The Law of God and Public Policy: Begin Here (3)
“Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, just as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should act according to themin the land which you go to possess. Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’” Deuteronomy 4.5, 6
The Law is good
From its inception, the Law of God was meant to bring the good blessings of God—His wisdom, mercy, justice, and love—into the experience of the nations of the world. Although it was never intended as a means of salvation, it is a powerful agent through which the grace of God flows to the world.
The Law remains a valuable resource today, as even many contemporary laws and statutes reflect. However, associal, cultural, and spiritual conditions having changed, certain aspects of how we apply the Law of God will differ in our day from how they were applied in ancient Israel. The Law is good, but we need to understand it in ways that fit the times in which we live.
But we also need to make sure that our efforts to apply God’s Law in the realm of public policy begin where God originally intended, with those who call upon Him as God and Lord. As the Law works it gracious effects in our lives and communities, the surrounding world will be drawn to it and, at least for many, drawn to Him Who gave it.
To bless the nations
God’s covenant promise to bless all nations (Gen. 12.1-3) is mediated through those who know, love, and serve Him. We are the agents of God’s grace to the world. As we, by our words and deeds, spread God’s grace to others, praise and thanks to God increase, and He is glorified (2 Cor. 4.15). And performing the Law of God in our lives and communities is a primary means whereby the grace of God reaches others.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we cannot hope to persuade others to embrace policies shaped by Biblical principles of justice and goodness we neither understand nor embody. Only by learning and keeping the Law of God, consistent with the teaching of the whole Bible, will we be able to have a credible platform from which to shape public policy according to the promised blessings of God.
The way governments and peoples will be drawn to seek God’s Law is by observing the wisdom and understanding which can be gained there (Deut. 4.5-8; Mic. 4.1-5). As believers go among and converse with our unbelieving neighbors, as we work with them, and share in community life together, the hope we have in Jesus Christ, which we live in obedience to God’s Law, will provoke many to want the benefits of such wisdom and understanding for their own lives (1 Pet. 3.15; Mic. 4.1-5).
Translated into the public arena, policy-makers will be much more inclined to consider statutes based in or reflective of the spirit of God’s Law as they see the benefits to society of following such a course. Lawmakers already know that society benefits when honesty and fairness define the terms of commerce and trade, when private property is safeguarded, people’s lives are protected against violence, and the poor are helped and cared for in positive and constructive ways. But such practices exist in American public policy today because, as we have seen, they were inscribed there from the beginning or subsequently adopted by men and women who lived them as a reflection of their understanding of the spirit of God’s Law.
For the Law of God thus to attract people—leading them to understand and embrace ideas of goodness, justice, and wisdom consistent with the mind and will of God—it will be essential that Christians live and teach the Law as dutiful citizens of the Kingdom of God (Matt. 5.17-19; 1 Jn. 2.1-6). Peter says if we suffer as believers because we live holy lives, then this is a reason to glorify God (1 Pet. 4.12-16). But how shall believers be made fit for such lives? Peter responds “the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God” (v. 17).
From the house of God
I am not unaware that this passage is usually translated “at” or “with” the house or household of God. But the preposition is ἀπὸ,apo—"from”, or “by means of”, not “at” or “with.” The work of bringing God’s holy and righteous and good Law to men and nations begins from the household of God, within it, among its members, where the followers of Jesus Christ are diligent in learning, obeying, and teaching the Law of God, in the first instance, among themselves. When all our daily judgments—choices, decisions, actions—line up with the judgment of God’s Law, then we will be in a position to show the wisdom of God to our world.
In the Kingdom of God good works are no less a part of our mission than good words. Believers have been redeemed for good works (Eph. 2.8-10); we are not to grow weary in seeking to perform good works (Gal. 6.1-10); indeed, we are to be very zealous to learn and do every good work (Tit. 3.1, 8, 14). By our good works we draw attention to our good God and cause others to discover their own sins and to seek the favor of the Lord. And our good works are defined, in the first place, by the holy and righteous and good Law of God, ordained from of old (Rom. 7.12; Eph. 2.10).
It is thus crucial that we and our churches take up the task of learning and living according to the Law of God, not as a way of becoming saved, but as a way of being saved, of knowing and enjoying the benefits of God’s promises, of increasing in love for Him and our neighbors, and of showing His wisdom to the world.
There is no excuse for churches ignoring, minimizing, neglecting, or otherwise failing to treat the Law of God with the reverence and respect it demands. It is time for judgment, which is only the application of God’s Law to every aspect of human life, to begin from within the household of faith. As we learn, live, and teach the Law among ourselves, performing all the Law requires, we will be better able to persuade our unbelieving neighbors, and the governments that rule us, to incorporate the spirit of God’s Law in their public policies.
1. What can you do to bring more focus on performing God’s Law into your walk with the Lord?
2. What role does the Law of God play in the life of your church?
3. What can we expect if we continue to neglect the holy and righteous and good Law of God?
Next steps—Transformation: What will you begin to do to make learning and performing the Law of God a more central aspect of your walk with and work for Him?
T. M. Moore
What is the place of the Law of God in the Christian’s life? Our book, The Ground for Christian Ethics, answers this question and shows us again why Jesus taught us that keeping the Law is an indispensable part of our calling in God’s Kingdom. Order your free copy of The Ground for Christian Ethics by clicking here.
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