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Statism & Socialism

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
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September 9, 2022 12:01 am

Statism & Socialism

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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September 9, 2022 12:01 am

Throughout history, governments have set themselves up as the final judges of right and wrong, demanding that people surrender their rights and identities to the state. Today, W. Robert Godfrey examines Scripture's teaching about the role of those in authority.

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Today, on Renewing Your Mind, Christians have lived under every form of government and served Jesus Christ in their hearts. The advancement of the kingdom of Christ cannot be stopped by the kingdoms of this world, whatever form they take. Throughout history, there have been examples of civil governments that have set themselves up as the final judges of right and wrong, demanding that people surrender all of their rights and identities to the state. As we consider what it means to uphold Christian ethics, Dr. W. Robert Godfrey examines what Scripture has to say about the role of those in authority over us. What do we as Christians need to think about the state and about government in our time? Because one of the things that has concerned me is how very polarized we have become. And when you're a historian, you know to be suspicious about those who tell you this is the worst of all possible times in which to live.

That's usually not true. But perhaps because of the social media and television and the other ways of communication in our time, it's a lot easier to get outraged than it used to be. And I think as Christians, there are surely things about which to be outraged, but we as a people ought not to be characterized by outrage. We ought to be seen as the people who know how to listen, who know how to love, who know how to be concerned, who know how to communicate. Now there are times for righteous anger.

There are times for disagreement. But I think we all need to have a clear and settled foundation of what the Bible directs us as Christians to think about the state. The Bible does not tell us everything about the state, but it surely tells us the most important things. It tells us the necessary things. It directs us in our thinking about the state, and it challenges us. So I want to think about the state under three points. And the first is that the state is a divine institution.

However much we may get annoyed at government, whether local or state or federal, we have to always have clearly in mind that the state is a divine institution. Think of these words from 1 Peter chapter 2. Have you read through 1 Peter recently?

I taught 1 Peter in our Sunday school at our church a couple of years ago and discovered that 1 Peter is a really annoying book. Nobody wants to listen to Peter. He tells wives to be obedient to their husbands. We don't want to hear that. He tells slaves to be obedient to their masters. We don't want to hear that. He tells citizens to honor their government.

We don't want to hear that. But I'm going to read from 1 Peter anyway, and you're going to have to listen. 1 Peter chapter 2 verse 13, be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone.

Love the brotherhood. Dear God, honor the emperor. Peter is encouraging the Christians to whom he writes to think carefully about the state as a divine institution because if we read between the lines here, it would appear that some Christians were saying, I am free in Christ. I am delivered in Christ. I'm a citizen of a new kingdom. I'm looking forward to a new heaven and earth in which righteousness dwells, and that means I don't have to pay attention to this government on earth anymore.

I'm free. And Peter says, you are free in Christ, but that freedom does not give you the right to despise or disparage the government God has set over you on earth. There is a new heaven and a new earth coming, but it hasn't come yet. And even though your first allegiance is to Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords, that doesn't dissolve your responsibility to be subject to the emperor. Peter is very concerned that Christians think clearly and accurately about the state because God has instituted the state. He instituted it not like marriage.

God instituted marriage before the fall, but after the fall, God instituted the state to restrain evil in a fallen world. The government's calling, the government's task is to punish evil and promote the good. And however little we think the government successfully does that, that's the calling laid upon the government by God, a calling that we have to honor, Peter says.

And that's interesting, isn't it? Honor the emperor. It's not just a grudging obedience to which we're called, but we have to recognize in the ruling authorities, in the governing authorities the work of God, the purpose of God, the calling of God. And that leads me to repent of some of the things I've said about some of our governors, even though they were probably correct.

Whether we agree with them or not, they serve a purpose, a vital purpose, a critical purpose. Luther said, the worst government imaginable is better than chaos. And I think that's true. When you look again at those awful pictures coming in from Ukraine of utterly bombed out cities, no food, no water, no power, what would it be like to live in that chaos? It's so painful, it's so unimaginable that I think we rather quickly just don't want to see those pictures anymore. It was Joseph Stalin who said, one death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.

And I don't think I agree with Joe Stalin about much, but it's sort of true we can't process the notion of a million tragedies, what that is actually like. We need to honor a government because God has established the government to restrain evil. And Paul, in terms very parallel to Peter in Romans 13, doesn't he, reminds us that we can think of the government as deacons.

We probably don't do that very often. Maybe we don't think about deacons at all, but government officials, Paul says, are to be thought of as deacons and also as liturgoi, worship leaders. They have a divine mission that's been given to them, and they need to be honored for that. And that needs to be the first thing that we think about when we think about the state, and that challenges me. I think you're a better people, but I think Christians have perhaps gotten into habits where we don't honor the government the way we should. Now, the state is also a human institution. It's a divine institution, but it's a human institution.

And that means we as humans have responsibility for it. God has given us that responsibility and the state in history has taken many different forms, hasn't it? We've had monarchies, we've had oligarchies, we've had dictatorships, we've had republics, we've had democracies.

There's a whole range of forms that the state can take by human choice. And part of the good news is Christians have lived under every form of government and served Jesus Christ in their hearts. The advancements of the kingdom of Christ cannot be stopped by the kingdoms of this world, whatever form they take.

And that needs to be a great encouragement to us as Christians. And in every human form of government, the basic duty of government remains, to do justice and particularly to protect the weak, because the rich and powerful can protect themselves most of the time. Government is given to restrain evil and to promote the good. But of course, as a human institution, the state can become corrupt.

I don't want to shock you. And the Psalms speak very pointedly and eloquently about that danger of corruption in human government. Psalm 94 talks about wicked rulers who frame injustice by statute. What an awful thing that those who are given responsibility and power would use that power to pass laws to entrench injustice.

We should be outraged about that. And Psalm 94 says God is outraged about that, and God will come to judge that injustice. And part of the testimony we should bear as Christians to governing authorities is to remind them that there is a great day of judgment coming, and they should factor that in to the laws they pass. Psalm 82 calls governments to give justice to the weak and fatherless, to maintain the right of the afflicted and destitute. We have to let those words grip us.

We who can come here are not the weak and the afflicted and the destitute, but we as Christians are called to have compassion on such people. So the state is a divine institution that we must honor. It's a human institution that we should seek to influence in proper directions despite its sinfulness.

But it can become, the Scripture says, a demonic institution. And that's probably what this title of statism was intended to get us to. But I thought we shouldn't just start there.

We should get oriented before we get there. But the state can become a demonic institution when the state claims for itself all power, all meaning, all direction of life. One of the great ancient examples of that was ancient Egypt. And so it's not so surprising that the great story of the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt is a confrontation between the true and living God and Pharaoh who claimed to be God.

Pharaoh who in his leadership of the state was both king and priest and God, and therefore all honor and obedience had to be given to Pharaoh. That is statism in its ultimate form. The state that claims to give all meaning and claims to have all power is a state that has become demonic. And we have seen that at various times in the history of mankind. We saw that in the Third Reich, didn't we? When Adolf Hitler claimed he could build a kingdom that would last a thousand years and in which the state claimed all authority and all meaning.

We saw it in the Soviet Union when the Communist Party claimed to have all power and all meaning and to direct all living. And this kind of demonizing of the state always happens in places where the true and living God is neglected and rejected. And the great picture of that in Scripture is the great prostitute of Revelation 17, which is in some ways a picture of the Roman Empire, but is much more than that as a representation of a state that claims the worship of its citizens. Revelation 17 talks about the great prostitute as sitting on the back of the scarlet beast, that is Satan.

So the state is serving Satan in that picture. And the kings of the earth are described as committing immorality with this great prostitute, which is meant metaphorically to talk about idolatry. It's spiritual adultery that's in mind here. And this prostitute is adorned richly in expensive cloth and in valuable jewels to talk about her wealth and domineering position. And in her madness she's described as drunk, drunk with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus Christ. And this prostitute and those who serve her, Revelation 17, 14 says, will make war on the Lamb. What a contrast between the beast ridden by this great prostitute and all this claim of wealth and power and the Lamb, the Lamb looking as it was slain, the apparent powerlessness of the Lamb in the face of the beast. They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them. For He, the Lamb, is the Lord of lords and the King of kings, and those with Him are called and chosen and faithful.

They're talking about you. Are you with the Lamb? Have you heard His call? Do you know that you're chosen? You know, election in the Bible is never a doctrine that brings uncertainty or confusion or misery or mystery.

Election in the Bible always brings encouragement and certainty and stability. Are you with the Lamb? Are you called? Are you chosen? Are you faithful?

Called and chosen are the two parts God does. Are you faithful? Do you know the number one sin in Revelation 21 that is disqualifying from entering the heavenly city? The number one sin is cowardice, those who haven't been faithful to stand with the Lamb in the battle.

Are you faithful? Because the Lamb is winning. The Lamb is winning.

And however demonic the state becomes, that state will be defeated. Pharaoh ruled in Egypt maybe as much as 2,500 years. That's a long time.

That's older than Harry Reader, older than Bob Godfrey, 2,500 years. Where's Pharaoh today? Where's Hitler today?

Where is Stalin today? You know what the first word in the book of the Revelation about Babylon, that great prostitute is? The first word, Revelation 14.8.

Don't forget this first word. The first word in the Bible in the book of the Revelation about Babylon is fallen. Fallen is Babylon the Great. Those forces that rise up against God will not stand however powerful they seem to be in the moment. How should we as Christians think about these things? As Christians, it seems to me we ought to think this way. This world is important, and we ought to seek to be as faithful, as justice-promoting, as loving in this world as we can be.

And we ought to use what influence we have that our government would reflect real justice and real love. But while we believe that, sincerely, while we should work for that earnestly, we have to even more fundamentally remind ourselves, as Hebrews 13 tells us, we have here no continuing city. We have a city here, wherever we're from. We have a city. We should be concerned about the city. But when we are concerned about the city that we have here and now, we need to remember that city will not continue. It's not our ultimate concern.

It's not the ultimate value. Because Jesus said, my kingdom is not of this world. My purpose is not to challenge Pilate to be governor of Judea. My purpose is to call people into a kingdom that cannot be shaken, that will endure forever, that will be a kingdom in which finally, finally, finally there will be righteousness through and through.

Read Psalm 87, maybe even sing it. Psalm 87 says, everyone, everyone, everyone who knows the Lord God is born again in Zion. That's our city. That's the city that will continue. That's the city in which righteousness will dwell. That's the city in which we will all love one another as we ought to be loved. And until then, until the revelation of that city, let's try to be less outraged and more loving and in that way be a light to the world.

Living under the authority of a secular government presents us with ethical dilemmas, doesn't it? I'm thankful for Dr. Robert Godfrey's clarity today as he explored the Christian's ethical duty in society. All week here on Renewing Your Mind, we have been pleased to bring you sessions from the 2022 Ligonier National Conference. Our theme this year was Upholding Christian Ethics, and throughout the conference, our speakers taught us how we as Christians can live with integrity in a world where God is hated, immorality celebrated, and the truth suppressed. And that's a big part of what we do here at Ligonier Ministries, teaching Christians to live with integrity as we engage a hostile world and hold tight to biblical truth.

We recently heard from Sarah, who told us a story about how the many resources we publish and produce here at Ligonier have helped her and her family, in particular one teaching series. I grew up in a strong Christian household where Jesus was just always something I wanted to learn more about. But largely I remember my dad telling me stories about how much he would argue about faith and Reformed theology and how he just wasn't sure how to feel about it.

But it wasn't until he came across R.C. Sproul's teaching series, The Holiness of God, that his faith was just truly altered for forever. And it's been something that has blessed him. It has blessed his marriage with my mom. It has blessed me and my siblings. Growing up, because of this inspiring story from my dad, R.C.

Sproul has a really special place in my heart. The passion that he has for God is just so beautiful and something that I love hearing when I learn more about God and what His Word says. And that's why we'd like to ask you to come alongside us and give a donation of any amount to Ligonier Ministries. Your generosity enables trustworthy teaching that proclaims the holiness of God to millions of people and equips Christians around the world to think and live biblically. We thank you, because by His grace, the Lord is using your donations to transform hearts, renew minds, and change lives. If you'd like to join us in this effort by giving a donation, would you call us at 800-435-4343? You can also give online at I'm Lee Webb, grateful that you spent this time with us today. Would you make plans to join us again Monday for Renewing Your Mind?
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-27 19:27:36 / 2023-02-27 19:35:04 / 7

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