The Gospel and Politics: The Place of Government

     If the purpose of this blog is to demonstrate how the gospel impacts every aspect of human life, then perhaps there is no timelier place to begin than the issue of politics and government. As the presidential campaigning continues and Americans come to decide whom they will cast a vote for, Christians need, more than ever, to know how the truth of God’s word informs their political persuasions. And this goes far beyond identifying which candidates share the Christian ethic when it comes to topics like marriage or abortion. Instead, there must be a more broad understanding in terms of how the very concept of government functions within the overall gospel story.

     When we look at Scripture, the very first chapter of the entire Bible reveals that government is grounded in the creation narrative. In Genesis 1:26-28, we read,

Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.

     From the very beginning, God not only gave purpose and meaning to mankind, but also structured how men and women would interact with one another and with the rest of creation. Individuals were not left to think only of themselves or to pursue their self-interests to the exclusion of others. Instead, there was a common goal: to fill the earth with the image of the Creator and to subdue, or have dominion over the rest of creation. In other words, the governance of creation, including the relationships between men and women, was a good gift to mankind that clarified and organized its purpose and activity. Because of this, one is off base to completely ignore government or vilify its existence; in and of itself, government is not a necessary evil, but a gift from our Creator.

     At the same time, the gospel worldview understands that life in the garden in Eden did not stay as it ought to have stayed; the fall radically fractured the integrity of creation, including the human institution of government. What would have functioned perfectly and in the right direction, was now drastically alter so that humanity’s governance reflected not the intentions of the righteous Creator, but the selfish ambitions of wicked men and women. Mankind organizing itself into forms of government was not evil in and of itself, but the ends to which those forms of government were employed had become tainted with sin. As one book puts it, “In the aftermath of the fall, the political realm remains structurally good but has been corrupted directionally.”[1]

     Of course, over the course of Scripture we see sin’s damaging consequences in human relationships and government both locally and nationally. Leaders routinely departed from the Lord’s intentions and led people into further and further rebellion. In Israel, the land itself suffered and lay desolate and wild instead of cultivated and flourishing all because of the unbelief and sin of Israel’s leaders. Rather than trusting in God, kings trusted in the vastness of their armies and the maneuvering of their own political insight and power mongering. Lording their authority over the people, they perverted justice and turned a blind eye to the oppression of the weakest in society.

     But even so, Scripture is clear: God still establishes governments for the good of people, to protect the righteous and to punish wrongdoers (cf. Rom. 13:1-7). This is why, even in horrendous political situations and circumstances, believers are commanded to pray for those God has brought to power (cf. 1 Pet. 2:13-17). For we know, that behind any particular way a leader arrives on the scene—whether it’s through revolution or election—God is ultimately the One who raises up leaders and who throws them down. He has a plan that is even working itself out through the nations and rulers that rise and fall. And in the midst of leaders coming and going, the Bible begins to describe a coming King who will actually succeed where others have failed.

     This is because human government is intended to point beyond itself to that greater kingdom that holds supreme power: the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. Before sin entered the world through the fall, human government would have perfectly reflected the reign of God over creation. And on this side of the fall, it still does so, though imperfectly. At the same time, the injustices wrought by today’s fallen governments point us to the coming kingdom where justice will never be discarded and oppression will never be experienced, and where the King will rule over all of creation by the wisdom and understanding of God’s Spirit (cf. Isa. 11: 1-10).

     And so there is no need to abandon politics for the sake of Christian faithfulness or to pursue a more focused spirituality that is “so heavenly minded that it’s of no earthly value.” The concept of government is not in and of itself bad or evil; it is a gracious gift of our holy and righteous Creator. Rather, you and I—the men and women involved in government—are the sources of corruption. The gospel tells us this when it speaks of our wickedness and self-centeredness. Viewing the political arena through eyes that are informed by the gospel allows us to better understand the scope of our fallen predicament and the extent to which government provides a response. The extent of that response will be the topic of our next post in our series on The Gospel and Politics.


[1] Ashford, Bruce and Pappalardo, One Nation Under God (Nashville: B&H Publishing), 9.