Thursday, October 18, 2018

Justice And Seeking Change In The Government

Through the years I have noticed among most of us that when we have been wronged or at least when we perceive we have been wronged there is a tendency to conclude “the end justifies the means.” In other words, because an injustice has been done, whatever we must do and whatever attitude we must have to get it done are justified.

Yet, for the person who follows Jesus Christ and so wants to live righteously toward others, to practice genuine biblical justice, we also must conclude that how we seek to make things right with others is just as important as seeking to make things right.

It is because of this that the last topic we take up in this blog series is how to seek change in the government in just ways.

We are focusing upon the government for the following reasons: To begin, it can be at least one of the entities we must approach in our society when change is needed in the issues we have considered in this blog series. Also, though most of what we say about how to approach the government will also apply if we must approach parents, an employer, or someone else, there are a few things we must say about seeking change in the government that won’t apply elsewhere and so should be noted.

We will set forth three truths we must consider and follow if we are to seeking change in the government in just ways.

1. We Approach People With Godly Wisdom. 
James addresses this in James 3:13-18:
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

The half-brother of Jesus clarifies that justice cannot be pursued in a manner that is unjust and so we gain a full and rich picture of what righteous and just pursuit of the resolution of differences looks like. His readers are not only facing great trials but have turned in on each other in conflict and are acting in arrogance against one another. So, he warns them not merely to use their own “common sense” or “wisdom” to solve a conflict or difference. In other words, they should not pursue resolution in such a way that the end justifies the means. James explains that such ends-justifying-the-means “wisdom is “earthly, unspiritual, demonic” and characterized by “every vile practice” (15-16).

In verse 17 we discover that in contrast the true wisdom that comes from above, i.e. from God,[1] is characterized by the following seven traits: 
  • “[It] is first pure:” The way the sentence is constructed this term stands by itself, most likely as an umbrella term over all the rest of the descriptions. Purity here refers to a commitment to remain faithful to the Lord and to do what he wants (2 Cor. 11:2).
  • “Then peaceable:” Most likely the point is that wisdom from above actively seeks to make peace with the other person(s) and to go about resolving differences in peaceful ways, if at all possible (Mt. 5:9; Rom. 12:18; Heb. 12:14). 
  • “Gentle:” The sense of this term seems to be that we treat the other person(s) as we would want to be treated, the opposite of being harsh and unfair (1 Tim. 3:3; Titus 3:2; 1 Pt. 2:18). 
  • “Open to reason:” The point seems to be that we will be open to what the other person(s) says and will not have our mind closed to them from the beginning. We listen as we would want them to listen to us. 
  • “Full of mercy and good fruits:” We reach out to others in their plight as we would want to be treated. This produces fruits in keeping with genuine faith, that please God and thus flow out of the change Jesus Christ is accomplishing in us.[2] 
  • “Impartial:” Literally, this is “without being judgmental.” At the very least this is not jumping to conclusions. Additionally, even as we hear others out, we are believing the best about them—at least as far as we can (1 Cor. 13:7). 
  • “And sincere:” Literally, this is “without hypocrisy.” This is the opposite of approaching the other person(s) about their shortcomings, but not addressing the shortcomings in our own life. To do something “without hypocrisy” would include asking first if there is a way we have contributed to the problem before focusing upon their part in it (Mt. 7:3-5). 
Very clearly, this is a loving, mercy-giving, godly way of dealing with differences, conflict, injustices that matches our new nature in Christ and how he wants us to live (James 2:1; 3:10-12). In other words, it is in step with the truths that emerge from the gospel in us (Gal. 2:14). It should apply to how we would approach anyone when we perceive injustices have taken place, including individuals in the government.  

Now, what is the outcome or result of such ways of handling conflict and differences? We find out in verse 18, which is where we discover the connection to justice: “And a harvest of righteousness[3] is sown in peace by those who make peace.”  So, all the characteristics of the truly wise person who is in conflict (v. 17) ultimately bring about outcomes, that is, actions,  words, and effects in the relationship, that are in keeping with the character of God and what is pleasing to him (they are righteous). As such, in connection to other people, they would also be just.

Such outcomes are sown in peace by those who make/pursue peace (cf. Mt. 5:9; Heb. 12:14). In other words, their goal is not merely to win the argument or situation or have their issue come out on top. Rather it is to create genuine wholeness of relationship between the two sides.

This wise approach remembers that not only is ill and sinful treatment of each other wrong because God says it is and because it is inconsistent with the entailments of the gospel, it is also wrong because others are created in the image of God (James 3:9-10) and so we should treat them with dignity as the divine image-bearers and God-glorifiers they are.

When we grasp what James says here, we realize we must not approach anyone after we have “checked our Christian character at the door” so we can now “let them have it.” Christ calls us to love God with all we have and so to love the other person(s) as self, all to the glory of his grace in us (Mt. 22:37-40; Rom. 15:7). That we pursue justice in this manner is even more important than our seeking to right the previous injustices!

This first truth naturally leads to the second.

2. We Approach People With Love. 
The way James outlines resolving differences in James 3:13-18 is a detailed description of what he had termed earlier, “the royal law,” which is loving neighbor as self (James 2:8). King Jesus calls those who are part of his kingdom to love others.

In fact, we can say that loving others fulfills what God’s moral will is for us in regard to other people. Paul puts it this way in Romans 13:8: “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”

In the case of seeking to rectify injustice with others, including the government, the only way that we will go about this in love, especially if we have been unjustly treated, is to realize that our ultimate happiness and well-being are not dependent upon how the government treats us. Rather, it is dependent upon the reality that God has saved us in Christ, is for us, and so no one can oppose us successfully or in the ultimate sense, and no one or nothing can separate us from God’s love and care for us (Rom. 8:31-39). In fact, even the injustices that happen to us comprise the “all things” God is orchestrating for our good (Rom. 8:28) and are part of the opportunities God gives us to glorify him (Rom. 15:7).

Learning to trust in God and to be content in him no matter what conditions we are in (Phil. 4:10-13) stands behind the ability God gives us to love others when they have harmed us and when things for us are hard and naturally we would be more prone to protect and defend, rather than reach outward in love, forgiveness, and for the sake of Christ (e.g. Phil. 1:12-26).

3. We Approach People With Respect. 
In our first two truths we have really been saying that if we must approach people within the government about injustices done, we do it in a manner that fits with the reality we have responded to the gospel of Jesus Christ and that fits with the change that comes from this (Phil. 1:27).[4]

The third and final trait of such a person that we will discuss in this post emerges from this change. It is this, that we also approach the person with the kind of respect we ought to give that person. There are several specifics we can give here as to how to approach the government and government officials respectfully.

A. Our Default Approach To The Government Is To Submit To And Obey Them. 
Paul explains in Romans 13:1-7 that part of the behavior that emerges from one who has been changed by Jesus Christ is this very approach to government. He writes: 
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. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 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, 4 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. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.[5]

Paul does not say that God has placed his moral stamp-of-approval on every government or government official. He does say that he has ordained government as something that typically is a good thing in society, since it protects citizens, can encourage positive behavior, and can discourage harmful behavior—all in ways that enable citizens more readily to flourish. As a result, we should submit to the governing authorities over us. Our default approach to government should be to submit, obey, and respect. It should not be to oppose, disobey, and disrespect. Elsewhere Paul explains that part of the way we should do this is by praying for government authorities over us, that they would come to know Christ, and that they would lead in ways that would foster well-being and gospel advancement (1 Tim. 2:1-4).

B. We Should Seek Change In The Government In Ways That Preserve Submission, Obedience, And Respect. 
When we are transformed into new people by the Spirit of Christ in us, we should desire the well-being of others and God’s glory more than our own comfort or even more than the defense of our rights (e.g. Phil. 2:1-15). This also means that whenever we are compelled to seek change we should do our best to please God in our relations to the government and government officials. As such, we should seek to preserve submission, obedience, and respect. We must remember that our identity in Christ includes that we are the embassy, the outpost of the kingdom in this world—representing him and calling others to worship our King (1 Pt. 2:4-17).

For Christians who live in countries in which we have the privilege of voting for our leaders, for referendums, and the like, we must realize that a big part of the way we seek change is both by advocating for just approaches with our leaders and through the ballot box. As we have seen throughout this series, how we approach the issues we have covered has tremendous impact upon people for good or evil, as well as impact upon whether or not we glorify God.

Part of our love for others and part of the good works we engage in as a result of knowing Christ includes this involvement in the public arena (Eph. 2:10; James 2:14-16; 1 John 3:16-18).

Christians, then, as much as is possible, should pursue justice in the public arena of the government as God-glorifying, people-loving, government-obeying people.

C. Civil Disobedience Is Only A Last Resort. 
Finally, we must remember that disobeying the government is not a first move. Rather it is a last resort.

The clearest kind of circumstance in which we must disobey is the one in which the government commands us to do something that would involve disobeying God, such as telling the church they may not evangelize others or telling physicians they must abort babies. We see this in Acts 5:29, where we find the apostles’ response to Jewish officials who commanded them to stop evangelizing: “But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men.’”

The most complex situations in which we must discern whether or not civil disobedience is warranted are those in which a direct command to disobey God has not been given by the government, but instead the government has either forfeited their right to be a legitimate government entity since they have turned upside down how God has ordained they function and/or since they have turned upside down how they ought to treat an entire cross-section of people under their jurisdiction.

As we consider these kinds of situations we do well to look again at Romans 13:1-7 and something that many readers often miss in this passage. In verses 3-4 we read what God’s design for government is and why he has ordained it and views it as a good thing: 
…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, 4 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.

Even though most likely at the time Paul wrote this letter to the Romans the emperor, Nero, had not yet shown his true and full evil colors throughout the empire (which eventually would include killing Christians), Paul had already experienced government leaders who had turned upside-down what God says here—punishing those who do good and rewarding those who do evil. Paul knew that government leaders do not always do what is outlined in these verses. He knew that sometimes this is turned upside-down. What is more, by the time Peter admonished his readers in 1 Peter 2:13-17 with similar words, Nero had shown himself to be the cruel despot that history records. He was the exact opposite of what the text says government leaders ought to do.

This reality has raised a question in the minds of many Christians throughout history. May civil disobedience take place in a way that is morally-acceptable to God even when it can be argued that the government is not directly commanding disobedience to God, yet has forfeited its right to be called a legitimate government? Certainly some have answered, “Yes,” and I believe for good reasons.

This was part of the argument of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his “Letter From A Birmingham Jail.” In response to someone who had challenged Dr. King’s peaceful civil disobedience, part of his argument was that there can come times when such actions are warranted simply because the government has moved so far from its God-given role—turning upside-down what it is supposed to do.

This was also part of the argument behind the decision of the American colonies to disobey and oppose the tyrannical British government that had also thrown off and turned upside-down its God-given role. In other words, it had ceased functioning as a legitimate government. And, in the same way government leaders must defend citizens against evil-doers within and without, so in such circumstances they must defend citizens against higher tyrannical authorities in the government.

Both Dr. King and also the American colonists stand in a strong tradition that includes at least the Reformers and their Puritan descendants who, based on the reality I just highlighted from Romans 13:4-5, wrestled with this very question and concluded that civil disobedience may rightfully take place when a government so fully abdicates and turns upside-down its God-ordained role.

At least the Reformers, Puritans, and the Christians among the American colonies argue that if such civil disobedience must take place, these principles should be followed so that it can be in line with other biblical teaching:
  • As much as possible, it should be peaceful.
  • As much as possible, it should avoid a vigilante mindset by pursuing the help of those who are in authority and who oppose the tyrannical authorities. 
  • It is only as a last resort of the last resort that one would take up arms to defend themselves, others, and thus overthrow the government. 
Conclusion To The Series
In this entire blog series we have sought to provide guidance from God’s will and wisdom in Scripture for how to pursue justice together, and to do so in some issues of our day that can be difficult.

My prayer throughout has been not only that the Holy Spirit will move in us to submit ourselves to the Word of God in these matters—the core of which is the gospel—but also that we will live for the great cause of God’s glory and the benefit of others, rather than merely a great comfort and so we would move toward great need, as we pursue justice together!

May it be so!

Joyfully Pursuing Justice With You,

Tom


[1] James implies that this “from above wisdom” is truly spiritual-i.e. it is from or by the Holy Spirit, as opposed to the wisdom from below that is unspiritual (v. 15).

[2] An approach to conflict, difference, possible injustice, by the Christian seeking to be in step with the gospel (full of mercy and good fruits) is one that has love for the other person whom we think to be wrong, for in many cases if they are wrong in the ways we think, they might be in sin and so need help and restoration (cf. 2 Tim. 2:24-26). How much more so this is true when the other person is a believer who may not understand fully or grasp how they have committed an offense and/or sin!

[3] Lit. this is “fruit of righteousness.” Since it goes on to speak of it being sown, the focus here, as the ESV discerns, is on the result of the sowing, i.e. the fruit harvested. We might say, “the harvested fruit that comes from righteous practice” is sown. As such, we see a connection from v. 18 to v. 17 which spoke of “good fruits.” The good fruits emerge from, they come from, and are characterized by righteousness.

[4] Philippians 1:27 goes on to say that one of the ways in which we live out the effects of the gospel is by “striving together as team-members, side by side, for the faith that emerges from the gospel” (my own amplified translation). Here Paul emphasizes the importance of gospel community (helping each other live out gospel truths), especially in hard situations. If we must pursue justice in previously unjust situations with anyone, even the government, we should be praying for and standing by each other, helping one another do it in wise, loving, and respectful ways. If we do not do this, we run the risk of being blinded to and hardened by our own sinful hearts and going about it in ways that dishonor God, rather than honoring him (cf. also Heb. 3:12-14; 10:24-25).

[5] Peter agrees with Paul in a much shorter statement in 1 Peter 2:13-17. Peter calls readers to this same kind of behavior as a result of having been saved and empowered by God to live on mission to his glory (2:4-12). He writes:
 Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Behold Your God

If you have ever moved into a brand new house or you have known someone who has, you know the excitement and the joy that can come along with this. You also know how that finished product can display the craftsmanship of the designer, the builder, and all who have worked on the house to  finish it. Once those inhabiting the house are in it, they will see whether or not it is well-built, well-designed, and so it will have much to say about their view toward those who have had a part in its plans and construction.  Over and over again they will say or at least think, “Look at this!” And, it will have positive or negative connotations.

The same is true with this world that we inhabit. The designer, builder (i.e. the Creator), and the remodeler can be seen for who he really is by looking at the finished product. In other words, if we could gain a glimpse of what this world will be like when it is fully restored in the future, we learn much about our God.

Such is what we find in Revelation 15:1-4. This paragraph brings us to the last of seven histories we find in the third cycle of visions in Revelation 6-20 that look at this entire age starting with the first coming of Christ and culminating in the second coming and the future full kingdom, that is, the new heaven and new earth. More specifically, what we discover here is both an introduction to the fourth cycle (the bowl judgments of 15:5-16:21) and also the seventh history concluding this third cycle. We know it is the former since we find a similar opening in 15:1 (“Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and amazing….”) to the opening of the third cycle in 12:1 (“And a great sign appeared in heaven”), and also we are told explicitly that what follows is seven plagues or bowls in 15:1, 6; 16:2 (“seven angels with seven plagues…and out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues…. So the first angel poured out his bowl….”). Yet, this paragraph also follows a similar pattern to Rev. 8:1-5 where the seventh seal is opened and out of it comes the seven trumpets, the trumpets are introduced, then the seventh seal is described, before the first trumpet is then introduced. The way this paragraph is put together both shows that the seven bowls flow out of the seventh history (just like the seven trumpets flow out of the seventh seal and the seven histories out of the seventh trumpet), but even more important, there is a strong connection created between what we see in this seventh history and the following seven plagues. We will see why this connection is so important shortly.

Let’s come back to the fact that this paragraph concludes the third cycle and brings us to the point in God’s redemptive plan and history where we see the future culmination of the kingdom, the new heaven and new earth. Here in this paragraph we are given a vision of genuine believers in heaven (“those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name,” v. 2), who are not only in heaven (“standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands,” v. 2), but who are moved to awe and praise by the completion of God’s saving plan (“…great and amazing…. And they sing… ‘Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord…,” vv. 1, 3), i.e.  by the finished product of God’s salvation. In other words, what we read of here is similar to a family being given the keys to their new home, moving in, and then our listening in on their initial responses to the new home, responses that honor the designer and builder.

As these saints praise God for what he has accomplished, the net effect on the reader is similar to what we read in Isaiah 40:9 where the Old Testament prophet calls out to the people of God, before describing who and what God is like, “Behold your God!”  In the praise that makes up this seventh history, what we glean is a picture of the glory of God seen clearly in what is said.

With this in mind, I want to encourage us as we behold our God and what he is like, based upon the finished product of his salvation. In this passage, we see the following six truths about God. Seeing these things about God and worshiping as a result, have great and mighty ways of impacting how we live and of strengthening our faith. Yet, they also are their own end since worship is our ultimate purpose.

So, let me hand you the keys to this glorious new heaven and new earth, this future full kingdom, let’s step on inside, and let’s behold our God.

1. OUR GOD IS A GREAT DESIGNER WHO HAS PLANNED AND ACCOMPLISHED A GLORIOUS PLAN OF SALVATION.
Let’s see how this first discovery emerges from the text.

God Ordered Things The Way He Did Under The Old Covenant So As To Prepare For The New Covenant And Beyond
Above we demonstrated the strong connection between this seventh history and the seven bowl plagues to follow. Part of the reason this is significant is because the bowl plagues are largely dependent upon the plagues God brought upon Egypt that led to Israel’s deliverance. Given this context and the fact that John sees “a sea of glass mingled with fire” (v. 2) and also believers singing “the song of Moses” (v. 3), leads us to understand that Christ is describing the salvation he has accomplished and which the saints are celebrating as the new and ultimate “exodus.” We discover in Scripture that the exodus of Israel (Exodus 12:33ff.) forms a type of salvation (Ps. 74; Is. 43:16-21; Hos. 11:1; Mich. 7:15-19) and thus the Old Testament looks forward to a new and ultimate exodus (Book 4 of Psalms [several]; Is. 40:3; 42:15-17; 48:21; 49:8f.; Zech. 10:6), which is fulfilled in Jesus Christ (Luke 9:31). This seems to be the theme John is picking up on here in Revelation 15.

This fits with what the New Testament affirms about Old Testament events, namely that they were not only happening as God genuinely dealt with his Old Covenant people, they also “took place as examples for [New Covenant believers and]…were written down for our instruction [under the New Covenant]” (1 Cor. 10:6, 11 [see also Rom. 15:4]). All that God did to save Israel not only was addressing their needs but also prepared future believers for understanding how God would deliver his people in the ultimate way through Christ and what our ultimate deliverance would look like when he comes again and we enter into the future full kingdom.

What an amazing wise God we have!

God Decreed The Events He Did (Including Sin, Judgment, And Salvation) To Glorify Himself Through His Variegated Attributes. 
Another way we see God’s wisdom in his saving plan has to do with the display of his glory in his many attributes. In Romans 9:22-23 we gain insight into why God allowed sin when we read: “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory….” In other words, God’s grace and mercy are shown to be even that much more glorious as they are contrasted with sin and judgment. This greater glory was behind God’s decree that sin enter the world.

This same theme is present in the account of Israel’s deliverance out of Egypt in the book of Exodus. God decreed the events surrounding the exodus in the way he did (even including the hardening of the Pharaoh’s heart to make the deliverance that much more spectacular) to glorify himself that much more (Exodus 7:3; 11:9) and so to display his variegated attributes. In Exodus 33:19; 34:5, 6-7 we discover that God made all his goodness pass before Moses, thus clarifying his reputation (what he is like). More specifically, what we find out is that the Lord is “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.” God highlights these various attributes that much more by the plan he has for the world and its events.

To word this in another way, the Lord’s glory is seen more fully when more of his attributes are displayed. We then see what he is like to a greater degree.

We see this in Revelation 15:1-4 in this “great and amazing” vision, one that displays both God’s wrath against sin (v. 1), something also seen in the “sea of glass mingled with fire” (which reminds us of the Red Sea, God’s judgment on opposition, see v. 2), and also his salvation, which will be experienced by people from all ethnic groups throughout the world (vv. 3-4: “O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.”).

God Planned World Events Such That People From All The Nations Will Worship Him. 
As just seen in verses 3-4, though the entire world rebelled against God and is lost, yet, the sense of his glorious power, mercy, and grace will be magnified as more and more people, in all our variety, will come to know and worship the true God through Christ.

God Displays His Righteousness. 
In revealing through the saints’ praise of God both his salvation and his judgment, we see that God’s “righteous acts have been revealed” (v. 4). God’s righteous speaks of the reality that God always operates in line with his character. On the one hand, God hates and judges sin. On the other hand, God loves and saves sinners. This is why God is glorified even to a greater degree (v. 4: “Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name?”) through the manner in which he has ordered the world in a way that people have sinned, face judgment for this, but also God displays his mercy and grace in the salvation of sinners.

Paul makes the same point in Romans 3:21-26:
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (emphasis added)

Similarly, we behold in that plan the following about God.

2. OUR GOD IS GREAT AND WORTHY OF BEING HONORED IN THE DISPLAY OF HIS MANY ATTRIBUTES REVEALED IN THIS PLAN. 
We should notice that we discover the following attributes belong to God. He is:  wrathful against sin (1); gracious and merciful toward sinners (2-4); almighty and sovereign (3); just (3); true (3); holy (4) and righteous (4). What is more, these attributes lead us to see God as “great and amazing” (1), worthy of our reverence and awe (4), as well as of our glorification and worship (4).

There is nothing that so glorifies God as glimpses of the salvation of his people (cf. Exodus 15:1-21 and the original song of Moses, as well as Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14) and this is seen to its fullest when we see his future ultimate and eternal salvation as celebrated in this text. What an amazing God we will especially see in that day (1, 3)!

3. OUR GOD IS GREAT IN HIS ABSOLUTE SOVEREIGNTY. 
The saints praise God in this vision for the fact he is “almighty,” and “King of the nations” (3). Both descriptions remind us that our God has control over all and can do all that he pleases, without being limited by anything or anyone outside himself. This means that all God has promised he can and will do.

4. OUR GOD IS GREAT IN HIS JUSTICE. 
This next way we behold God and his greatness is especially precious since we lack justice so often in this current world. Justice is that “virtue which consists in giving to everyone what is his due.”[1] If someone is poor and lacks basic necessities of life (material needs, safety, etc.), as one made in God’s image, it is just to help him find provision in ways that are wise and right; if someone is being denied his due in judicial matters—whether because of lack of wealth or power—it is just to rectify this and to give a person his due in a manner that looks at the situation and recompenses in a manner that is blind to his place in life, influence, or wealth, and deals only with what is right to do toward him. And what is right should always be decided by what is righteous, i.e. the character of God as displayed in his will.[2]

God will show that he is fully just. When this present world is history and we enter into the world to come, it will be clear to all that God has acted justly. In other words, no one will be denied justice. In fact, all the saved will actually receive far better than what they deserve because of his grace. Bottom-line, no sin and evil will be swept under the rug as if unimportant. Every sin will receive God’s judgment, whether poured out on unrepentant sinners or upon his Son in behalf of the elect.

The saints praise God for this!

5. OUR GOD IS GREAT IN HIS TRUTHFULNESS. 
When the future full kingdom is consummated and salvation and judgment have been carried out, it will be seen beyond a doubt that God does what he says. Of him we will say, “True are your ways” (v. 3). After all, he is, “God who never lies” and who promised eternal life “before the ages began” (Titus 1:2).

Like with justice, so with truth we will see it as sweet because so often the truth is not told in this present age. Yet, a day is coming when we will discover that our God and Savior embody truth (John 14:6)!

6. OUR GOD IS GREAT IN HIS HOLINESS. 
Finally, what we behold in our God is the fact he is set apart to his own glory in all things and so will not violate that ultimate end. This is the meaning of God’s holiness and we read of it in verse 4: “For you alone are holy.”

Holiness also suggests that God will always act in a way becoming of and consistent with who he is and this will be true in all his attributes. So, for example, though God is wrathful against sin, he will not exercise that wrath in a manner that is not just or in a manner that cancels out his mercy, grace, and love. Likewise, though God is love, he does not love in a way that suggests sin or his own reputation are not important and merely to be ignored.

CONCLUSION
Just like with the design and construction of a house, so also with the world, world events, salvation, and judgment, when it has all been completed we will see God’s greatness in ways that exceed what we have previously seen.

To look ahead to this time not only deepens our worship of him, but also strengthens our faith in him.

What encouragement!

Joyfully Beholding And Worshipping God With You,

Tom



[1] Webster’s Dictionary, 1828 edition. 

[2] For biblical background to justice and what it is, see Pss. Lev. 19:15; 72:1-4; 82:1-4; Prov. 17:15; 31:9; Rom. 3:26.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Justice In Sexual Orientation And Gender Identity Issues

In his July 25, 2018 Breakpoint commentary John Stonestreet told about a pamphlet the Human Rights Commission (HRC) recently published that was aimed at the evangelical church, titled Coming Home To Evangelicalism And Self.[1] Stonestreet wrote that the HRC claims to offer ways to “help LGBTQ people live fully in their sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, and to live fully in their religious, spiritual and cultural traditions.” The reason HRC gives for the need to help in this way is because so-called “LGBTQ Christians…find it difficult to be fully themselves in their church communities.[2] They may have been taught that sexual or romantic relationships that are not heterosexual are sinful…Yet those same LGBTQ people of faith know deep within that they were born this way.” What is more, the pamphlet goes on to put the responsibility for the lack of acceptance of the lifestyle of the so-called “LGBTQ Christian” squarely on the shoulders of the evangelical church for we have suggested they are “second-class Christians” or perhaps have put them “outside the grace of God.”

What are we to make of this?  After all, as Stonestreet writes, more and more within the evangelical church it is being accepted that a person can identify as LGBTQ and still be a Christian who is following God’s will. Do we counter the biblical arguments for this position and if so, how do we counter them?

Here is the interesting twist: Biblical arguments typically are not offered. Much of the point of Stonestreet’s commentary is that the usual argument comes from experience, not from Scripture. Usually a person will say they believe an LGBTQ person can be a Christian following God’s will because they have known good LGBTQ people. Or an LGBTQ person will talk about their own experience of feeling it is right or even a supposed encounter with God in which he told them, “I made you this way.”

Hopefully we can see the problem with this thinking by this time in our series of blog posts on justice. We have discovered that biblical justice is the equitable and impartial application of the rule of God’s moral law (his wisdom) in the social realm. We also have learned that this application of God’s wisdom is the very best way to live and flourish for all people. So, what we need to do with SOGI issues is not base our beliefs or our pursuit of justice on feelings, but what God has revealed.

When we look to God’s Word for our guidance we first discover there are no second-class Christians or no people who cannot experience God’s grace. In other words, God works so powerfully through the gospel to save people (Rom. 1:16; Jam. 1:18) that he can save all kinds of people (Ac. 9:1-19; Rom. 10:13; Rev. 5:9-10; 7:9), including those struggling with sexual orientation and gender identity issues, and when such persons are saved they take their full place in the body of Christ next to all other sinners redeemed by grace.

In addition to this very important starting point, there are at least nine other points we can make about a truly biblical and just view of SOGI issues.

1. God Created Humans Male And Female. 
In statements about creation in Genesis this is made clear: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27); “When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man” (Gen. 5:1-2).

Related to this, God instituted marriage for a male and a female: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24).

2. There Are Unchanging Theological Purposes For This Creation Of Humans As Male And Female.
Part of what it means that God created humans in his image is that they resemble and reflect him in ways that the rest of his creation cannot. This is true of each person, but it is also true of humans as created male and female—those who can engage in marriage that is procreative-in-kind (in other words, a relationship that typically produces children).

Some of the ways that male and female resemble and reflect God and thus fulfill God’s theological purposes for this binary creation include:
  • Male and female in marriage, with their different God-given roles, reflect the diversity and unity in the trinity, that is, different persons and roles, but equality in substance, glory, and significance: “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. (1 Cor. 11:3)
  • Male and female in marriage, with their different God-given roles, not only provide a picture of God’s relationship with those whom he has saved (Is. 54:1-10; Jer. 2:2; Ezek. 16; Hos. 2:16), but more specifically, the relationship of the Son of God and his church whom he has redeemed. After speaking about the different roles men and women have in marriage and how they are to relate, Paul writes in Eph. 5:32: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”
  • Male and female in marriage, with their ability to produce children, also provide a picture of God and his bride, his people, who are able to bring forth more children, more believers (Is. 54:1-10; Jer. 31:9; Hos. 11:1; 1 Pt. 1:3; 1 Jn. 5:1).
  • Male and female in marriage, with the authority they have over their children whom they produce, are able to teach children from their early days how to submit to their authority (Ex. 20:12; Eph. 6:1-3), which provides a pattern for them to submit to other authorities over them (e.g. Rom. 13:1-7) and ultimately to submit to God as their king (Mt. 5:1-10; 7:21-23). 
So, as we can see, there are several ways the triune God is revealed through mankind created as male and female. This means that this binary creation is purposeful and not to be distorted. This may be at least in part behind the law in Dt. 22:5: “A woman shall not wear a man's garment, nor shall a man put on a woman's cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God.”

3. The Fall Of Humans Results In Rebellion And Confusion On This Issue.
The entrance of sin into the world distorted the relationships of humans to God, self, creation, and each other (Gen. 3:16-4:8; 6:5). This also includes the view of humans toward their own sexual orientation and gender identity. When Paul speaks of the downward spiral into sin and separation from God in Romans 1 he mentions this: “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error” (vv. 26-27). This sin was exemplified in Sodom and Gomorrah (18:20-19:29).

The Bible is clear that all sex outside of the marriage of a man and a woman is sin (Gen. 2:18-25; Ex. 20:14; Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 7:1-2; Heb. 13:4). What is more, this sin is not confined merely to the sexual act, but even to imagining that one is having sex with someone else other than one’s spouse (Mt. 5:27-30). This is an issue of both heart (how we think and what we desire) and practice.

4. The Bible Is Clear In Its Teaching That Any Practice Or Self-Identity That Does Not Match This Binary Creation Is Always Sin. 
Paul also clarifies that identification as the sex a person is not, the identification as one who romantically prefers the same sex, or the actual practice of these is sin and characteristic of those who shall not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-11).

Even if we did not have Paul’s teaching in these verses, we would be able to conclude from our previous three points that this point is true.

We must be precise here in what we are saying to avoid confusion. To do this we will use an example of another sexual act that the Bible says is sin, that of heterosexual sex outside of marriage.

Suppose that John is a college student that is very sexually promiscuous throughout his years at the university. His practice was to “hook up” with 2-3 different girls every week. What is more, he develops an addiction to pornography during this time, so he is not just sinning in his actions, but very clearly sinning in his imagination and of course in how he views women and uses them.

In his senior year he meets Mary, who eventually becomes his wife. From the time he met Mary until they were married he ceased pursuing other women, even though his pornography addiction continued. A year into his marriage he had an affair with a woman from his office and several after that for the next five years. Four years into their marriage and sensing they were pulling apart, Mary began attending a church and trusted Christ as her Savior. Six years into marriage John began attending with her and eventually he too received and rested upon Christ alone for salvation.

Imagine that now that John is a follower of Christ he continues to self-identify as an adulterer and porn-addict who could not overcome his habits.

With the details of this story, we can say several things about John and his relation to the sin of fornication and adultery that also have parallels to SOGI issues: 
  • Temptation to have sex outside of marriage is not itself sin. However, the fact that we desire what runs counter to God’s will for us is a result of the fact that we are all born with a sin nature, corrupt, and morally unable to do what God wants of us for the purposes he wants, in the ways he wants (Gen. 6:5; Ps. 51:5; Mt. 12:33-37; Rom. 3:9-18; 1Cor. 2:14; Eph. 2:1-3).  John’s twisted desires and the homosexual, bisexual, or transgender desires of others are the results of a sinful, broken world. 
  • In the case of John we easily see that giving into his desires in the form of his imagination and his actions is clearly sin. The same would be true of those with homosexual desires who give into them. In both cases, if we submit to the Bible, we must see that they depart from God’s moral will. 
  • If others (or even John himself) viewed young John in college as inevitably a fornicator/adultery and that is who he is—and in fact it is who we all are and we cannot be any different—we distort how God created us, whom he has created us to be, and we distort God’s powerful grace by which we can be whom he wants us to be and to do what he wants us to for the purposes he wants. Of course, we must acknowledge we all are distorted and broken versions of whom God created us to be and so cannot be whom he wants or do what he wants left to ourselves. Yet, acknowledging this is much different than saying that we were created defective and are intended to be the broken version and there is no hope for anything else. This latter view veils God’s wisdom, goodness, and his purposes in creation. Likewise, to view a female as a self-identifying male or vice-versa, or to view a person as one who, at the core of their being is one who must be romantically involved with the same-sex is a distortion of what God has clearly revealed about whom he has created us to be and the purposes behind this. It is as if we are saying, “God doesn’t tell us the truth,” or, “God is wrong.” It also greatly distorts our view of God and whether or not we will trust and submit to anything he says about life and salvation. 
  • Finally, if John continued to self-identify himself as an adulterer/porn addict who could not change by the grace of Christ or did not have adequate resources for changing, he would be guilty of distorting the truth of what God’s Word reveals about him now that he is in Christ (1 Cor. 6:9-11 [esp. v. 11]; Eph. 4:22-23; 2 Peter 1:3-4). It would be tantamount to not believing God or concluding he is a liar. Of course, John must realize he still has a strong propensity to sexual sin and must fight it and put it to death by the ordinary means of growing grace God has given (John 17:17; Eph. 6:10-18; Col. 3:5; 1 Tim. 4:7; Heb. 3:12-14; 5:14; 10:24-25). Likewise, all of this would be true for the person who professes to be a follower of Christ and yet self-identifies as homosexual, bisexual, or as the opposite of their biological gender—even if they also profess that they are celibate. 
5. Having Temptations To Sin or Gender Confusion Are Not The Same As Committing Sin.
This truth we have already stated above, but it is important enough to reaffirm. When we see how the Bible speaks of temptation (1 Cor. 10:13) or how temptation leads to sin (James 1:13-14), we understand that being tempted to sin in our minds or in practice is not the same as actually giving into and committing the sin in mind or practice. It is possible to experience gender confusion or desires for the same sex that do not in and of themselves arise to the level of actual sin. As we have already stated, the thinking or desires that twists our sexual orientation or gender identity are results of a fallen world and a corrupt sinful nature with which we are born, but they are not the actual committing of sin.

For anyone struggling with SOGI issues or anyone coming alongside another person to help them, this point is very important to remember.

6. Salvation Should Result In An Identity That Trumps Sinful Sexual Orientation Or Gender Identity.

This truth also has already been stated above, but it is also important enough to repeat and emphasize.

Consider four passages from Paul’s and Peter’s epistles that demonstrate this: 
  • “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:1-11)
  • “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:9-11)
  • “…to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:22-24)
  • “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Pet. 1:3-4).
7. There Is Hope And Joy In Christ For The Person Who Trusts In Him. 
This is communicated many places. One biblical book in which we see the totality of this truth is in Philippians. In this Pauline letter the apostles makes clear that participation in the grace of Christ (1:7) means that God is working in that person so they desire what God wants and can do what God wants (2:13) and this work will continue until the day of Christ Jesus (1:6). This work makes possible and should lead to life that measures up to and flows out of the gospel in them (1:27), and all this should lead to joy (1:25; 3:1).

We must realize that following God’s will and wisdom not only results in his glory, but also our benefit and joy (Dt. 10:13; Ps. 1:1-6; Mt. 5:3-10; 1 John 5:3). This is important because many people who struggle with sexual orientation and/or gender identity issues can experience great turmoil, sadness, and depression. However, based upon the clear testimony of Scripture we must see that the way to genuine, lasting, and eternal joy is to receive and rest in Christ alone for forgiveness of sin and eternal life, resulting in the ability to follow and enjoy God, and to experience Spirit-given joy in life (Ps. 16:11; Prov. 14:12; Gal. 5:22; 1 Pt. 1:8-9).

8. We Must Approach SOGI Issues Directed By The Gospel.
As we have demonstrated in the other issues we have dealt with in this entire blog series, to be directed by the gospel would involve at least the following:
  • We must realize that all persons, apart from Jesus Christ, are lost and will live out sinful lifestyles (Rom. 3:9-18; Eph. 2:1-3). In the same ways this includes idolaters, the rebellious, the hateful and murders, adulterers, thieves, liars, and the covetous, it also includes those struggling with sexual orientation and/or gender identity issues and those who have given into those sins. 
  • We must realize that only in Christ, transformed by him and his Spirit will a person be able to pursue and live out righteousness (Mt. 5:3, 6; Gal. 5:22-23; Eph. 2:1-10). We must not merely condemn the sins involved in SOGI issues, we must call people to and provide hope to those who struggle with  them or have given into these sins. 
  • We must approach SOGI issues with firmness on the clear teaching of Scripture, but also humility, grace, mercy, and love since all of us have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23) and if we are Christians who are living consistently with biblical truth, this is only by God’s sovereign grace (Eph. 1:3-14; Rom. 9:6-29).
  • We must, as stated in truth 7, offer to those struggling with SOGI issues or have given into the sins thereof hope for change in Christ. 
9. We Must Instruct The Next Generation In The Biblical Teaching On SOGI Issues. 
Consistent with all the issues we have looked at so far in this blog series, part of the church’s commission to make disciples is to teach all that Christ has commanded (Mt. 28:19), to teach God’s will and wisdom (Dt. 6:4-9; Prov. 22:6; Eph. 6:4). The way that God changes lives is his Spirit working through his word, in response to prayer, and usually among and through God’s people (Ac. 2:42-47; Rom. 1:16; Eph. 6:10-18; Jam. 1:18). Apart from these ordinary means those who are lost and unregenerate will not come to and follow Christ. What is more, they will not see the world and SOGI issues from the perspective of God.

This is also true because of the strong push in our culture from unbiblical, ungodly sources and in unbiblical and ungodly directions. Consider this evidence. In 2015 a writer in San Francisco named Michelle Tea “got the idea for ‘Drag Queen Story Hour’: Men in full drag reading children’s books to kids and parents in programs aimed at providing ‘positive and unabashedly queer role models.’” Since then they have been held in L.A., Chicago, New York, New Orleans, and they are spreading. This is designed to mainstream this lifestyle via impacting children.[3]

The push against a biblical view of sexual orientation and sexual identity is strong in our society. Yet, if we are to pursue genuine, biblical justice we must include and follow all nine of these points.

Joyfully Pursuing Justice With You,

Tom

[1] John Stonestreet’s commentary, “Why Some Christians Buy LGBT Theology,” can be found at breakpoint.org.

[2] The initials LGBTQ stand for Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Questioning (or Queer). Sometimes a + sign will be in place of the Q to include any other options that a person can come up with and suggests by those who use It that they want to be fully inclusive of anyone and any thoughts about SOGI issues.

[3] New Orleans (AP) “Drag Queen Story Hour Sparks Protests In Conservative Towns,” Sept. 3, 2018 Kearney Hub.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Justice And Immigration, Part 2

In our previous post we introduced the topic of justice and immigration and then looked at the first area in which we must listen to the wisdom of the Bible, what it has to say about immigration itself, as well as the historical contexts behind its teaching on immigration.

Now, in this post we turn to the remaining two areas of biblical wisdom we must discuss.

2. We Must Understand What Wisdom The Bible Gives On Rule Of Law, Borders, And Border Walls
Here we have three main sub-topics to examine.

Rule Of Law
God’s law in the Bible is not a bad thing, but a good thing, for this revelation of what is right and wrong shows people they are sinners who fall short of God and so are in need of his salvation (Rom. 3:23; 7:7; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21). What is more, God’s teaching on what is right and wrong, i.e. his standards, guides the Christian for how he is to live (Rom. 13:8-10; Eph. 4:29-5:4). In addition to this, God ordains governments to bring order and safety to societies and this happens, in part, by the passing of laws—including penalties for breaking them (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pt. 2:13-14). There is also an implication in Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-14 that government officials should also be under or submit to the standards for right and wrong themselves.

Given this understanding of divine and human law, we should see that for a society to be governed by laws as opposed to characterized by anarchy is good for the following reasons: 
  • The presence of law and order can form a backdrop (pre-evangelism) for the church to teach others about God’s standards of right and wrong and thus to teach the gospel as the only way of salvation, a salvation that is needed because we all are sinners. 
  • The presence of law and order can help the Christian in how to live out his new life in Christ in positive ways within the society. 
  • The presence of law and order benefits all in a society (including immigrants) as it encourages order and safety. 
Though there are times when governments must be disobeyed (Acts 5:29: when they command disobedience to God), the starting point and general rule of thumb is that it is best for all involved to be encouraged to obey laws and to keep order. When, therefore, we encourage those coming into our country to disobey laws by either suggesting it is fine to come across the border illegally, or by serving in the capacity of a sanctuary city, we actually are hurting all citizens, including those who have come into the country. In such lawbreaking we are furthering the narrative that right and wrong doesn’t matter (which can also further a narrative that it doesn’t matter before God, which is a distortion of his righteousness) and we are creating a culture in which law and order are not valued and preserved and so it potentially becomes more dangerous and harsh for all.

There is at least one more reason we should encourage the rule of law in society. This was captured in the 17th century book by the Scottish Presbyterian pastor, Samuel Rutherford, Lex Rex (Latin for The Law Is King). The law needs to rule in a society because typically when it does not, the ruler(s) end up becoming the law. When that happens and the rulers (government) are not under the law but above it, they make decisions and govern in a way that benefits them, harms the citizens, and prohibits society from flourishing.[1]

When it comes to immigration and helping refugees coming into our country, we should desire to help them and we should have laws that enable us to help as many as we can. However, at the same time, the just position, the one best for all involved, is that we do this in ways that preserve the rule of law and do not encourage law-breaking. When we see this principle in light of our previous treatment of immigration in the Bible, namely that it distinguishes between legal and illegal immigration and did not encourage the latter, we conclude that our pursuit of justice must also include the pursuit of the rule of law in society, including the keeping of immigration laws.

Borders
One of the specifics of the rule of law that those coming into a country must acknowledge is the presence of borders. Once a person crosses a border into another country, then they must be subject to their laws. In that country is found a God-ordained government that ideally is there to further order, safety, and to enable citizens to flourish (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pt. 2:13-14). It is right for things to be this way, as we just saw.

But, some might ask the question, “Why not do away with borders in our country in particular or throughout the world in general? Wouldn’t this be the fairest way for all to operate?” The answer is, “No.” This is not what would be fairest or best for the following reasons:
  • Without borders we do not know whose jurisdiction we are in and so whose laws we must follow. The Bible is clear that we must “be subject to governing authorities” (Rom. 13:1). However, if we are in the United States, we do not have to be subject to the laws of Vietnam and vice-versa. Each of these countries have different cultures, backgrounds, and situations that necessitate some laws that will be different. Of course, if a citizen of the United States travels to Vietnam, then they must be subject to those laws and the Vietnamese must be subject to U.S. laws, if they come this way. The presence of distinctions between governments (including borders) was not only implied in our above discussion about immigration in the Bible, it is implied by the need to know which governing authorities we are to obey. 
  • Doing away with borders in the long run would not be a good thing as it would move authority and ownership of lands far away from where people are at, which would not only oppose the best and most just situations economically for people but would eventually encourage a more centralized government in the world which would reduce freedom. Though this will not be the case when our Lord rules over the world solely and outwardly in the future, it is the likely outcome when sinful humans would be given the opportunity to rule in a centralized fashion. The closer to people that those in authority can be, the more likely they can be kept in check and accountable, and so freedom can be preserved. 
  • Similar to the previous point, when people are in authority who are close enough to the people over whom they are governing to know life situations and needs, this provides for the best and most just form of government. It also means that the government that has jurisdiction is more motivated to defend its citizens and enable them to flourish through law and order (key purposes of government: Rom. 13:1-7), than if the governance was from a distance.
  • If all borders were removed and the entire world was placed under one authority and one set of laws, this would necessitate taking an approach in which the least common denominator of laws and ideology would have to be adopted—in other words, something upon which all can agree. Given the sinfulness of humans, this would likely mean that it would be even that much more likely God’s wisdom would not be following in governance. This same principle would be true if the point was not to bring all the world under one human governance, but let’s say, all of North and South America. 
  • Finally, it is hard enough to pass laws that all can agree upon among sinful humans when we are dealing with one country or even one state or county. Think how much harder it would be to enlarge that scope and to seek to bring law and order for multiple continents or the entire world, with all the cultural difference, worldviews, and various needs. It is not very realistic apart from the kind of complete moral transformation we will see in the new heaven and new earth (Rev. 21-22). 
Given all these reasons, we conclude that it is best for individual countries to have borders and for those borders to be part of each country’s rule of law. This means it is best for prospective immigrants into each country to abide by that country’s laws, including their immigration laws. In other words, it is right for Christians both to advocate compassion shown to those seeking to come into the country and those who have come into the country, but it is also right for Christians to advocate for the rule of law in regard to the country’s borders.

What is more, this can include seeking more just immigration laws, but should not include encouraging people to break immigration laws. Such lawbreaking is not a pursuit of biblical justice.

Border Walls[2]
It follows from our discussion on immigration from the Bible and our discussions about rule of law and borders that having walls or barriers at the borders of the United States to prevent people from entering illegally is a good thing.

Additionally, we can also make the following points from the Bible about why walls are good. 
  • “Walls gave peace and security. In the world of the Old Testament, people built walls around cities to protect themselves from thieves, murderers, and other criminals, and from foreign invaders who would seek to destroy the city. People could still enter the city, but they had to do so by the gate, so that city officials would have some control over who was coming in and going out. Today’s debate is about a larger area – a national border, not a city – but the principles are the same. A strong wall gave peace and security to the city, and one prayer of blessing for a city was, ‘Peace be within your walls and security within your towers!’” (Psalm 122:7). 
o   “The pathetic shame of a city without walls is also evident in this proverb: ‘A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls’ (Proverbs 25:28). The implication is that such a man and such a city are both headed for destruction.”

o   “Then Nehemiah needed laborers for the massive task of rebuilding the wall. He challenged the people, ‘Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision’ (Nehemiah 2:17).”

o   “There is another wall in the Bible – at the very end of the New Testament. The apostle John has a vision of the New Jerusalem, a great city that comes down from heaven, and it includes a wall: ‘It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels’ (Revelation 21:12). Whether this is literal or simply part of a symbolic prophetic vision (I don’t know), it is clear that the wall protects the peace and security of those who are within.”

o   “My conclusion from this overview is that the Bible views border walls as a morally good thing, something for which to thank God. Walls on a border are a major deterrent to evil and they provide clear visible evidence that a city or nation has control over who enters it, something absolutely essential if a government is going to prevent a nation from devolving into more and more anarchy.”

  • “Objection: ‘We should be a nation that welcomes immigrants.’ I agree wholeheartedly – if they come legally. But it is no kindness to them if the lack of a wall tempts them to risk death by walking across miles of parched desert, at the mercy of violent gangs, and then come into the US without legal documentation, only to live here as a permanent legal underclass, easily exploited, living in constant fear of discovery. In addition, it diminishes respect for the law and destabilizes the nation when millions of people exist in the shadows, living outside the legal recordkeeping functions of the nation.”
o   “The US currently admits over 1,000,000 immigrants per year who come legally and stay permanently – far more than any other nation. If you think that number should be even higher (as I do), then suggest a higher number to your congressman and talk to your fellow citizens. Persuade people to agree with you, and work for a change in the law. But don’t oppose a border wall, for that is just promoting more lawlessness.”

  • “Objection: ‘The Bible tells us to care for the sojourner.’ I agree – but we still must have some means of regulating how many “sojourners” we allow into the country and who can qualify to enter – and a wall is the most effective way to do this. When the Bible says, ‘Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt’ (Deuteronomy 10:19), Old Testament professor James Hoffmeier has demonstrated that these ‘sojourners’ (or ‘resident foreigners’ in one translation; the Hebrew term is ger) were people who had entered another country legally, with the permission and knowledge of the country that admitted them. (The unmodified term ‘foreigner’ in some translations is not specific enough to translate Hebrew ger.) A foreigner who had entered a country by stealth and did not have recognized standing as a resident alien was not considered a  ‘sojourner’ (Hebrew ger) but simply a ‘foreigner’ (Hebrew nekar or zar).”
  • “Objection: ‘These are good people who are just seeking a better life.’ Yes, many of them are, and we should welcome them – if they come legally. But we can’t ignore the fact that many others will not become ‘good neighbors’ – some are drug runners, gang members, and even terrorists. A wall makes it possible to screen out the people who have previously been deported for felonies and others who are most likely to commit crimes or simply become a drain on the economy rather than getting a productive job.
o   “An effective border wall would also be the best way to keep children together with their parents. Under the present system, families (1) enter the US illegally and (2) are caught, then (3) they plead for asylum, and (4) they are incarcerated until their asylum petition can be evaluated. But if we had a completed wall, such requests for asylum would be decided at the border, before they ever entered the US. We would never have to detain either parents or children on US soil in the first place.”

  • “Objection: ‘Walls don’t work.’ That objection is not true. Sections of high, effective walls and fences have already transformed whole regions of San Diego and El Paso from high-crime zones into peaceful, much safer cities.
o   “A high, double wall with modern electronic equipment to detect tunneling would stop perhaps 90-95 percent or even more of illegal border crossings. Once such a wall is complete, most Americans would feel that the border is finally under control, and the remaining questions about immigration could be resolved in an atmosphere of far less tension and animosity.”

o   “Walls that already work: In fact, we already have a highly effective system of ‘border walls’ that nobody argues about – in our airports. Every time I return to the US from a foreign country, I have to go through customs at the airport, and so does everybody else. The room where people wait in line to see a customs officer has walls to make sure that all arriving passengers have to go through passport control. I’ve never seen anyone protesting the existence of walls in the customs area or demanding that a section of the wall be removed so that people who don’t want to go through passport control can simply walk into the country whenever they want. That would be an open invitation to terrorists and other criminals, and it would make it impossible for the US to place any limits at all on the number of people who came into the country and stayed without legal documentation.”

o   “Yet demanding “no passport controls at airports” is, it seems to me, exactly parallel to saying that we should not build a wall on our southern border. Why should airports be any different from other border entry points? Yes, we are a nation of immigrants, and we should eagerly welcome numerous immigrants into the US every year, but they must come in legally, through the gates in the wall, not illegally and dangerously across an open desert.”

I agree with Wayne Grudem that walls at the borders of the U.S. are good and should be there.

3. We Must Understand That The Bible Calls Us To Compassion Toward All Kinds Of People. 
This third and final area of biblical wisdom that helps us put together a just approach to immigration has already been alluded to in this and the previous post. However, it is important enough to look at it more fully.

The kind of compassion to which the Bible calls us toward all kinds of people includes both helping people flourish in regard to their relationships to creation, self, and other people (which could include helping them overcome resource poverty, be re-united with family members where possible, and helping them overcome safety and security poverty), but also helping them flourish in regard to their relationship to God (doing the gospel work of helping them know and follow Jesus Christ).

We know that this includes being kind to and seeking to love and reach all kinds of sinners (which is all of us, Rom. 3:23; 5:8), including those who have been law-breakers, for the following reasons:
  • God gave to humans a commission in Gen. 1:28, to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over…every living thing that moves on the earth,” in other words, humans from the beginning were to bring order to the earth such that it and those in it could flourish, and they were to fill the earth with God-glorifiers and God-worshipers. Once sin entered into the world, this commission became a mandate to help others come back to God. 
  • In Mt. 28:19-20 Jesus gave to the New Testament church a whole-world-focused commission that was even clearer about reaching all kinds of people in the world, for he said, “While going, make disciples of all ethnic groups” (my translation). 
  • In Is. 25:3 the prophet looks forward to a time of future salvation, when God will do a great work among the nations, especially among those who have done horrible things. He is addressing God about what he will do: “Therefore strong peoples will glorify you; a city of fear-inspiring nations will fear you” (my translation). He presents the world as such a unified system that it is like one city and it is full of people who do horrible things and cause others to fear. Yet, many of these very people will be subdued and brought to worship and reverence the true God. Reading it in light of Isaiah 59:19-62:12, this will happen when the Spirit-led redeemer comes, fills his people with his glory, and they draw the nations to God. By implication, God is promising here that he will bring lawless peoples to him. The church, then, should be focused upon discipling all kinds of people, including the lawless.
  • In Acts 9:1-19 we read of Jesus Christ saving Paul, the persecutor and terrorist against the church. Though before he trusted in Christ he was acting in ways he thought were lawful and in ways not opposed by most in Israel, nevertheless he was committing great sin (cf. 1 Tim. 1:15). Here was a very lawless individual that Jesus saved. In fact, this is true of all that our Lord saves: “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). We must follow his example (Jn 20:21; Phil. 2:1-11).
  • In Acts 16:25-34 we see Paul and Silas going the extra mile to save the life of the jailer who was keeping them unjustly in chains. When there was a great earthquake that loosed the chains of Paul and Silas and the other prisoners, not only did they not run away, but they kept other prisoners from running away so the jailer’s life could be spared. The result was that the jailer and his family received and rested upon Christ alone for salvation. Here we see a pattern that we also should seek to disciple unrighteous people, including lawbreakers. 
  • In Luke 6:27-36 Jesus instructs his followers to love, do good to, bless, pray for, help, and even meet physical needs of those who hurt, hate, oppose us, and who can’t (or won’t) return anything to us. To do so is to “be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (v. 36). This would include, in some cases, those who are lawless. 
  • Finally, every person we meet is created in the image of God and so to mistreat them is to mistreat one who is part of the crowning creation of God and bears his reflection, whether they realize it or not (Gen. 9:6; Jm. 3:9).
The church in the United States must see that God, in his providence, is bringing much of the world to us—through international students coming here, through legal immigrants coming here, and even through illegal immigrants coming here. Though we never encourage any of these people to be lawbreakers and even while we are advocating for the placement of border walls and the enforcement of border laws, we are called to reflect the mercy of God shown to us as we turn around and extend mercy to all kinds of people, including those who have come illegally (Lk. 6:36). This is what people who are directed by God’s love and the gospel and who are living for the gospel do!

We are called to live for a great cause, not just a great comfort, as we move toward need in this world. We do this as justice pursuers who are directed by the gospel, as gospel people who pursue the gospel’s outcome—justice!  In other words, those of us who know and follow Jesus Christ should pursue justice in regard to immigration, in the ways we have set forth in these two posts.

Joyfully Pursuing Justice With You,

Tom


[1] Deuteronomy 17:14-20 seems to acknowledge this tendency for rulers to place themselves above the law when it set forth for future kings the need for restraints on them and the importance of their being under God’s law.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, the material for this section comes from Wayne Grudem, “Why Building A Border Wall is A Morally Good Action,” a July 2, 2018 post at townhall.com/columnists/waynegrudem/2018/07/02/why-building-a-border-wall-is-a-morally-good-action-n2496574, accessed July 10, 2018.