How Should We Then Govern? Government for Sinners


Samaritan's Purse - Helping In Jesus' Name

Because we are sinners, we need government. Because we are governed by sinners, those governors need blueprints for righteous government. Thankfully, God has not left us to guess what works or make it up ourselves. What is civil government supposed to do? And how big should it be?

President George W. Bush during his State of the Union address in 2001 said “Some say my tax plan is too big. Others say it’s too small. I respectfully disagree. This plan is just right.” When I speak of the size of government in this chapter, however, I am not referring to the fiscal size of the government nor to its tax rates but the boundaries of its jurisdiction.

If we were not sinners, we would hardly need civil government at all, for the primary purpose of God-ordained government is to punish evildoers. Civil magistrates can punish certain outward or scandalous sins when they reach the social level of criminality but God has not given human courts the responsibility of punishing sins of the heart and mind.

Though determining the frame of mind of an accused person can help determine whether he or she had the motive to commit a crime or not, it is doubtful whether there is any just reason to prosecute for hate crimes on this basis. All crimes have an element of hate, and hatred no doubt exists that doesn’t result in a crime.

I have highlighted two main responsibilities of governors in the passages below:

Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. I Peter 2:13-14

Rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same. Romans 13:3

Civil laws and rulers, then, were instituted by God to punish wickedness. Many of our nation’s founders recognized that government was needed to restrain men. You can hear the echoes of the Apostle Paul in the words of even the unbelieving Thomas Paine: “For were the impulses of conscience clear, uniform, and irresistibly obeyed, man would need no other lawgiver.”[1]

Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine. I Timothy 1:9, 10

At least three observations can be made from this text. First, note the six words used to define who the law is for: the lawless and disobedient; the godless and sinners; and the unholy and the profane. Laws are needed because of who we are (sinners) and what we are like (sinful), and lastly, for what we do (sinful acts). Second, note that the United States has criminalized all of the particular behaviors (sins) listed in the text above at one time or another. The list is not exhaustive. Third, observe that these things are contrary to sound doctrine, yet the Apostle Paul is not talking about modes of baptism here, or the Five Points of Calvinism, or the Divinity of Christ. It is behaviors he addresses. That is the realm of the civil government.

I grant that Paul is likely referring to the moral law in its function as a schoolmaster to lead us to Christ and as a means to bring conviction to sinners who are in rebellion against a Holy God. It does not save. Only Jesus saves. But it is evident that the civil law is to generally reflect the moral law.

Although Thomas Jefferson wasn’t a Christian,[2]  he also recognized man’s natural tendency to seek his own selfish ways. Government must be constructed with that in mind.

“A small knowledge of human nature will convince us that with far the greatest part of mankind interest is the governing principle, and that almost every man is more or less under its influence…. It is in vain to exclaim against the depravity of human nature on this account; the fact is so, and we must in a great measure change the constitution of man before we can make it otherwise. No institution not built on the presumptive truth of these maxims can succeed.”[3]

Two prominent philosophies typify the anarchist/statist war against righteous governance, and while their end games appear to be vastly different, each has atheism at its source and attempts to place man on the throne instead of God. The first is the Objectivist Libertarianism of Ayn[4] Rand; the second is the Communism of Karl Marx. Both proponents railed against the existence of God and the “bad” effects Christianity had on the culture at large (and on government in particular).

Part 15 in a series of excerpts from my book, With Christ in the Voting Booth.



[1] Thomas Paine, Common Sense

[2] There is no evidence that Jefferson ever publicly embraced Christ as the resurrected Savior and much that suggests otherwise. He is oft quoted as saying “To the corruptions of Christianity, I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself.” It seems clear, however, that belief in the divinity of Christ, his physical resurrection, and virgin birth were among the things he considered distortions of Christianity. He specifically expressed the view that the Apostle Paul corrupted Christianity. Neither was Thomas Paine a Christian. His Age of Reason was an attack upon the deity of Christ.

[3] John P. Foley, The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia: a comprehensive collection of the views of Thomas Jefferson, New York: Funk.

[4] Pronounced “ine” as in diner. She rejected the term libertarian for herself but was in essential agreement with virtually all of its tenets.

 

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