Thursday, April 24, 2014

There Should Be a Law

One of the common, knee-jerk reactions to social problems is to try to pass a law. Surely, if we just had the right law on the books, it would solve things. But this reflects a rather simplistic concept of what the civil law can and cannot do. Now law, as it comes from God, serves various functions. It shows us our sinfulness and that we are in need of a Redeemer (Romans 3:19,20; 5:20,21; Galatians 3:21-26). When we have come to Christ, it gives us guidelines for how we are to behave (Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:13,14; James 1:22-25), but we can only do this through the power of God working in us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13; Colossians 1:29). But the civil aspect of the law is much more limited. Its purpose is to limit blatant and overt evil (Romans 13:1-5; Deuteronomy 13:11; 21:21). Martin Luther likened it to a muzzle on a wild beast. It does not change the nature of the beast, but it keeps it from biting you.

Now some sort of civil law is necessary to protect society from anarchy. But we must not expect too much of it. We cannot simply pass a law and expect everyone to automatically obey it. Therefore, laws work best when the clear majority of the people are behind them. They then act to restrain the few who are in violation of the general consensus. But if too many people simply flaunt the law, it can be extremely difficult to enforce. This can put a Christian in something of a complicated dilemma. We may feel strongly that a particular practice is wrong and needs to be changed. But we may be out of step with those around us. Should we work to change the law even if we know the law is unenforceable? Or do we passively sit by and accept whatever the majority happens to endorse? Both courses are somewhat too simplistic.

God requires His people to stand up for what is right, even if it is not always well received (Matthew 14:3-12; 1 Kings 21:17-26; 2 Samuel 12:1-15). But we should be prepared to face a long process. We should also be prepared, not just to pass laws, but to convince people. We should not take the attitude that if we just pass the right laws, everything will be solved. And because of that, we need to pick our fights. We need to firmly and consistently stand against real injustice. But we should beware of getting into fights over trivia. For to do so is to use up effort and resources that should be used for the real fights that are worth fighting. We need to remember the limitations of laws, and if a law cannot do what we want, we need to take a different approach. For the law has its uses, but it cannot change the heart and mind.

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