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“When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan.” (Prov 29:2)

“Our Cultural Mandate - Part II ”

In addressing our Biblical mandate to engage cultural and governmental institutions around us, the Old Testament is a rich source to draw from.  In this second part of our Cultural Mandate series, I’ll explore the controversial example of Israel and how it applies to present day laws.  Old Testament Israel has been used and abused in application to our nation with at least two extremes tending to occur.  One is directly applying Old Testament Israel’s theocratic condition to our country.  The justification is that Jesus Christ is King and Lord over all nations, and God’s word applies here and now as in ancient Israel’s time.  The second is to ignore Israel’s example altogether since Christians live under a new covenant through Christ and are no longer concerned about God’s law.  Instead of these two approaches, I believe a more prudent view is to take Old Testament laws that governed Israel and adapt them with wisdom, discernment and mercy to the nation we find ourselves in. 

This makes sense, since God knows what’s best for all of mankind, and gave Israel moral and civil laws for their good and as a testimony to the world (Deut 4:5-8).  In its beginning, Israel was ruled directly by God.  In our era, the Lord has provided authorities (government) over us for our good (Rom 13:1-7).  Considering we don’t live in Old Testament Israel, and the United States is not a Christian nation but a “Christianized” nation (in my opinion), the challenge now is to figure out how to apply Israel’s situation in an effective way. Part of the answer is to look at some examples and go from there.  But first, back to basics.

The moral laws of God, wonderfully summarized in the 10 Commandments, reflect God’s holy nature and will, distinguish good from evil, and provide the moral foundation for all laws since then.  If these are not recognized and taught diligently, then little basis exists for legal standards to judge what is right or wrong.  This was well understood by John Adams when he said “Our Constitution was made only for a religious and moral people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other”.  In other words, without a basic moral fabric, no set of laws or enforcement will be effective in controlling sinful actions.  Through God’s mercy, however, man’s conscience does resonate with the truth of these Commandments whether our faith is Christian or not (Rom 2:12-15).  Take away God’s standard, however, and we’ll eventually define our own set to live by – and change them as needed to justify our own evil.

The outworking of God’s moral laws in Israel were civil laws that dealt with what was right or wrong behavior, and what should be appropriate punishment (justice).  The closer a moral nation bases justice on God’s standards the greater the blessings, when ignored, dire consequences can result.  Christians may differ on specifics of application, but in general the principles governing us are clear.  For illustration, consider the following: the taking of innocent life is condemned (Gen 9:6, Ex 20:13) but self defense is justified (Ex 22:2-3); conviction in a capital offense requires two or more witnesses (Deut 17:6); personal revenge is condemned (Deut 32:35); punishment is to be appropriate to the crime (Ex 21:24); judgment is to be impartial (Prov 18:5) and not excessive (Deut 19:21); false witnesses are to be punished (Deut 19:18-19); rights of appeal are to be available (Ex 18:13-26); restitution to victims is required (Ex 22:3,9); only the guilty person is to be punished (Deut 24:16); and even irresponsibility (carelessness) is addressed (Deut 22:8).

You may think this short list of principles is obvious, but they’re not universally known or applied.  Countries with a Biblical foundation like ours have grown up thinking this is the norm – but it’s only because of the Christian legacy of applying God’s perfect word. Though the list could be much longer, the point is clear - the further we stray from God’s standard for justice to govern our affairs, the more evil is encouraged to exist.  Obviously, if we don’t engage government to define the evil to be punished and the good to be commended – who will?  Do I think that proper laws will change a person’s heart?  No, only coming to Jesus Christ will truly change an evil heart.  But righteous laws will help bring godly order to society, and conviction of wrongdoing (sin) to hearts God has tenderized.  Laws are meant to control society and protect what is good.  If we’re not using God’s word to influence the laws of this nation, we all know we won’t escape the consequences. 


Frank Kacer
Executive Director, Christian Citizenship Council of San Diego

First published as a Guest Commentary in the May 2007 issue of Good News Etc.