Lord of the Law: Part V
May 26, 2009 1 Comment
(Continued from Part IV)
We can see that the law is not something created by man nor does he define it. It preexists man. It is a natural part of God’s creation and comes from God’s heart. It is only to be discovered by man and accurately applied. And, just like every other part of God’s creation, there is an appointed hierarchy of authority with regard to the law’s application. Governments are only authorized to apply the law as long as they do so under the authority of the Supreme Lawgiver. The moment any government begins to arbitrarily apply laws apart from God’s authority it is illegitimate.
Now, this opens up some tricky questions like:
- What about people who don’t believe the Bible?
- So, is breaking (insert questionable law here) a sin or not?
Let’s deal with these, one at a time…
Question 1: What about people who don’t believe in the Bible?
Answer: The 10 Commandments (considered to be the heart of the law) basically deals with two relationships: 1) Man’s relationship with God and 2) man’s relationship with men. Jesus summarized this for us and condensed it into two, basic commandments…
“And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’” — Matthew 22: 37-40
It is true that God will hold everyone accountable to all of the law. Anyone who worships idols, who has other gods before Him, who does not love God will have to account to God for it. But the laws of men should not outlaw such behavior because not all men are a part of the covenant people of God. Paul explained this to the Corinthians when he pointed out that it was not their job to judge the world but to judge only one another:
“For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside.” — 1 Corinthians 5:12-13
For the second part of the commandments — the part that deals with man’s relationship with men — God has authorized government to judge. These are things that transgress the God-given rights of others. You may not murder, or steal, or commit adultery. These are things that harm other people — that violate their rights — and we may not do them. These are the things governments are authorized to legislate against. And what’s more — as I pointed out in Lord of the Law: Part II, Natural Law — these are things written on the hearts of men and easily understood, even apart from any knowledge of the Bible. They also are almost universally accepted by people of all faiths — or no faith at all.
Question 2: So, is breaking (insert questionable law here) a sin or not?
Answer: It depends.
We are really dealing with two separate issues here:
1. Is the law in question legitimate or not?
2. Should I obey illegitimate laws?
Governments have long been in the habit of legislating far beyond their authority. The most egregious examples (from a Christian perspective) are the governments throughout history that have outlawed Christianity. Rome mandated everyone recognize Caesar as a god. Does the Bible intend for Christians to obey such laws?
Of course not.
But what about examples that are not quite as obvious?
As a general rule, if a law exists to prevent you from encroaching on the rights of others it is legitimate. If, however, an existing law restricts your liberty for no other reason than some government bureaucrat thinks they know better than you how to run your life then it is illegitimate.
A law against firing a loaded gun into a crowd is legitimate because firing a loaded gun into a crowd encroaches on the rights of the people in the crowd.
A law against possessing a loaded gun in your home is illegitimate because having such a gun does not violate anyone else’s rights. Furthermore, there is a legitimate purpose for having a loaded gun in one’s home — self defense. You do not have to ask the government’s permission to defend yourself, your family or your property against those who mean you harm.
Breaking an illegitimate law is not necessarily a sin. But this does not mean governments will not enact and enforce illegitimate laws. They will and they do. They always have. No one has an obligation to obey an illegitimate government just because the illegitimate government says so. However, that being said, it must also be noted that resistance to illegitimate government is not to be taken lightly. The state does not like to be told where it has no authority and often deals harshly with those who dare make such statements.
Remember, even though a government may not have the legitimate authority to enact some laws, it often has the power to enforce them. You may not willingly consent to illegitimate laws, but you may want to comply because of the state’s threat of force.
Much like the example of a mugger who points a gun at you and demands your wallet. You don’t consent to give him your wallet; neither does he have the legitimate authority to take it. Nevertheless, you comply with his demand because he has the power to exercise force against you if you do not.
Don’t forget the example of the apostles in Acts. The Sanhedrin had no authority to order them to stop preaching and teaching about Jesus. But they had the power to extract a painful price from the apostles if they failed to comply.
While it is no sin to ignore illegitimate laws, doing so may come with a harsh price. Like the apostles in Acts, we may come to a point where we have to decide whether or not we are willing to pay such a price.
In the first century Christians refused to comply with Rome’s demand to worship Caesar as a god because Rome had no legitimate authority to make such a demand. But many of those Christians died because Rome had the power to take their lives if they did not.
There are many illegitimate laws in our world. When do we comply and when do we not? Ironically, the answer to this question has nothing to do with whether or not a law is legitimate. Instead, we need to apply that single biblical principle I mentioned in the last chapter. We need answer only one question, and it is this…
What will bring glory and honor to our Lord?
As believers in Jesus Christ we have been set free from the bondage of sin.
“Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’” — John 8:34-36
But it is important to remember that God did not set us free from sin for our own sake, but for His.
“But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God…” — Romans 6:22
Never forget that God saves people for His own glory. If you are redeemed, if you have been bought by the precious blood of Jesus, then you need to understand that God saved you so that your life might be a testament to His grace. Your whole purpose is to glorify God.
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” — 1 Corinthians 10:31
You have been set free from the slavery of sin and have become, instead, a slave of God. Your life does not belong to you…
“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” — 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
When faced with an illegitimate law we naturally think about our own rights and how they are being violated. But this is exactly what we should not do. It means we are focused on ourselves.
As slaves to God we should concern ourselves only with His will in any given situation. If disobeying a law will bring God honor and glory then disobey the law. If obeying the law will bring God honor and glory then obey the law.
Clearly the apostles brought glory to God by continuing to preach despite the Sanhedrin’s order to stop. They refused to submit to an illegitimate authority and in so doing they brought glory to God.
But what about when it’s time to submit to an illegitimate authority? This is the tough one. It’s much easier for us to point out the illegitimate nature of someone who wants to rule over us and then stand against them. But what if it becomes clear that submitting to an illegitimate authority is what will glorify God? Is submitting to evil ever the right thing to do? Let’s consult Scripture.
“So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Behold the man!’ When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, ‘Crucify him, crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.’ The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.’ When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, ‘Where are you from?’ But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, ‘You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?’ Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.’” — John 19:5-11
If ever there was a situation where a government had zero authority over someone it is when Jesus stood before Pilate. Christ is the supreme lawgiver — holy and righteous. He is the rightful judge of all those who judged him and yet he allowed himself to be placed under their power — subjecting himself to sinners. Why?
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” — Philippians 2:5-8
Those men had no right to judge Christ, but Christ was not concerned with his own rights. He was not concerned with the injustice of his situation. He was concerned only with the glory of his Father in heaven.
John recorded an instance where Jesus taught his disciples about his purpose.
“I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.” — John 14:30-31
Note that Jesus points out the “ruler of this world” has no claim on him yet he is going to do as the Father has commanded so that “the world may know” that he loves the Father.
Jesus was sent to this earth for a purpose. Not to defend his own rights against an unjust empire, but to accomplish the will of his Father. Likewise, we are saved for a purpose. Not to defend our own rights against a wicked and sinful generation, but to accomplish the will of our Father.
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” — Ephesians 2:10
We need to remember that God’s will for us is that we always bring glory to Him. And that should be our guiding principle in life.
In fact, we should rarely, if ever, concern ourselves with the legitimacy of earthly laws. If they are legitimate then they will be completely consistent with God’s higher law and our obedience to them will stem from our obedience to God. If they are illegitimate we may or may not be obedient to them — depending on what will glorify our Father in heaven.