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Volume 8, Issue 1: Magistralis

The Sin of Lawlessness

Greg Dickison

Redeem me from the oppression of man, that I may keep Your precepts." (Ps. 119:134)

The palpable anti-government movement now afoot is not hard to understand. Those who rule over us subject us to confiscatory taxation, turn our wealth over to the wicked for the advocacy and practice of every sort of evil, and impose criminal penalties for all kinds of innocuous behaviors. No one likes oppression, and the natural reaction of the oppressed is to overthrow the oppressors.
The question is, with what are we replacing the problem? We must not replace one oppression with another. In rejecting an excess of law we do not want to embrace lawlessness.
That seems obvious. Of course Christians do not want lawlessness; we only want righteousness. So why is this important?
Consider the current struggle against the regulatory excesses of the various levels of civil government. The initial reaction of both Christians and non-Christians looks the same: replacing the current system. But the reasons for replacing it, and the vision of what it should be replaced with, are radically different. For now, we are all co-belligerents. But once the first objective is won, unbelievers will become our bitter enemies.
Remember the biblical definition of oppression. It is not simply living under a law we do not like; it is living under a law that hinders obedience to God. But because non-Christians have no desire to obey God, oppression in their view is any law which hinders obedience to their lusts (Rom. 6:12). Thus, the only acceptable law to the unbeliever is self-law or autonomy. Autonomy in the aggregate is anarchy or what the Bible calls lawlessness.
This is not surprising as it is fully consistent with the nature of man. Autonomy and anarchy are the natural results of unbelief. In rejecting God's authority, the unbeliever necessarily rejects all authority, for all authority comes from God (Rom. 13:1).
Examples of this abound. Some are so commonplace that we almost don't notice. Who has not heard co-workers talking disrespectfully of the boss? The more egregious examples are the rejection of the church and the family as legitimate forms of government.
God in His mercy has put a check on unbelievers, so that complete anarchy is impossible. Even autonomous unbelievers don't want anyone else interfering in their freedom. So they will at least support laws which prevent others from oppressing them. But this can only be done through an authoritarian civil government. Since that entity will have no law above its own, a plethora of oppressive laws will abound. Thus, we have the bizarre,but quite natural result of autonomy leading to oppression. (Another fine example of the silliness of unbelief.)
Christians have been redeemed from lawlessness in order that we may obey Christ (Titus 2:14). God mediates His law through His established authorities, one of which is civil government. We cannot abandon it anymore than we can abandon the family or the church.
Consistent unbelievers, on the other hand, want all government abolished. They confuse an abuse of power with the institution as a whole. They see rotten marriages and conclude that marriage itself is bad. They see harsh parents and reject parenthood in toto . They see fallen churches and decide that the whole institution is corrupt. This is not simply a logical mistake, but a sign of rebellion; non-Christians hate God and thus want to see His arrangements destroyed.
Christians must not fall into the same sin. Corrupt civil government is not an indictment of the rule of law, but of the corrupt rule of lawlessness. Our job as Christians is to strive for righteous civil government. We must not have anything to do with any movement which rejects civil government entirely.
Neither may we fashion civil government according to our own tastes, as the unbelievers do. God has established civil government for a specific purpose: to punish wrongdoers (Rom. 13:4). It does not exist to put chickens in all our pots, to be kinder and gentler, or to feel our pain. Any form of government which professes to go beyond its God-ordained duty must be avoided.
In short, we as Christians must be very careful about whose flag we rally 'round. It is clear to all who call themselves conservative that civil government is a mess. It is not equally clear to everyone why it is a mess or what should be done about it. We must resist efforts to establish or maintain a totalitarian system which acknowledges no authority but its own. We must not bow down to civil government as savior. We must also resist anarchy. The Bible does not condemn civil government, but unrighteous civil government, and we must be careful to draw the same distinction.

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