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Sanctification via Government

Greg E. Gifford, PhD, CBC



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2150_americanIn middle of this super-charged political year I want you to see something. To help you see it, I want you
to answer this statement to yourself: “God’s will for Christian citizens of human governments is that they be _____.” How would you complete this sentence? What does God want you to be in our government, as a Christian?

  • Predominantly, the idea of freedom comes to mind, “God wants us to be free.” The national anthem is playing in the background of our minds as we envision the Declaration of Independence being signed.
  • “Protected” might be another way to answer this. God gives us police, armies, navies, and all the above so that we can be safe.
  • Maybe us Southerners think, “Armed.” God wants me to be armed! “Don’t take away my guns!”

Yet, Scripture repeatedly tells us that God wants us to be holy. God’s will for you and me as citizens of this earthly kingdom is that we are holy. God’s will is our sanctification, not our political independence only. If you and I were to be transported to Iran today, we could lose liberties and still grow in holiness.

Let me connect one more dot for you. If you miss everything else from this article, catch this: God uses governing authorities for the sanctification of His people, and this includes bad governments. For example, 1 Peter was written to a people who were in the middle of fierce persecution because of their governing authorities. It is believed Nero blamed the Christians for the burning of Rome. And yet, Peter tells them to  “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials [trials that their government created for them] so that the tested genuineness of your faith … may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Your government has created a trial that will result in praise and honor and glory when Christ returns! Feel the implications of this: governments create trials that are intended to cultivate holiness.

How does that holiness come to fruition? It comes about by radical submission that overflows into good works.

Romans 13:2-5 says, “Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.

Paul mentions twice here that the overflow of subjection to governing authorities is good conduct: vs. 3, “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct” so “do what is good.” Most of us are not in terror of governing authorities—that is not the world in which we live. Yet, I want to press this one step further: the call is to good conduct, or doing good, within your prospective government. Radical submission overflows into good conduct towards our governing authorities. See the words of Titus 3:1: “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, [catch this!] to be ready for every good work.” Paul tells Titus the same thing, as he mentions in Romans 13.

1 Pet. 2:15 says in the context of submitting to governing authorities, “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” Isn’t it interesting that in the three, dominant passages that describe our relationships to government Paul and Peter mention good works? Doing good is connected to your earthly citizenship.

Politics do seem to worsen and we are entering into a season of extreme uncertainty. However, despite our political turmoil we can see that God is working to make His children more like Himself—through elections in which we don’t really want to vote! Our response isn’t cynicism, bitterness, or slander; no, our response is to be that of good works in our earthly kingdom. Good works that overflow from an understanding that the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, He turns it wherever He wills (Prov. 21:1).

"God may be looked upon in an absolute consideration, as he is in himself the best and most excellent being, wherein we behold the concurrence of all perfections, the most amiable and beauteous excellences, to an intellectual eye, that it can have an apprehension of." --John Howe, On Delighting in God
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