15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. 16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances.[b] 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius.[c] 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.Matthew 22:15-22, ESV
This is a popular passage right now, understandably. Professing Christians are struggling to determine not only which candidate to vote for in the upcoming US election, but even whether to vote at all, as well as how to interact with those who vote differently.
I’m not here to point out that these verses depict rival parties joining together in an attempt to make Jesus look foolish—make of that what you will. And I won’t argue that voting is an essential act of “rendering to Caesar” and that we therefore must take to the polls. Rather, I want to draw attention—however briefly—to a more nuanced point, which, overlooked in favour of the politically-charged call to “render to Caesar,” is ultimately more important for our lives as believers overall.
Voting (or abstaining) thoughtfully may be a modern mode of appropriately “rendering” to earthly governments. However, while Christians are called to humble civic engagement, this is informed by our obedience to a higher Ruler; notice that the call to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” is balanced and informed by the call to also—and more so—render “to God the things that are God’s.” Verses 19-21 must be read in completion if we are to participate in politics faithfully.
But what is Caesar’s? Jesus draws attention to the ruler’s likeness, stamped on the coins of old, much like our contemporary currency. Caesar’s likeness upon the coins is important, for his inscribed image is at once a way of denoting and delimiting his authority. Caesar’s authority may be vast, but it is does not extend to mark everything. We ought to pause here and consider another, far more significant likeness; we ourselves, after all, are created in the Imago Dei, and recreated after the pattern of Christ. Far beyond a mere inscription, we as Christians are the living likenesses of our Lord. Although many things bear the stamp of political participation or governmental authority, we must remember to whom we ourselves—not our taxes or our ballots—belong. Whether we cast our vote to the right or left, we are not defined by a party preference or civic choice, but instead are to be constantly growing in Christ-likeness and serving as reminders unto each other of our ultimate loyalty and Ruler.
Considering this passage in full, we as believers can continue to invest in thoughtful voting, honest taxpaying, and serious communal engagement, for, while we appropriately render these things to our earthly authorities, we find both conviction and encouragement in the knowledge that our very selves belong to the Lord whose likeness sets us—not our vote—apart as His own. Therefore, in this season of contention and confusion, do not neglect to render kindness, patience, and service unto others, regardless of politics. Above and before all else, though, render your heart, mind, and soul to the Lord whose Likeness you bear. Christians, it is far too easy to become preoccupied with electing officials to represent a particular side; we must, though, remember that we are to be the elect representatives of Christ in a divided world. Dear Reader, whether you render your vote to the likeness of a donkey, an elephant, or neither, remember that you are made for more, that, indeed, you are to render your entire being to the One who created you in His image.