Volume 8, Issue 1: Magistralis
The Sin of Lawlessness
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
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
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.