Monday, May 2, 2011

God Uses Government To Punish Wickedness

Should governments punish law breakers and murderous men, bringing them to justice?

This is a sensitive issue. On the one hand, hell is such an unthinkable place of torment; God declares that he has no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11) - and neither should we. After all, he has sent his people out with a message of salvation for sinners; not to enjoy seeing sinful men go to hell, but to rejoice as they repent of sin and embrace Christ.

But on the other hand, God shows forth his wrath, like all of his attributes, for his glory. He is praised for his outpoured wrath and justice on the wicked in Revelation (19:3). And Scripture says that God has given a "sword" to earthly governments:
For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Romans 13:3-4, ESV
Government, then, is a gift from God - a display of God's common grace to all people - to curb the sin of sinners and restrain the violence of wicked men. Governmental justice is a tool in the hand of God to display his wrath against sin. This is a good thing, for which God is praised. Every instance of a murderer being brought to justice by the authorities of government is a rescue of life and a blessing to those he would have harmed.

John Calvin made the following comments on these verses from Romans 13:
And private men are reminded, that it is through the divine goodness that they are defended by the sword of princes against injuries done by the wicked. For they bear not the sword in vain, etc. It is another part of the office of magistrates, that they ought forcibly to repress the waywardness of evil men, who do not willingly suffer themselves to be governed by laws, and to inflict such punishment on their offenses as God’s judgment requires; for he expressly declares, that they are armed with the sword, not for an empty show, but that they may smite evil-doers. And then he says, An avenger, to execute wrath. This is the same as if it had been said, that he is an executioner of God’s wrath; and this he shows himself to be by having the sword, which the Lord has delivered into his hand. This is a remarkable passage for the purpose of proving the right of the sword; for if the Lord, by arming the magistrate, has also committed to him the use of the sword, whenever he visits the guilty with death, by executing God’s vengeance, he obeys his commands. Contend then do they with God who think it unlawful to shed the blood of wicked men. (Calvin's Commentaries)  
Let us thank God for the gift of his common grace, by which he uses justice and the sword in the hand of government to protect people and restrain the wrath of man. But let us also pray for sinners to repent and be saved, rather than die in their sins.

Finally, let us remember that all of us deserve God's justice for our sins. But God has displayed his love by sending his Son, Jesus Christ, to earth as a Man, so that he could die on the cross in our place and receive God's justice for us, that we may freely receive God's mercy. Jesus died and rose again, and in belief of this gospel we are saved from our sins and are received into the arms of God!

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