This article is part of a series of posts regarding how Christians should view and engage the great institution known as government. If you are just now jumping into the series, then welcome to the ride! I would recommend you start here at the first post:
The Glorious and God-Ordained Role of Government
If we are going to understand how a Christian should view the government, then we are going to have to recognize the proper role of this institution. Just as a rookie marksman has to learn the purpose of each firearm type, so also Christians must comprehend the correct function of government. If they do not, then they will be like a beginner firing a short-range pistol at a target 500 yards away. God is the one who has ordained the government, and so, by seeing His plan for it, we can then launch from that point to visualize how we are to relate to this divinely ordained establishment. Romans 13:3-4 is a pivotal text for our purposes here in this post. That text of Scripture says:
For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. -Romans 13:3-4
I will direct your attention to the truth that the government is first of all to oppose evil and not that which is good. This distinction is crucial, for we are now probing into a much more fundamental question. The inquiry which we must engage at this point is just this, how is the government to differentiate good from evil? What is their standard going to be? Romans 13:1 tells us that those authorities which exist have been instituted by God. Therefore, the basis for their morality, and everything else, is found in Him. So, the government is first of all to punish those who do evil, and evil is fundamentally the violation of morality as defined by the one true God. This does not mean the government is to punish a person for not going to church, it does mean they are to punish a person for murdering someone else.
The Blissful Path of Good
The Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, at the end of verse 3 thus enjoins Christians to do that which is good and they need not fear the government if they do so. This statement means the government is called upon not only to oppose evil but also to allow individuals to freely do that which is good. If a person is thrown into jail merely for a good deed such as feeding the poor, then the government would be violating their responsibility before God. If a poor man rises up and murders those who feed him, then the government has the responsibility to punish this evildoer, failure to do so would also be dereliction of duty. However, the Christian need not fear this punishment so long as they do good. Under a properly functioning government, the only reason for fear is evil. This is because the rulers stand and applaud good in the land while seeking to utterly stifle wicked, law-breaking humanity.
I want to be certain to point out that the relationship between Christians and their government, when both are properly functioning, should be a healthy and vibrant one. Both are called to seek that which is good in the land. The church is called to fulfill the Great Commission by evangelizing the lost and proclaiming all God has commanded. This proclamation certainly must include touching the political realm. God has most certainly said much in His Word which pertains to that arena. The Christian should be the best citizen in the land for who is going to be able to counsel the government as to what is good than the one who follows Him who is good? The church and the government share a common goal and that is for good as defined by God to flourish. They have two separate ordinations in their roles, however, for the government is given the power of the sword, the church is not (Romans 13:4). The church is given the elder and overseers of the flock (1 Timothy 3), the government is not. But, just as parents and children have separate roles while ideally seeking similar ends (the good of the family), so the government and the church are to seek that which is good, but they have different paths ordained for each.
The Crossing of The Good Paths
We must remember that sometimes paths tend to cross each other at certain points. For example, a follower of God may very well serve as a political figure (see the story of Joseph starting in Genesis 37). God does equip certain Christians with the gifting and the calling for service in the government. However, not every Christian will serve as a political figure in their country. That being said, every Christian should be political in the sense that they seek to bring God’s Word to bear in this realm and do that which is right. Part of doing good would mean performing your duty as a citizen in areas such as voting, paying legal taxes, giving counsel when needed, and so forth. The point I want you to see is that the paths of the government and the Christian should cross. When both are operating biblically, this interweaving of trails should be mutually beneficial and not detrimental to either. If the Christian is merely doing what is good, then the government should approve (Romans 13:3). If the government is doing that which is good, then the Christian should encourage them and praise God!
The Ordained Avenger and Protector
What we see in Romans 13:3-4 is that the government is God’s ordained agent for avenging the wrongdoers of society. They uphold that which is good and lawful while standing in opposition to lawlessness. The government avenges injustice and protect that which is good. Christians should then be thankful for government and seek to assist it towards its God-ordained agendas. The calling upon governmental authorities before God is simply this, do that which is good and oppose evil. That is the calling of every police officer, civil magistrate, and anyone in governmental authority. The calling upon citizens is also to do good and oppose evil. These are the summations of the matter. Now, I ask that you keep in mind this post is predicated upon what this institution should be when functioning properly. What we must do before God as citizens when the government applauds evil instead of good is for a future post in this series. However, let us for the moment bask in the wonderous calling upon God for government to do that which is good. And, if you are an individual who serves in governmental authority, let me spur you on to see your call before God and perform your duty with eagerness. Let us all as citizens seek to live in a way which promotes good in the land and opposes evil!