October 1, 2012

Law And Gospel, or Law As Gospel (Part 1)

In the absence of a biblical understanding of the different roles that law and gospel play in the historical unfolding of God's kingdom reign, contemporary culture is perilously close to collapsing the two into a universal legal system, and the results will be nothing short of disastrous.

Psalm 119:174, “I long for your salvation, O Lord, and your law is my delight.”

Legislating Activism

My undergraduate studies took place at Toronto’s York University where I was enrolled in the International Development Studies program. When it came time to think about what to do after graduation, professors and advisors often repeated the same thing: “Don’t go into development work. Go get a law degree – that’s the way to effect change.” Why a law degree? Why did these academics see legislation and law as central to bringing about massive systemic and societal change?

If the advice of my former professors does not alarm you, it should. For behind this advice is an underlying philosophy which sees man-made legislation as the way to salvation. For many non-biblical thinkers, their law is gospel.

Law AND Gospel

For the Christian, law is both judgment – “For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law” (Rom. 12:2) – and delight – “The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces” (Psalm 119:72). But the law is never salvation: “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). The law reveals our sin and by it we are judged. The “good news” (gospel) is manifest when we declare that Jesus Christ willingly bore the punishment of a guilty verdict in our stead. After dying our death, Jesus conquered death, was raised to life and is now seated at the right hand of God. He is the reigning King who, by his justification, enables us to be citizens of his Kingdom. His law, the same law by which we are judged, becomes our joy once we have been justified because we now hunger and thirst for the righteousness of our beloved King. To live according to His law is love: “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:10). His law tells us everything we need to know to walk in godliness, sets out the terms of abundant life and lays out the parameters for a just society in a sin-filled world.

Law AS Gospel

Without the biblical understanding of law and grace, and the God who gives both, secular thinking has made human beings the source of all law (an idea that is not new in history). Governments are formed that make laws and change laws according to the currents of the culture. Rather than acknowledging our transcendent law-giver to whom we will be held accountable, what was wrong yesterday could be allowed tomorrow and what was permissible in the last decade could be a heinous injustice in the next. The thinking which eclipsed God also denies the problem of sin. Instead, all social problems are attributed to environmental factors or systemic power relations, of which we are all supposedly victims. The dominant secular humanistic thinking, combined with postmodern analytical methods and the rise of Marxist political theory, moves us toward pragmatic measures of social control through legal manipulation and programming by the civil government. It is thought that if we could just control or change our environment and the structures around us we could have a better world. Legislation forces people to abide by the progressive moral order. The law becomes the “gospel” because we look to it for salvation and transformation – to bring about whichever ideal or end we seek (e.g. universal healthcare, the end of poverty through the redistribution of wealth, special ‘rights’ for people of all ‘sexual orientations’ or ‘genders,’ etc.).

One Government vs. Self-Government

Without the biblical understanding of the self-government of individual believers by the power of the Holy Spirit, and the separate structures of accountability and governance in the family, the school, and the church, the non-biblical theorist today thinks in terms of only one form of government: the civil government. Without an understanding of God’s providential plan in history, and his power at work to bring about his purposes now, we are left to trust in the will and power of human beings, a will executed through the laws of the civil government. A former neighbour of mine demonstrated this quite well. He works for the government of Canada in environmental protection and believes particular measures need to be taken by all Canadians in order to stop global warming. In frustration, he vented how most people were not concerned enough nor doing enough to ‘save’ the planet. Then he militantly went on to boast of how as a policy writer he can force Canadians to do what he sees as best and to comply with his standards, since his ‘saving’ policies are being enforced through legislation.

Universal Jurisdiction: Embracing Law as Gospel

Most people are not under the illusion that politics is perfect. National governments and their politicking have not proved faultless. However, while some critics see their untrustworthiness evidencing a need to limit the power of civil government and reduce its size and reach (premising the immoral natural state of every individual), others have become advocates of universal jurisdiction, desiring instead to place politicians under the supervision of an international judiciary.[1] Unlike politicians elected by the people, this judiciary, with an incredible arbitrariness in its procedure and decision-making standards, would lack accountability. Rather than civil governments acknowledging that they are under the authority of God (as was the case in the founding of both Canada and United States), they would be accountable to an international court which functions as ‘god’ – judge of all, accountable to none – the tyrant court.

Advocates of universal jurisdiction argue that because of the ineptitude of state governments, politics must be replaced by law, a universal law – full stop. It is believed that this replacement would bring about peace and justice for all, even though there is no historical evidence to support this theory. Many of the ideological supporters of universal jurisdiction are the minds behind the Rome Statute which instituted the International Criminal Court, which operates today. Canada played a key role in the development of this court and was the first country in the world to adopt comprehensive legislation implementing the Rome Statute.[2] We as a nation are therefore at the forefront of embracing law as gospel.

(Part 2)

For a more complete treatment of this subject, see the article “Law and Gospel or Law as Gospel,” in the Winter 2012 issue of Jubilee.


[1] Roth, K. (2001). “The Case for Universal Jurisdiction.” Foreign Affairs. Council on Foreign Relations, Inc.

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