ever encouraged him to stay silent. “John, keep quiet about Herod! No need to rattle the cages.” “We’re here to save souls, John, not get in the middle of politics.” “John, it’s either him or Rome. He’s the lesser of two evils.”

But John knew his faith was not simply a private matter; it had implications for every square inch of life. So he felt compelled to hold his leaders — particularly those who claimed to follow God — to a higher standard.

Our ultimate allegiance isn’t to a donkey or an elephant, but a crucified Savior.

Why This Matters for Us

This election, prominent voices (both secular and Christian) tell us to keep our faith private. After all, we’re electing a “Commander in Chief,” not a “Pastor in Chief.”

For instance, some prominent faith leaders urge us to vote for policies, not people — to care about the substance of the issues, not the character of the person advocating for them. And I understand where they’re coming from. There are legitimate issues at stake in this election, and the two major party candidates are less than stellar.

I wonder, though, if John would disagree. Herod Antipas may have been right about trade laws, but he was totally wrong about marrying his sister-in-law. And John could not remain silent; he refused to sweep it under the rug. John was so convinced that character matters that his head was served on a platter.

John understood that we can’t place faith in a box that we only crack open once a week. Our faith is the lens through which we see all of life. It transforms how we live privately and how we act publicly. Our faith is just as true on Monday as it is on Sunday. And God’s sexual standards are just as true in the Oval Office as they are at the altar.

So this election, you are faced with a difficult decision. There are no easy answers. And no candidate is perfect — even in a good election. But, as John modeled, it’s entirely appropriate to hold our leaders to a higher standard. Do they claim the name of Christ? If so, do their lives line up with the principles in God’s word? Are they people of integrity, character, grace and honesty?

Be willing to evaluate every candidate — including the one you intend to vote for — because our ultimate allegiance isn’t to a donkey or an elephant, but a crucified Savior. We’re not primarily Republicans or Democrats, but citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. As a result, we are free to affirm the good and call out the bad in every candidate and every party platform — no matter who we plan on casting a ballot for.

So before you vote, research the candidates. Evaluate their lives and policies. Pray. And remember that John the Baptist died believing that character matters.

Image Credit: Caravaggio, Wikimedia Commons

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  • election
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Nathaniel D. Williams

Editor and Content Manager

Nathaniel D. Williams (M.Div, Southeastern Seminary) oversees the website, podcast and social media for the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture, and he serves as the pastor of Cedar Rock First Baptist Church. His work has appeared at Christianity Today, The Gospel Coalition, Fathom Mag, the ERLC and BRNow.org. He and his family live in rural North Carolina.

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