Christians tend to be very opinionated about the laws their government creates (as we should be). Modern Christians have placed themselves into the unfortunate position of not being subject to God, and this has created a problem for them. While there are many laws that they can point to and say, “that’s a bad law, we need to do away with that law,” they are often hard-pressed to explain the all-important, “Why?” “Why should we get rid of this law? According to what standard?” During the 19th century it had become popular to suppose that the rule of Christ did not extend to civil government. In so doing, whether we realized it or not, we opted to place ourselves under service to another master.
Because life is 100% ethics based, our ethics will either reflect service to God, or they will reflect service to some other authority; there is no other option (Matthew 12:30). By placing ourselves in this position, we have lost our ability to be authoritative in our opinions about law. Why have we decided that the civil sphere does not fall under the rule of Christ? I submit to you that this belief is only assumed and is not defensible from Scripture. Why should we care? If you hate what America has become then you ought to care, because the decline of our nation is a direct result of withdrawal from God’s authority. The path that our country has taken is not strange or surprising. It is only natural (inevitable) for a nation to conform to the character of its ethical source. If we adhere to a godless authority then our country will of course decline into godlessness. In observing this, the phrase, “This aint rocket-science,” seems appropriate. As the current state of America testifies, ignorance is NOT bliss. If you have grown up with the belief that Christ does not have an opinion about civil government, then it behooves you, dear reader, to double-check that you do not hold your belief out of ignorance. So I encourage you to read on.
It IS Black and White
Here is an absolute truth: in everything we do, either we are serving Christ, or we are not. There is no third option. We cannot be, “not serving Christ,” while at the same time serving Christ. So if we are not serving Christ then who are we serving? Someone who is NOT Christ. Everything we do is in service to the pursuit of some goal, some objective. This goal / objective either serves Christ, or it serves something else (see Matthew 12:30 and Luke 16:13). Humans cannot get away from the fact that their actions serve someone. There are no free-agents.
Service = Ethics
Ethics are standards that define the way people must act. Service is inherently bound to ethics because service is made up of actions, and our actions must necessarily adhere to some ethical system. No service is ethically neutral which is confirmed by Jesus in Matthew 12:30, “he who is not with me is against me…” In other words, Jesus is saying, “If you love Me then your service will conform to My ethical standards, otherwise your service is against me.” Either our actions conform to the ethical standards of Christ, or they do not. All actions are in service to an ethical standard, and all ethical standards find their root in some source (be it ourselves, Christ, or Satan).
All Ethical Systems Have a Master
At the top of every ethical system we find a source who is served by the performance of that system. A Christian ethical system serves Christ. Satan’s stated goal is to lead humans in a rebellion against God’s ethical standards. Satan in the garden: “Has God indeed said you shall not eat?” (e.g., do we really have to do what God says). Satan before God in Heaven in relation to Job: “Job isn’t as faithful as you really think he is. I can cause him to reject your authority.” Satan and Jesus: “Hey Jesus, you should do all these things that God specifically said not to do.” When we engage in ethical systems that are not subordinate to God then we are being subordinate to Satan. There is no third option. There is no, “I’m not going to serve you God, but I’m also not serving Satan. I’m just doing my own little thing in this corner over here.” Or, “I will serve you God, but I’m going to decide for myself how I serve You.” All our behavior serves one of two masters: God or Satan. This might be an unsettling concept, but Christians don’t need to worry because God has taught us in exhaustive detail what it means to serve Him. Where we seem to be getting tripped up at is whether or not to apply what He has taught us.
Not all ethics are created equal. Ethical systems fall under two categories: Authoritative and NOT authoritative. Christ’s ethics are authoritative. Man’s ethical systems are only authoritative in so far as they reflect Christ’s ethical system. This is to say that man cannot create his own set of ethical standards apart from or against God’s standard. For example, suppose that man says, “Murder is lawful,” (as he has in the case of abortion), whereas God says, “Thou shalt not murder.” Of these two diametrically opposed ethics, only God’s is authoritative. I used this obvious example as an easy way to illustrate my point, yet I would like to note that if God’s ethic holds superior authority in major points, such as murder, then it also holds superiority in minor points. As creator over us, God holds the position of supreme law-giver in all questions of morality.
How Does This Affect Christians?
No one is allowed to follow just any ethic they want (though many humans live a life of rebellion). But Christians in particular have stipulations of ethical loyalty that are peculiar to their redeemed status. Christ is very clear that to love Him is to keep His commandments. This is reiterated in 1st John 5:1-3, “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.” Thus Christians, who are characterized by their love for Christ, are indubitably tied to an adherence to Christ’s ethical standards.
The Link Between Government and Ethics
Government is concerned with the way people act, therefore government is concerned with ethics. In fact, government is a tool for enforcing ethical standards. Any government has only two options when it comes to choosing and enforcing an ethical standards: it can create it’s own, or it can choose to apply one that is derived from an external source. Whatever course the government takes, it will enforce some ethical standard and that ethic will be in service of somebody. So the question becomes, “What ethical standard should governments enforce?” And therefore, before we can hope to sort out government, we must first ensure that we have our own ethical allegiances sorted out.
Does God Have an Opinion About Government?
Many modern Christians believe in the concept of separation of Church and State. There are three observations that should be made about this:
- Christ also believes in the separation of Church and State. In fact, God originated and first practiced this idea.
- The popular understanding of the phrase, “separation of Church and states,” does not reflect its origin (see Here for a good summary).
- The belief that Christ has nothing to do with the state has only very recently (within the last 150 years give or take) gained widespread popularity.
Once upon a time God cared enough about government that he communicated an entire system of government to Israel. When God organized the nation of Israel, one of the very first things He did was create the separate institutions of Church and State. He instituted Aaron as the head of the Israelite Church (the priestly system), and for this early Church He assigned all the ceremonial laws that instructed them in proper worship thus separating Israel as a peculiar people before God from among the rest of the nations. God then instituted Moses as the head of the governmental institution and, for the government, He assigned His moral law code. In this system, the Church had no authority over the government (as the Catholic Church once would have maintained), nor did the government have any authority over the Church (the direction that America has gone), but still God ruled over both institutions.
Even though there is a separation of Church and State, the state isn’t excused from adhering to God’s authority. Both institutions are accountable to God because He is the only being who can provide an authoritative ethical code. And thus we see that at the very least, God once cared about government. If He once cared about government then He probably still does today (see Malachi 3:6, Hebrews 13:8, Revelation 1:8, and James 1:17)…
Does Christ Have an Opinion About Government?
Skipping forward to the New Testament, we find the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20. Because modern Christians have already pre-supposed that Christ is not concerned with government, they assign an assumed narrowness to this passage that is not Scripturally supportable. Jesus tells us that ALL authority has been given to Him, in Heaven AND on earth. Christians need to reconsider the common view of this passage and ask themselves, “What is the additional scripture that narrows the scope of Christ’s authority described in Matthew 28 to exclude authority over government?” In other words, what authoritative standard instructed Christians to narrow the scope of Christ’s Kingship from “ALL authority on earth” to “All authority on earth excepting government and any person who doesn’t want to be a Christian.”
The additional question that must be asked is this: If Christ’s authority doesn’t extend to all governments and non-Christians, then what exactly are we commanded to disciple the nations in? The seldom understood thing about discipleship is that, as evidenced by Jesus’ ministry on earth, it does not discriminate based upon a person’s salvific condition. Christ discipled with the expectation that all people should adhere to His ethical standards. In other words, discipleship is to be extended to the saved and the un-saved alike. What is discipleship? It is teaching people how to adhere to Christ’s ethical standards. Because Christ has authority over the entire earth then He expects the entire earth to be instructed in His ethical standards. A king requires for all people who reside within his domain to learn and adhere to his laws. But A king has no expectation that people who do not dwell within his domain be taught his laws. The entire earth is Christ’s domain, and so, just like any king, He expects all those who dwell in His domain to be taught and to follow His laws. But, If Christ did not have authority over all governments and peoples on earth (Christian and non-Christian alike) then He would have no expectation that they be discipled. And yet He commanded that they be discipled. If we are to take Christ at His word when He says, “All authority has been given to me in Heaven and on earth,” then we must conclude that Christ expects for His ethical standards to be taught and followed throughout all the world.
Does The New Testament Contain Specific Instructions for Government?
For additional New Testament evidence that Christ does indeed care about government, let us examine Romans 13:1-7. Once again, popular Christianity leaves people with preconceptions that cause them to view this passage through a more narrow scope. According to the typical cursory glance, it is believed that this passage describes only our duty to government. By taking a break from pop-Christian “programming”, we can see that this passage actually contains instructions for individuals and governments. In particular, Romans 13 prescribes these five requirements for government:
- Governments are to be ministers of God (“For he is God’s minister. . . for he is God’s minister. . . for they are God’s ministers”)
- Governments are to minister to us for good (“For he is God’s minister to you for good”)
- Governments are not to be a terror to good works, but to evil (“For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil.”)
- Governments are to exist for the punishment of evil-doers and the praise of those who do well (“Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same.”)
- As God’s ministers, Government’s are to act as His avengers to execute wrath upon evil-doers (“But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.”)
The Greek word used in this passage for “minister” is “Diakonos” (see Here) which, not coincidentally, is the same word that is used throughout the New Testament to describe a Church deacon, or another individual who is sent to carry out God’s will for the service of His people (see Here). Thus, Romans 13 does not describe just any old governing organization. It describes organizations that are subordinate to God’s authority (this should be no surprise given that Christ has been granted authority over the entire world). I strongly encourage you to read Romans 13:1-7 and to locate for yourself these five points within the passage.
Do All Governments Fit the Romans 13 Criteria?
Or in other words, “Is Romans 13 describing all governments?” Certainly not! When the Apostle Paul tells us that Governments are ministers to us for our good, whose concept of “good” is he referring to? According to the government of Nazi Germany, “good” was the extermination of the Jews. At the time of Paul’s writing of Romans, “good” was defined by the Roman government as the persecution of the fledgling Christian Church. In describing what is good, and what is evil, it is patently obvious that Paul is referring to good and evil according to God’s definitions for them (otherwise Romans 13 must be God’s endorsement of all wicked governments, including Nazi Germany). It thus becomes clear that Romans 13 enjoins government to adhere to the ethical standards of morality that have been established by the Christian Triune God. Because Christ has been given authority over the entire world, it makes sense that He requires all His lesser earthly rules to abide by His own ethical criteria. For this reason, I prefer to refer to Romans 13:1-7 as God’s charter for government.
Does the Romans 13 Charter Apply a Requirement to All Governments
Yes it does. All governments are called to be ministers of God. Romans 13 does not specify that “Only Christian governments are to be My ministers.” As far as King Jesus is concerned, His ethical stipulations apply to all the inhabitants of the earth. There are two kinds of governments on this earth: Legitimate governments that are in conformance with the Romans 13 charter, and illegitimate governments that are in rebellion against Christ’s stipulations in Romans 13. Though it has become popular to suppose that Christ’s standards apply to Christians alone, I challenge you to find concrete Scriptural evidence for such a belief.
God’s Authority Was Never Constrained to His People Alone
Is Heavenly sovereignty over earthly government (to include non-Christians) limited specifically to Christ’s present reign? It is not. In the book of Daniel it is recorded how God, even in those times before Christ’s coming, still maintained the expectation that earthly rules subordinate themselves to Him:
“This decision [to curse Nebuchadnezzar – M.H.] is by the decree of the watchers, And the sentence by the word of the holy ones, In order that the living may know That the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, Gives it [kingship – M.H.] to whomever He will, And sets over it the lowest of men.”Daniel 4:17
Seven years later, after acknowledging God’s authority and subsequently being reinstated by God upon the throne, Nebuchadnezzer declares:
“so I was reestablished in my sovereignty, and surpassing greatness was added to me. Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise, exalt, and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride”Dan. 3:36b-37
Thus we see a heathen ruler, one who was by no means “of the tribe of Israel,” acknowledging that God’s ethic is just. These words, because they were declared by the mouth of a king, stood as Nebuchadnezzar’s acquiescence to God’s law and a statement that God’s justice would govern his kingdom. It is humbling to read of this heathen king expressing more wisdom than the majority of Christians today.
Why Would We Want Anything Else?
Should we want to serve any other ethical system? If we are to take Jesus at His words, probably not.
“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”Matthew 11:29-30
“And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.’
Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’”Luke 4:17-21
Only in God’s service can we hope to live in ease, security, and liberty. What do alternative ethical systems lead to? The opposite of what is promised under God. Unless Jesus’ unspoken intention in Matthew 11:30 was to say, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light. But that other dude’s yoke is also pretty light,” then our take-away should be that Jesus is warning us about the comparative danger and hardship of serving other masters. America serves as a living example of the truth of Jesus’ statement. As our nation shifts it’s allegiance from serving God to serving a new ethical system, we see the consequences all around us: not the least of which is 50 million murdered children to date. THAT is what you get when you acquiesce to an ethical standard in government that is not directly derived from Christ. Service under man-made ethical systems is very harsh and very costly – 1.21 million of our children per year costly, to be specific. The mantra that we must repeat to ourselves every morning when we wake up, and every evening before we lie down, is this: “I can either enjoy freedom under God’s ethical system, or I can suffer tyranny under man’s ethical system.”
Christ does care about civil government. Due to the Great Commission, Christians have a particular charter to instruct (disciple) the nations in the proper application of King Jesus’ ethical standards. This is our answer when we discuss what laws our government should and should not create: “Only those laws that serve Christ.” And our Why is this: “Because Christ’s ethical standards are the only authoritative standards that exist. He is King over earth, and His laws are holy, just, and good (Romans 7:12).” Adherence to Christ’s ethical standard is a requirement for all men (though there yet remains many rebels in our King’s domain). Unlike the law of man, Christ’s ethical standard is not burdensome. The Bible is our wisdom in the sight of the nations (Deuteronomy 4:6) for determining the What and the Why of law. The next question (which is reserved for a future article) is this: What exactly does King Jesus require of all those who dwell in His domain?