Our ambition should take a back seat to our conscience.

by Russell Moore

The late pastor Eugene Peterson, in a letter to his son, also a pastor, wrote that the primary problem for the Christian leader is to take responsibility not just for the ends but also for the “ways and means” by which we guide people to pursue those ends. “The devil’s three temptations of Jesus all had to do with ways and means,” he wrote. “Every one of the devil’s goals was excellent. The devil had an unsurpassed vision statement. But the ways and means were incompatible with the ends.”

As Peterson put it, the discipleship that Jesus calls us to is one “both personally and corporately conducted in which the insides and outsides are continuous. A life in which we are as careful and attentive to the how as to the what.”

This is because, Peterson counseled, “if we are going to live the Jesus life, we simply have to do it the Jesus way—he is, after all, the Way as well as the Truth and Life.” There are no emergency escape clauses from the way of the Cross.

What seems to be popular in this moment is not so much a prosperity gospel as a depravity gospel. In this depravity gospel, appeals to character or moral norms are met not with appeals of “Not guilty!” but with dismissals of “Get real!”

Yet this depravity gospel tries to lure us in. It doesn’t matter if you get to it by adopting it outright, with glee at cruelty and vulgarity, or if it drives you to the kind of cynicism that doesn’t ever expect anything better.

That way lies nihilism. You will find yourself in situations, and you may be in one of those situations already, where you have a responsibility for holding an institution accountable. Maybe it’s simply as a voter. You can just shrug and give your assent to anyone your party tells you to support. That will change you, over time. Maybe it’s as a church member or a part of some denomination or Christian ministry.

Do not confuse giftedness with character, in yourself or in anyone else. You shouldn’t expect your leaders to be sinless. They will sin, but there’s a difference between a sinning, repenting human being and a pattern of corruption. If the latter, you will have to ask yourself how to address it. Is it through staying where you are and seeking to effect change? Or is it by leaving and finding a new place to live and to serve? I don’t know. Much of that is contingent on factors you often just can’t know. I would suggest that you ask yourself where your vulnerabilities are.


Sign up to receive awesome content in your inbox, every week.

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.