There are really only two ways to see the world. Either the world and all that is in it has been created by God and therefore is under his sovereign power and authority, or there is no God and therefore all that is in the world is exists merely by cosmic chance and has no particular meaning or function at all. In the second scenario, a Godless world, the position of Ultimate Authority is up for grabs. If God does not already possess that role, then by necessity someone else will. In a world that rejects God, who calls the shots?
The answer to that question is not hypothetical. History has repeatedly shown us, including much of recent history—and by “recent history” I mean the last 22 months or so. When the authority of God is not acknowledged, the authority of man attempts to fill those shoes. A humanity apart from God is akin to a pack of dogs fighting over a piece of meat. The biggest dog gets the meat, and likewise the most powerful leaders get the throne. Put simply, a government that refuses to acknowledge the God above by necessity has a God-complex. Godless political theories have existed for thousands of years, and they exist to this very day.
The founders of both Canada and the United States understood this. They knew that a secular government inevitably drifts toward a God-complex. If there is no God, then the State itself becomes the functioning god.
Consider an illustration. The opening preamble to the Canadian Bill of Rights states:
“The Parliament of Canada, affirming that the Canadian Nation is founded upon principles that acknowledge the supremacy of God, the dignity and worth of the human person and the position of the family in a society of free men and free institutions;
Affirming also that men and institutions remain free only when freedom is founded upon respect for moral and spiritual values and the rule of law;
And being desirous of enshrining these principles and the human rights and fundamental freedoms derived from them, in a Bill of Rights which shall reflect the respect of Parliament for its constitutional authority and which shall ensure the protection of these rights and freedoms in Canada:“
In other words, the founding of Canadian rights were based on the “spiritual values” of the “supremacy of God”, and such rights are “derived” from these realities. Therefore, these rights and freedoms require “protection” by Parliament. Notice that our rights are protected by the government, not created by it. Our rights, so says our own Constitution, come from God and according spiritual truths. This is precisely correct. If the supremacy and authority of God is not acknowledged, human rights have no transcendent grounding. They are simply made-up by governing authorities and, therefore, can be un-made-up just as readily. After all, who is to stop them?
The American Declaration of Independence is even more clear and explicit in this regard:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”
Again, notice that rights come from God and are to be protected by the government. They have their origin in the Creator, not in the opinion of any governing body.
What then would happen, say, if a country were to largely reject the notion of a Creator? Since these documents correctly ground the existence of human rights in God, a rejection of God would result in human rights without grounding. At best, a government could attempt to keep those rights alive without acknowledging where they come from. But that is pretty shaky ground, no?
If God is not the Ultimate Authority, then the State will be. In fact, many political philosophies not only recognize this but actively desire it. A few hundred years ago, G.H.F. Hegel famously wrote “The state is the Divine Idea as it exists on earth.” Authoritarians who reject the authority of God by default make a god of the State. The State becomes the highest authority in the land, taking over the responsibilities that belong to God alone.
In his collection of writings The Prison Notebooks, Marxist Antonio Gramsci says, “Socialism is precisely the religion that must kill Christianity. [It is a] religion in the sense that it too is a faith … [and] because it has substituted for the consciousness of the transcendental God of the Catholics, trust in man and his best strengths as the sole spiritual reality.” Put differently, Gramsci and others like him are intentionally trying to replace faith in God with faith in the power of man, which results in a God-like political State. They see faith in God and an authoritarian State as competing opposites.
So what we have at work here are two forces colliding together. On the one hand, you have power-hungry leaders and politicians who have a God-complex and believe they are the chosen ones to dictate social life that will lead to utopia. If only their policies are in place, everything would be great. On the other end, you have a population that no longer trusts in God to take care of their needs, and therefore believe it is up to man to solve all of our own problems. These two desires—the State’s desire to be a god, and the people’s desire to be saved by a god—collide to create a government with a God-complex. The people are seeking a powerful force to help them, and the leaders are more than pleased to take on that role.
This is why many people seem not only to lack fear for an authoritarian State, but actively cheer it on. They are cheering for their god. The State, in their minds, is a Saviour. The all-powerful State will enact justice, right all wrongdoing, teach, correct, discipline, and generally solve all of the problems that plague mankind, ultimately ushering in some sort of a utopia where we all run through the hills singing the Sound of Music. And Godless, power-hungry leaders are more than happy to take those reigns from the public and run with them.
Canadians, behold your country. Canada is not a God-fearing country, and hasn’t been for a long time. Not only has our Godlessness given birth to secular humanism, that baby is all grown up now and strong enough to wreak some real havoc. A government with a God-complex is a dangerous thing. When leaders feel like they are at the top of the power rung, and not under the authority of a God to whom they must give an account, massive amounts of power combine with an ego-driven sinful nature to make one potent cocktail.
None of this should be surprising, of course. The Bible does say, after all, that “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). God never promised that governments would humbly submit to him, or that politicians would flee from idolatry. No, I’m not wringing my hands in angst over these things, and neither should you. Not ultimately, anyways.
Our ultimate hope is in the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. Our hope is in the King of kings and Lord of lords, even if our earthly kings and lords don’t realize they have an authority over them. We place our truth in the sovereign God of the universe who is in control of all things, and works them out according to his good pleasure.
But we can do two things simultaneously, can we not? We can put our ultimate hope in God and we can seek revival in the here and now. We can pray for our leaders. We can vote for those who will uphold righteousness. We can aim to sway public policy, educate our children in the way of the Lord, build strong Bible-teaching churches, and share the gospel of Christ with anyone who will hear it. Yes, we can and should do these things as well.
The moment we are living in is significant. Canada needs God, and the more we reject him, the more we will empower the State who refuses to acknowledge him. A State that rejects God as the highest source of truth and righteousness is ripe for human misery. Let our prayers echo what Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come”.
- Human authority is not bad in and of itself
- God has ultimate authority
- He has delegated some authority to human governments
- Human governments serve God and people by enforcing a righteous moral law
- Christians should generally be submissive and obey human governments
The word “generally” in that last point is the kicker. Although Scripture calls on believers to submit to human government (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:13-17), the very same Bible also lays out many cases where God’s people were disobedient to human government and commended by God for doing so. Are these principles in contradiction?
Certainly not. This is because human government carries limited authority. Their authority is not absolute. The only absolute authority in the universe belongs to God. The government is not God and is subject to him. Thus, when we see cases of civil disobedience in Scripture, what we find are instances where obedience to the government and obedience to God conflict. These are situations where obedience to God must take precedence.
To some extent, even secular people recognize that human laws are sometimes unjust. Simply because a law exists does not mean the law is morally right. Virtually all people recognize that there is a transcendent moral law that exists above and beyond earthly laws. We can look at a government edict and say “that’s wrong”, and when we do, we are appealing to some standard of right and wrong which is supreme over human opinion. Secular people have nothing in their worldview to support this action other than personal preferences. Those who believe in the existence of God ground their judgment in the transcendent nature of a supreme law-giver.
Because human government is comprised of sinful man, it is bound to get things wrong. If man were perfect, then the law would be perfect. If only it were so! But since moral perfection belongs to God alone, we must judge human government according to the standards of God. God’s standards are revealed in his law, expressed in the Bible. Jesus himself prays to the Father and says “your word is truth” (John 17:17). 2 Timothy 2:15 tells us the Bible is “the word of truth”. This is consistent with the Christian worldview and virtually all Christians would affirm this reality.
Since Romans 13:1-7 tells us that God has given the government authority on earth to “bring punishment on the wrongdoer”, the government must first assert what is considered morally right or wrong. Western nations were largely founded under the influence of Christianity, and thus their original law was loosely based on the ten commandments, as well as the general thrust of Scripture. Even though nations like Canada and the United States explicitly refer to some of these concepts in their founding documents, the government has strayed a long ways away from this moral foundation. The secularization of culture has led to a secularization of government (or maybe the other way around?). As such, laws of the land are increasingly based on personal preference, ideology, ungodly moralistic thinking, popular opinion, and human philosophy.
The result is that some government laws will end up reflecting ungodly morality. When this happens, the government betrays their God-given role of punishing wrongdoers and instead uses their sword to punish those who do right. Again, I speak here of right and wrong according to biblical morality. What should a Christian do when the government inevitably falls into this trap?
The prophet Isaiah spoke of such things. In Isaiah 5:20 he says “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” Likewise, in 10:1 he says “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees”. There is nothing new under the sun. History is rife with governments gone awry through mixing up good and evil and overreaching on their authority. Therefore it should not surprise us that Scripture has quite a bit to say about this issue.
An Important Distinction
It is imperative that we do not call everything that the government does wrong “tyrannical” or “immoral”. Sometimes government errors do not constitute wickedness but rather ineptitude or inconvenience.
Consider the command of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles” (Matthew 5:41). Historians have noted that this verse refers to the practice of Roman soldiers forcing civilians to serve as a guide (helping them navigate an unfamiliar area) or a porter (carrying supplies on their behalf). Evidently, this law could be applied arbitrarily for a distance up to one Roman mile (something like 1,000 paces). We see a biblical instance of this law in action when Simon of Cyrene is forced to carry the cross of Christ to the place of crucifixion (Matthew 27:32).
An objective look at this law would raise some reasonable questions. Is it fair for Roman soldiers to interfere in civilian life in such a manner? Since this was not an act of punishment for lawbreakers, isn’t it a rather trivial law? Isn’t the application of this law far too discretionary? Is it right to inconvenience a law-abiding citizen who might have other worthy tasks to attend to?
Jesus, no doubt, would have been familiar with these complaints. And yet his command to his followers is not only to obey this law, but voluntarily go over and above. The modern phrase “go the extra mile” comes directly from Jesus’s admonition to serve a commanding solider for twice what is expected of you—literally to go the extra mile.
This tells us that Jesus does see a distinction between tyranny and triviality, between injustice and inconvenience. We should be very slow to resist a law simply because we don’t like it. Disagreeing with a government law is not the same as it being immoral or worthy of disobedience. Such distinctions must be made carefully. The general thrust of Scripture is that believers are to be obedient to the law and even be those who go above and beyond in order to serve others. This should be our overall demeanour even if some laws don’t align with our personal preferences.
Some laws, however, go beyond a difference of opinion to the point of being immoral or unjust. I have heard Christians describe our response to such instances this way: “We have a duty to disobey when commanded to do something God forbids or forbidden from doing something God commands.” The apostles of the New Testament put it this way: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). If obedience to the law causes us to sin against God, obedience to God’s law trumps obedience to human law. In those cases, civil disobedience is our moral duty.
Possible Responses to Government Tyranny
What might resistance to unjust laws look like? The Bible gives us many examples. Although there is no detailed procedure laid out in Scripture, I have listed these out in the order that makes the most sense to me.
Don’t skip reading this one. Our first and most important response is to call upon God for help. Sometimes Christians think “yeah yeah, I already know that one. Give me something practical to do!” Prayer is practical. Prayer is powerful. The Bible tells us specifically to pray for leaders and those in authority over us. 1 Timothy 2:1-2 tells us “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” Believers should be in prayer for their government leaders every day. It is God, after all, who can change the human heart. Proverbs 21:1 “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.” God changed the heart of other human authorities in the past (Daniel 4). He can certainly do it again!
Prayer also helps us to gain necessary wisdom and courage. We need wisdom to discern between our personal disdain for a law and it being unjust according to God’s standards of righteousness. We also need wisdom to know the proper way to respond to unjust laws. And lastly, we need courage to take a stand when the situation demands it.
Unjust rulers can be removed from power using the legal means of voting. Though the modern democratic form of voting is not known in Scriptural times, a somewhat similar procedure is used in Deuteronomy 1:9-15 where leaders are chosen from among the people to lead the people. Unjust laws can be reversed by changing those in power over the law-making process. Though the Bible does not command believers to vote (and thus abstaining is not a sin), it does seem generally like a wise thing to do. Christians should prayerfully consider which candidates would best uphold a righteous rule of law and then support them through voting.
Access to policy-makers is not always as direct as one would hope, but often there are means to communicate directly with those in authority. For instance, during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, I wrote to the Ontario Premiers office through their official website, as well as to the regional health unit using the contact information on their website. Since these offices held direct influence over varying public health mandates, and there was a line of communication available to me, I wanted to share with them any concerns I had over their approach.
This type of action is modelled in Scripture by Moses who directly appeals to Pharaoh to release the enslaved people of God (Exodus 5:1). The persecution of the Israelites under Pharaoh’s rule was in contradiction to the will of God, and the first step to correcting this wrong was the commissioning of Moses to go directly to the man in charge. The rest of the story, we know, involves God’s personal intervention to free his people. But we should not overlook the human method used by Moses which involved a direct appeal to an unjust ruler to change their mind.
Appeal to Lesser Magistrates
Since human government has various levels of power, unjust or immoral laws can come from a variety of levels of authority. When such a law comes from a high level of power, lower levels of government (aka “lesser magistrates”) have the opportunity to resist it. They would take this action because, by enforcing an immoral law, they too would become complicit in immorality. It is the brave duty of lesser magistrates to stand up for the people under their care and resist unjust authority that comes from above them.
Again, examples of this could be seen during the COVID-19 pandemic. When Ontario officials gave the go ahead to police to stop vehicles at random and question civilians as to why they were not home, police forces across the country refused to enforce the edict. As a result, the edict was rescinded. Many examples of this kind of resistance from lesser magistrates could be given. It is perfectly acceptable for citizens to appeal to lesser magistrates regarding unjust laws in the hopes that they will stand in the gap for them.
A Scriptural example of this procedure can be found in Daniel 1. After the Babylonians conquered Israel, some of the finest young men were chosen to serve in king’s palace. They were to be given a portion of the royal food by decree of the king. Daniel “resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way” (1:8). The chief official initially hesitated to grant this request, but eventually made a compromise to do so. The lesser magistrate overrode the decree of the greater authority in order to protect the conscience of an individual. Similar actions can be taken in other scenarios as well.
Virtually all legal systems contain forms of checks and balances. One form of legal appeal is through the court of law. A law may be challenged in court through a filed suit, following the legal process outlined. For example, when Grace Community Church continued in-person services in contravention of California lowdown mandates, the case went to the courts. The church eventually won a lawsuit against the State of California and were awarded an $800,000 settlement to cover their legal fees. Such an appeal is an example of the kind of legal options that are available in the case of unjust laws.
The apostle Paul on at least one occasion used legal means to appeal unjust actions against him. In Acts 22:22-30, Paul appealed to his legal rights as a Roman citizen to escape being flogged and earn a hearing before the Sanhedrin. The series of events cover several chapters, where Paul’s case goes up the chain of command to Felix, then Festus, and eventually to king Agrippa (chapters 22-26). This entire process was following the legal procedures available to Paul under his rights of Roman citizenship.
Legal options are available to those who believe their rights are being trampled on by others, including by the government itself. Believers should not shy away of making use of these rights just as the apostle Paul didn’t shy away from using his. This does not make someone a contentious person or one who is not submitting to government. Rather, using the legal process available is a form of submission to the government even if it ends up challenging their own authority. It is a “legal appeal” after all. While Christians should not be challenging each other in court (1 Corinthians 6:1-8), they are free to challenge ungodly authority in court the way Paul modelled.
By “prophetic confrontation” I have in mind a direct moral challenge to the actions of a tyrant. This is similar to the “direct appeal” method although I do see one distinction. The direct appeal intends to challenge a ruler over a specific law they oversee, whie the prophetic confrontation method challenges the personal actions of a ruler.
Consider a few Scriptural examples. In 2 Samuel 12, the prophet Nathan confronts king David for his actions of adultery and murder. It is not exactly a national decree that is being challenged; rather it is the ungodly conduct of the king himself. Because of that confrontation, David repented for his sin. In a similar fashion, John the baptist confronted king Herod for his adultery, as Herod was sleeping with his brother’s wife (Mark 6:18). The outcome in this instance is quite different. Though Herod believed John to be a holy man and therefore feared to hurt him, he was eventually tricked into having John beheaded.
I believe these examples permit God’s people to confront and challenge immoral conduct from governing authorities. In some instances, immoral conduct warrants action against a leader, through methods like impeachment or recall. At the very least, it certainly demonstrates that while those in authority are worthy of respect and honour, they are not above criticism. Both private and public criticism are valid means of challenging ungodly leadership when such criticism is warranted.
When obedience to human authority leads one to disobey God, defying human authority is a moral duty. Our ultimate allegiance is to God and not the state. The above paragraphs reveal that dissenters have many options on the table when it comes to dealing with unjust rulers and laws. When all else fails, defying an unjust law is necessary.
We celebrate some modern-day heroes for this very reason. We champion the likes of Martin Luther King Junior, Rosa Parks, and Corrie Ten Boom for refusing to do what they were told. They understood that just because something is law does not make it moral. Right and wrong are determined by God.
Scripture has many examples of godly men and women defying ungodly human leadership. In Exodus 1:15-22, Pharaoh demands that the Hebrew midwives kill every baby born to the Israelites that is male. The midwives however “feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live.” They feared God enough to disobey an immoral command.
In Daniel 3, king Nebuchadnezzar builds a giant golden statue in his likeness and demands that everyone in the region bow down and worship it. Those who do not will be burned alive in a fiery furnace. Recognizing it as wicked idolatry, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse. They say “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (v 17-18). They were right to disobey.
Later in Daniel chapter 6, Darius the king sends out an edict that all in his kingdom are to pray only to him. Again, realizing this as gross idolatry, Daniel refuses. He continues to pray to God as he had previously done. As punishment, Daniel is thrown into the lions den.
In Acts chapter 4, Peter and John are questioned by the Sanhedrin for their public preaching about Christ. When they are charged to stop doing this, they refuse. “Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, ‘Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard'” (v 18-20).
Just one chapter later, they are again arrested and questioned by the Sanhedrin with a very similar outcome. They are reminded that they had been charged to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. Once again the apostles refuse to comply, stating “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29).
These biblical examples, among others, verify that there are times and places to defy governing authorities. Again, if following human law causes you to sin against God, we have no other choice but to engage in civil disobedience. Christian history is rich with examples of God’s people standing up to tyranny when the need arises, often at risk of great persecution or death. Even now, believers all over the world continue to study God’s word and sing his praises in defiance of governing laws. They are right to do so and should be commended by other believers for it. Indeed God does and will commend them.
One final option for the believer is to flee tyranny. Sometimes this is the best option. This was, after all, the way the life of young Jesus was spared from certain death. In Matthew 2:13-15, Herod became jealous that magi had come from the East to worship the Christ. In an effort to protect his throne, he decreed that all boys aged 2 and under be put to death in the region of Bethlehem. Having been warned by God of this plot in a dream, Joseph, Mary, and little Jesus secretly fled to Egypt.
Early in the life of the Church, persecution arose against believers. The religious leaders in Jerusalem had Stephen stoned to death in the public square. Acts 8:1 tells us “On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.” As you can see, most of God’s people fled for their lives.
Another example comes to mind. Acts 9:23-25 records the apostle Paul (formerly Saul) fleeing a plot on his life: “After many days had gone by, there was a conspiracy among the Jews to kill him, but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.”
Jesus also spoke of a time when Christians will need to flee intense persecution (Luke 21:21, Mark 13:14, Matthew 24:16). The book of James is written “to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations” (James 1:1). Likewise, the epistle of 1 Peter is written “to God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces” (1:1). Although we are not commanded to flee any and all persecution (indeed that would be both impossible and undesirable), it is a valid option on the table.
Historically, countries like the United States and Canada have been places of refuge for those fleeing government tyranny. Increasingly it seems that even those within the US and Canada are seeking refuge in specific states or provinces that maximize personal freedoms. There is nothing inherently wrong with relocation to a district that is governed more justly than another, so long as it is done prayerfully and in good conscience.
The government’s role is to apply God’s standards of righteousness to the law of a given region. They are given the sword by God to punish wrongdoers. Sometimes the government will abuse its power and use the sword to punish those who do right and reward those who do wrong. When such a situation arises, the Bible reveals that Christians have a variety of tools at their disposal to respond to a corrupt government. These options must be weighed carefully and be driven by prayer, devotion to God, and love for neighbour. Ultimately we know that God is in control and his own purposes will prevail.
I would remind you of the verses from Isaiah quoted earlier in this article. Isaiah cries “woe” to those who mislabel good for evil and evil for good. He cries “woe” to the one who is “unjust” and issues “oppressive decrees”. It is a biblical way of warning “heads up!” to those who do such things. God is watching. If the biblical story shows us anything, it is that God judges nations that defy him. In God’s own ways and in God’s own time, he thwarts the plans of man and brings to nothing the nations that reject him. Nevertheless, there is hope for those who repent and call out to God for deliverance.
2 Chronicles 7:14 If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
To those who know me, it is no secret that I have been very critical of the Canadian and Ontario government over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. By and large, I stand behind those criticisms. But I was challenged recently by a conversation with other believers that left me feeling like I was unintentionally giving off the wrong impression. It seems that my criticisms were leading some to believe that is the only thing I think about the government. Even worse, some may have gotten the impression this is the sum total of the Christian view of government. Neither is true. There are many things about the government for which I am incredibly grateful, and for which Scripture validates that gratitude. In a desire to correct and better articulate a biblical vantage point, this article will be in celebration of God’s gift of government, as Scripture reveals we should do.
If you read my last post, you’ll already know that human authority exists because it has been given to us by God. Humans do not have any innate authority over one another. Instead, the source of human authority is God himself. This delegation of God’s authority to mankind is meant to help keep an ordered and just society. The Bible testifies to this fact again and again. As I had quoted, Jesus himself said to Pilate “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above” (John 19:11). Jesus acknowledged that, humanly speaking, Pilate did have power over him. This power was given to him by God in his role as governor of Judaea. Jesus here is affirming what other Scriptures teach, which is that human governments indeed do have authority because it is granted to them by God. This, of course, does not always mean they use their authority in a way that God would have them. More on that later.
Let’s look at one of the most central passages on this topic, that being Romans 13:1-7. I will quote it at length first.
“1Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. 6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.“
I will try to walk through a few of the key principles this passages teaches us about human government. This is not meant to highlight every point, but the major ones for my purposes in this article.
Principle #1 – Human government is established by God. This point is actually mentioned three times in the first two verses. Human government is part of God’s plan for life on earth. This reality does not undermine the fact that God himself is Lord of the universe (Psalm 103:19). His rulership is ultimate. Human rulership is not. This, we will see later, does have some practical consequences. But the fact that God is King does not mean that human government has no business existing at all. That would be a false and unscriptural conclusion. Rather, human government functions (or at least is supposed to function) as an extension of God’s rule over the earth.
Principle #2 – Human government is meant to serve God. Three times the government is labeled as “God’s servant”. Again, this means their authority is not ultimate or innate. Rather it is limited and delegated to them. Human government may rule over people, but it is simultaneously ruled over by God. It is intended to serve God and his purposes for mankind. Anyone who is still awake at this point will recognize that this is often not the case. Governments often do not pursue God’s purposes. But again, the fact that human government is flawed does not mean it should cease to exist altogether. We should aim to bring it into conformity with God’s purposes instead of preferring to disband it altogether.
Principle #3 – Human government is for our good. The alternative to organized government is essentially anarchy, each person living as they wish. This may sound great, but only if one forgets what Scripture teaches about human nature. The Bible over and over again reminds us that people are evil. The evil that exists in our hearts causes us to sin, and sin hurts God, others, and ourselves. There are essentially two forces that resist sin and evil in the world (and in you and I as well). The first is spiritual. God has given us a conscience that helps us to resist sin, and he has given his Holy Spirit to convict and change us from the inside out. The second force is external pressure. Put differently, society has punishments for wrongdoers. Those who murder, rape, and steal will face the consequences of the law. Penal law is meant to deter the acts of evil in society. A person’s desire may be to commit sin, but they are more likely to hesitate or refrain altogether for fear of punishment. This fear of punishment makes society a better place to live because it restrains some of the evil that would otherwise run rampant. This is what the Bible means when it says the government is for our good.
Principle #4 – The government rules through force. Verse 4, “if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” Why has God handed the government a sword? So that they can execute justice by force on wrongdoers. The sword forces compliance. In modern day, this is the reason why law enforcement officers carry weapons and firearms. This is the reason jail cells are locked. The law is not meant to be mere suggestions; they are commands. Those who are tempted to break the law are brought into conformity through the threat of force and those who do break the law are punished through acts of force. This is part of God’s plan for human government.
A Quick Interlude
Before I get to my fifth and final principle, I want to pause here and reflect on God’s good gift of government. Everything up to this point demonstrates in a very tangible way God’s love towards his creatures. God wants to see life on earth flourish. He wants to see the spread of evil slowed and justice executed for those who have been wronged. This is a wonderful and glorious thing.
In a thousand ways, I am incredibly grateful for the government. I am grateful for rights as a Canadian citizen. I am grateful for freedom. I am grateful for the rule of law. I am grateful for those who have risked their lives to defend our country. I am grateful for police officers who aim to serve and protect their communities even in the midst of personal danger. I am grateful for the ability to vote. I am grateful for the judicial system which aims to carry out the law of the land as best as they can. I’m grateful for these and many other things which make my life better, not worse. I’m grateful that, even though none of these duties are carried out perfectly, they are better as imperfect gifts than the alternative of a wholly chaotic and mob-ruled society. God’s gift of government, on the whole, is a good thing and we should thank him for it.
Principle #5 – The government’s purpose is to punish wrong and commend right. God’s purpose for government is inherently a moral one. The primary function (sole function perhaps?) of human government is the enforcement of a moral code of law in society. Those who do what is right are commended. Those who do wrong are punished. This seems simple enough.
But is it so simple? The thoughtful reader should have alarm bells going off in their heads at this point. If the government exists to punish the wrong and commend the right, the questions beg to be asked: who determines what is wrong or right? What is the source of the moral code which instructs civil laws? And what happens when a government gets this wrong? Is it still our duty to obey them?
These are extremely legitimate questions. I will be tackling them in future blog posts. But before we dive too deeply into them, I first want to challenge the reader not to see the legitimacy of these questions as reason to hate the government on principle. To do so would be to despise what God has given as a good gift. Living under a government that enforces a wrong moral code should be loathed, but not because the government exists per se, but rather because they have abdicated their responsibility as servants of God. The response should be to bring about reform, not do away with government altogether.
Remember that the author who penned Romans 13 is Paul the apostle, who wrote this letter to Christians living in Rome. Rome! Those who know their history will recognize that Roman rulership was not kind to Christians. Believers were often heavily persecuted by the Romans, who undeniably were an unjust, power-hungry, bloodthirsty, tyrannical government regime. It is to these believers Paul pens his letter, telling them to be submissive to the Romans and see them as servants of God.
It would be enough to make your head spin, if one weren’t careful. I say this because it is not fair to say that Paul desired believers to only see the Romans in this way. Rather, they are instructed to see human government this way in general. There are absolutely times and places where a different perspective is called for. But why can I say this, if this passage clearly calls us to honour and obey human government? Because it is equally true that Scripture also calls us to obey God, and that Scripture teaches that human authority is not absolute but rather delegated from God. This returns us to the questions raised earlier concerning what we are to do when human governments go awry. How should we respond to unjust human governments? I will seek to answer that question in the next post.
If the era of COVID has taught us anything, it is that people are terrified of death. We already knew this, of course, but the pandemic thrust our mortality into the limelight in a way that we aren’t normally confronted with. Much of our culture has sanitized death to the point that we largely ignore it. Sure, we all know that we will die one day, but we don’t really like to think about it very much. When that reality becomes inescapable, we panic, because we are—pun intended—scared to death of death.
Why are we so afraid to die? I’m sure there are many layers of answers to this question. We are afraid to leave those we care about. We are afraid that we will be forgotten. Probably most of all we are afraid of the unknown. What is death like? Will it be painful? Will it be blissful? Is it the end of us? Is there something on “the other side”?
The fear of death is very natural. I would go as far as to say it is God-given. It is God-given in at least two senses. Firstly, we fear death because it contradicts the way humans were created. We were created by God to live, not to die. The creation account in Genesis describes a world where death does not exist—only life. I believe part of the reason we fear death (or at least resist it) is because it is a reflection of the human impulse to live forever, as God designed us to do.
There is, however, a second reason that fear of death is natural. Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us that God has “set eternity in the human heart”. I take this to mean not only that we yearn for eternal life, but also that deep down we know it exists. In our heart of hearts we know that death is not the end, but rather the transition into the next life where we will meet God face to face. The reality of meeting God face to face is scary, and rightly so. Hebrews 10:31 tells us that “it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
We anticipate that meeting God is dreadful because we know that no pretence will save us then. God will be there whether we believed it or not. God will exist as he really does, not as we thought he exists. And God will judge us according to who and what we really are, not who or what we pretend to be. Hebrews 4:13, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” Deep down we know this is the case, and it terrifies us.
It terrifies us because it should terrify us. We are afraid to die because we are afraid to face God. In life we use convenient phrases like “no one’s perfect” or “we’re all a work in progress” to deflect guilt from ourselves for our own failings. We appreciate that they are, for the most part, culturally-accepted reasons to live with our flaws. But will that attitude fly with God?
The answer is no. The message of Scripture is clear and straightforward: “Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). These words, spoken by Jesus himself, summarize God’s command to the world. We must repent for our sin and believe in the saving grace of Christ. The word “repent” means to “turn around”. It implies that humanity is going in the wrong direction at present. The way we are going is the path of self-autonomy. We want to reject God’s rulership in our lives and become our own gods. This is the fundamental sin of us all, the sin that is under every other sin. This prideful rebellion against the reign of God in our lives has put us at odds with our Creator. We have made ourselves his enemy. Therefore we must repent.
But if we are to turn away from sinful rebellion, what are we turning to? Jesus said it himself, “the gospel”. The gospel, which literally means “good news”, is that God forgives sinners like you and I. He offers this as a free gift of grace that we receive by faith. We don’t earn God’s forgiveness through good deeds. Rather it is free for the taking to all who trust in Christ as their only hope. You cannot put your hope in yourself because you are not righteous. Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world. 1 Peter 3:18 says “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”
Our relationship with God is restored through the gospel. No longer do we need to dread seeing God face to face. Rather, we can actually look forward to and long for that day, because we have been made right with God and have nothing to fear. All who have repented of their sin and trusted Christ as Saviour and Lord do not need to fear death. Philippians 1:22 tells us that “to die is gain” for the believer. Death is an upgrade for the Christian. It is to leave the suffering of this world for an eternal future of blessing with God. For those who are still in their sins, death is not gain. It is to fall under God’s righteous condemnation for eternity. That is what we fear about death. But it need not be that way.
I am going to die. You are going to die. We all will. The sooner we face that reality, the better. And the sooner we actually deal with it, the better. I have chosen to obey the call of Jesus to repent and believe the gospel. Because of that, the fear of death does not control me. But this world is crippled by fear of death. The world needs a hope beyond the human measures we can take to stave off the inevitable. You can prolong your life many ways, but you can never secure it forever—not through human means, at least. But God does offer eternal life for sinners who repent and believe in him. In that there is an unshakable hope that no trouble of this life can upset.
John 3:16-18 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”
People think in terms of categories. We can’t help it; it’s part of human nature. Categories help us to organize the world in a way that makes sense and allows us to (hopefully) make useful decisions within that framework. Because our minds tend to work this way, we categorize not only things or events but also people. One of the primary ways we categorize people is morally, along some kind of good-bad spectrum.
Put simply, we tend to think that there are good people in the world and bad people in the world. Most people, I think, would likely place the majority of the human population into the “good” category and leave the “bad” label for individuals who seem particularly deserving: murderers, rapists, extortioners, racists, and the like. I think it is also true that the average person would tend to put themselves in the “good” person category. This good-bad spectrum probably places someone like Mother Theresa on one end and Adolph Hitler on the other. Everyone else falls somewhere in between. Yet even on this ranging spectrum, in our heads we still put a line somewhere that crosses over from the good side to the bad side. There might be a handful of people we’re not sure which side they belong on, but most everyone else we can deduce pretty quickly. The million dollar question is: where do you draw the line? How can you know if someone is a good person or a bad person, objectively?
It may not be exact, but this basic structure exists in the mind of every person because every person has a worldview. It doesn’t matter what your worldview is, you apply it to the people around you, knowingly or not. All of us have some sort of concept of what traits are ideal in human beings, and then we assess other people based on how they line up to those ideals. This is true for both secular people and religious people.
Try not to overthink it. If someone were to ask you, “Do you consider yourself a good person?” immediately your mind would develop some kind of idea of what a good person would be like (either something you’ve hashed out before or here on the spot) and then you’d evaluate to see if you meet those qualifications. What I am asking you to ponder is, how do you know where to place the line? What qualities would make someone good or bad? How you answer these questions changes a lot about how you interact with others and orient yourself in the world.
I raise this issue not only because it is fundamental to how we live our lives, but also because I think most of us think about this issue in completely the wrong way. Most of us place the line somewhere in the middle of humanity and either put most people on the bad side (if you’re more cynical about the human condition) or most people on the good side (if you’re the average person living in the 21st century). And unless you have some serious regrets about your past, you probably consider yourself to be a good person.
But what if you’re completely wrong? What if this whole way of thinking about morality is off-base? Here’s the thing—from a Christian perspective, this way of thinking is wrong by a country mile.
According to the Bible, the line between good people and bad people is placed directly in between morally perfect and morally imperfect. Jesus says in Matthew 5:48 “you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect”. The dividing line is perfection. This means that our assumption about where the line should be is likely wrong by a long shot. Almost no one considers literal moral perfection to be the definition of a good person. We all assume that people can still have flaws and be a good person. After all, we say, “no one’s perfect”. But this is not at all how God thinks about this issue.
To further illustrate, consider the assessment of humanity from Romans 3:23, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. What this passage teaches us is that every person on the planet “falls short” of the standard God holds us to because of our sin. Thus, from God’s vantage point, the entire human race is on the “bad” side of the line. This would further be proven by the words of Jesus in Mark 10:18, “no one is good except God alone.” What this reveals is that the way God sees the world has every person on the “bad” side and God alone on the “good” side. Even though we may not see it this way, this is true assessment of how things really are.
The implications are significant. The Bible is challenging your own self-evaluation that you are a good person and saying, in fact, that you are not a good person. It says this not only of you but everyone else as well. If this is true, and God alone is good, it should greatly alter the way we see ourselves and others around us!
In fact, this is the foundation of the Christian worldview. The starting point of the Christian faith is the sinfulness of man and the holiness of God. We are bad, God is good. And because God is ultimately the One who will judge us in the end, he has given us indication ahead of time that we’re in a lot of trouble. He won’t declare us good, even if we think we are. He will declare us sinners who have fallen short of his standard for our lives and held accountable for our wrongdoing.
This is why Christians put such emphasis on sin. It reveals the perilous situation in which we find ourselves. It is also why Christians put such emphasis on Jesus as our Saviour, because it reveals our only hope for resolution. We can’t move from the bad side of the line to the good, because we’ve already sinned and can’t undo it. But what we can do is have our sins forgiven. In other words, we can’t become good people but we can become forgiven people. These are not the same thing but they are the difference between self-righteous religion and true Christianity.
Several things happen when we think this way, in accordance with the truth:
- We don’t think of ourselves as better than anyone else.
- We recognize that the forgiveness that God offers through Jesus is absolutely essential and our only hope.
- We will reject philosophies that encourage us to think in terms of a “us=good, them=bad” mentality.
As I see it, all three of these are current problems that need overcoming.
Firstly, human pride is rampant. This is not unique to anyone in particular, but all people tend to gravitate towards this viewpoint. We like to elevate ourselves at the expense of others. We tend to think if we were in charge, things would go better. We think the people around us are stupid, lazy, or not as capable as we are. This kind of thinking is poison to the soul and the Bible teaches that those who think this way will be condemned by God (Luke 18:9-14).
Second, forgiveness is our greatest human need, not self-improvement. All secular philosophies and non-Christian religions offer some variation of self-improvement designed to bring us into the “good” side and maybe even shoot us past other less-good people. This is a fools errand because, as Scripture noted earlier, we all “fall short” of who we are supposed to be. No amount of self-improvement will make a person acceptable in the eyes of God. Perfection is the only standard and is an unattainable one. Therefore, the person who realizes this truth will be quick to seek God’s forgiveness rather than pursue the futile path of self-improvement.
Thirdly, the typically-used good-bad spectrum wreaks havoc in our personal lives and in the world around us. A good-bad mentality is another variation of divide-and-conquer. It breaks the people of the world into unnecessary categories that create division, disharmony, and pride. It causes people to judge others based on their own arbitrary standards of goodness and pridefully wish others were more like them. “If only people were more like me, the world we be a better place!” we foolishly think. Nah. You’re a contributer to the misery in the world like everyone else.
Here’s the point: if we start off with a faulty foundation, we will build a tower destined to crumble. Trying to slice up the world into good and bad people is a mistaken endeavour that is rooted more in our own sinful pride than in reality. Instead, we should see the world and ourselves the way God does, with him alone as perfect and all others, including ourselves, on the side of failure and imperfection. Only when we do this can we orient ourselves to God and others rightly and begin to develop a coherent, biblical, and life-giving worldview.
What is the path to healing in our racially divided world?
This is one of the most important questions our modern society needs to answer. The current solution that is being offered comes from a Critical Race Theory perspective. CRT, as I have written about before, is a philosophy that understands culture to be inherently racist from top to bottom. Popular proponents of CRT teach that racism is normative and so embedded into the customs of society that if someone simply lives an average life, they are actually perpetuating racism without even knowing it. Thus, CRT proposes that in order to fix the racism in society we must raise cultural awareness of racism and seek to actively undo it.
It is important to understand that Critical Race Theory fundamentally encourages people to both (a) see race and (b) value it greatly in decision-making. The following are some examples of significant cultural voices stating this in plain terms:
“Critical race theorists hold that color blindness will allow us to redress only extremely egregious racial harms… Only aggressive, color-conscious efforts to change the way things are will do much to ameliorate misery.” -Delgado and Stefancic, Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, p. 22.
The argument here is that a colourblind approach to race issues will only see obvious racism but fail to notice it in more subtle forms. Therefore, it is said, the real way to address racism is to be intentionally more conscious of people’s skin colour and the dynamics around it.
“The idea of a color blind society, while well intentioned, leaves people without the language to discuss race and examine their own bias…Color blindness relies on the concept that race-based differences don’t matter, and ignores the realities of systemic racism…[color blindness] helps to uphold racism instead of rendering it powerless” – Oprah Daily Magazine.
Again, the argument here is that being colourblind allows racism to flourish unchallenged, rather than reducing its power. Being colourblind is said to be counterproductive, actually upholding racism while claiming to diminish it.
“The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.” – Ibram X Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist, p. 19.
Lastly, this line of thinking is similar in that Kendi argues that the colourblind approach (which is an attempt to stop discrimination) is not preferable. Instead, he contends that the way to combat racism to be intentionally discriminatory towards white people so that past discriminations against people of colour can be corrected. Again, you see that he is advocating for seeing people’s skin colour as significant and treating them differently on purpose because of it.
To summarize, the mainstream cultural narrative around racial issues promotes intentionally seeing a person’s skin colour as an essential component of their identity and treating them accordingly. If you are white, you should be discriminated against to reduce your white privilege. If you are a person of colour, you should be given special treatment to make up for past ills committed against your race by whites. This line of thinking explicitly rejects the approach of being colourblind and promotes the idea of being colour-conscious in its place.
Let’s define our terms here. Being “colour-conscious” simply means treating a person differently according to their race—specifically, granting them advantages if they are a minority and disadvantages if they are white. It means that you are aware (ie. conscious) of their race and what that means historically for the way society has treated them in the past.
On the other hand, “colourblindness” is often characterized simply as “not seeing race”, which gives off the false impression that people are claiming to literally not notice the skin colour of individuals. This is not true in practice or in principle. Obviously anyone with functioning eyes can see skin colour. Claiming to be colourblind isn’t saying otherwise; rather, it is claiming to not allow a person’s skin colour to influence how one thinks of or treats other people. Being colourblind is a “term used to describe personal, group, and institutional policies or practices that do not consider race or ethnicity as a determining factor. The term ‘colorblind’ de-emphasizes or ignores race and ethnicity as a large part of one’s identity” (source).
What we have here are two significantly different approaches to the same problem—polar opposites, in fact. If we want to rid society of racism (and what moderately moral person doesn’t?), then we must decide between a colourblind approach or one that rejects colourblindess in favour of colour-consciesness that (in Kendi’s words) is intentional “discrimination”.
My contention is that the “old” way of being colourblind is absolutely the right approach to take. I believe this for three reasons.
The first Scriptural. The common values that “it’s what’s on the inside that counts” and “don’t judge a book by its cover” are consistent with biblical teaching. Perhaps the most prominent example comes from 1 Samuel 16. In this passage, God is choosing who will be the king of Israel among the sons of Jesse. Samuel takes one look at Eliab and immediately assumes he will be the chosen one, but God rejects him. He explains why in verse 7, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
The dichotomy is clear. Putting value into the things we can physically see about people is a human way of thinking. God does not operate this way. God looks past the surface to see the inner person. Though not explicitly stated in this passage, it is implied here and elsewhere that this is a value we should adopt from God. If we are to grow in godliness (ie. becoming more like God and his character), then it follows logically that this would be one aspect of that growth.
Again, being colourblind does not mean that you literally don’t see physical features such as race. It means that they carry little to no value in how you treat others. It means that you care more about who they are as a person than what they look like. If this is how God himself operates, then so should we. Intentionally seeing race in order to intentionally discriminate is absolutely antithetical to a Christian worldview and should be rejected by believers.
This line of thinking would be supported by numerous other passages. The parable of the good Samaritan comes to mind. It is well-known that Jesus chose a Samaritan to be the one who helps the beaten Jew specifically because these two people groups hated one another. Jesus is demonstrating that we are to love our neighbour no matter how different we perceive them to be. Many other Scriptures would contend similarly, that the hostility between people groups is broken down by the love of God so that we no longer treat each other differently or as less-than but rather love one another. This is basic Christian doctrine.
The second reason for accepting colourblindess is historical. Perhaps the most famous line from Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech is “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.” There is a reason this sentence has had such an enduring impact on society. It resonates with godly values and common sense logic. It is the obvious antidote to discriminating against people because of their skin colour. It elevates our shared humanity and makes us all equals in the sight of God and others, as it should. Though modern so-called experts on racism would absolutely contest this, I see it as undoubtedly true MLK’s vision made huge strides for the advancement of Civil Rights and the erosion of racism in society. No better example exists than that of children, who don’t seem to care one bit what another child looks like so long as they enjoy each other’s company and treat each other well. The fact that this ideal is increasingly being seen as a weakness, and that we are now training children to see and care about the skin colour of others is completely backwards and appalling.
The Civil Rights movement was based on seeing all men as equal. This helped to end segregation and start to bring together the races. Though there is still much work to be done, it laid the foundation for that to happen. Racism still remains an issue, to be sure, but to deny that being judged by character rather than skin colour has made things better is a conclusion outside the bounds of reality. Society is better off when that kind of value is embraced and lived out.
I want the reader to understand that the current approach to race issues (informed by CRT) is absolutely not the continuation of the Civil Right’s movement. It is actually the undoing of it. It is taking the core value of MLK and turning it on its head. It is teaching people to judge by skin colour and not by content of character. It is, as Kendi explicitly stated, fighting past discrimination with present and future discrimination. For this reason it must be rejected.
The third reason, as I have alluded to already, is moral. It is morally backward to encourage people to see and judge others by skin colour. It is morally backward to teach people to fight discrimination with more discrimination. It is not killing racism to care a lot about people’s skin colour; rather it is fuelling it. Put simply, embracing the core tenets of Critical Race Theory as mainstream society has done is promoting immoral values that will ultimately be destructive, not constructive. It functions as a form of divide-and-conquer rather than fostering togetherness and unity.
Consider what Scripture has to say about the right response to evil in Romans 12:14-21:
 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.  Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Simply lay this passage of Scripture next to the quotes given above by those who advocate for fighting discrimination with more discrimination and you can see the moral dilemma. Attempting to overcome evil with more evil is wrong. The only way to overcome evil is with good. Being intentionally discriminatory in order to try and correct past wrongs is not blessing those who curse you or overcoming evil with good. It is trying to avenge yourself, and is in direct contrast to the Word of God.
For these reasons every Christian (and hopefully more of secular society) must reject the philosophies of Critical Race Theory. In place, we should embrace the Scriptural values of treating others the way we want to be treated, caring for them as individuals and common members of the human race, judging people based on their character and not their skin colour, and returning good for evil. This is the path forward. This is the path to healing. I pray more people realize this and resist the current sway of culture that is ultimately leading to death.
The highest calling for every Christian parent is to raise their children to love and serve the Lord. Yet many Christian parents struggle to know how to actually accomplish this task. Unfortunately, this has led some to essentially leave it in the hands of the church to do for them. We bring our kids to Sunday School, midweek ministries, youth group, and summer camp, and then hope that everything turns out in the end. There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of these things, and I would argue they are incredibly helpful assets in our task of discipleship. But Scripture calls parents to take a more active role in this process. Deuteronomy 6:6-9 states:
 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (ESV)
These verses lay out at least two important principles. First, it is the job of parents to raise their children in the faith. It cannot be something we merely export out for others to do. Second, this is an ongoing, natural process. In the passage, we see parents interacting with their children over the natural course of a day. We also see that it is not a one-time conversation. Discipleship happens in the context of the parent-child relationship.
With this in mind, I offer a few practical suggestions to help in this regard.
(1) Read the Bible with your kids daily
The foundation of our faith is God’s Word, and children should be exposed to it at home as well as in church. Reading the Bible at home shows children that our faith is not something sectioned-off for Sunday mornings but rather fills our entire lives. In our house, we have formed the habit of reading the Bible at dinner time, since everyone is gathered together already. There is no need for adding another meeting to the day. We simply read a section, ask a question or two, and leave it at that. Sometimes there is little engagement, and other times it goes really well. I don’t worry much about the results from day to day, since establishing the priority of Bible reading and reflection is itself a worthy goal.
(2) Pray with your kids
No surprise here. Most Christian parents already pray with their children regularly. But if this is not yet a habit you have formed, start today. Praying with your children is incredibly valuable. You can do this at bedtime with younger children every day. Once kids are a bit older and are no longer being tucked in at night, it may be harder to find opportunities, but don’t let that deter you from finding a way anyways.
One thing we forget about praying is that it is an opportunity to show kids what a relationship with God looks like. Children naturally pray for things they want, like a new toy or nice weather on the weekend. That’s perfectly fine, but we want their prayers to mature over time. We can do this by modelling what spiritually mature prayers can sound like. When you pray with your children, incorporate things like:
- giving thanks for the day
- asking for growth and wisdom
- praying for the salvation of friends and family
- asking to grow through a hardship, rather than simply taking it away
- asking for opportunities to serve others
- praying that we would be more obedient to God
You can actually teach a lot of sound theology just by modelling in prayer. This will help our children move from prayers that are centred on their own will to prayers that are centred on God’s will.
(3) Ask for forgiveness
Parents sin just like kids do. When we lose our temper or fail to fulfill a promise, we should ask our children to forgive us. Don’t simply say “I’m sorry”. Also say, “I was wrong, please forgive me”. You might even want to pray together and ask for God’s forgiveness as well. When we fail to show transparency in our own sins, but demand our children do so, we are inadvertently teaching them that faith is a thing kids need but not adults. Admitting our own failures and showing our own need for a Saviour is authentic parenting and authentic Christian living.
(4) Serve with your children
There are a hundred different ways to serve others that can be both inside and outside the church. Sometimes we can divide the act of serving up too rigidly, so adults serve over here and children serve over there. Try to find ways to bring service together, whether that is raking the yard for an elderly neighbour or serving food for an outreach event.
(5) Work to be more joyful
Joy does not always come easily for parents. We are balancing a hundred different stressors at any given time, often feeling overwhelmed in our responsibilities and struggles in life. As such, sometimes we can put off a general vibe that Christians are miserable people who like to complain and be grumpy all the time. How much better would it be for our children if the most joyful people they knew were followers of Jesus! Wouldn’t that send a powerful message of its own? It does, but joy is not as natural as we’d like it to be. There are many different ways to fight for joy in life, including nurturing our own health—spiritually, physically, relationally, and otherwise. Some simple ways to start would be to watch less TV, read less news, put down the phone, and enjoy each other’s company uninterrupted. Showing our children that they are a delight to us is a winsome way to demonstrate that our experience of God’s love spills out into love for others.
What do you think? What would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments below.