I want to encourage you all this morning. I want to kind of put you in a biblical context. We’re committed to the Scriptures, to the Word of God; and I want to talk from the Bible, as we always do, and perhaps give you a perspective on what you do that maybe you haven’t had before. But we have to start with the reality, and that reality is this: the Bible is unmistakably clear about human nature. There is no question; all people are sinners. They’re not all as bad as they could be; they’re not as bad as each other; they’re all sinners.
There is not a single exception according to Scripture. Every person is born in sin. Sin nature is passed down from its parents. It goes all the way back to Adam and Eve. When Adam and Eve fell, their disposition changed. And then everything that’s come from Adam and Eve, every human that’s ever been born in the history of the world, has been born a sinner, passed down from the original parents.
You want proof? Everybody dies. Everybody dies. Not only does everybody die; everybody gets sick, everybody has trouble. But everyone dies. The Old Testament says this, “The soul that sins, it shall die.” The New Testament says, “The wages of sin is death.” Scripture is crystal clear on that.
Babies in the womb die. Millions of them are aborted. Infants just born die; die in a crib, die in the safety of a family home. Little children die; die from accidents, die from illnesses. These little ones die before they have committed any willful transgression against God, before they have consciously violated the law of God, committed iniquities or sins.
Why do they die? The reality of death is in the fabric of humanity. They die because the principle of death resides in every human being because we’re all sinful. We die, all of us, because we have inherited the universal sin nature from sinful parents, and it can produce death even before conscious sin. The reality of universal sin is attested by universal death. We all die.
The world advances; we all see that. We’re living in an incredible explosion of technology, likes of which never imagined maybe even 50 years ago. The world advances scientifically; it advances technologically; it advances intellectually, educationally, materially. But all of that advancement doesn’t cancel death and does not overcome the massive force of sin in every human heart. In fact, the more advanced we get, the more weapons sinners have, and the more devastating those weapons become. More and more ways to express sinful corruption are available.
The deadliest force in the world is not nature, not winds, not rains, not earthquakes. Dangerous force is not animals, jungle. The dangerous force – most dangerous and deadly force is humans. They can plot evil. They can devise harm. They’re not like animals who kill because they’re designed to kill. That’s how the food chain works. Humans are designed to give life, but they are amazingly crafty at creating death.
The Bible says all have sinned. All have sinned. In fact, if you go back to the beginning in the book of Genesis, you read this: “Now the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The earth was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on earth and the earth was filled with violence.”
We’ve got the creation of Adam and Eve in chapters 1 and 2, and by the time you get to chapter 6, all there is in the world is corruption. God sends a universal flood, drowns the human race, leaves eight people and they start it again. More corruption. In fact, the prophet Jeremiah describes the human heart like this: “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately wicked.”
“And I, the Lord, search the heart.” God is saying, “It’s wicked and I know it. I see it.” Somebody will say, “Well, no. People are basically good. It’s the environment that causes them to do bad things.”
Well, listen to the words of Jesus. Jesus, by the way as God, was the Creator and He knows His creation. This is what He said: “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of man, proceed evil thoughts, acts of sexual immorality, thefts, wickedness, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting, and wickedness, as well as deceit, debauchery, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these evils proceed from within and defile the man.” The problem isn’t outside of us, the problem is inside of us.
In Romans, chapter 3 – and if you have a Bible there and you want to turn to it, you can do that. In Romans, chapter 3, the apostle Paul is writing and he sums up what the Old Testament Scripture says about man and sin. Romans 3:10, “There is none righteous, not even one: There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one. Their throat is an open grave; with their tongues they keep deceiving. The poison of asps is under their lips, whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood. Destruction and misery are in their paths, and the path of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
That’s a string of statements taken out of the Old Testament where God defines the nature of man. No one righteous. No one who genuinely does good that pleases God. Dangerous – we’re like poisonous snakes. Our mouths are full of cursing and bitterness, feet swift to shed blood, destruction and misery in the path. That’s a biblical description. That’s the divine description of man. Humanity is evil in nature, and dangerous. So the greatest challenge humans face is not from nature, it’s not from environment. It’s from himself.
So God had to build into human life barriers, restraints – restraints to mitigate this evil, to mitigate this corruption, to subdue sinful passion and expression so that man could make a society and be civilized and enjoy His creation, and find happiness, and peace, and a measure of joy and gratitude. These restraints are absolutely critical. Where these restraints function as God intended them to function life is good, people enjoy common graces, life is rich, and God is thanked. Where these restraints are assaulted, corrupted, diminished, rebelled against, society is on the brink of self-destruction. Basic to the well-being of humanity are these four powerful restraints. I’m going to name them for you and kind of explain them.
Number One: Conscience. Conscience. This is a personal authority. This is a personal restraint. This is a personal force. And in Romans, chapter 2 – we’re looking at chapter 3, so we back up to the previous chapter – some very interesting words. Verse 11 says, “There’s no partiality with God.” Subject is judgment here. Subject is divine judgment. God judges impartially.
Somebody might say, “Well, wait a minute. If God is going to judge sinners, how can He judge them equally when some have the written law of God and they have violated it. Some don’t even know about God, don’t even know about Scripture, don’t know anything about His written law. How can He judge them without partiality? If all of humans are sinful and all of humans are to be judged by God as sinful, how can He be impartial?”
Here’s His answer: “For all who have sinned without the law,” meaning the written law, without having the Scripture itself, “will perish without the law.” They’ll be judged and condemned even though they never had the written law. “All who have sinned having the law will be judged by the law.”
How can that be? Listen: “For when nations who do not have the written law do instinctively the things of the law, these not having the written law are a law to themselves. They show the law written in their hearts.” That is a very important statement.
Every human being has a sixth sense. I know you’ve heard that. That’s some kind of clairvoyant notion in our culture. But I would like to offer a legitimate sixth sense that can match the other five. And it’s not some kind of transcendental insight so that you can hear dead people talk, okay. When I talk about a sixth sense, I’m talking about one that is stated here in this passage: “Every human being has the law of God written in the heart.” Every human being comes into this world knowing the difference between right and wrong.
You remember when Adam and Eve were in the garden and Satan came along and said, “Go ahead and eat.” God had said, “Don’t eat of the Tree of Knowledge or you’ll know right and wrong.”
Well, they disobeyed, they ate, and Genesis 3:22 says, “They knew right from wrong.” Just as surely as Adam and Eve passed on their sinfulness to every generation, they also passed on the innate law of God. Just as they gave the five normal senses to the children, and subsequently to all human beings, they also passed on the knowledge of right and wrong. This is embedded in what it means to be human.
Everyone knows right from wrong. Divine morality is revealed in the heart. Some people – the Jews namely, and others who have Scripture. But here it’s making reference to the Jews to whom the Old Testament Scriptures were given. They had the law of God written. But what about those who don’t? They have the law of God in their hearts to the degree that they know right from wrong. This is sufficient enough for God to make a judgment.
In fact, back in Romans 1, verse 20, it says it’s so sufficient that when they are judged for their immorality and judged for their lawlessness, they’re without excuse. They have no excuse; no excuse. I’m sure that plays out in the simple reality in life that – how many people know the penal code? Very few people could ever come across with any kind of innate sort of knowledge of the penal code. But, boy, whether they know anything in the penal code or not, whether they’ve come from another country and another nation, whether they’re completely aliens from American culture, they know right from wrong. The law is written instinctively – that’s the word here. The law is written in their hearts. Instinctively they do the things written in the law. That’s the universal reality.
Animals have no law. Animals have no morality, they have no self-consciousness, so they feel no guilt. They do what animals are supposed to do. People have a sixth sense, the ability to know right from wrong. Ethical sense is part of being human, the law in the heart.
And then there’s a mechanism that God has put into every human being that responds to how they react to that law, and that’s also in verse 15: “The conscience bearing witness and their thought alternately accusing or else excusing them.”
So how does this work? Everybody has the law of God written in the heart. That is a knowledge of right and wrong. That’s part of being human. You know what is wrong. You know what is wrong. That’s given by God.
You have a mechanism. The mechanism is called conscience. Conscience is a device that God has given to every human being to react to that law. When you violate that law in the heart, you get accused by your conscience.
We all talk about that – somebody had a guilty conscience. It used to be the tribal liars were discerned by putting fire on their tongue because they could tell if one was lying because there would be no saliva and it would burn their tongue. There’s something. There’s a mechanism in being human that creates fear, guilt, anxiety, dread, panic. Some people have such a screaming conscience torturing them that they take drugs, drink alcohol, engage in extreme adrenaline activities, or commit suicide. Conscience is there.
The Greek word for conscience simply means self-knowledge. It’s self-consciousness which is only human. No other creation has it. When people do evil, their conscience goes into action and the conscience is a warning device.
Nobody likes pain, but everybody’s grateful for it, right? Pain is a good thing. Why is it a good thing? Because it tells you you’ve got a problem. If you didn’t feel pain, you would die without remedy.
It’s critical that you feel pain. That’s a gift form God. Pain is a gift from God. It tells you you’ve got to stop doing what you’re doing; you’ve got to get some help; you’ve got to remedy something.
Conscience is pain in the moral area. Conscience screams at you, “Stop, you’re going down a very dangerous path. Stop, you need help. Don’t continue this behavior.” It’s a gift from God. It’s a gift of restraint. It’s God’s first restraint built into human society to hold back and subdue sinners. This is the basic restraint that God has provided at the very individual level, for every single human being initially living in the world has this built-in restraint.
But, hey, we say about some people they are unconscionable, right? We say, “This kind of behavior, this kind of action, this kind of crime – what? Does this guy have no conscience? Do you mean to say this gift of God, this law written in the heart, this mechanism that reacts to what we do with that law to either accuse us or excuse us, give us feelings of fear or well-being. You mean you can tamper with that?” You bet. You bet you can tamper with that.
Two ways you can tamper with it. Number One: You can tamper with the law of God about right and wrong written in the heart by crafting another law – twisting, perverting, reversing. As the Old Testament says, “Changing sweet for bitter and bitter for sweet; light for dark and dark for light; good for bad and bad for good.”
You can just reverse morality. You can create a new morality. You can create a new morality, and then what happens is the conscience is immediately confused because as that training goes on – and listen to me. It goes on in the culture, it goes on in the education systems, it goes on in the media, it dominates pop culture, and it’s informing millions of young people who are coming up with a twisted morality that’s set against the morality that God has put in their heart, and there’s a shift going on. And what happens is the conscience is only a mechanism that responds to your belief system. And when your belief system is perverted, your conscience is totally confused. Then people do things that we say are unconscionable because conscience doesn’t know when to convict and when to affirm.
Another thing you can do too is you can make the work of the conscience illegitimate. You can say you shouldn’t feel guilty, you shouldn’t feel fearful. You’re who you are; you need to be proud about who you are. This is you. This is how you live, you do your own thing. Nobody can tell you what to do. You shouldn’t feel guilt. Guilt is wrong.
There are books, psychological books. Lots of them that say, “Guilt is bad. Guilt is bad.” Certain sins are now good, and if you speak against those sins, you’re bad. Everything gets reversed, and then we play games with a confused conscience by delegitimizing guilt, which delegitimizes fear, and anxiety which is the first level of restraint. It goes on all the time.
So there is going to be on the part of sinners, individually and collectively, a massive effort to change the law of God written in the heart that every person knows: twist it, pervert it, reverse it, make bad things good and good things bad. And then a massive effort to delegitimize guilt, fear, and anxiety on the basis that, “You’re who you are. You have a right to be who you are, think what you want, do what you want. Don’t let anybody tell you different.”
Now, essentially, you’ve just turned loose a sinner without personal restraint. Destroy the moral law of God built into the soul of every individual. See, the conscience is illegitimate and you’ve killed the first restraint.
The second restraint that God has created is family; family. While conscience is a personal restraint, family is a relational restraint. Family is the building block of society. Family is the building block of civilization. God has established the family to be a loving, truthful, exemplary place that restrains evil in the next generation.
An animal is born and it’s on its own in minutes or hours or a few days. Humans are born and they can’t even walk for a year or more. They’ve got to be carried around. It’s so important that they have the strong relationships, bonds, love, and support. And then they don’t leave home until maybe late teenage years. And some of them don’t ever leave home, you know.
Why does God keep them embedded in a family for so long? When a horse is born, it’s on its own right away. Because they need to learn to be restrained because what has been born into that family is a new sinner that society has to deal with; a new fallen creature that society has to deal with; a new heart that is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it? That has to be mitigated. That has to be restrained. Barriers have to be set up. So the family becomes the divinely-given institution for the formation of restrained sinners.
I’ll say that again. The family becomes the divinely-given institution for the formation of restrained sinners, who by multigenerational morality and wisdom with instruction and discipline in love develop into good citizens who benefit others, enjoy God’s creation, and are thankful to Him.
I’ll say that again. The family is the divinely-given institution for formation of restrained sinners, who by multigenerational morality and wisdom with instruction and discipline in love develop into good citizens who benefit others, enjoy God’s creation, and are thankful to Him.
Many of you in law enforcement, you were raised in that kind of a family, or you came under influences that gave you that and that’s why you uphold righteousness and the law and what is right. And you are a benefit to society, and you make people thankful for the provision and protection you provide. That’s what family is for.
What is God’s design for family? Genesis 2:24, here it is: “A man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they two shall become one flesh,” one man, one woman in a union for life; for life.
And what is the responsibility they have? To be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. Have babies, children; produce families. This is the building block of society, civilization. It’s so foundational that God said, “I hate divorce. I hate divorce.” What God has joined together, don’t let any man put asunder or separate.
Oh, sure. God, because of the hardness of hearts, the Bible says, “Allows it under some circumstances,” but hates it because it devastates society. It’s not that it’s just painful for a child or painful for a spouse. It’s devastating for a society. And the more common divorce is, the more shattered the family is, the more diminished that restraint is.
In Deuteronomy, chapter 6, way back in the law of Moses, we get God’s formula for restraining sinners in a family. Listen to what it says, Deuteronomy 6: “Now this is the commandment, the statutes, and the judgments.” This is serious stuff. These aren’t suggestions. “This is the commandment, the statutes, and the judgments which the Lord your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you’re going over to possess it.”
The children of Israel are about to enter into the land. Moses, their leader, speaking for God says, “Here’s what God commands you. You, your sons, and your grandsons are to fear the Lord, keep all His statues and His commandments which I command you all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged.” That’s what a family’s for. Parents teach sons and grandsons, daughters and granddaughters the law of God; and they teach them to be obedient to His statutes and His commandments so they can live long lives.
In verse 4 is the Shema familiar to every Jewish person. “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words which I am commanding you today shall be on your heart.” Love for God, love for His commandments, love for His statutes; that’s what parents are to teach their children. “You shall teach them diligently to your sons –” verse 7 “– 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 up.” In other words, the commands of God and loving God, those things are to be on your lips all the time – standing up, sitting down, lying down, and walking. That’s your constant conversation.
“You bind them as a sign on your hand,” which means you apply the Word of God to your work, “and they shall be as frontlets on your forehead.” You apply the Word of God to your thinking. So it’s what you say; it’s what you do; it’s what you think.
And then, “You write them on the doorposts of your house.” If you’ve ever seen the Orthodox Jewish people, on a house there’s a mezuzah on the door, or a little box, and in it is this passage of Scripture reminding them when they go in the house to talk of the Lord, when they go out of the house to talk of the Lord, to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.
If you ever see a rabbi, sometimes you will see a little box on his head. That is the symbol of this passage, and in it is this same passage. You will see straps on his arms and a little box on his arm. That is the same thing. He has strapped it there as a symbol of the fact that whether you’re working or whether you’re thinking or whether you’re talking, wherever you are, it’s always about God and His law and loving Him with all your heart. And that’s what you teach your family. That’s what you teach your family.
Ten Commandments in Exodus 20. The fifth commandment is this: “Honor your father and mother that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord has given you.” Honor your father and your mother and you’ll have a long life. So parents are given their responsibility to teach. Children are given their responsibility to honor their father and mother and live a long life. Leviticus 19:3 says, “Every one of you shall reverence his mother and father.” Not just obeying, but honoring and reverencing.
Then the flipside, Deuteronomy 27:16, “Curse is he who dishonors his father and mother.” Cursed is he who dishonors his father and mother. This is a powerful relational restraint that God has built into the world. Faithful parents, righteous parents who take the responsibility to teach their children and their grandchildren about God, to love God and obey God; and children who respond by showing honor to their parents; that’s a family that passes righteousness from one generation to the next.
This specific instruction, the book of Proverbs. Sometime read the book of Proverbs. Start in Chapter 2, read through chapter 7. Every chapter begins, “My son,” or, “My child, hear the instruction of your father. Hear the instruction of your mother,” chapter, after chapter, after chapter, after chapter, and it’s all about all kinds of things. It’s all about money; it’s all about relationships; it’s all about the friends you choose; it’s all about staying away from the adulterous woman; it’s all about how you order your life; it’s about honoring your parents chapter, after chapter, after chapter. This is family and family is a gift from God.
Now have you noticed that your little sinners aren’t real compliant about this? Certainly, the four that were born into our family weren’t. So the Bible gives us a formula for helping them with their compliance. Listen to this, Proverbs 13:24, “He who withholds his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently.” Spanking – I know that’s a bad word. It happens to be biblical.
Listen to Proverbs 19:18. “Discipline your son while there is hope and do not desire his death.” Undisciplined children die young. Listen to Proverbs 22:15. “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child. The rod of discipline will remove it far from him.”
Proverbs 23:13, “Do not hold back discipline from the child. Although you strike him with the rod, he will not die.” You shall strike him with the rod,” listen to this, “and rescue his soul.” Proverbs 29:15, “The rod of reproof gives wisdom, but the child who gets his own way shames his mother.”
And that’s a simple formula – parent, married, man and woman, love each other, love God, teach righteousness. Teach the children to honor God, to do what is right. Enforce that with loving discipline – we’re not talking about child abuse, we’re talking about a loving, corrective discipline that associates a measure of pain with disobedience. That’s a very important way to train people.
In Ephesians, chapter 6, we read this: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother which is the first commandment with a promise,” the only one of the Ten Commandments that promise long life. And, “Parents, do not provoke your children to anger,” don’t overdo it, “but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Instruction with discipline.
We have an undisciplined, overly-rebellious youth culture that is completely alienated from families. That is the product of all kinds of shattered, broken families – or non-families – who wear violations of the fifth commandment like a badge of honor. Just listen to some of the rap music and how they refer to their mothers.
Devastation of marriage, devastation of the family shatters this divinely designed restraint. So whether you’re devastating marriage, or whether you’re failing to instruct children in a cohesive home, or whether you’re failing to discipline them, or whether you’re perverting the law of God written in the heart and twisting it, or whether you’re confusing and silencing the consciences, you’re just moving society toward its own death.
I’ve been reading lately about nihilism. Nihilism – that’s an extreme philosophical word. Here’s what it means: “Total rejection of established laws and institutions.” Total rejection of established laws and institutions. Another dictionary says, “Total and absolute destructiveness toward the world at large, and even one’s self.” This is a precursor to the collapse of social order and what could be a bloody revolution. We do everything we can to protect the law of God in the heart and the conscience and the family.
Now I want to come to the third restraint that God has given us: civil authority; civil authority. And this is where all of you come in. This is a societal restraint. This is a societal restraint.
Biblically, the prime duty of civil authority – if you look at the Bible, the Old Testament and New Testament – it’s not charity, it’s not economics. The primary duty of civil authority is the moral well-being of its citizens. It is restraining sinners and rewarding those who do good so that we can be civilized; enjoy a measure of peace and joy in life and God’s creation.
The civil government uses an even increased threat. The law of God in the heart has a threat, conscience, which will pile guilt on. The family has a threat, the rod, which will discipline the disobedient child. Civil government has an even greater force, even a deadly force if necessary. Civil government is a God-ordained institution to restrain sinners.
In 1 Peter, Peter who was writing this letter to believers that were being killed by the government martyred by those who hated Christianity and the Christian gospel, he’s writing to people that are going to give up their lives for what they believed. And listen to what he says, 1 Peter 2:13, “Submit yourself for the Lord’s sake to every human institution.” Wow.
“Submit yourself for the Lord’s sake to every ktisis,” is the Greek word here. It doesn’t really mean a human institution in that sense because the word is never used in the Bible unless it’s referring to something God-ordained. It should say, “To every God-ordained institution,” whether to a king as one in authority or to officials. The call here is submit; submit.
To the individual, God has said, “Submit to the law of God and your conscience.” To the child, “Submit to the law of God and your parents.” To the citizens, “Submit to the law of God as enforced by the civil authorities.” Submit. And in this case he says, “Whether to a king –” and we’ll start with that.
The whole world had kings. There were no democracies in the ancient world. There weren’t any democracies really until the American experiment. Everybody knew what it was to be under a civil authority, under unilateral rule, which was only as benevolent as the ruler. It could be mitigated by various agencies. But in the case of those to whom Peter is writing, this is a violent and aggressive kind of brutality that’s characteristic of the Roman world. But, still, we are to submit to the one in authority.
Then in verse 14, “or to governors.” The word is hēgemōsin from which we get hegemon. Hegemon is an English word that means leaders. Sometimes you may have read about hegemony. Hegemony is a term that describes a nation subduing other nations – hegemony. It’s an interesting word, very interesting word. It can refer, in the general sense in English, to leadership. Hegemony can be leadership. But particularly it’s used to refer to one nation exercising leadership over other nations.
America’s always been really good at this. We have been benevolently the leaders of many nations. We still are, are we not? America is benevolent all over the planet. We make sure that nations that cannot sustain themselves economically get help from us.
We call into question sometimes our benevolence as to where this money actually ends up, or where it’s going and what does it do. We have always understood hegemony in the sense that we as a nation whom God has singularly blessed and who has become so prosperous and so productive and has so much, we can be used by God to help other nations. We’ve done that. And on the other hand – and I think rightly so – this responsibility of government is not only for the benefit of other nations, but for the protection of other nations.
America’s always understood that. Its Christian roots have delivered that truth to us. And throughout the history of America, we have not been content to stop punishing evil doers at our borders. We have been ready to go anyplace in the world where evil was being perpetrated on innocent people, and we have been able because we have the force, because we have the power, because we have the ability to step in and stop that. We have acted in that way benevolently, we have acted in that way militarily, and the world certainly has become a better place for all of those activities.
What is the purpose of this leadership? Keep reading in 1 Peter 2:14, and two hegemons are leaders, “Because they’re sent by God for the punishment of evildoers in the praise of those who do right.” So we as individuals – officers, leaders in the police and law enforcement – you want to give honor to those who do right. You want to reward good citizenship, and you do that. We do that on an international scale by giving money, massive amounts of money constantly to nations that we deem are doing the right things, doing good, benefiting their citizens working hard at that. But at the same time, you also punish evildoers.
By the way, the word punishment there is actually the Greek word for vengeance. You say, “Well, doesn’t the Bible say, ‘Vengeance is Mine, says the Lord’? Isn’t God the one who is the avenger?” Yes. God is the avenger, but He’s delegated His vengeance to you. He’s delegated His vengeance to the leaders who represent the government for the punishment of evildoers, “For the punishment of evildoers and praise of those who do right, for such is the will of God.”
That’s just an amazing thing to think about. God has put you where He’s put you and delegated to you the responsibility to restrain sinners by rewarding good and punishing evil. And God has done the same thing to the military, and that has happened globally. I would go so far as to say that even a local policeman who knew he could stop a crime and didn’t do it would fail in his duty. You know that. A police department that knew about crime and failed to work to stop it would fail to do its duty.
And I would go so far as to say a nation that knows about deadly crime and fails to do what it can has shirked its duty. “To him that knows to do right,” the Bible says, “and does it not, to him it is sin.” And this submission to government is universal, for the command says, “Submit yourselves to every human institution.”
And remember now, at the time Peter wrote this, these believers were being accused of rebellion against Rome. They were being accused of atheism because they didn’t worship Caesar. They were accused of cannibalism because of the Lord’s Table which people misrepresented. They were accused of immorality, incest, damaging trade, wrecking homes because somebody would come to Christ and the other person wouldn’t and it would be a difficult marriage. They were accused of hating the world, disloyal to Caesar. They were even accused of leading a slave rebellion.
None of it was true; it was all lies. But they were martyred for those accusations, and yet, Peter says, “Submit.” Why? Because God has placed civil government, even with its failures and even when it gets twisted in place, to restrain evil. It’s not going to be perfect, but we submit. It is God who has designed it. It keeps society safe.
I think we, even looking back historically, have to wonder when we have aided and abetted any kind of revolution anywhere in the world or any kind of anti-law movement, even in our own country, any kind of rebellion, whether the outcome is ever better, those who have the power to restrain evil must do it. And God has given that power to civil authorities.
Romans 13 – and that was all sort of introduction. I just want to just look at Romans 13 for a minute. Romans 13 is kind of a critical passage on this theme. Romans 13, and I’m going to read just a few verses at the beginning.
“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. There is no authority except from God, and those which exist are establish by God. Therefore, whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God, and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same, for it,” civil authority, “is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid, for it doesn’t bear the sword for nothing, for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore, it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience sake.”
Now, again, you’re talking about a period of time when Paul wrote those words to the Christians that they were living in an absolute monarchy with heavy taxation, military occupation. There were 60 million slaves. Christians and Jews were viewed as aliens, enemies, unworthy, underprivileged; and yet instruction – every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities; every person. We literally submit to all representatives of civil authority. Why? For several reasons; follow the reasoning.
Number One reason, civil government is by divine decree. There is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. He’s talking about authority in general. He’s not advocating a monarchy, or a democracy, or a republic, or any other form of government itself. Government as an entity, as it exists in any form is a gift from God to restrain evil. No special form is advocated anywhere in Scripture. The powers that be, whatever they are, the ones that exist are established by God.
That doesn’t mean that every person in authority has some divine right as kings used to like to say, “Well, this means we have a divine right, and we rise above all mortals, and we can do what we want as if we were God.” Not at all. It means that the government as an entity in any form is an institution of God. Civil government is so indispensable that in the moment when it ceases to exist, immediately it exists again in a different form. There cannot be any time period in which there is no civil authority. If there ever is time when government is removed and authority is absent, the wretchedness of the human heart explodes in deadly force. We all know this. So civil government is by divine decree.
Secondly, resistance to civil authority is rebellion against God. Verse 2, “Those who resist authority have opposed the ordinance of God.” They have opposed the ordinance of God.
Number Three, they’ll be punished, and they who oppose will receive condemnation on themselves. You oppose the civil authority, you’ll be punished by the civil authority, and then even by God.
But I want you to get to verse 3 and 4, “For rulers, archōntes,” those invested with power, in your case police, “are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you’ll have praise from the same; for civil authority,” listen to this, “is a minister of God to you for good.”
I know you spend so much of your time dealing with bad, but it’s the fact that you deal with the bad that produces the good for everybody else. We understand that. It’s a noble, noble thing you do. It’s a noble thing you do. You are a minister of God for good; a minister of God, an avenger; an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. It’s what you do. But you are a minister of God. Why? God ordained government and God delegated the authority to execute that government through you.
There are only two professions in the Bible that are called ministers of God: mine and yours. That’s it. What a noble, exalted calling. What a noble, exalted calling.
You are a minister of God to restrain sinners, to punish evildoers, to bring vengeance on evildoers, to bring good on everyone else. Just want you to notice one statement in the middle of verse 4: “Government doesn’t bear the sword for nothing.” Wow. You have a sword.
Personally, we have a conscience. Family, we have a rod. You have a sword. The sword is not for spanking people, it’s a death weapon. Your sword is a revolver. You don’t have that sword for nothing, it’s a death weapon. You are given by God the ultimate threat, the ultimate threat, the ultimate weapon that occasionally must be used to restrain evil. And God supports that.
Genesis 9:6, God said this: “Whoso sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” Capital punishment - you take a life made in the image of God, you give your life.
When Peter grabbed his sword and wanted to defend Jesus, He said, “Put your sword away. If you live by the sword you will die by the sword.” He was affirming the death penalty, “If you do that, if you take anybody’s life, Peter, you’re going to have to give yours.”
This is the ultimate restraint. This is the role of police in the justice system. They are ministers of God for good who carry the terminal threat; the terminal threat. We see it extended globally in the military. Sometimes it comes to this. Sometimes it comes to this.
Remember, God Himself sent a flood to drown a whole generation of sinners. This is a high calling. We don’t need to fear you, we honor you. The reason we don’t fear you is because we know you’re ministers of God. We believe in the law of God. We believe in conscience. We believe in the family, a mom and dad raising godly children. We believe in teaching children obedience. We believe in producing generations of people who have wisdom and understanding under discipline. We believe in the authority of government to fulfill God’s purpose in the world. We are called in the Bible to be model citizens who live a quiet and tranquil life; quiet and tranquil life.
I would even go beyond our obedience. We pray for those who are in authority over us. Paul said, “Pray for those who are in authority over you.” Verse 6, “Rulers are servants of God.” Rulers are servants of God. They stand in God’s place.
The conscience is under assault. The family is under assault. Civil authority is under assault. I hate to see that. I hate to see that.
You are serving God. As the law of God in the heart is twisted, as conscience crumbles, as the family crumbles, as civil authority is attacked by the culture, we move toward nihilism, the overthrowing of all institutions, and a kind of suicide. So we do everything we can to protect those things.
There’s a final restraint. The final restraint is the church; the church. That is a spiritual restraint. And when I talk about the church, I’m talking about the organized church because there are a lot of false churches and a lot of phony religion as you all know very well. I’m talking about true Christians, true believers. What makes us a restraint is because God has done a work in us that is internal. Police work is external. Family work is external in the sense that it’s external applied force. Even conscience is a kind of an external mechanism.
The real cure for problems in the world is to change human beings from the inside because that’s where all the sin comes from. And that’s what the gospel of Jesus Christ does. “If any man is in Christ he is a new creation. Old things have passed away, everything has become new.”
If you sense that we’re different, it’s not only because the conscience is working and the family did some things in some cases – in many cases, no. It isn’t because we’re afraid of you. It’s because there is an internal restraint that is dominating the inside of us. In the language of the Bible, we have been given a new heart and a new spirit and a new disposition, and we have become new creations in Christ Jesus. The Spirit of God has done a miracle and changed us on the inside so that we love God, and we love others, and we love the truth, and we love the institutions of God. We’ve become the real restraint because we have the message that changes hearts.
I love it. Very few Sundays go by when somebody doesn’t come up to me and introduce himself and say, “I just got out of prison. I came to Christ.” Maybe he was reading or listening or, “Been out of prison a little while and the Lord has saved me, and I want to be a part of your church.” This church has many people who have been redeemed on the inside. When that true transformation takes place in the heart, that’s what Jesus meant when He said, “You’re born again.” It’s a new birth. You become a new kind of person.
Salvation of God makes new hearts. The power of God then comes from the inside, overpowering that corruption. Not that we’re perfect, but we have new desires, new longings, new aspirations, new hopes, and new direction. The church then offers the ultimate restraint, a transformed heart. The work of God in salvation is the great restraining work.
Father, we thank You that we’ve been able to be together this morning and to talk about Your Word again and its truth. So many more things, Lord, we could have said, perhaps should have said. But thank You for guiding and directing our thoughts today.
Thank You for these ministers of Yours who have come to us and who represent thousands and thousands more. Thank You for the service that they render. May they come to know You, the one they serve through Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. We pray for them; we pray for their well-being, their safety; and we pray that they would know You through Your Son. We thank You in His name. Amen.