THE NATURE AND ROLE OF LAW
In the past two issues we have looked at Law and Justice. We have seen that justice and legality are related but different. Law seeks to define justice, but always does it imperfectly. The legislature sits in session endeavoring to write just laws. God’s law is the exception; it defines justice perfectly. For this reason, God did not constitute Israel with a legislature.
When people forgive, they set aside justice. God charges the individual with the responsibility to forgive, the state with the task of executing justice. This difference is more clearly seen in the NT than in the OT, because under the Theocracy He did not constitute Israel with a judiciary. The system was beautiful in its simplicity; justice was a corporate responsibility.
Furthermore, by way of review, with “the law of the harvest” God promised the nation of Israel temporal accountability. Although there exists no specific teaching that “the law of the harvest” cannot be universally applied by the individual in the temporal, through lessons such as the Book of Job, we see that this is the case. God solemnly pledges, however, that this “law” does apply in the eternal.
God gives sufficient evidence to warn us that “the law of the harvest” is inviolable while at the same time withholding sufficient evidence to prove that moral law is absolute. We must walk by faith, but He graciously demonstrates for those with eyes to see that grace does not eliminate accountability and forgiveness does not eliminate consequences.
OLD TESTAMENT MIND-SET
In the OT God’s people saw clearly the need to obtain forgiveness from God for their transgressions, but did not practice this in their inter-personal relationships. Because the distinction between the responsibilities of the state and individual was blurred, His people saw clearly their need to execute justice. The conflict between justice and forgiveness caused the OT saints to practice the former at the expense of the latter.
In the United States we are experiencing a reversal of this OT mind-set. Our society tends to be short on justice and long on compassion. It destroys the sense of security and well being in our communities. When we take God and His law from our daily affairs we become confused regarding justice. First, we have a hard time defining justice. All intuitively know that there is such a thing as justice, but when God is removed from the equation justice is impossible to define. God, by definition is just. All He does is good, just, and righteous. Without this foundation, you have no ability to define justice.
Second, without God and the hope of heaven, this life is all we have, and the only hope possible is temporal. If I am cleaver enough to avoid the consequences of my behavior in this life, then I can afford to be unjust if I deem it to be in my interest. This results in an erosion of morality.
Third, for those altruistic individuals for whom God does not exist, if they wish to perfect society, the state must be redemptive,. When the state seeks to redeem society, it steps outside its God-given charge to execute justice, and the people take the law into their own hands. The state often reacts by being harder on the vigilante than the criminal.
Fourth, we lose our sense of proportion when we don’t take into account the eternal dimension. Our nation’s judicial system presupposed that if a criminal escaped justice in this life, he would face the justice of God in judgment. For this reason, the defendant is given the benefit of the doubt; the burden of proof is on the state to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the guilt of the defendant. Without this “safety net” of eternal justice, people become preoccupied with executing justice here and now, even if their perception of the facts is fallacious.
It is easy to confuse being vindictive with being unjust. Vindictiveness is wrong only because God told us to forgive. There is such a thing as being justly vindictive. At the Judgment of The Great White Throne God will be justly vindictive.
The Muslim world, in many ways, seeks to replicate the OT Theocratic system. If you wonder what OT Israel was supposed to look like, in significant respects the Muslim State is a mirror. We are often appalled by the vindictive nature of their society where people are vengeful and seek retribution towards those who have committed a crime against them. Until later in OT history when God began to place an emphasis on the need for the individual to forgive, being vindictive was how God intended them to be.
For example in Genesis 34, when one of the sons of Shechem defiled Dinah, the daughter of Leah and Jacob, her bothers slaughtered the men of Shechem’s, taking their women and children as spoil. In verse 30 Jacob rebukes Simeon and Levi, but not because they sinned against God. Rather, because “ye have troubled me to make me to stink among the inhabitants of the land…” Nothing in Scripture suggests that their vindictiveness was a “stink” to God.
We find in II Corinthians 5 the sequel to vigilantism in the OT. You will remember that Paul rebukes the Corinthians for tolerating sin in the church. He gives two objectives in executing discipline on the offender. First, when people live in willful disobedience to God, their soul is placed in peril. Therefore, the Corinthians are required to excommunicate the sinner “that his soul may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” All discipline must be redemptive, seeking the restoration of the unrepentant sinner.
We find the second objective in verses 6-8: to maintain the purity of the church. Unconfronted sin in the Body of Christ dulls and desensitizes the conscience, alienates us from God, lends support to other expressions of sin, and causes the moral climate of the believing community to deteriorate.
No sense of vindictiveness or vengeance appears in the NT teachings on discipline. Love, a redemptive spirit, and the quest for purity, characterize NT discipline. This emphasis was lacking, or at least oblique, in the OT.
OBEYING ROMANS 13
As noted earlier, Romans 13:1-5 command believers to obey the state:
“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. 2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. 3 For 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: 4 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: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. 5 Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.”
Throughout the centuries, conscientious Christians have chaffed under these restrictions. The fact that Paul penned these words during one of the most abusive governments ever known by man, gives little comfort. When a man believes that the greatest pain the magistrate can inflict will end in a moment that begins his eternal happiness, then law can no longer restrain him.
Having used the Muslim religion as an earlier example, we all know that they engage themselves in acts of self-destruction for what they deem a holy cause. Their allegiance to a “higher” law gives them assurance that when they break the law of the state they gain eternal paradise. Such people, however, do not subscribe to Paul’s teaching in Romans 13.
The Reverend Paul Hill killed a physician that performed abortions. As a Christian, he ostensibly believes Romans 13. Yet, because the state allows the people to break God’s commandments, he believes he has a moral obligation to oppose the state. This is especially true in the case of such a heinous crime as murdering a fetus. It is easy to see how people feel that immoral laws must be opposed.
Most of Evangelical Christianity sought to distance itself from Rev. Hill when he committed this crime. Interestingly, however, these same evangelicals view Dietrich Bonhoffer, the well-known German Lutheran minister who involved himself in a plot to kill Hitler, as a model. I marvel at their use of logic as they endeavor to condemn the former and embrace the latter.
Scripture is quite clear on this subject. I disobey civil law only when such laws require my breaking God’s law. For example, the government does not command that my wife have an abortion. If it did, then I must respectfully disobey the state. God does not allow me to violate His commandments because I am under the authority of the state or some other individual or institution. Neither does He allow me to force the state into keeping His law. That in essence, is the purpose of Romans 13.
We all live spending the capital of earlier investments. Understanding this, our forefathers warned us to keep vigil over our freedoms. Financial planners urge us to properly prepare for the future. Every married person knows that he lives today off the investment made in his spouse years earlier.
This axiom holds true in the moral arena as well. Unfortunately, as a nation we have not lived as though we believe it. Like a farmer who eats his seed corn and has nothing to plant, we have lived off of the moral investment of happier times. As already noted, this principle is more easily demonstrated in tangible things such as economics than in morality.
Many argue that there is no relationship between violence on TV and violence on the street; that sex education does not promote promiscuity, it merely prepares youngsters for it. When we examine our conscience, however, we know that moral license will destroy the fabric of our republic. “The law of the harvest” is true: we reap what we sow.
Because of this, our emotions command that we confront society, demanding the implementation of God’s moral law as part of the law of the land. When such feelings emerge, we must filter then through Scripture. God does not call us to be confrontational, but redemptive in our relationships with non-Christians. We confront fellow believers when they sin, and evangelize those that do not know Christ. We cannot legislate morality, but God can. The moral climate of our country will only improve as people come to know Christ and follow His leadership.
Yours for the fulfilling of the Great Commission,
 Cf. Revelation 20:11-15.
 Cf. I Corinthians 5:5.