There is a certain amount of excitement that comes from voting for the first time. For the first 18 years of your life, you experience the election cycles every two to four years with detachment, not quite sure what is happening. But upon your 18th birthday, your experience begins to change. Those candidates debating, speaking and asking for your vote on commercials are talking to you now, they are after your money, your heart and your vote. Whether you realize it or not, you have begun a journey, one that will shape your relationships and your identity for the rest of your life.

Regardless of your political upbringing, if you pay attention at all, you will slowly begin to identify with one candidate over another. “This” candidate slowly becomes “your” candidate. You believe in him/her, you agree with what they say, and you believe they have the ability to deliver on the promises they make. These candidates will diagnose the present culture in a way that resonates with you and spin a vision of the future that you find compelling.

Soon, your candidate’s ideas become your ideas, and when they are attacked, you are attacked. So you respond by defending your beliefs, your candidates beliefs. When they win, you win. When they lose, you lose. This is what it looks like to become involved in politics.

Once you are political, you will begin to notice certain patterns in the election cycles. Some cycles are boring and seem inconsequential. Every once in awhile, a candidate comes along that really gets your attention. They do this by appealing to your instincts and your human nature. This candidate taps into something deep inside you and gives voice to your grandest dreams and greatest frustrations. You will do more for this candidate than you have ever done before. For some, that means you will finally vote; for others, it means you will attend rallies, give money and volunteer to see their electoral success. Your heart will be engaged, but, especially if you’re a believer, you have to ask yourself if your mind is also engaged.

The human heart is fickle, or to put it another way, the human heart is easily influenced. It is easy for candidates to play to our hopes, fears and insecurities, for it is in our fears that our hearts are the most vulnerable. Which is why the Bible puts a premium on wisdom and discernment, these are the guardrails of your soul. Wisdom is the ability to think about issues in light of who God is and what He has said. Discernment is the exercise of that ability against life’s problems and concerns.

So how do we apply biblical wisdom and discernment to our political choices?

Fear the Right Things

Candidates and political parties will often exploit your fears. These candidates will sense your lack of security, they will see your apprehension about the future and they will exploit that fear to get your support. He/she will tell you that some “group” is to blame for your insecurities, but fear not, if you vote for him/her, they will defeat that group and you will be safe.

This can be a compelling argument, as we all desire safety and want to protect our way of life. The danger for the Christian is when we allow these fears to overwhelm our witness, and when we seek our security over the salvation of others.

Christians are called to love others, to work and pray for the salvation of all nations, all groups, even those we would call our political enemies. In fact, this is the greatest commandment: to love God and to love others. Biblical wisdom begins with a fear of the Lord, an appreciation for His power a respect for His commandments. We are free to love those who threaten us because we recognize that it is greater to obey God and lose our comfort, than to disobey Him and feel secure. For when you fear only God, you will fear little else.

So if a candidate is asking you to trust them on the basis of their call to hate a particular group over and above God’s call to love; ask yourself, is it wise for me to follow this person even if it feels good to do so?

Ask the Right Questions

It can often feel good to give in to the fear and rage against our “enemies.” In this particular election cycle, there are several candidates who are giving an emotional voice to the concerns of their supporters. But, as Christians, we have a greater calling upon our lives than to simple give in to our feelings and give voice to our fears.

Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians that we are to “examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.” This is the call to biblical discernment, to exercise the wisdom we have in the situations that present themselves. The apostle John writes, “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1John 4:1). We are to test those who would lead us, and we do this by asking the right questions.

Throughout the course of your life, you will be presented with many different leaders, religious and secular vying for your support. The question to ask is not “Does it feel good to support them, even if they are divisive and hateful?” The question(s) to ask is “Can I hold fast to what is good and support this candidate? Does my support for this candidate overshadow my Christian calling?”

Voting is our right, purchased by patriots often at great cost. We should exercise that right at every opportunity given and vote for candidates that reflect our values. But the privilege we have to call ourselves christians, is far more precious than our political ideology. It was purchased at an infinitely greater cost. As Christians we do little to advance our politics when we do so at the expense of our faith.