“Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25). “He comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with the truth” (Ps. 96:13).
What about government?
Paul and Peter never addressed the evils of the state. They did not expect the government to live like them or to agree with them. Peter anticipated suffering from a hostile culture. He called Christians exiles and aliens, and Paul called us citizens of heaven. We don’t belong to this world, which is why we have trouble.
That we would try to change our government may suggest that we are too much in the world. A better strategy includes doing good deeds (I Peter 2:12, 3:16) and sharing the gospel, which Paul did with Agrippa. A Christian’s primary responsibility toward government is submission (Romans 13, I Peter 2). Paul and Peter suffered at the hands of the Roman government. Still they were surprisingly positive. Christians in America are more negative with a much less oppressive government. A republic brings more rights and responsibilities than a monarchy (England) or dictatorship (Rome), but the scripture still stands, “Honor the emperor.”
Jesus said to Pilate, the governor who would illegally release Him to His death, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight” (John 19:36). Jesus had political activists on His team. He disappointed them when He didn’t make His move against Rome. It wasn’t that they were thinking too big; they were thinking too small. He was not overthrowing Rome; He was overthrowing every government. Our battle includes principalities and powers. Jesus came to die for the sins of the world, not to make Rome more tolerable. That agenda is insufficient for world-changers. “Put not your trust in princes or in the son of man in whom there is no help” (Ps. 146:3). This psalm shows the vanity of any trust less than the Creator, and certainly not government. Our message is subversive, undermining every earthly and demonic power. Making a government more Christian-friendly is not our assignment.
What about counter-culture?
The church is engaged in a conspiracy of love, bringing a message that cannot be received apart from the Holy Spirit. Being counter-cultural means suffering. The reason we don’t understand I Peter is that we have not suffered for our faith like Christians in other countries. Suffering causes the gospel to explode with power. We never were a Christian culture in America, but we had the underpinnings. Those have gradually been stripped away, and persecution is now possible. If the people of God respond with love as Jesus and the apostles mandated, the world will better understand the gospel of grace.
Christians and non-Christians are worlds apart. They are dead in their sins, while Christians are dead to sin. To speak to the world in a moralizing way as if they should conduct themselves in a spiritually acceptable manner subverts our message. The world thinks it is, “Be good and go to church.” It is centered in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are not trying to make people better. We are called to make them new. We are not surprised when pagans live like pagans. They have no other way until encountered by the living God.
Our message is counter-cultural. It speaks about an alien government, an absent King, and an other-worldly kingdom. The early church expected persecution, not agreement, and they were not surprised. And Peter told us not to be surprised.
What does “post-Christian” mean? That we’re the bad guy rather than the good guy, that morals are up for grabs, that the Christian underpinnings are no longer visible, that we are at a disadvantage rather than an advantage…
…which actually puts us at the advantage. It’s not a fair fight; darkness never wins. The church in America has offered society Christianity Lite. Now they may see what we are about. Think apostolic Christianity, when the world looked on with fear: “None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high honor. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord…” (Acts 5:13,14). The greater the distance, the greater the respect. They have watched with low-level tolerance. That is changing!
What about judgment?
If we call it to fall on a post-Christian America, are we asking it also for a sleeping church living far below the New Testament standard? Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27, 28). This will prove more effective than judging. Kindness reveals our identity: “You will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish” (35).
We’ve been quick to judge, slow to love. Peter reminds us that judgment begins in the household of faith (I Peter 4:17). Do we have a double standard? I was sad as a pastor that so many young people dishonored the marriage covenant by having sex before marriage. We should not expect pagans to live like Christians, but Christians should. Are we surprised that non-Christians of the same sex are sleeping together or that a largely non-Christian court favored humanism over Christianity?
Don’t worry. Our King wins! Isaiah said, “The government will be upon his shoulders.” And John powerfully wrote, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and He shall reign for ever and ever!”