In America, the political season never ebbs entirely. But we are about to enter the part of the cycle where the tide comes in strong, so that if we’re not diligent to divert the water, it might flood the back yard. With the debates, nominations, and political ads swirling in the water, it seems appropriate to discuss how Christians can best dig the trenches and pile the sandbags before the worst washes in. As American citizens, we have the both the privilege and the responsibility to exercise the freedoms we have been given. As believers, we must exercise that responsibility in a way that pleases our highest King. In other words, whether we are political enthusiasts or Christian libertarians, what are the basic, Scripturally defensible beliefs every Christian must hold in order to fulfill our responsibility in the American governmental process?
First, we acknowledge that government is ordained by God, so it is necessary. While the first delegated human government of the earth was appointed to Adam in the original command to “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion” (Gen. 1:28), the first instance of rewards and punishments was given after the Flood, when God declared that “whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made He man” (Gen. 9:6). God expanded the revelation of government through His dealings with Israel, ending with the familiar instructions in Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2. In a nutshell, the minimum purpose God has delegated human government is “for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well” (1 Pet. 2:13). Local, state, and national leaders may do more than this, but they may not do less.
One implication of this purpose for government is that believers should find a way to be involved in this mission of government wherever possible. Pragmatically, participation makes sense because we are obviously affected by how well our rulers do at discerning and executing their promoting/punishing role. However, the most important point is that Christians are the most qualified of any group to correctly discriminate between good and evil. Christian involvement has a variety of manifestations, but for the good of our nation Christians ought not be passive and disinterested in how well our rulers do at their God-given job.
Second, we consider who holds governments accountable. Since each governing individual is “the minister of God” (Romans 13:4), he is duty-bound to define good and evil by God’s standard. He cannot call evil what God calls good, and vice versa. In fact, God declares “woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter (Isaiah 5:20). Whole sections of the Old Testament are dedicated to pronouncing God’s judgment against nations who practiced wickedness alongside their leaders (for example, Isaiah 13-19).
Here again believers have a responsibility. Not only are we able to properly discern good and evil with the help of the Holy Spirit, we have the weapon of the gospel that turns people from evil to good. Each believer should aid the government in its responsibility by promoting good and denouncing evil in whatever sphere of influence God has given to us.
Third, we recognize that both good and evil beget more of the same. Romans 13:1 reminds us that “there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.” Because God has ordained the office of civil ruler, Christians are required to “be subject unto the higher powers” and not resist them in that office (Romans 13:1-2). The unavoidable implication is that God sovereignly appoints leaders both good and bad; he gives the kingdoms of the earth “to whomsoever he will (Dan. 4:32).
The sobering reality is that rulers are the leading crest of the tide of both good and evil. Proverbs 28:28 explains it this way: “When the wicked rise, men hide themselves: but when they perish, the righteous increase.” In other words, wicked rulers suppress good men and make it more likely for the next rulers to be wicked as well. The reverse is also true: righteous rulers provide opportunities for righteous men to follow them in positions of authority. Naturally, these diametric conditions affect the people under the rulers’ authority. “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn” (Proverbs 29:2). We know from history that God will allow wicked men to rise; therefore, it is in the best interest of our fellow citizens to support biblical righteousness and oppose unbiblical wickedness wherever we have opportunity, so that wickedness does not increase.
Fourth, we determine to do good. God’s command in Romans 13:3-4 is clear: “do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: for he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain.” Beyond the pragmatic reason for doing good in Romans 13—to avoid the punishment rulers are authorized to inflict on evildoers—1 Peter 2 provides two more reasons for doing good. “For the Lord’s sake” (1 Peter 2:13), and “to put to silence the ignorance of foolish men” (1 Peter 2:15). From experience we know that, despite their command from God, rulers often disobey, punishing good and rewarding evil. However, this should not prevent believers from continuing to obey God. A recent example of the determination to do good was the Christian insistence on returning to corporate worship during COVID, even in states where certain public gatherings were prohibited. When we do good and denounce evil, we do it for the Lord’s sake, not the governing authority’s sake. In doing good, it serves as a testimony to an often antagonistic culture that Christians serve a higher King than the State.
The above article was written by Jonathan Kyser. He is a pastoral assistant of NorthStone Baptist Church in Pensacola, FL. To offer him your feedback, comment below or email us at email@example.com.
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