02 Jul MacArthur’s Perspective on Submission to an Anti-God Government
All of the following are direct quotes from the John MacArthur Commentary set regarding his teaching on government, submission, respect, and relationship to unbelievers and unbelieving civil leadership. Sadly, it seems over the past 3 years, much of this has been set aside or ignored or a new belief has developed based on actions and words by many in Christian circles including those who produce and support these commentaries.
We think what is contained in these commentaries is Biblically accurate and consistent with the Word of God and something we all need to read, consider, and embrace. This teaching is a good reminder to all of us, especially when we struggle to submit to our civil leaders. Obviously submission to civil authorities is disobeyed if they seek to compel us to disobey God’s Word, but this does not mean just because they are evil, sinful, haters of God or His Word, but only when they seek to compel us to violate God’s Word (Acts 5:29). Submission, by definition, is not truly submission when we only obey when we agree. It is a choosing to place oneself under, regardless of agreement or cost, out of reverence and obedience to Christ.
Also, as John clearly points out below, we are not called to submission only when these civil authorities are upholding the Word (or law) of God as some are teaching today. In Paul’s day, in Peter’s day, in Jesus day, the civil government was not only not obeying the law of God, they were evil, vile, wicked, perverse, etc., etc. yet the call to submit (again, unless they were compelling us to disobey God’s Word by submitting to them, such as; you can’t preach Christ as the only way of salvation, you can’t preach conversion and transformation in Christ, you can’t call sin, sin, you can’t pray, etc.).
This teaching is also helpful for us in the call to be gentle, kind, and good to unsaved people even as they get more and more sinful, immoral, etc. and even as they turn against us. So many today, even pastors and church leaders, are so harsh, caustic, insulting, and attacking of those who are not followers of Jesus Christ, especially when those people are in leadership in areas of politics, education, etc. We must proclaim the gospel, speak the truth, but it must be done not only in love, but in Christ-like meekness, keeping in mind Peter’s injunction, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” (1 Peter 2: 12).
We thank John MacArthur and those who have done the work to make these commentaries available to us. We are just quoting his teaching, allowing his words to speak for themselves.
I have only added my own emphasis by editing the font via; bold, underline, and increased size, to help you catch some of the more crucial statements, truths, and cautions.
“The many biblical tenets and standards that once were part of the fabric of our country, and that provided the undeniable cultural benefits of morality, are now gone. Whatever its form or practical benefits may have been, cultural Christianity is dead. Self-expression, moral freedom, materialism, and hedonism are the prevailing gods. Those gods, as clearly pagan as any in the ancient Greek or Roman pantheons, have inevitably spawned the epidemic breakdown of families, illegitimate births, sexual evils of every sort, unequaled growth of drug addiction and crime, and the wanton destruction of unborn babies. In the name of intellectual and scientific progress, godless philosophies have long dominated secular as well as much private education.
In reaction to the rapid and pervasive escalation of immorality and ungodliness, believers have become both saddened and angered. Hostility among some of them has been intensified still further when they learn that their taxes are being used to fund ideas and practices that only a few generations ago were condemned even by most secularists. They fear for their children and even more for their grandchildren because of the kind of world into which they will be born, educated, and have to live.
Many well-meaning Christian leaders have founded organizations to counteract anti-Christian influences and assaults. Attempting to fight fire with fire, as it were, Christian organizations, publishers, and broadcasters have sought to counter anti-Christian ideas and programs by using non-Christian tactics. They have decided it is time to stand up for their “rights” and have declared war on the prevailing non-Christian culture, especially the liberal national media.
They have become hostile to unbelievers, the very ones God has called them to love and reach with the gospel.
But neither the New Testament nor the example of the early church justifies such a mentality. The cause of Christ cannot be protected or expanded by social intimidation any more than by government decree or military conquest.
We must repudiate our confused loyalties and concerns for the passing world and put aside our misguided efforts to change culture externally. To allow our thoughts, plans, time, money, and energy to be spent trying to make a superficially Christian America, or to put a veneer of morality over the world, is to distort the gospel, misconstrue our divine calling, and squander our God-given resources.
We must not weaken our spiritual mission, obscure our priority of proclaiming the gospel of salvation, or become confused about our spiritual citizenship, loyalties, and obligations. We are to change society, but by faithfully proclaiming the gospel, which changes lives on the inside.
As this passage in Titus and many others in the New Testament make clear, we must not become so engulfed in trying to force social behavior to conform to our standards that we become enemies of those our Lord has called us to win to Himself. We must reject sin and never compromise God’s standards of righteousness. But we also must never engage in defamation and denigration of the lost sinners who make up our corrupt culture.
When Christians become political, sinners become the enemy instead of the mission field.
Paul obviously was consumed with the divine mandate to evangelize when he wrote this letter to Titus. It was not his desire for Christians living in the pagan culture of Crete to turn on the unbelievers and try to force changes in cultural standards and personal behavior in order to be less offended by their society.
No Christian can help wishing that the moral standards of society were better. We do grieve over the rampant lewdness, indecency, deceitfulness, vulgarity, unchastity, extreme self-indulgence, and every other form of depravity that is corroding our society.
as noble as the desire to reform culture may be, God does not call the church to impact society by promoting laws and judicial decisions that support biblical standards of behavior.
The single divine calling of the church is to bring sinful people to salvation through Christ.
Like ancient Israel, we are to be “a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ, … a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:5, 9; cf. Ex. 19:6).
The purpose of a priest is to bring God to people and people to God. If we do not lead the lost to salvation, nothing else we do for them, no matter how beneficial at the time, is of any eternal consequence. Whether a person is an atheist or a theist, a hooligan or a model citizen, a criminal or a policeman, a sexual pervert or a paragon of virtue, a brutal tyrant or a gracious benefactor—if he does not have a saving relationship to Jesus Christ, his destiny is hell. Whether he is a militant proabortionist or a militant antiabortionist, if he is not saved, he will spend eternity apart from God. It makes no difference whether a person goes to hell as a policeman, a junkie, or a judge. The end is the same.
When the church adopts a moralizing approach, its energy and resources are diverted and evangelization suffers.
When Christians become hostile to government and to society in general, they almost inevitably become hostile to the unsaved leaders of that government and the unsaved citizens who live in that society.
We cannot afford to weaken our spiritual mission or our priority of gospel proclamation and kingdom consciousness by getting involved in efforts to change cultural behavior.
Even more important, we cannot become enemies of the very ones we seek to win to Christ, our potential brothers and sisters in the Lord. When people come to Christ, He changes them and they change the sphere that they influence.
Really changing society starts when a Christian’s moral and spiritual concern is for his own virtue and godliness. It is our righteous attitude and conduct that make us not only more pleasing to the Lord but more pleasing to the unsaved. It is righteous living that makes the saving message of the gospel believable to the lost. If we claim to be saved from sin but still live sinful lives, our preaching and teaching, no matter how orthodox, is likely to fall on deaf ears.
In Paul’s day, of course, there was no cultural Christianity to confront and denounce, only blatant paganism—with all the malevolent trappings that Satan could generate within it—and weak, superficial, and hypocritical Judaism.
Because of his wide-ranging education before his conversion, Paul was particularly familiar with both superficial Judaism and established paganism. He knew what it was like to live in a world of murderous tyrants, gross inequality and injustice, and sexual looseness and perversion. The Roman Empire, which in that day comprised all of the known Western world and some of the eastern, was engulfed by idolatry, ritual prostitution, slavery, extortion, and exorbitant taxation. Only Roman citizens had reasonable protection under the law, and even that privileged status could easily be forfeited. There was plenty to make believers angry at their society.
Yet Paul, like Jesus, did not spend his time condemning pagan beliefs and practices.
He did not admonish believers to impact pagan culture by trying to reform its idolatry, immorality, and corruption. Nor did he call for nonviolent, much less violent, resistance against unjust laws or inhuman punishments.
He called rather for believers to preach, teach, and witness to the transforming power of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ and to live lives that gave clear evidence of that power.
And particularly he did not want believers to resent unbelievers, but rather to show them love and compassion.”
“The Roman government under which the early church lived not only was thoroughly pagan and morally debauched but also was despotic, oppressive, unjust, and brutal. Nevertheless, Paul makes clear that the Christian’s obligation to respect and obey human government does not rest on its being democratic or just but solely on its being the God-ordained means by which human society is regulated. Therefore, as Paul makes clear in the passage just cited, the person who resists and opposes human government, resists and opposes God.
Second, we are to be obedient to human authorities. The only exception regards their commanding us to do something that is against the command of God. Such an exception is found in the account of Acts 4.”
“Fourth, we are to malign no one, not even those who contribute most to the assault on biblical standards. Even while contending against the worst of sins committed by the worst of sinners, we must never stoop to maligning those whose sin we detest. … It (‘malign’) is to slander, curse, and treat with contempt, and it can never be done from a righteous motive. … It is tragic that many Christians speak contemptuously of politicians and other public figures, not realizing that in doing so they hinder the work of redemption … we are to be uncontentious, meaning friendly and peaceful toward the lost rather than quarrelsome and belligerent.”
(All of the above are direct quotes from the John MacArthur commentary on Titus 3, 1996.)
“Although Peter and Paul both lived in the openly sinful, decadent Roman Empire—a society infamous for evil (homosexuality, infanticide, government corruption, abuse of women, immorality, violence), neither apostle offered any exemption by which believers were free to defy civil authority. Jesus Himself had commanded, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Matt. 22:21).
Throughout history and presently there have been various violations of ordinances, acts of civil disobedience, insurrections, revolutions, and different subversive attempts to overthrow governments—all in the name of Christianity. Scripture nowhere condones such actions. On the contrary, the biblical command is simple—submit to civil authority, regardless of its nature (see the discussion of 2:18 in the next chapter of this volume). Even unreasonable, evil, harsh rulers and oppressive systems are far better than anarchy. And all forms of government, from dictatorships to democracies, are filled with evil because they are led by fallen sinners. Still, civil authority is from God, though the individual rulers may be godless.”
“It is more important to God that those who are citizens of heaven display a faithful testimony, marked by spiritual integrity, than that they strive to attain all their perceived rights in this world.”
(The above quotes are from John MacArthur’s commentary on 1 Peter 2, 2004)
Ps. This is a great, Biblical, helpful answer by John, to a question about whether Christians should ever protest against the government. This was part of an evening Q&A at their church. The question begins at the 53:35 mark. The video is HERE.