Every day there’s at least one heated discussion in the news that brings up the question of Christian involvement in society. What is the Christian’s responsibility in social matters? There’s Gosnell and abortion, homosexuality, the IRS, unrestricted presidential power, and so on. And one of the most common things you hear, even among Christians, is that it’s enough to personally obey God’s moral standards and leave the world around us to do as it pleases.
Since judgment is for the church, the argument goes, we ought to mind our own business, keep our blinds closed and ignore the behavior of those in society who disregard God’s righteous standard, his law. Take the plank out of your own eye, we’re told. Christians are already too “judgmental”—the ultimate derogatory label in society’s potent blacklisting toolbox.
You do your thing, I’ll do mine. “Jesus is for me, but I’m certainly not going to tell you how to live your life,” we hear from fellow Christians, as though that’s an acceptable, biblical position. It’s at this point politics comes into play and really starts to expose the contradiction inherent in this mindset. “Well, personally I’m pro-life, but politically I’m pro-choice,” or “Sure, I’m against homosexuality personally, but I don’t think my morality should be regulated by the government.”
This philosophy—simply one way of viewing the world—is based on an individualistic, autonomous conception of morality. It’s the idea that what I do doesn’t have any effect on society, as long as I’m not mowing people down with an AR in public spaces. I choose my own right and wrong, thank you very much. Likewise, we’re to leave others alone about their moral choices because that supposedly doesn’t affect us. If you want to practice homosexuality, fine, just don’t bother me about it. Don’t ask, don’t tell.
But the question is this: Is this position biblical? Are we all just individuals morally disconnected, operating on some ethical grid completely independent of one another? As long as we keep our own noses clean, are we good to go?
As the title of this article probably makes clear, this way of thinking is blatantly unbiblical. According to Scripture—which is the authoritative word on morality and ethics for every man in the universe, at all times—the Christian not only has an ethical responsibility to obey the law of God in his own life, he is also responsible to promote the keeping of God’s law in the society in which he lives.
We don’t get to determine morality on an individual basis because it’s not our law—it’s His. When I speak up about the evil of abortion or homosexuality or adultery, it is not me imposing my moral standards on someone else; it is me bearing faithful witness to God’s universal law, which has binding force on everyone. If I don’t apply His standard to others in love, then I’m as guilty as the one sinning. Let that sink in for a moment.
Everywhere you look in the Scriptures you see both individual and corporate responsibility to uphold the law of God. The law itself indicates a corporate responsibility for sin (Exodus 20:5).
For example, Adam’s sin has ramifications for all humanity (Romans 5:12-19), just as one man’s obedience—Jesus Christ’s—has eternal consequences for others. When David sinned by ordering a census, all Israel was punished (2 Sam. 24:7), and when Achan disobeyed God’s command, the entire people suffered (Josh. 7:1, 10).
In Psalm 50, God rebukes his people, even threatening to tear them apart, because they saw evil happening and didn’t do anything about it: “When you saw a thief, you consented with him, and have been a partaker with adulterers” (v. 18). Notice how a witness who sees evil and does nothing about it is said to give consent to the crime, even to partake of it himself. That’s because a witness who refuses to speak up is as guilty in God’s eyes as the one who committed the crime. A Christian has a moral obligation to speak against evil when he sees it; if he does not, he is also held responsible for that evil.
God has this to say to the ones who see evil around them but remain silent: “You thought that I was altogether like you; but I will rebuke you, and set them in order before your eyes. Now consider this, you who forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver” (Psalm 50:21-22). In other words, you kept silent about the immorality in your midst, but God will hold you accountable—unlike you, he will not remain silent.
Consider Paul’s word about the universal application of God’s law and the condemnation it brings down, both on those who commit sins and those who approve of (or give consent to) such things:
“Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:32).
Even the Great Commission requires that Christians teach the unbelieving nations all that God commands: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations… teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19, 20).
The point is this: We are morally obligated as Christians to proclaim and uphold God’s law in every area of life, before all men. In order to faithfully preach the Gospel, we must proclaim the righteous standard which requires one man to die for the sins of many.
Believers must exhort their neighbors to know God through His Christ and to follow His ethical direction, showing what benefits flow from such behavior. They must also exhort governmental officials to enforce God’s righteous law by imposing divinely prescribed punishments upon violators of God’s law… Ephesians 5:11 commands the believer to reprove the works of darkness. No Christian can be silent in the face of violation against God’s law and the ungodly direction of his society (Bahnsen, Theonomy, 460, 62).
As it turns out, we are our brother’s keeper. What does that mean for us today? First, it means we really do have to take the plank out of our own eyes, because our sins impact others more than we care to know. As we address the sin in our lives, repenting of it, renewing our trust in Jesus and walking according to his law by the Spirit, it has a positive impact on the rest of society. Light can’t help but fill a room, salt can’t help but flavor the meat, and yeast can’t help but make the whole loaf rise.
Second, the whole point of taking the plank out of your own eye is to help your brother dislodge his. We start with personal repentance, but we don’t end there. For instance, when a group of guys or gals at work are going on about inappropriate things, we are called in love to address it. “You know what, guys, that’s inappropriate. We shouldn’t be joking about homosexuality or sex outside of marriage.” If we’re honest, that’s gonna make for an awkward Monday morning. But that’s what a faithful witness does—points to the truth, calls evil like he sees it and doesn’t keep his mouth shut.
In the end, we don’t get to decide which parts of God’s law we want to keep, enforce or proclaim to others. It’s not our moral standard; it’s His. He calls us to be faithful witnesses, raising our voices against evil and pointing all men to the standard of his law. If we don’t speak up in our society against evil, God will hold us personally responsible.