Series: Christ In ...
Christ In Government
August 25, 2019 | Randy Smith
Christ In Government
1 Peter 2:11–17
Sunday, August 25, 2019
Pastor Randy Smith
As you know, we are in our summer series entitled, “Christ in.” I thought after the “Christ in Health” sermon, you’d be excited to return to Luke! However, it seems that one has resulted in the most positive feedback. So I thought we’d continue for a few more weeks!
In this series the sermons have been topical, not too heavy on theology, but I trust very practical and at times very convicting. The goal of each sermon is to present a Christian perspective on some of the core elements of our lives –
Christ in the home, in the marriage, in the parent, in ourselves, in our health and today, Christ in government.
Is America God’s nation? How should we treat elected officials? Should we ever resist government? What is God’s role in the appointment of political leaders? Should a Christian vote? We could spend weeks covering this material, but today I would like to chisel it down to just the fundamentals and essentials from the Bible – five points (in the form of a question) all in your sermon outline.
Is America a Christian Nation?
In the most profound sense, the answer is “no.” Israel was the only nation that could call itself “God’s people” and define itself as a theocracy proper. There are no specific promises in the Bible made to America as a nation. We are not at the center of God’s purposes as we often assume. And if we ever were, it’s lesser now than it ever was.
However, in a lesser sense, yes, our country was blessed when it sought the Lord and America was founded on biblical principles. It may come as a surprise, but according to a Newsweek cover story, “Historians are discovering that the Bible, perhaps even more than the Constitution, is our founding document.” Our second President, John Adams, wrote, “The general principles upon which the Fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity.”
So a brief history lesson to set some facts straight. We are not a theocracy. Contrary to popular belief, nor are we a democracy. We are a republic as we declare in the pledge, “To the Republic for which it stands.” As a republic, our rule in not simple majority, but rather the representative government that our founders intended. The challenging goal is to protect citizens while at the same time not restricting their liberties. We’ll see that is biblical.
Thomas Jefferson said it well, words etched into his memorial in DC, “God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the Gift of God?” The goal was limited government. The desire was to keep the three influencing institutions – the family, the church and the state from interfering with each other. I’ll come back to that one.
Who Appoints Government?
Let’s get to the Bible now. Who appoints governing officials? In the ultimate sense, that belongs to God. Let’s stay with Scripture. Romans 13:1-2, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.”
You say, even evil leaders like Hitler, Stalin and the like? Yes. Why? Because God uses evil to accomplish His purposes. Sometimes it’s clear and explained like what we read in the Old Testament about brutal nations such as Assyria and Babylon invading and leading Israel off to captivity as a form of God’s judgment on His disobedient people.
Take for example the primary cruel leader of Babylon. Three times in Jeremiah (25:9; 27:6; 43:10), God referred to him as “my servant.” From the book of Habakkuk God says, “For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans [Babylonians], that fierce and impetuous people who march throughout the earth to seize dwelling places which are not theirs” (Hab. 1:6). To which the confused prophet cried, “Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, and You cannot look on wickedness with favor. Why do You look with favor on those who deal treacherously? Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up those more righteous than they?” (Hab. 1:13). Of course the answer it that God uses evil to accomplish His purposes which at times is to execute His immediate judgment.
But ultimately God uses world leaders in many mysterious ways. One could be giving a nation that is turning her back on Him over to His wrath of abandonment (Romans 1). Something I believe we are seeing right before our very eyes here in America. Another could be to purify His church. Study world history. Some of the church’s greatest periods of strength came when evil world leaders were in power often with the church in their crosshairs.
The bottom line is this. God establishes and disposes all governing leaders (Job 12:23; Psm. 75:7). His will will always come to pass. As Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar, “It is [God] who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings” (Dan. 2:21). And as Nebuchadnezzar painfully learned, “he Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes and sets over it the lowliest of men” (Dan. 4:17).
And let me also add that just because God uses evil people, it does not mean that He approves of evil and does not hold evil people accountable for their actions (Judas, Pharaoh, Babylon, etc.)
What is God’s Purpose for Government?
In other words, according to the Bible, what does God expect from the leaders He establishes?
Number 1 – Restrain and punish evil.
Consider Romans 13:4. “For [the civil leader] is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.” Or 1 Peter 2:13-14. Kings and governors in authority are “sent by [God] for the punishment of evildoers.” Leaders are responsible to bring lawbreakers to justice and exert punishment. At the deepest level they are responsible to wage justified war if necessary.
Number 2 – Protect life and property
God puts the highest premium on human life. I know we love our pets and want to save the environment, but nothing is more valuable to God that you. Why? Because only human begins are created in the image of God. That was the very reason God gave Israel the permission to terminate life when the Sixth Commandment declares “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13). “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man” (Gen. 9:6). Moreover, the highest responsibility of government is to protect our weakest members, especially the ones that can’t protect themselves.
And number 3 – Recognize and encourage good.
Good, law-abiding citizens should be recognized by their leaders. Romans 13:3, “For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same” (cf. 1 Pet. 2:14).
I’ll let you evaluate how we are doing right now in these three domains (same good/some bad), but at least our Founders got it right (even though they didn’t always do it right) in the preamble to the Constitution. “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
The Preamble – limited government operating as ordained by God, fulfilling His purposes. Thus anything outside of that Preamble, notably by its own definition in the Constitution, is “unconstitutional.”
But let’s answer an important question at this point. The government is called by God to punish evil, protect the innocent and reward good. But we all know there have been many regimes throughout history that have done just the opposite. They have punished good, hurt the innocent and rewarded evil. What God intended for good actually becomes the enemy of the people and often the church. Jesus in speaking of world leaders in the final days said, “Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name” (Matt. 24:9). So is the institution of government bad? How do we view bad governments?
This is a dilemma. The great theologian Augustine said that government is a necessary evil and that it is necessary because of evil. And most theologians in the history of the church have said that human evil is the reason even corrupt government is better than no government at all. Because it is run by sinful man, it will never ultimately be what God commands. Even the Kings in Israel and Judah barely got it right. However, because we are sinful, if government were removed there would be little restraining us from total anarchy.
James Madison put it this way, “If men were angels there would be no need for government.” According to R.C. Sproul, “In other words, mankind is a two-sided coin, one side displays God’s image, the other side reflects man’s fallen, sinful nature. This means here needs to be outside controls, i.e., government, to keep people from infringing on the liberty of others.”
God knew government is necessary.
Should Citizens Always Submit to Government?
I’ll let you determine that answer from the Bible. Romans 13:2, “Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.” Answer? Yes. Clearly if God has established leaders as we already determined – to undermine the leaders He establishes is rebellion against Him. Just like the submission we are called for in other spheres of authority, God expects us to obey the governing officials, regardless of whether or not we find it comfortable, affordable or convenient to do otherwise.
So with that in mind, first, Titus 3:1 – we are to be in subject to their laws (cf. Rom. 13:1-5; 1 Pet. 2:13-15).
I believe you have heard before that when the Apostles wrote for the need to submit to governing officials, the evil Roman leader Nero was in power who< made it a pleasure of his to torture and kill Christians.
Second, Romans 13:7 – we are to respect them (cf. 1 Pet. 2:17).
I am always saddened when people make vile comments and threats to leaders. I feel that way about our current President and I felt that way about our former President. Even Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from the Book of Daniel respected the King, despite his call for them to engage in idolatry or die.
Third, 1 Timothy 2:1-3 – we are to pray for them.
Fourth, Romans 13:7 – we are to pay our taxes (cf. Mt. 22:17-21).
However, since God is our ultimate authority, we are never to obey when they demand us to violate His commands (Dan. 6:10; Mt. 2:7-12; Ac. 5:29).
Overall, Christians should be model citizens and a blessing to the leaders they follow in any community. In this context Peter says, “For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men” (1 Pet. 2:15). Even when the Jews in in captivity under the wicked Babylonians, the prophet Jeremiah said, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare” (Jer. 29:7).
Do we have a Responsibility to Vote?
Yes! “When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when a wicked man rules, people groan” (Prov. 29:2). Because we do live in a republic where our voice counts (“We the people”), we need to know what is most important according to God’s will and determine the politician that best will uphold it.
It’s impossible to say that religion and politics do not mix. Being “salt and light” does not exempt us from the political world. We should influence it. When Christians choose not to vote we open a vacuum to unrighteous legislations that now provide a greater opportunity for evil to thrive and be imposed on the will of the people, including ourselves and future generations.
In the Bible, Joseph and Daniel heavily influenced governing leaders and it greatly benefitted God’s people. Likewise, we are called in Galatians 6:10 to “do good to all people.” Why would we want men and women in office that will introduce and perpetuate unrighteousness on our society?
So what are the issues we should be concerned about? There are many, but personally speaking, none are greater than the need to protect the lives of the unborn. Though I know of Christians that disagree with me on this, but if a man or woman supports abortion, I believe he or she in my opinion is immediately disqualified from office. I compare it to a dynamic leader that could be our greatest President in history, but wanted to reinstitute the institution of slavery. Immediate disqualification.
In How Christianity Changed the World, Alvin Schmidt documents Christian influence in government. Examples include outlawing infanticide, child abandonment and gladiatorial games in ancient Rome, ending the practice of human sacrifice among European cultures, banning pedophilia and polygamy, and prohibiting the burning of widows in India. William Wilberforce, a committed Christian, was the force behind the successful effort to abolish the slave trade in England. In the United States, two-thirds of abolitionists were Christian pastors. [SOURCE]
The Founders knew that our present form of government works only within the framework of God’s higher moral law. Even the so-called “pursuit of happiness” for all citizens (today: abortion, redefinition of marriage and gender, redistribution of wealth), must bow to God’s rule as the ultimate authority. In this sense there is no “separation of church and state” as God is the final authority over both church and state.
John Adams, signer of the Declaration of Independence and our second President, wrote about the moral and religious necessity of our citizens, “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
With the blood bought freedoms we enjoy as a country, thanks to our military heroes, we cannot sit back and refuse to exercise our rights only to further individuals in office that will not submit to Divine Law or the Constitution. And for those in office, it is our responsibility to hold them accountable to the Lord over both the church and the state. The line of separation is vertical, not horizontal.
So as we wrap it up, let’s remember a few things to keep all of this in perspective.
Our Savior is Jesus Christ, not government.
Government is not designed by God to provide our ultimate hope. It is to corrupt the mission of the church to think government can advance the cause of Christ. As I said, throughout history, the church was often the strongest under repressive, pagan regimes. Our trust must be in the Lord. He is Lord over government. Only He is the Savior of the world. Is He your Savior?
Our goal is evangelism.
Though I understand the context is different, there is nothing in the Bible of the Apostles trying to overturn Rome. No calls to civil disobedience. Our primary goal is to see people transformed by the Gospel. Jesus Christ changing hearts is the greatest way to change a culture. As Jesus said, “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come. (Mt. 24:14).
Human government is only a picture of Christ’s reign.
While Christ presently reigns over human governments, we see how even the best men and women in leadership fail to provide the perfect kingdom. We are primarily citizens of Christ’s kingdom, Philippians 3:20, “For our citizenship is in heaven.” But for the time being we also dwell, in a lesser sense, as citizens among this world too. So we long for the day when Christ will overthrow all these puny human leaders and rightly take to Himself what is rightfully His and reign over His kingdom that is without end (Dan. 2:44) where and when “EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil. 2:10-11; cf. Rev. 7:9-10).