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Why Justice in Government Matters

On January 22nd, 1973 the Roe v. Wade decision struck down a Texas statute which banned abortions. In 1857 the Supreme Court decided that blacks are humans but not persons or citizens with unalienable rights. Though this was later overturned, the Roe v. Wade decision used this same logic — declaring that unborn babies are humans, but not persons with the right to live. This decision legalized abortion across the entire United States. Now, nearly fifty years later, it is possible Supreme Court is setting up to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision.


Now, we shouldn’t be naive. If the Supreme Court does even strike down the Roe v. Wade decision, this will not automatically make it illegal everywhere in the U.S. The expectation is that roughly half the states will restrict abortion in some way or completely. Before the Roe v. Wade decision, hundreds of thousands of abortions still took place — women drove to states where it was legal or sought black market abortions. We can expect that while the number of abortions will be reduced, these things will continue to happen.


Now, that may lead many of us to wonder if anything has been gained here. If the murdering  of unborn babies doesn’t completely stop, if people’s hearts aren’t changed, what good is it to limit something people most people don’t want limited? While I will conclude with exhortations to us from Scripture, I want to spend most of our time simply asking this question — why does it matter that governments make just, moral decisions? Why are Christians worked up about this? Shouldn’t the government just let the free market give the people what they want?


1. A government’s mandate comes from God — not the people — and God expects leaders to make just decisions whether people like it or not. This is a challenging worldview shift in the modern West. In the past people so closely linked kings and rulers with god and the gods that they very often took it too far and kings saw themselves as uniquely god’s image or even a god himself. He is king because god chose him, and in fact he is a god. But we often think of people have governing or even religious authority because we chose them — so they should do what we want: Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony or some other divine mandate. But what if it isn’t the job of governments to do whatever people vote them in to do?


Read Romans 13:1-2 in a new light with me — as if you were a governing authority. Rom. 13:1–2 ESV, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” Paul goes on to refer to governing authorities as God’s servants three times. Certainly someone in authority might be humbled that people selected him for a position, but they need to get over that rather quickly: their mandate, their authority, their appointment comes ultimately from God. They are servants of God before they are servants of the people.


The challenge here is that people have always wanted to choose for themselves a king to enact their own vision of right and wrong on the world. And in the U.S., our ceremonies and celebrations can often deeply ingrain in us that we should be willing to kill and be killed for that ability to choose. In America we are all pro-choice in the general sense of it — and others have simply taken the logic a step further. Freedom is not about the ability to choose what is most virtuous anymore, freedom is now an end to happiness — especially today through our sexuality.

I get it: rulers have often been tyrants throughout history. Nobody wants that. But, in the matter of abortion, we have been living under the tyranny of the majority.


But God expects rulers to do justice whether people like it or not. This is one important example we see from godly rulers in the book of kings. What do the good kings do? They often times have the courage to do what the people don’t want: they pull down idols, destroy idolatrous altars, abolish cult prostitution. And the book of Kings always takes time to note when kings don’t destroy these idolatrous systems.


The reality is simply this: if a governing official allows abortion to run rampant under his or her watch, they are allowing injustice to win the day. And Isaiah 10:1-4 offers a chilling rebuke against rulers who would turn aside the needy from justice. “Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey! What will you do on the day of punishment, in the ruin that will come from afar? To whom will you flee for help, and where will you leave your wealth? Nothing remains but to crouch among the prisoners or fall among the slain. For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still.”


Now, some may argue that legislating righteous decisions doesn’t do any good because it doesn’t change people’s hearts. But this is overly simplistic because:


2. Just laws may not be the transforming power of the Spirit, but they do affect our hearts and actions. Someone may raise this objection on the basis of Romans 3 and argue that law only shows us where we are wrong, it doesn’t make us right with God. But this is reductionistic. This is “perfecting” a concept to an inappropriate extreme. Paul never argues that the Law did no good. Paul actually argues that the Law is good, it teaches us good and evil, and that we should uphold it. Paul argues that the Law doesn’t make us right with God — not that it has no value whatsoever.


The reality is that both laws and rulers do cause us to pause and consider our ways. The Book of Judges is a perfect example of this. Judges 21:25 concludes the book with a perfect summary: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” The book is full of absolute moral chaos. But every once in a while a righteous judge rises up — and many people actually do turn back to God. Once he’s gone, it all goes back to moral chaos. There is certainly a larger theological point to be made here: we need the perfect and eternal king Jesus. But there is a practical point here too: we need rulers, we need laws.


Laws really are helpful because they put up roadblocks to wickedness. It makes something wicked seem less possible, less plausible. This can all serve to direct us towards a righteous standard and help that seem more possible. Let me illustrate a little further. It was Friday morning two weeks ago and I was determined to finish my sermon. I had my rough draft, but not the final version. The house had been a little crazy and even though everyone was gone I knew I had to get out of the house if I was going to finish this sermon. The sermon simply was not going to get written if I had to stay in the house any longer. I needed to go work at Summer Moon with a deliciously creamy sweet latte in hand — then the sermon would get written. I packed up my stuff and went to grab my keys. And then I remembered I had lent my car out to a friend. At that moment I suddenly realized I was going to write that sermon at home. And I did.


I use this story to illustrate a simple point: it is good that some things are illegal because it makes evil things seem less possible and plausible. When Summer Moon is possible, I will believe it is impossible for my sermon to be written without it. When abortions are easy, affordable, and legal, people believe it is impossible to survive or have any happiness without it. Credit cards, contraceptives, sex changes and other things work the same way — they frequently make unwise impossible things seem possible and plausible. But if abortions are illegal — that appropriately stigmatizes it, adds shame to it, and maybe, just maybe you realize there is another way.


3. The Gospel and gospel-living is not only about changing the interior lives of individuals, it’s about turning the world upside down and calling all rulers to kiss the Son of God. We very rightly capture the power of Jesus’ sacrifice to take away our sins, but because we live in a society that is individualistic and obsessed with psychological navel-gazing, we tend to pervert the gospel into mere psychological comfort that my sins are forgiven. This ultimately makes the Bible and the gospel about you and me and our feelings of inferiority and it makes Jesus into the great psychologist. And while the gospel does indeed speak to that and the Spirit really does powerfully transform us from the inside out, the gospel isn’t primarily about you or me. It is the proclamation that Jesus is bringing God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven through his life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. By his death and resurrection Jesus is enthroned as priest and king.


But because we living in the midst of the great American experiment where we try to bifurcate and completely separate body and soul, church and state, politics and religion, we tend to hear the word “gospel” as a purely religious term about our private interior lives. But here’s a mind-blowing fact: in the first century, the word Jesus used to describe what he was doing and proclaiming was “gospel” — and this was not a religious term, it was a political term.


Here is an inscription of the gospel of Caesar Augustus from 6 BC. Note carefully how there is no distinction here between politics and religion, god and king: “The most divine Caesar . . . we should consider equal to the Beginning of all things . . . for when everything was falling (into disorder) and tending toward dissolution, he restored it once more and gave the whole world a new aura;  Caesar . . . the common good Fortune of all . . . The beginning of life and vitality . . . All the cities unanimously adopt the birthday of the divine Caesar as the new beginning of the year . . . Whereas the Providence which has regulated our whole existence . . . has brought our life to the climax of perfection in giving to us (the emperor) Augustus . . .who being sent to us and our descendants as Savior, has put an end to war and has set all things in order;  and (whereas,) having become (god) manifest, Caesar has fulfilled all the hopes of earlier times.”


There is no distinction between politics and religion here. And Jesus didn’t make a distinction between politics and religion either. The gospel certainly brings good news King Jesus has sent his Spirit and you can be transformed from the inside out, but that’s not all: it’s about the societies being turned upside down and rulers being called to serve Yahweh with fear. That’s why Jesus prayed, “Our Father in heaven, let your name be treated as holy, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”


Consider also Psalm 2.

Why do nations conspire and peoples murmur a vain thing?

Arrayed are earth’s kings and rulers take counsel together

Against Yahweh and against his anointed

Saying let us break their chains

And throw off of us their ropes.


The one enthroned in the heavens laughs.

My master scoffs at them.

Then he speaks to them in his wrath

And in his burning anger he terrifies them.

Saying I myself have installed my king

On Zion my holy hill


I will declare the statute

Yahweh said to me:

“My Son you are,

I myself today have begotten you.

Ask of me and I will make nations your inheritance,

Your possession the ends of the earth.”


Now therefore O kings be wise,

Be warned ye judges of earth:

Serve Yahweh with fear,

And exult with trembling.

Kiss the Son lest he be angry

And you perish in the way.

For his wrath is kindled up in a moment;

Blessed and merry are all those who take refuge in him. (Translation from Theopolis Institute)


Notice that the problem isn’t that the rulers aren’t doing the will of the people, it’s that they aren’t doing the will of God. And notice that the response of God isn’t to establish a democratic republic to the ends of the earth so people can be free; his response is to establish his king in Zion and to give to that king the nations to him. And what should happen because of that? Individuals should get private religion and go to church on Sunday? No — everyone including kings and rulers should get wise, serve Yahweh with fear, and kiss the Son or else they will perish. But then the Psalm ends with a promise: blessed — happy, merry — are those who will turn to take refuge in Jesus the Son of God. This isn’t only private religion, this is public transformation.


This is why we shouldn’t over-spiritualize the prophets. They speak poetically and with rich imagery, yes; but it is in service of talking about actual reality. The governing of the actual world has been put on the shoulders of Jesus to the end that God’s will be done on earth. This is why when the gospel went out people didn’t shrug and say, “That’s just religion, do what you want.” That’s why the mob in Thessalonica in Acts 17 didn’t say, “These men are going everywhere telling people to accept Jesus into their hearts and be baptized so their sins can be forgiven and they can feel better about themselves and live their best lives now.” No, they said, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also… and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”


There’s a reason why some Caesars eventually wanted Christian leaders dead — it wasn’t because their private religious beliefs about forgiveness and the afterlife made them feel uncomfortable. They have no interest stoning followers of a purely spiritual king who does not promise to come again with an army of angels. It is because the gospel is that Jesus is enthroned in heaven as king. That doesn’t mean Caesar isn’t king at all; it means that his claim to be Lord, Son of God and the one who will set everything right is a sham. It does mean that he needs to worship and obey and govern as under the authority of King Jesus who actually is Lord and Son of God. In the past God overlooked the ignorance of men, but now he calls people everywhere to repent because he has fixed a day by which he will judge the world — you, me, kings, judges, legislators, doctors, moms and dads included.



It matters that governing authorities do justice…

Because their mandate arises from God;

Because their governance really can have a good impact on peoples hearts and lives;

Because the gospel calls them to serve Yahweh and his Son.


The world has been living as if Jesus is not king — from rulers to each one of us. And the weakest among us — unborn babies — have suffered under the tyranny of our obsession with freedom. But true freedom is service to our Creator and his Son. And as we go out with the news that Jesus is king, the beautiful thing is that we have been authorized as his priests to offer terms of peace and forgiveness. Our God took on the shame and humiliation of all manner of our sins — including the shame of abortion and of legislating it — for those who choose to put their faith and allegiance in him. This is a place where we will strive for God’s uncompromising standard of holiness, and where we will show compassion to the repentant. May simultaneously call the world to account and offer them terms of peace.

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