Governments exist to promote good and restrain evil
The Bible teaches that governments have been set up by God to maintain the rule of law, restrain evil, and promote that which is good. Christians are therefore commanded in Scripture to submit to those in authority as a matter of duty and service (Romans 13:1-7).
“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.” (1 Peter 2:13-14).
God has decreed that it is the responsibility of those in authority to punish those who do evil (Romans 13:4). Consequently, it is right and proper for the state – when deciding on appropriate punishments – to consider, alongside deterrence and reformation, the importance of retribution. Justice demands that the guilty are punished as their deeds deserve, but it also demands that the innocent are acquitted (Proverbs 17:15). That said, we understand that all judgment dispensed on earth is provisional. One day God will establish perfect justice “so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable” to Him (Romans 3:19, see also Hebrews 9:27).
“Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent – the Lord detests them both.” (Proverbs 17:15).
The New Testament teaching on submission to authorities was given to the Church at a time when corrupt and godless rulers like Emperor Nero were in power. There may be rare circumstances where the Christian cannot obey the state – for example, if it should command what God forbids or forbid what God commands (Dan 6:6-10, Ezra 4:23-24, cf Acts 5:29). Injustice and persecution may follow when Christians choose to obey God rather than man, but in so doing they follow in the steps of Jesus Christ.
Salt and light
But in a democracy, one way Christians can seek to be salt and light is by using their legal rights for the sake of the Gospel. It is often wrongly said that the law should not be used to enforce morality. This is quoted against Christians, as if we are the only ones who believe the law should be based on a moral position. In reality, everyone has a ‘moral’ position upon which their view of the law is based. Secularists, for example, also believe that their ideological assumptions should be the basis of our law and policy.
Living under a democratic government, Christians have the freedom to argue their case like everyone else. Our responsibility is to speak out for what is right and to do so out of love for our neighbour. And when we speak out, very often we will find that our non-Christian neighbour agrees with us. Although all have fallen short of the glory of God, His image has not been entirely eradicated. Men and women still have a conscience which can agree with God’s standards (Romans 2:14-15)
God knows how we are made. He knows what is best for us. We believe the Bible contains the ‘Maker’s instructions’ and that he also reveals his will and character more generally in history, in creation and through our consciences.
Christians want to see God’s moral law obeyed, as this fulfils his revealed purposes, brings glory to his name and will ultimately benefit everyone. Christians, therefore, want to see public policy which is consistent with the Ten Commandments and the teaching of Christ.