“For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot” (Rom. 8:7).
Gospel of the Kingdom
Christians are right to be critical of a pharisaic state with its ‘salvific’ laws, but this does not mean we should be anti-law. Rather the purpose is to examine if we are Hegelian[i] in practice – placing too much hope for provision (providence) in civil governments and progressive law instead of taking responsibility for other spheres of governance (i.e., the family, school, vocation, charity) which are laid out in Scripture. Far from being anti-law we should be defenders of God’s righteous law: “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law” (Rom. 3:31). Christians need to thoroughly examine God’s law and all its gracious provision for the restraint of evil and the blessing of communities; and we must seek our salvation in the gospel of Jesus Christ alone.
Exchanging God’s Law for Man’s
If we will not live by the Ten Commandments in our personal, familial, vocational, and community lives, then we will live by the ten thousand pharisaic commandments of overarching civil governments and the various ideologies behind them. A lawless church and lawless Christians do not reform and preserve a society (Matt. 5:13) but are party to its decay. God declares through Ezekiel, “Disaster comes upon disaster; rumor follows rumor. They seek a vision from the prophet, while the law perishes from the priest and counsel from the elders” (7:26). The sad irony that I have witnessed in my generation is that we rejected the legalism we saw in the church (rules established from arbitrary human standards rather than biblical standards), only to then embrace legalism in the state.
A Christian Vision for Society
A flourishing society begins with regenerate men and women who live in obedience to Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are justified through faith in Jesus, and sanctified as the Holy Spirit works in the life of each believer to conquer sin, teaching and enabling him to govern himself according to God’s laws, bearing fruit in what he does. The law still stands and becomes the standard by which a believer makes choices in relation to the people and world around him. It becomes our joy, as the Psalmist cries out, “I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart” (Psalm 40:8). As new creations in Christ, regenerate men and women– the priesthood of believers (1 Pt. 2:5,9) – are to bring the gospel of the kingdom and rivers of living water (John 7:3) to their families, communities and societies, no matter what society they live in.
In 1 Timothy 1:8-9, St. Paul tells us, “Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers….” God’s law is the moral order he desires for the nations. Its purpose is both to teach us the right way to live and to restrain evil.
The Way Forward
It is not within the scope of this article to get into the specifics of the interpretation and application of God’s law; our aim is to challenge believers to evaluate whether or not we are thinking biblically about our interaction with society and the world. Are we caught up in the humanistic thinking of our day which places hope in growing statist idealism, or are we submitting all areas of life, including our vocations and actions in the public square, to the standards of Scripture? God’s law or man’s? God’s definitions of justice and mercy, salvation and regeneration, or our own? We must be sure to take St Paul’s words seriously:
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Col. 2:8-15)
For a more complete treatment of this subject, see the article “Law and Gospel or Law as Gospel,” in the Winter 2012 issue of Jubilee.
[i] In Hegelian philosophy, the individual mind is only partly free, but obtains full realization by subjecting itself to incorporation into the State. The State is the social embodiment of the Idea and stands for God himself. Hegel taught that the constitution, furnished by the State, embodies the collective Spirit of the nation. Therefore any “value” is through the State alone.
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