The “God” of the World

Satan is the ruler of this world. He is an unlawful ruler, with limited and temporary power, yet his power is real. His influence over the nations of the world is evident both historically and Biblically speaking. He uses his power to turn people away from God’s rule as he tempts them to define right and wrong for themselves.

At the same time, the Bible teaches that God ordains the governing authorities of this world as His ministers. Yet due to misunderstandings of passages such as Romans 13, some have concluded that the governments of this world exist to serve God in a willful and submissive manner. As a result, many Christians remain ignorant of Satan’s rule and influence over these worldly governments. Those who are ignorant of his authority are the most susceptible to his influence. Therefore it is important to understand how Satan rules as the god of this world, recognize his purposes for the world and the limited and temporary nature of his rule. God does overrule the wickedness of the nations to accomplish His purposes, but this does not mean that God is pleased with their rebellious existence or their wickedness.

Satan’s Purposes for the World

God the Creator is the rightful and sovereign ruler of the world. Satan’s temptation of Eve in the garden strikes right at the heart of God’s sovereign authority, and in so doing demonstrates Satan’s purposes for the world.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden?’… For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” – Genesis 3.1, 5

Satan suggested to Eve that she could be free from God’s dominion. He suggested to her that she was fully capable to decide right and wrong for herself, and therefore should reject God’s authority over her. He wanted her to believe that she would be better off exercising self-rule by disobeying her Creator. In essence, Satan wanted Eve to believe that she could be her own god, ruling her own life in her own way.

The first 11 chapters of Genesis show how this violent rejection of God’s rule continued to spread through the world. The climax of this rebellion is seen in the tower of Babel, through which all the gentile nations were spread across the earth. All the nations covering the globe, all dominated by governments made of men exercising their own authority have their origin in this initial rejection of God by Adam and Eve.

From that day until now, people continue to trust in their own authority. People continue to write their own religious creeds, and establish their own churches, founded upon their own authority. People continue to write their own laws, and establish their own moral standards. People continue to rebel against God and act as if they are their own authority. The world is dominated by people who think they have the right to act as the “god” over other people.

This shouldn’t surprise us in the unbelieving world, where people claim no intention to follow God. But among Christians, who claim citizenship in the kingdom of heaven and proclaim Jesus as their King, there ought never to be those who turn aside from the authority of Christ and turn to self-proclaimed authority.

Whenever people assert their own authority to enforce their own standards of right and wrong, this does not make them free. Regardless of whether or not people serve God, they still serve a master.

Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. – Romans 6.16-18

Whenever people change their loyalty away from the LORD, they are giving their loyalty to Satan. In so doing, they are establishing Satan as their god. This was Satan’s purpose from the beginning.

The “god” of this World

Biblically speaking, Satan is indeed the god of this world.

I will not speak much more with you, for the ruler of the world is coming, and he has nothing in Me. – John 14.40

But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. – John 16.7-11

Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in draftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. – 2 Corinthians 4.1-4

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. – Ephesians 2.1-2

The nations, the rulers, and all those who claim the right to rule mankind for themselves serve Satan as their god. Yes, God has established His kingdom on earth, but those whose citizenship is in the world are under a different dominion.

For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son. – Colossians 1.13

Jesus – Reclaiming Rightful Authority

Jesus came to proclaim that the kingdom (dominion or reign) of God was at hand.

From that time Jesus became to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” – Matthew 4.17

Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” – Mark 1.15

Through all of Jesus’s actions, preaching and parables, His characteristic message continued to be that of the establishment of the reign of God. Jesus came to establish the Kingdom – the rightful rule of God – by establishing mankind’s submission to Him, and in so doing, He came to rescue the world from the dominion of Satan. Jesus came to destroy human self-rule by calling man back from sin to submission to the rule of God. To say that “the kingdom of God is at hand” only makes sense when his hearers understood that the world was not currently in submission to God.

Shortly after God declared Jesus as His son in a very special and unique way, Satan attacked Jesus right at the heart of His mission (Mt. 4.1-11; Lk. 4.1-13). God wouldn’t want His Son to be famished with hunger would He? Wouldn’t it be more satisfying to do things Satan’s way? If Jesus is God’s son, why not show it in one dramatic show of power, by casting Himself off the temple? Wouldn’t it be quicker and more effective to do things Satan’s way?

Arguably the most tempting of all was the the one regarding the domain and glory of the kingdoms of the world.

And he led Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours.” – Luke 4.5-7

Satan claimed that the governments of the world had been handed over to him. Clearly this is what occurred when mankind rejected God’s rule. Commentators sometimes debate whether or not Satan actually had the ability to deliver on his promise or not, but such a debate misses the point. The point is that Satan tempted Jesus by offering him political power and prestige as an alternative method to doing things God’s way. For this offer to have been a temptation, Jesus must have believed that the alternative offered by Satan was a very real and attractive looking option. If Jesus had given in and sought political power, Jesus would have failed in His mission, and Satan would have had unlimited dominion over the world. Can you imagine what such a world would look like?

Satan’s (Temporary) Success

Satan’s efforts to turn man away from the LORD have been partially successful. Our God created a beautiful garden for us to dwell in, but all the thorns and thistles, the wickedness and corruption,  and the grief and sorrow in the world testify that Satan is indeed its ruler. Jesus recognized that the kingdoms of this world, and all their pomp and glory, as promising and rewarding as they may appear, belong to the devil.

It is important that we do not fail to recognize or ignore this fact. Satan continues to offer more satisfying, more promising, and more pragmatic alternatives to doing things God’s way. Satan wants us to believe that simply doing things God’s way “isn’t practical in the real world.” He wants us to think that it would be “naïve” to strive after God’s ideals for peace. He wants us to be so enamored by the power of their swords that we forget about sword of the Spirit. If we are to spread the kingdom of God, we must be ready to submit to His Kingship, rejecting all of Satan’s alternative solutions.

Yet as successful as Satan has been in this world, we know that his power is limited and temporary. God has spoken, and the kingdom of Heaven will ultimately be victorious.

For it is written,
“As I live, says the LORD, every knee shall bow to Me,
And every tongue shall give praise to God” – Romans 14.11

The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever. – Revelation 11.15

Rejecting God and Embracing Corruption

Corruption in Today’s World

When the world was created, God said that it was good. God created humans to be a central part of this good world. Humans were created to know God, to love God, to worship God, to give thanks to God, and to have dominion over the rest of creation for God.  This is, and always has been, the way God expected humans to live and prosper.

But man was not created to be a god. The right to rule over mankind was reserved for God alone. This means that mankind must remain humble. We must let God be God.

In Romans 1-2, Paul begins his letter by observing that the good world has become corrupted, and the root of the problem of corruption lies with the rebellion of humans. As a result of this corruption, humans are now “worthy of death” (Rom. 1.32), and are subject to the “wrath of God” (Rom. 2.5). Paul points gets to the very root of the problem in Romans 1.18-23.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools.

The Heart of Corruption

As Paul discusses the corruption of mankind, he does not, as we might expect, point to evil behavior as the root of the problem. He discusses the problem of evil behavior soon enough (Rom. 1.24-31), but the root of the problem lies much deeper. Paul begins by pointing to twisted thinking and darkened hearts as the core of corruption.

For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. – Romans 1.21

Paul speaks of those who had become “futile in their speculations.” There are right ways and wrong ways to think. This is an important truth our world doesn’t like to admit. Thought, by itself, does not guarantee we will arrive at the right answers. In a room full of different magnets, a compass will not necessarily always point north. Using thoughts and reasons to speculate about what is right and wrong does not necessarily mean that our conclusions will be right.

In the ancient world, the heart was the center of thought, motivations, and emotions. Thus when Paul speaks of darkened hearts, this idea would have been very closely connected with futile speculations. Paul understood that just as thinking can become twisted, so also hearts can become darkened.

The Deceptiveness of Corruption

People can easily deceive themselves. People can easily think of themselves as wise, while being very foolish.

Professing to be wise, they became fools. – Romans 1.22

In the world of social media, we are given constant reminders that not everyone agrees about the wisest course of actions. For some it is viewed as great wisdom to have a strong military, and to have that military stationed around the world, striking back against evil at every opportunity. Others would view even the most well intended warfare as a great foolishness. One person might think it very wise and kind to welcome immigrants of all sorts into the country, while another might think of this as extremely foolish. One person might think it as right to give women the opportunity to have abortions if they so desire. Others would view this as supremely wicked. The examples of disagreement are endless.

How can we know who is right and who is wrong? Paul will eventually answer that question, but it is important to notice the point he makes in verse 22. It is possible for a person to think of themselves as very right and just, and to think of opposite opinions as very wrong and wicked, and for that person to be completely wrong. This doesn’t mean that truth is relative, or that everyone can be right in their own way. But rather it shows that it is very easy to be deceived about what is right and what is wrong, especially when our thoughts and our hearts remove God from His throne and replace it with something else.

Warning Signs of Corruption

Given the fact that people can be easily deceived in their thinking, how can we know if our thoughts and our hearts are in the right place? For starters, we must learn to look for the warning signs of corruption.

  • Not honoring God as God. That is, not directing our thoughts and affections towards God. If our awe and adoration of God do not keep up with our knowledge of God, we must stop and examine our hearts. When we look at the beautiful creation all around us, we should always respond by giving glory to God. If we do not, this is a warning sign of corruption.
  • Not giving thanks to God.

    Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. – James 1.17.

    Every blessing we receive comes from God. Yet if our heart is not willing to give God glory for something as obvious as the beauty of creation, it won’t be long before we don’t give God the thanks for any of the blessings He gives.

If God is not given honor and thanks, we have set ourselves up to be filled with foolish speculation. If the good things in life don’t come from God, where do they come from? Who deserves the credit?

Giving Credit to the Wrong “gods”

It is at this point that idolatry takes hold of our lives. It is easy for us to chuckle at the idea of someone making a little statue out of wood or stone and bowing down to it, and giving it credit for blessings they enjoy. But of course our culture is filled with people that do the same thing! 

Our society has worshiped many things,  one of the most obvious being the state. Where does a good economy come from? From God, or from a good government? Where does safety come from? From God, or from a strong military? Where does good health come from? From God, or from a wisely written healthcare program? And if blessings come from the state, who deserves to be honored? Our society continually preaches their answer: “The state!”

The so-called patriotic hymns are most often songs of praise to a personification of the country, and are not written to glorify God. Unfortunately, too many churches continue to sing of “My country tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing”, and “America, America, God shed his grace on thee”, where the “thee” is not God, but country. I have had to stand in silence too many times as churches sing of the “land that I love” instead of the church that we love. If these are songs of worship, they are songs of false worship. God is mentioned, but as supportive figure as we sing of the greatness of the nation, which is the real object of our praise.

Instead of “I will praise Him!” it is “Of thee I sing.” Instead of “We praise Thee, O God our Redeemer,” it is “We salute you, land of liberty.” Instead of “Blessed Jesus! Blessed Jesus!” it is “America! America!” Instead of “I am Thine O Lord,” it is “I pledge thee my allegiance, America, the bold.” Instead of “Jesus is coming again!” it is “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

We should label this what it is: idolatry. Nation-centered songs, rituals, and symbols implicitly deny that the church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ the Lord. They deny that God is the source of our blessings, and the one deserving of our honor. They give the credit to the wrong “gods”.

Twisted thinking, darkened hearts, and praise and honor given to non-gods: this is the disease of corruption. This is the cause of death.

How God Feels About Corruption

This takes us back to where Paul began this discussion.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. – Romans 1.18

Ungodliness refers to what happens when humans don’t worship, honor, and give thanks to God as God. Unrighteousness refers to what follows, when mankind is living out of harmony with the purposes for which they were created. These two words sum up what it means for mankind to become corrupt.

The result is the wrath of God. God created the world as good, and He cares passionately for it. God loves His creation, and every single person that fills it. When people, whom He created in His image, are oppressed, destroyed, and mistreated, God responds in wrath. God hates corruption. (If He were not, it would be difficult to call Him a “good God”). God is not a God who is in the habit of saying that a little bit of evil isn’t all that bad.

Our society teaches us to believe a different “truth.” They want us to think that a little bit of evil is okay. It is okay to follow your passions, no matter whether or not they in accordance with God’s will. It is okay choose to not worship God, if religion isn’t your thing. It is okay to disrespect others, especially if they are not worthy or respect. A little bit of killing and violence is acceptable, as long as the ends justify the means. A little bit of oppression is inevitable, as long as it is for the good of society. A little bit of war is good, just as long as it keeps evil from spreading.

Paul held a much more realistic assessment of the corruption of mankind. Do not be deceived. God is God, and we are not. What is wrong is always wrong. Sin is a serious disease, and it leads to corruption and death. It is a disease that must not go unchecked. It must be cured.

Three Things Christians Should Know About Political Strength

Judah’s Foolishness

Isaiah was a prophet and preacher during a time of political enthusiasm and turmoil. The Assyrians had risen as the world empire of the day. They had gained their power by terrorizing any nation that dared to stand in their way.

Other than the Assyrians, the Egyptians were the next largest military strength. Judah thought to themselves, “If we can make an alliance with Egypt, it will give us the power to defeat Assyria.”

Isaiah’s goal was to turn Judah back to having faith in God. In Isaiah 30, Isaiah responds to Judah’s decision to turn to Egypt for help, rather than to God. This text contains some important lessons for us today about the foolishness of turning to political strength for their help, rather than turning to God.

The Issue Was that of Trust

Their plan seemed flawless. “With the help of Egypt, we will protect God’s nation, and God’s enemies will be defeated.” This plan was probably applauded by the war generals and the people alike. And yet, Isaiah warned,

“Woe to the rebellious children,” declares the LORD,
“Who execute a plan, but not Mine,
And make an alliance, but not of My Spirit,
In order to add sin to sin;
Who proceed down to Egypt
Without consulting Me,
To take refuge in the safety of Pharaoh
And to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt!” – Isaiah 30:1-2

Here Isaiah reveals their error. They had a plan, but their plan did not originate with God. The issue was that of trust. They trusted in Pharaoh more than they trusted in God. They were more impressed with the strength of Egypt’s army than they were with God’s strength. In the following chapter, Isaiah would go on to warn:

Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help
And rely on horses,
And trust in chariots because they are many
And in horsemen because they are very strong,
But they do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the LORD! – Isaiah 31.1

To misplace our faith is sin. Judah was rightfully described as rebellious and a woe was justly pronounced against them. They were, in profession, God’s holy people, but they were not acting as if they trusted in Him. Their weakness and danger was a result of their sin and idolatry, but rather than repenting, they chose to “add sin to sin.”

The Consequences of their Foolishness

Therefore the safety of Pharaoh will be your shame
And the shelter in the shadow of Egypt, your humiliation.
For their princes are at Zoan
And their Ambassadors arrive at Hanes.
Everyone will be ashamed because of a people who cannot profit them,
Who are not for help or profit, but for shame and also for reproach. – Isaiah 30.3-6

Observe the consequences of Judah’s decision to turn to Egypt.

  1. The Egyptians would receive their alliance kindly. When Judah’s messengers arrived, they were given the opportunity to meet with Egypt’s princes and ambassadors. Judah loaded down their donkeys and camels with treasures (v. 6), and Egypt’s leading men welcomed their friendship and alliance with open arms.
  2. But, the Egyptians would be unable to live up to their expectation. They could not help or profit them. Isaiah goes on to describe their help as “vain and empty” (v. 7).
  3. Judah, who at one point was enamored with Egypt’s strength, would ultimately be ashamed. Their neighbors would look to God’s nation with shame and reproach. They would be ashamed of themselves. They would be ashamed for trusting in Egypt.

To the contrary, those who trust in God and in his power will never be put to shame. We must not expect too much from man, and we must not expect too little from God.

The Three Things Christians Must Know About Political Strength

  1. When we turn to political strength, we must acknowledge that “these are only human plans.”

Judah took counsel, and they made a plan. But it wasn’t God’s plan. God had not spoken one word to indicate that he desired for his children to make an alliance with any of the earthly nations surrounding them. Likewise, there is not one word in the New Testament that would indicate that God wants for Christians to try to use the arm of government to fix the problems in society.

The New Testament has much to say about how Christians should relate to earthly governments. Christians are to pay taxes (Rom. 13.7), submit (Rom. 13.1-7; 1 Pet. 2.13), honor their rulers (Rom. 13. 7; 1 Pet. 2.17), and pray for their rulers (1 Pet. 2.1-2). Beyond this, the New Testament is silent.

Does this mean it is wrong to hold political office? To seek laws that enforce morality? To work for the military? Is it wrong to be politically involved? Scripture is silent in response to these questions. Therefore, if we do decide to turn to political means to reform society, we must acknowledge that we came up with these plans on our own. The plans did not originate with God. We are choosing to act based off of merely human plans.

Government power at its best is limited to only the power that humans can provide. We may have the most economic influence, the latest military technology, and the strongest police force on our side to enforce our plans, but we can still only accomplish what the arm of flesh can accomplish. As long as we are acting on human counsel and human plans, there will be a limit as to how much those plans can accomplish.

Government power, at its worst, can even end up like that of Egypt, leading to shame. It may appear to be a great asset, but could very well end up backfiring, leading to increased persecution.

Before turning to political plans, we should ask ourselves, “Do I want the strength of man on my side, or do I want God’s power working along with me?” All flesh, no matter how powerful and influential, has limitations to its power.

  1. When we turn to political strength, we must realize “the help provided by earthly governments is inadequate.”

Judah needed help far greater than what Egypt could provide. So do we.

Our pagan society has turned increasingly wicked. No matter how many new tax laws are passed, greed continues. No matter how many prohibition laws are written, alcoholism and drug abuse continue. No matter how many checks and balances are written into the constitution to hold politicians accountable for their actions, corruption runs rampant. No matter how much blood and money is invested into the military, terrorism continues to gain strength.

Why? Because the many problems in the world are caused by sin. We are in need of strength far greater than any man or government of men can ever provide. We would do well to adopt the faith of the psalmist who wrote:

Some boast in chariots and some in horses,
But we will boast in the name of the LORD, our God. – Psalm 20:7

And,

The king is not saved by a mighty army;
A warrior is not delivered by great strength.
A horse is a false hope for victory;
Nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength.
Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him,
On those who hope for His lovingkindness. – Psalm 33:16-17

And we should most certainly remember the admonition of Paul,

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. – 2 Cor. 10.3-4

When the storm comes, our shelter will be tested. No human protection will be sufficient. No one is adequately armed unless they have God on their side.

  1. When we turn to political strength, we must be aware that God may view our plans as rebellious.

I wonder what kind of response Isaiah received when he first preached the lesson in Isaiah 30?

Rebellious? That’s an awfully strong word, not to mention judgmental and offensive. I am a follower of God. I have spent my whole life studying His law, bowing in worship, and caring for the poor. I have always made it a point to live differently from the world around me. But I don’t see anything wrong with enlisting Egypt as an ally. After all, we know that God rules over the kingdoms of men, and he uses them as His ministers to serve His purposes. It may be that God plans on using Egypt to restrain Assyria’s wickedness. We still trust in God, and if Egypt can help God’s people, we should turn to them.”

In the same way, there are many today who will say, “I know government cannot redeem the world from sin, but if we can use them as a tool to correct and restrain the wicked, we should. They are, after all, described as God’s ministers for good.”

This view makes a fatal mistake. It assumes that if one believes in God, he can do whatever he or she wants to do. To the contrary, when we put our faith in God, we are obligated to live our lives and fight our battles according to the directions He has given us. When Judah used another plan of action, He viewed their plans as rebellious. Would He view our own man-made plans any differently?

When we follow where God guides, we will see that God provides. We are under God’s protection when we submit to God’s direction. When we follow our own self-designed way, we are rejecting God’s wisdom and care for us.

A short time later, perhaps in direct response to the warnings of Isaiah, King Hezekiah gave the following message; a message God’s people should continue to rely on as we fight our battles even today:

 Be strong and courageous, do not fear or be dismayed because of the king of Assyria nor because of all the horde that is with him; for the one with us is greater than the one with him. With him is only an arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God to help us to fight our battles. – 2 Chron. 32.7-8

Do We Really Act Like There Is Only “One Lawgiver”?

My deepest desire is to see the church grow. I want to see the church grow in number and in spiritual strength. I want to see my brothers and sisters in Christ experience all the blessings God has stored up for them.

Satan wishes to see otherwise. Satan recognizes that as long as Christians are submitting themselves to God as the only sovereign and the only lawgiver, they will in fact be blessed by God. For this reason, Satan wants Christians to believe that they can find success independent of God’s authority.

Satan has often tempted man to rebel against the authority of God. The Bible begins by telling us of Satan tempting Eve to trust the serpent’s lies in the garden (Gen. 3), and the Bible ends by telling of the destruction of those who worshiped the dragon and gave authority to the beast (Rev. 13). In the pages which lie between, there are dozens of instances of Satan tempting men to reject or rebel against the authority of God. When Satan is successful in turning men away from God’s authority, he is likewise successful in keeping them from the blessings God has in store for them.

Scripture is abundantly clear, “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy” (Jas. 4.12). I suspect that most Christians will readily admit this fact. But our adversary is deceptive. Satan finds his success, not by tempting Christians to openly deny the fact that God is sovereign, but by tempting them to reject and rebel against the authority of God in practice. For example, if I were to claim to believe in the sovereignty of God, but then in practice I speak evil of any Christian who does not agree with my personal opinions, or judge those who don’t live up to my personal expectations for how a Christian should appear, have I not ceased to submit to the authority of God? Have I not rather, in practice, acted as if my own personal opinions and judgments are every bit as authoritative as scripture?

Even when we claim that we submit to God as the only sovereign, when Satan tempts us to act upon our own personal authority, we have in practice jumped up onto the judgment seat of God and proclaimed ourselves equals with God! When Satan tempts us to respect general consensus of preachers and elders to the point that we have ceased to honestly examine the truth as taught by Scripture, we have in practice acted as if those men are themselves co-authorities with God. When we exalt and defend any man-made laws or man-made judgments above God’s word, we are in practice rebelling against the authority of God.

If Christians are going to both proclaim and live as if God is sovereign, we must first really understand, believe and take the heart that God is sovereign, and He is the only lawgiver. If we fail to understand this very important point, we will miss the blessings God has promised to those who submit to His rule.

God is Sovereign                      

The Bible emphasizes the sovereignty of God in a number of ways. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He is above all things, and preexisted all things. He is the “Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end” (Rev. 21.6). “By Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible”, including but not limited to all earthly “thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities” (Col. 1.16). There is no limit to His wisdom and knowledge, and His judgments and ways are unsearchable (Rom. 11.33). Absolutely nothing is too difficult for Him (Jer. 32.17). God is in control of all things and rules over all things. He has power and authority over nature, earthly kings, history, angels and demons (Ps. 103.19). Even Satan Himself has to ask God’s permission before he can act. (Job 1.11-12).

God is the ultimate source of all power and authority. There has only ever been one Man, Christ Jesus, who can share these exalted claims with God Himself. It is Christ alone who has been exalted “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body” (Eph. 1.21-22).

Besides this one Man, there has never been, nor will there ever be, any emperor, king, president or congressman, no church leader, passionate preacher, nor charismatic elder who will ever come anywhere close to claiming this kind of authority. God reigns through Christ alone. There is only one lawgiver.

Two Contrasting Attitudes towards God’s Rule

The book of Genesis tells of two sharply contrasting attitudes towards God. This book of “beginnings” tells not only of the “beginnings” of God’s nation of Israel, but it also tells of the “beginnings” of the gentile nations surrounding Israel.

The origins of the gentile nations are described in Genesis 10-11. (I’ve written a whole article on this topic here). These nations were dispersed across the earth as a result of the rebellion at Babel. Here at Babel, men had attempted to “make a name for themselves” by building a tower to the heavens. By building this tower, they believed they could prevent themselves from being scattered abroad over the whole earth (Gen 11.4). This action was in direct rebellion to God’s commandment to Noah to “populate the earth abundantly and multiply it.” The men at Babel rebelled against God’s authority, and the result as “confusion.” All the nations surrounding Israel found their origin in this outright rebellion against God’s authority.

Held in stark contrast to this rebellion is the account of Abraham, beginning in Genesis 12. Abraham was a man of great faith who submitted Himself to God’s rule. Abraham refused to trust in the strength and authority of man. In Genesis 14 after Abram helped rescue Lot and the people of Sodom, the king of Sodom offered to give Abram a gift. Abram’s response makes it very clear where Abram placed his faith. “Abram said to the king of Sodom, ‘I have sworn to the LORD God most High, possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take a thread or a sandal thong or anything that is yours, for fear you would say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’” Not only did Abram have faith that God was the one who gave him his blessings, but he refused to even accept a gift from this gentile king, lest there be any confusion over where Abram’s great blessings came from! God gave Abram his riches, and Abram wanted God to get all the credit!

Moses the Law-giver

When the family of Abraham grew into a nation, God gave them their laws. Moses became the lawgiver. It is sometimes said that Moses was Israel’s lawmaker, but this is a mistake. God was Israel’s lawmaker. Moses was his lawgiver. God still maintained sovereignty over his people. Even in the very nation He established, God never gave any human or power beneath his throne the right to make laws or to govern his people. He reserved this right to rule for Himself.

God separated this nation of people from all the gentile nations surrounding them (Deut. 7.6). The Israelites were explicitly forbidden from marrying or making alliances with any of those surrounding nations who did not submit to God’s authority (Exod. 11.7, 23.32-34; Deut. 7.1-8). Israel was under God’s government, and therefore they were not to bind themselves in any way to those nations which were founded upon rebellion to God’s authority.

Israel’s Attempt at Self-Rule

Whenever Israel trusted in God’s rule, God blessed them with success. However, it wasn’t long before Israel departed from God’s authority and therefore began to reap the consequences of her rebellion (Judg. 3.5-8; 4.2). From that time, the state of affairs in Israel continued to digress until the time of Samuel. In 1 Samuel 8, the people asked Samuel for a king “like all the nations.” God permitted Israel to have a king, but he never approved of their request (Hos. 13.11).

With very few exceptions, the kings of Israel and Judah were very wicked, who continually turned Israel further and further from God’s rule. They continually turned Israel to idols, to alliances with foreign nations, and to self-rule. From the time of the crowning of King Saul through the end of the Old Testament, Israel continually suffered disaster after disaster, exactly as God had warned that they would (1 Sam. 8.10-22).

Applying Lessons from Israel Today

Throughout the entire disastrous history of Israel, God had one thing on his mind: the raising up of His anointed, His king, and the establishment of His kingdom. Just like the nation of Israel, God has never surrendered His sovereignty to man. Even Jesus Christ our King said, “I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak” (John 12.49).

Israel eventually found out that God actually knew what was best. Israel thought that she could rule herself. She thought that the wisdom of a “king” would lead her to be more successful and more prosperous. She thought she could both follow God and make alliances with the ungodly nations at the same time. Israel’s rebellion against God’s authority resulted in her ruin.

Therefore, let us remember:

  • Regardless of how much we respect our preacher, there is only one lawgiver.
  • Regardless of how kind and loving our elders may be, there is only one lawgiver.
  • Regardless of how much we may trust the “general consensus” of those in our particular sect of believers, there is still only one lawgiver.
  • Regardless of how “right” we might think our own personal opinions may be, they will never share the same authority as those laws which are given by the one lawgiver.
  • Regardless of how practical, how wise, or how much “common sense” our opinions may be, there is still only one lawgiver.

May God’s Kingdom, the church, never follow after Israel’s mistakes! May we never seek to rule ourselves! May we never seek to “tweek” God’s laws to make them better! May we never seek to make alliances with non-believers or with their “gods” to advance God’s kingdom! May we continue to submit to the one and only lawmaker!

God will continually bless those who willingly submit to His righteous rule. He will rule His submissive children with grace and love. He will bless those who serve Him.

There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you to judge your neighbor?
James 4:12

Healthy Parts, Healthy Body

Healthy: A Flexible Word

When it comes to our bodies, the definition of “healthy” is often a moving target that changes with each person you ask because people use different standards and reference points when comparing a given body to an imaginary “ideal” body. Does healthy mean there are no aches or pains right now or does it also include having none of the chronic disorders such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and elevated inflammation markers (with all of their ranges of progression)? Is a person with two previous heart attacks and slightly reduced heart function, but who feels great, has a sharp mind, and still has the ability to be “active” (another word that’s tough to pin down) considered healthy even though he is now at higher risk of future heart issues? What about age? Is an 85 year old who is able to keep up with the young guns who are just now turning 60 deemed healthy, even though his strength is no where close to the average 25 year old?

A growing approach to assessing health is to also consider the “whole person” rather than just the surface point of symptoms. Modern science is growing in understanding how the body’s incredibly complex organ systems, with each of their hierarchy of functions from the organs down through the tissues, cells, proteins, DNA, and necessary nutrients, impact and are affected by the other organ systems and their constituent parts. I.e., the digestive system sends signals through the nervous system that affect the blood supply via the cardiovascular symptom that intricately maneuver the muscular system in its proper functioning to digest food. And the effects are not all local to what we might consider its “primary” purpose. Eating a meal and the functions needed for it affect the brain, heart rate, respiratory rate, hormonal regulation, kidneys, etc.

Every function of the body, each with its own complex inter-workings, communicates with other parts so as to maintain homeostasis, which is the proper and effective functions and composition of the body. And when just one part is not functioning effectively, its effects can cause a chain of dysfunctional events that may or may not be apparent to the individual. The complexity I’ve briefly described has not even included the vast interconnections between the “hardware” of organ systems and the emotional status of the individual.

At the risk of pushing a biblical analogy further than its intended purpose, I believe the common image of God’s New Covenant people as the Body, of which Christ is the Head (Eph. 2:22,23; 3:11-16), itself made up of unique, yet unified, parts (Rom. 12:4,5) is such a good illustration for assessing our spiritual health both as a single unit and as individual members. What better way to illustrate the unity, maturity, unique tasks, mutual effects, and common purposes of the Church than to compare it to the chief object of creation, that which was made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). But qualified as being not under the headship of Adam, but of Christ, who himself is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1:15-20). He is the model of submission and yet effectively exercises God-given dominion over all things (Ps. 8), even death.

Jesus: A “Healthy Template” for the Church

Here we can have our standard, our reference point for what can be deemed “healthy.”

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. Ephesians 4:11-16

Here we have a standard for what it looks like for the Church to be healthy. A healthy mature Church looks like Christ in every way. The unity of faith and the unity of the knowledge of the Son of God is a picture of maturity and stature. A healthy thinking, healthy functioning Body does not chase the trends of human societies, is not swayed by arguments based on faulty human reasoning, or deceived by outright lies. Rather the mature Church boldly reflects the love and will of God into the world as we imitate God himself (Eph. 5:1,2). Much of Ephesians is a detailed description of what that looks like. Where God created man in His own image and subsequently gives him dominion to be the agents of God’s authority over the lower creation, the Church lives it out by ruling our bodies and properties in a God-glorifying way and serving and loving one another.

It is not 100% accurate to say that the Church ought to restore the 1st century church (is it desirable to imitate 1st century Corinth?). Rather, our goal is to restore it to the model of health and maturity revealed to us by Christ himself and the Spirit of God through the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:19-22).

Healthy From Every Angle

Consider the complexity of the human body once more. The body cannot be said to be restored to full health if all of the organ systems are sound but the vascular system is hardened. In fact, atherosclerosis will prevent the other organ systems themselves from remaining healthy. The body is not healthy if muscles are strong but the digestive tract is swollen and inflamed. In fact, decreased nutrient intake will eventually weaken the muscles. The church is not restored to Biblical health if beliefs about judgment and eternity are Scriptural but they neglect the poor and oppressed. In fact, Biblical hope and anticipation for the age to come shapes our motivation to implement the effects of God’s current reign in the “now time” (Matt. 25:31-46). A church who strives for the true and authorized ways to offer worship to God on a weekly basis but neglects opportunities to express brotherly love to one another will have not restored the characteristic of God’s church being a family. In fact, worship in an environment that is void of mutual love for one another will quickly deteriorate away from being worship done in spirit and in truth.

Just as restoring the health of the church must address the “whole person” and not neglect different “organ systems” (as if they can so easily be pulled apart from one another without destroying the person), a healthy body also relies on healthy organs within it. A person is not healthy if the liver hardened. Cirrhosis of the liver will in fact destroy the other organs and their functions. A person is not healthy if the thyroid is unregulated. In fact, a dysfunctional thyroid can destroy the bones, metabolism, hair growth, temperature regulation, and memory of a person.

The church is not restored to full health if its people thrive in benevolence, offers scripturally consistent worship, shares the gospel with many but whose members are giving up fights against addiction, are being swayed by the mindsets and powers of the world, scratching whatever itch comes around, or silently drifting off unnoticed. This aspect of the restoration ought to remind us that there should never be a feeling of “We have arrived.” A healthy church is evangelistic, bringing in younger generations, and growing in Biblical wisdom and knowledge at every level. All of these present opportunities for growth and maturity at every moment in time.

A Healthy Church is Full of Healthy Christians

If the church is to be restored to health, we must commit ourselves to being restored to health as individuals, which will include healthy attitudes and behaviors towards one another corporately (Rom. 12:3). Having spiritual health as individuals will result in looking different than the world. A collection of individuals that are different than the world will be a nation that looks different than the nations of the world. Ephesians 3 goes on to say in verse 22 that we are to “lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” Healthy is good. Healthy is effective. We have a picture of what healthy looks like, but it is a conscious effort.

 

What Romans 13 Doesn’t Teach

It’s easy to do and it happens all the time.  We so often approach Scripture with our minds already made up as to what it means. Our “study” of Scripture is then no more than a search for proof-texts for our currently held position on any given topic. Or perhaps, we consult the Scriptures to answer a question, but our wills steamroll the honest, labor-intensive work that is required to understand God’s revealed will on the matter.

Most interpretations of Romans 13 fall into one of two broad categories. One category teaches Divine Right. The governing authorities have been established by God and is a minister of God for good. Therefore, governments of man are fundamentally good and ought to be obeyed and supported by children of God in all that they do. This view may even be pressed to justify some behaviors, attitudes, and actions that would be immoral if done by private individuals.

The other category that some interpretations might fall into might be described as the Divine Standard.  This view sees Romans 13 as a description of what the governing authorities ought to do and justifies Christians using government to enforce the laws of God on those who only respond to threats of force and reject the persuading words of the Gospel. This view also may place a moral standard for governments to meet before men ought to submit themselves to it. If a given government is not ruling in a way consistent with the divine standard of praising the good and avenging the evil then this is an authority which Christians are not to be subject towards and may overthrow.

Many peoples’ views likely fall on a spectrum within one of these two categories and may even have some overlap into both as well.  In fact, it’s the existence of slippery “spectrums” within each category and the ability for some fundamental principles to apply to both seemingly contradicting categories that highlights the existence of error in these interpretations. I’d like to now examine these two categories, consider the ultimate applications of them (following each spectrum to their logical conclusions), and look at why Romans 13 is not the text to support their claims.

Divine Right

Perhaps no other section of Scripture has been touted by the tyrants of world history more than Romans 13 for justification of their oppressive behaviors (or rather, for the people’s quiet acquiescence in the face of such behaviors). Their argument goes that if the governing authorities are established by God and governments are by their mere existence ministers of God for good, then the king, or Parliament, or President, or Judge simply must be obeyed – no questions asked. They are answerable to God alone.

The spectrum of this view is broad. Some would say that this justifies the use of death and taxes in God’s eyes and ought not be critiqued (Doesn’t the text say “It does not bear the sword for nothing…because of this you also pay taxes”?) The permitted use of death could range from a police officer’s use of deadly force in stopping a hostile break-in to the justification of the death of non-violent civilians walking too closely to enemy combatants  during a drone strike or atomic bombing. Here are a few questions that ought to be considered by those who would hold the Divine Right interpretation of Romans 13:

  • Should Christians have served in Hitler’s army and done all they could to support their governing authorities who were “ministering for good?”
    • What about as a guard in Hitler’s concentration camps?
  • Which governing authorities should be obeyed in a civil war?
  • At what point does a certain group of people arguing with another group of people in the same territory get deemed the legitimate “governing authority” that ought to be obeyed?
  • Were Christians in the Confederacy and Christians in the Union both justified in slaying each other during the “War Between the States” (or, depending on your answer, could be called the “Civil War”, “War of the Rebellion,” “War of Northern Aggression,” etc.) since both sides were “submitting to their governing authorities” (the State governments and/or the Federal government)?
  • Does participation in government void a Christian’s responsibility to love their neighbors and enemies, not avenge themselves, and reject force as a way of changing others’ behavior?

While each of these questions can likely be answered by each person in a way that agrees with their conscience, let’s address a couple of the underlying assumptions to this viewpoint, which also begins with a question that ought to be asked: Does “established by God” mean “approved by God” and does “minister for good” mean that the actions themselves are morally good and right in God’s eyes?

When we consider the types of men and governments that are also said to have been “ordained” or “established” or placed into their roles in human history by the Sovereign of Creation, we find that this “ordination” by no means necessitated a blessing by God.

Consider Pharoah, who was raised up “for this very purpose… to demonstrate my power in you.” (Rom. 9:17) God’s will was satisfied through Pharoah, but this did not require God to have mercy on Pharoah in Pharoah’s rebellion.

Likewise, when Israel culminated their “Canaanization” after the period of the Judges with a demand for a king “like all the nations,” God chose a king for them (I Sam. 10:24), but this request was still deemed by God an act of rebellion against Himself (I Sam. 8:7) and the king was chosen in God’s anger (Hos. 13:10,11).

And it was not only Israel over whom God ruled in the affairs of man, but also the nations.  The ruthless nation Assyria was deemed “the rod of My anger” (Isa. 10:5-10). While under Babylonian captivity, Daniel informs us that “the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men” (Dan. 4:17 KJV). God calls Cyrus, the pagan ruler of the Medo-Persians, his “shepherd” and his “annointed” (messiah).  And just to make sure we don’t think God suddenly laid down his ways of choosing evil men and evil governments in order to satisfy his longer-term purposes of good, take note of our Lord’s statement to Pilate on the day of his crucifixion.

So Pilate said to Him, “You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have the authority to release You, and I have the authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above.”  John 19:10,11.

And finally consider the command of Romans 13:1 in the historical and literary context. Paul has just commanded Christians that we are to not simply resist repaying evil with evil, but rather to bless those who pursue us, live at peace with others anytime the “ball is in our court,” provide for the well-being of our enemies and leave vengeance to God.  He then immediately identifies the governing authorities as being agents of God’s vengeance in the present age. He has chosen governing authorities to do the very thing that Christians are forbidden to do on their own behalf. This is not a justification for their actions, but rather a providential means of dealing with evil men with men.

Romans 13 is written in the historical context of Caesar Nero, one of those most morally debased rulers of history. Nero is labeled by Paul as having authority established by God and a minister of God for good. This does not mean Nero was justified in his evil ways but rather highlights that despite Nero’s arrogant claims of divinity and sovereignty, God was indeed in charge.

Divine Standard

This point about Nero being the emperor at the time of Paul’s writing leads easily into the deconstruction of the category about Romans 13 describing the “ideal” government, or the description of a government that is indeed God-ordained or that a government that rebels against the law of God is fair-game for overthrow.

Paul does not say that all men ought to be in subjection to “good government” or “democratically elected government” or “to the government that you desire.” It simply says to be in subjection to the governing authorities that exist. Likewise, if our standard for “God-ordained” government is one that acknowledges the God of the Bible and enforces His laws, then it should quickly be recognize that every government of man is one that could be rebelled against. Every government ruled and administrated by sinful men fail to accurately enforce God’s law in some area.

Then how was Nero a minister for good if this a phrase that’s applied even to evil governments?  I would suggest that it applies in a couple of very real ways. One is an application of Psalm 76

You caused judgment to be heard from heaven; the earth feared and was still when God arose to judgment, to save all the humble of the earth. For the wrath of man shall praise you; With a remnant of wrath You will gird yourself.

God rules over evil, uses it towards His own good purposes, and constrains it to go no further. Likewise Romans 8:28:

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God.

This encouraging statement is made within the context of enduring bad things. God rules over those things that cause us pain and suffering and even works them towards our good in a scheme and timeline that is often bigger than we can see at the moment when they first occur.

Also, consider that even evil governments have desire for fundamental order in society (this point would not apply to all governments since some governments seek greater power by causing greater chaos).  Most governments still have laws against certain types of murder. Many governments that are perhaps very evil in some areas have laws that constrain evils that the governments often deemed “good” allow to go unchecked.

Conclusion

Christians are commanded to pray for our rulers with an eye towards our being able to live “quiet and tranquil lives” (I Tim. 2:1-4). We are commanded to submit to the governing authorities, even the evil ones. (Rom. 13). We are commanded to pay our taxes (Rom. 13) and given the example of Christians who “joyfully accepted the seizing of [their] property” (Heb. 10:34). But we are never to obey a command that contradicts the law of God (Acts 5:29), and we are to model our conduct and attitude after our Lord regardless of our occupation (I Pet. 2:21).

Submitting to the governing authorities is not a backdoor for otherwise evil behavior to be committed by either Christians nor non-Christians, but is a command to trust in the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and to live faithfully in His Kingdom. Likewise, it is not a backdoor for Christians to resist governments that fail to submit themselves to the God who establishes authority.

May we all pray for humility, peace, and endurance as we live as citizens of heaven among the kingdoms of man.