Here in the U.S., we are in the midst of another Presidential Election cycle. From now until November, much of our national attention will be directed at picking the next leader of our nation, as well as many other issues that voters will have a say in.
As Christians, our faith should impact everything that we do, including how we interact with our government.
With that in mind I thought this would be a good time to open up the Bible and draw out some principles regarding government to help get us in the right frame of mind –a brief Theology of Government.
Humans Were Made to Be Ruled (Loki was right!) — but Not by Government
Philippians 2 indicated that one day every knee will bow to Jesus and every tongue will declare him as Lord. That is our ultimate destiny and what we were created for. God is creator and we are creation and as such we were made to to live under his loving rule.
Where we are allow ourselves to be ruled by something else to the extent that we bow down to it and serve it instead of God, we are committing the sin of idolatry.
This all has several implications for our view of government:
1) As Christians, our ultimate allegiance is to Jesus, not our Government
There is a certain degree of loyalty and obedience that we should give our government (as we will see in Romans 13), but we need to at all times remember where our ultimate priorities lie.
2) Government was not part of God’s original design, but has been made necessary by sin
In one sense, Government isn’t part of God’s design for humanity. In another sense however, Government is essential for a fallen people. Anarchy is not a viable option for Christians to pursue. The rule of law, even imperfect human law, is better than the alternative.
3) A Godly human Government would be limited in nature and would not exert totalitarian control over its citizens
We are supposed to bow down to Jesus, not our Government. The more control the Government assumes, the harder it becomes to strike the right balance.
Government is Instituted by God
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.
This point helps balance out the last one. Government may not have been part of the plan before sin, but here and now it is instituted by God as an extension of his justice and wrath against sin.
God is Sovereign Over the Government
The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord;
he turns it wherever he will.
Sometimes, it’s easy to forget God’s sovereign control of the universe. But he is sovereign over everything, including politics. This does not mean that every political decision aligns with the will of God; many are contrary to his revealed will in the Bible. However, they are all part of God’s decree. On this side of heaven we may never know every reason why God sometimes decrees that his will be violated, but we can know that nothing takes him by surprise and that nothing happens in the world of politics that is not part of his eternal plan.
Government’s Primary Responsibility is to Protect Its Citizens and Administer Justice
For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
This gets back to the idea of limited Government described earlier. The Government is an extension of God’s justice and is to protect its people by punishing wrongdoing. Practically, this means that we mostly expect the Government to legislate morality (prohibiting murder, rape, theft, kidnapping, etc), and not to create bureaucracy.
Christians Should Submit to Government
We just saw in Romans 13 how we are called to be submissive to the Government. Since the Government was instituted by God and since it is ultimately for our benefit to serve as a buffer against the effects of the collective sin of a nation, we should cheerfully obey the rules handed down by Government
Christians Should Sometimes Disobey Government
But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.”
It doesn’t always come to civil disobedience, but Christians always need to keep in mind that sometimes this is the only option. In Acts 5, the issue at stake was the fact that the Apostles were ordered by the Jewish authorities not to preach Jesus. That is a non-negotiable issue for Christians. We must be allowed to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Where that right is denied to us by our Government, we need to follow the example of the apostles and practice civil disobedience.
Government is Not Our Final Hope
During election season it can seem like everything is riding on what happens at the polls. As Christians, we need to remember that our hope is not that we will elect the right people, but that eventually God will make all things new.
That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do our part to help make the Government as good as we can make it –we have a vote and should use it wisely– but we need not fear that somehow everything will be ruined if things don’t go our way in November.
As imperfect as the Government has been in the United States (and it has been extremely imperfect), we have still enjoyed historically unprecedented levels of peace and prosperity for well over two hundred years. We have also had freedom of worship that is been completely absent from nations like China. So while a certain level of Patriotism and gratitude is reasonable, our ultimate allegiance is not to the land of the free and the home of the brave, but to Jesus who gives us real freedom that will last forever.
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