In Part I of this series, the question that I had sought a biblical answer for was “When is it permissible for the Christian to disobey civil authorities?” The impetus to search for an answer was persuaded by the current sociopolitical environment, in which secular authorities, under the pretext of an acute public health crisis, have already used their political power to shut down churches across the United States and in many other countries around the world. For the Christian whose ultimate allegiance is to their true king (Christ), a tension subsequently exists between how they are to faithfully serve Jesus and how they are to be an exemplary citizen and act Christlike in the Christ-less kingdom of the world. To answer the question in Part I, the main text used, as follows, comes from Romans 13:1–7 (NASB):
Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore, whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore, it is necessary to be in subjection not only because of wrath but also for conscience’s sake. For because of this, you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.
An analysis of these scriptures reveals that God has not called the State to simply rule by fiat. The text (as well as the whole canon of Scripture) also makes clear that the Christian is not called to unquestioningly submit to every edict that Caesar makes without a consideration of how that edict compares to the ultimate law: the Word of God. Accordingly, what Romans 13:1–7 makes plain is that God has called the State to be moral: a defender of good and a punisher of evil. Hence, when the State either discourages virtue or encourages vice (and is therefore itself an agent of evil), it does not act like a legitimate governing authority. An illegitimate authority is not to be uncritically followed; rather, it is to be prophetically critiqued. It is therefore permissible for the Christian to disobey civil authorities whenever Rome commands them to do something that God specifically forbids. In such cases, not only may a Christian disobey; he must disobey, for his ultimate allegiance is to God, not to Caesar. The inverse is also true; the Christian must disobey the State when it commands the Christian not to do something that God commands them to do. Jesus says in John 14:15, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” Jesus does not say, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments . . . unless Caesar says otherwise.” In the end, God is sovereign; the State is not.
Furthermore, if we incorporate what the apostle Peter says about the Christian and the State (I Peter 2:13–20), we see that he reminds us that we are pilgrims in a foreign land and that our inheritance is in heaven; hence, we should model heavenly realities here on earth. This simply means that for the Christian dissident, the point is not mere dissent; rather, by living pro-Christ, the people of God fulfill their calling to act as God’s priestly people for the sake of the governing pagans who are hostile to them. Christian dissidents therefore act for the glory of God and always stand firm in the truth. They “live not by lies” and do not seek vengeance on those authorities who use immoral coercion. Living not by lies means living with a willingness to suffer for the truth and absorbing on the self whatever injustice is inflicted. This biblical understanding is crucial to comprehend; a tension will always exist within the citizen of heaven living in the kingdom of the world because as C. S. Lewis once said, the world is “enemy-occupied territory” for the Christian.
Cognizant of everything that has already been said, I neglected to address one glaring omission in my prior analysis: to assume a biblical understanding of worldly authority. The reality is that we live in an era where the Bible is more available than any other time in history, yet relatively speaking, at no other time has the Bible been so widely ignored. Many Christians in modernity do not have their own ideas of what secular authority is and what it is supposed to do informed by the Bible; rather, whether they are aware of it or not, for many, their functional beliefs about the State come from the State, tradition, and/or culture at large. As a result, they may bring earthly ideas of governing authorities into the text, which obviously causes difficulties because an attempt is being made to reconcile cultural ideology with divine revelation. Accordingly, when Christians debate over divergent conclusions on how a believer interacts with governing authorities, it is unproductive if the parties begin with the effects, as in “This is what I will do.” It is far more productive if the parties begin with causes, as in “From what source does your idea of a governing authority come?” From this starting point, Christians can have meaningful conversations about what a legitimate biblical governing authority is and their responsibility to it. Presumably, from such conversations, Christians will have a clearer idea that civil disobedience is not only biblically permissible in certain cases, but also our responsibility. In other words, as it was already mentioned, no Christian ever acts contra Caesar for the sake of acting against anything; instead, we may act contra Caesar because, first and foremost, we are acting for Christ’s kingdom, His truth, and His people. This course of action is typically costly and invariably involves suffering. This is one of the main differences between ideology (i.e., Statism) and truth. People who worship ideology typically cause other people to suffer for it; the truth is credible and just because people willingly suffer for the truth.
So the question at hand is this: what does the Bible say about governing authorities? What is a reasonable understanding of what a governing authority is supposed to be so that a child of God may faithfully chart a course of obedience to the Lord in the midst of secular governing authorities? In the subsequent analysis, my examination of the idea of secular authority will not only focus on broad principles but also fall into three specific areas of systematic theology: the doctrines of anthropology (man), hamartiology (sin), and eschatology (the end).
Examining Caesar according to Anthropology
By divine design, built into the essence of humanity is for them to rule over their environments. Hence, the idea of human government begins in the Bible’s first chapter. In Genesis 1:26 and 28, God’s intent is for man to rule over creation and to subdue it. (Of course, “rule and subdue” does not mean “exploit and abuse.”) Thus, the foundation of man ruling the environment around him is established in Eden, in the pre-Fall world. Subsequently, after the Fall of Man, Adam and Eve were judged and cast eastward out of Eden. This tells us that everything that happens next (which means all of human history) happens in the context of a fallen, sin-saturated world. The point is that there are no perfect governments. They are institutions composed of broken people who govern other broken people in the midst of a world that is broken. Truly, the State is necessary, but it is never ideal. It naturally follows that human government is never a means of salvation or sanctification because the Messiah would be born of a virgin, not the political process. Genesis 3 also tells us that since the exit from Eden, a holy war has been ongoing: that war, of course, is the result of the enmity placed between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. This often-overlooked Bible fact communicates the simple idea that while those of God exist in the world, they are neither of the world nor at peace with the world. While the church coexists with the kingdom of the world, the two are inherently incompatible.
Moreover, in Genesis, God also saw to it not to prescribe a specific type of government that is a biblical ideal. He saw it sufficient only to warn us against extremes: of total freedom with no control (anarchy) and total control with no freedom (totalitarianism). In Genesis 6, we have an example of the first extreme (anarchy), where, in essence, everyone could do what was right in their own eyes. Why? Because there was no earthly authority to protect the righteous and punish the wicked. The result was an immoral anarchy where every intent of the thoughts of men was on evil continually (6:5), and the earth was corrupt, filled with violence (6:11). The result was judgment in the form of the great global flood. In Genesis 11, we have a glimpse of a primitive totalitarian regime where everyone was united with a common cause: to build the Tower of Babel, the foolish goal of which was to reach the heavens above (11:4). I say that this historical narrative gives us insight into the extreme of control and no freedom because the tower was meant to supplant God and make a name for the ones building it. In essence, Babel was a monument of idolatry where man built his own “stairway to heaven.” The result was not man saving man but divine judgment: a confusion of languages and the scattering of people all over the face of the earth. So the principles that we subsequently derive from Genesis is that biblically speaking, human government strikes a balance between order and freedom. Either extreme is sinful in that in anarchy, “I am my own god.” In totalitarianism, the State is god because it seeks total control and to define the terms of reality (as in “If we build this tower, we can reach heaven”). In many ways, totalitarianism is an abominable child of anarchy because the true totalitarian is the self; what a totalitarian regime merely does is give individual tyrants power so that they can do what is right in their own eyes in the name of Caesar.
East of Eden, in the resultant history of the world, what we observe is that in general, secular power tends to be hierarchal in that you have a figure at the top of a pyramid, whether that figure is Caesar, the president, a king, a general, or a chief. Those leaders have subordinates underneath them, and essentially, what those at the top say is what goes. The system of checks and balances is biased in that the further up the pyramid you go, the less restraint there is on power. Now compare this to the biblical model of power, which is covenantal. This model is best typified in the theocratic Kingdom of Israel, as detailed in the Old Testament. In said model, no single “man at the top” existed. Instead, you had three different earthly offices in which leadership operated—prophet, priest, and king. In each office, the individual who occupied it was instructed not to operate as an owner but as a steward. This means that prophets, priests, and kings primarily served the true king (God) and then served the people with whom the Lord was in covenant. These earthly leaders were called to exemplify God’s heavenly care to His people. As a result, their performance in positions of leadership was focused on the well-being of the community. An ideal biblical prophet, priest, or king did not go for the highest bid or the most power; rather, they went for the highest service, and biblically speaking, power was segregated. In other words, each office operated in its own distinct sphere in society, and the power of one did not encroach upon that of another. As a result, no single and supreme figurehead had a monopoly on power. Distinct offices did retain the ability to critique the others, either for failure to perform or for overreach. For example, a prophet could openly rebuke a king (e.g., I Kings 18:17–19) for not administering justice according to the law or using his power for immorality. The point is that in the biblical model of covenantal power, authority was decentralized and confined to well-defined spheres to curb the sinful tendency of men to abuse their office. The abuse of God’s covenantal offices was one reason why the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel fell and the people were subsequently exiled. Biblical history tells us that in the Promised Land, over time, the people in general progressively hardened in their sins, turned their backs on God, and engaged in false worship. Their kings degenerated as well and acted more and more like worldly kings: prideful and power-hungry demagogues who did what was right in their own eyes. The result was decay from within and then societal collapse.
The last point I will make here is that the three biblical offices were able to critique one another because they were distinct. In modernity, the church is the institution that provides the prophetic voice in the kingdom of the world. So why is its prophetic voice often ignored? Well, one reason is that the Church has become indistinct from the rest of the world. The twenty-first-century church in the West is so non-influential because it preaches a message similar to secular culture: “We can make your life feel better, less God.” Accordingly, if the Church is not salty, how can it preserve anything? If the Church is just like the world, then what is there to critique? Is it not plausible to conclude that in many cases, the Church unquestioningly yields to Caesar because both are of the same essence? If the Church is no longer the church and is largely similar to the world, then its idea of authority is derived from Caesar (hierarchal), not the Bible (covenantal). It therefore comes as no surprise that the Church would uncritically accept the unbiblical mandates of secular authority while ignoring the mandate of truth required by the prophetic office.
Examining Caesar according to Hamartiology
Total depravity is a biblical doctrine that is intimately linked with the doctrine of original sin. In essence, total depravity recognizes the fact that as a result of the Fall of Man, every single human being is born morally corrupt and enslaved to sin. Our depravity is total in that it affects our total being: our minds, our hearts, and our wills. Total depravity explains that apart from the grace of God, every human being is morally unable to do the will of God.
Now let’s logically consider how total depravity relates to the State. Political institutions are not formed ex nihilo; they are born as a function of the people who create and constitute said institutions. In other words, political institutions are a creature’s creation. Subsequently, what political institutions become are materializations of secular power, but they achieve such as a function of the people who form them. Said people breathe life into the institution, and without said individuals, the system decays because living power ceases to hold the system up. So what happens when totally depraved individuals form a political institution and are ascribed power? They breathe total depravity into the idea of “authority” and now the system becomes a living thing. Said people, as a function of association with the State, do not suddenly become virtuous, nor are they granted the moral ability to do the will of God. The point is this: the State has no inherent virtue, and it would be the height of madness for any Christian to think that just because governing authorities have decreed something, it makes said decree right, just, or true. Decrees are not brutal facts. There are just laws and unjust laws. Hence, unless the source of said decree is grounded in divine truth, then it is grounded in total depravity. So for the Christian with an open Bible, when they discern the world around them, what is readily evident is that if total depravity is given coercive political power, the Christian should be highly concerned and cautious; they should also consider being more hesitant about unquestioningly obeying that which is fallen.
Examining Caesar according to Eschatology
The world is broken. How will we fix it? Who will usher in perpetual peace and harmony on earth? According to God, Christ is already King, and there is no need to “win the world” for Jesus because the world is already “won.” Christians are not called to make heaven on earth because in the end, God has already decreed that He will fashion a new heaven and a new earth where, literally, Christ will descend and take His rightful place on David’s throne to eternally reign over His kingdom right here on earth. Hence, divine, holy power will ultimately create utopia. God will usher in a utopia; therefore man will not because he cannot. After all, if man is sinful and lacks holy perfection and omnipotence, how does he expect to fashion a perfect utopia? Sadly, the perverse secular doctrine of eschatology means exactly that: man saving man and fashioning a utopia here on earth.
The word utopia comes from ancient Greek and literally means “not a place” (οu, “not,” and topos, “place”). A utopia is merely an ideal, and that ideal is unachievable. Embracing this fact is protective, but there is a utopia-striving view of the use of secular power that is very dangerous. Why is that? It is because when power aims for a utopian society (“We can make the world a better place”), invariably, a perpetual gap exists between what is and what can be. So what is the resolve? To close the gap by violence. As biblical evidence of this reality, remember that in the Book of Revelation, the ultimate manifestation of anti-Christ secular power, “the beast,” will fashion its own vision of paradise by causing the church to suffer and Christians to die.
Biblical eschatology: Utopia is not obtainable by man
The occasion for the apostle John to write the Book of Revelation was the early Christians’ refusal to participate in cultic worship of the emperor who was acclaimed as “lord” and “savior.” As a result, Christians were on a collision course with the State, and John prophetically saw that things would worsen before they improved. What was also revealed to the apostle was that churches were woefully unprepared for what was about to happen, so John wrote the great biblical book on eschatology both to encourage his fellow Christians and to announce God’s judgments against Rome. In Revelation, the hope that is given to the church is that God has already defeated the dragon (Satan) through the death and resurrection of Christ; God has also already determined to judge the beast (Rome) for its crimes against the people of God. Consequently, the present role of the people is to simply trust in the Lord. This helps explain why in Revelation 4 and 5, John provides us with a majestic and glorious vision of the heavenly throne, where there is constant praise and worship of the Lamb that is slain (Christ). From this perspective, believers are to view whatever happens on earth with humble boldness and patient confidence, being certain that while whatever we experience may be gruesome, in heaven, there is constant praise and worship of the exalted King. Furthermore, after this heavenly revelation, throughout the rest of the book, Christ appears as a slain Lamb; hence, this is the way that Christ’s followers are expected to triumph.
Revelation 12–14 forms both the literal and the theological center of the entire book. What message in contained there? It is that Satan (the real power behind the beast) is already defeated and that even he knows that Christ is victorious. The devil knows that his days are numbered and that he cannot wage war against God, so what is his last-ditch effort? To make war on God’s people through secular power. Let us not forget that Rome, the beast from the sea, is depicted in great might and it takes sweeping action which leads to many martyrdoms. What biblical eschatology therefore teaches us is that Caesar will ultimately become the Church’s greatest natural enemy in an attempt to build an earthly kingdom without God.
Before I move on, let me just say that eschatologically speaking, the Christian must not only carefully look out for Caesar trying to transform the world but also look at the Church. God only requires the Church to act like the church, nothing more. It will be judged for its own stewardship in preaching and teaching the Word, not how it conquers politics.
Lessons from history on the pursuit of utopia
Are there prior examples of regimes where those in secular authority believed that they could create a utopia, that they could wield the power of the State to “improve society” and “fix things” to “make a better world”? The answer is yes, and said examples are best represented by twentieth-century totalitarian regimes where the State held almost all control and used their power to try and create a utopia. Examples can be found in China (Mao), Russia (Lenin and Stalin), Cambodia, and many other places around the world. And how did the totalitarian pursuit of a Marxist utopia play out? In the last (roughly) one hundred years, totalitarianism has killed nearly one hundred million people. These people were killed by their own governments as a function of (for example) the execution of hostages, the murder of political dissidents, and deportation. What history tells us, beloved, is that a utopia is ideal for those who ascribe to Caesar’s idea of a godless utopia. For everyone else, they are merely enemies of the State and have neither a place nor a function; death is therefore the path of least resistance. Fittingly, Rudolph Rummel writes in his book Death by Government:
The more power a government has, the more it can act arbitrarily according to the whims and desires of the elite, and the more it will make war on others and murder its foreign and domestic subjects. The more constrained the power of governments, the more power is diffused, checked, and balanced, the less it will aggress on others and commit democide.
Notably, these facts ought not to be ignored because as I have written before, a Satanic, anti-Christ agenda is playing out in the West before our very eyes. One of the chief means that this agenda is using to supplant God and further its devilish ends is by using the power of secular authority to pass legislation and coerce people against divine truth and righteousness. The more secular power that this agenda has at its disposal, the more it can coerce against God. Analyzing the legacy of totalitarianism is therefore fitting because it preaches to us a simple message: “When Caesar acquires too much power, this is what happens. When citizens fail to discern and then reject illegitimate power for what it is, this is what happens—one hundred million people die.” That is not a utopia. It is a dystopian nightmare.
Furthermore, the totalitarian regimes of the prior century are instructive because they teach us what happens when there is a gross imbalance between power and freedom. When the State has supreme power and the people have little to no freedom, the State is free to exercise its power indiscriminately and to do what is right in its own eyes. You see, the pursuit of a utopia necessitates more than mere power; it also requires the abandonment of ultimate truth, morality, and love because (for example) for the State to allow millions of its own people to die, truth, love, and morality must be ignored. The path to a utopia is only walked by violence, for violence is the use of power that is unguided by moral principles. Violence is the use of power without justice, and ironically, violence becomes an agent of injustice in its application of power. Of course, biblically speaking, violence never yields the benefits that its user seeks. Not only do those who live by the sword die by the sword, but also, said violence is never cathartic. The only thing that is cathartic is forgiveness.
I took this brief sidetrack into the political history of the twentieth century to make one simple point: undoubtedly, some Christians lived under these totalitarian regimes and, at one point, had to decide whether it was lawful to continue to obey Caesar. Do you think that if they had what you have—historical perspective—they may have thought differently about the Christian’s role in the kingdom of the world as it related to their day-to-day lives under a totalitarian regime? One hundred million souls compel us to consider wisely. Yes, we are not living in a Marxist regime yet, but we are steadily proceeding toward totalitarianism under the guise of cultural Marxism. Truly, no reasonable person right now will ever support gulags, concentration camps, or firing squads. This is exactly why no reasonable person ought to be duped by the deceitful utopian rhetoric that clears the way and leads up to those abominations being born. Examples of such rhetoric include “This is just to keep you safe,” “It’s for your own good,” and “This is for everyone’s protection.” Whenever Caesar wants to build a better world, he does so by trampling underfoot God’s truth, morality, and love. Whenever Caesar wants to build a better world, he defines “better” and “world” according to Caesar. This is precisely why when Caesar declares his intention to build utopia, the Christian must take extreme caution and know that the virtuous thing to do is to act contra Caesar, cognizant of what is at stake. Consequently, the biggest danger for the modern Christian who does not adhere to a biblical assessment of what secular authority is and what it is prescribed to do is that he or she will presume about the role of the State and unquestioningly submit to it. Every time he or she follows this course of action, Caesar advances one step further toward total control.
How to Respond: Live Not by Lies
Alexandr Solzhenitsyn was a Nobel laureate and an Orthodox Christian. Born in the old Soviet Union, he was subsequently exiled for his anti-totalitarian ideas. He was likely the greatest anti-communist dissident of the twentieth century, and after he arrived in America, what he foresaw coming in the West was unlike what he had seen in the Soviet Union; what he saw coming in the West was worse. In other words, Mr. Solzhenitsyn did not foresee the rise of an old-school, 1984-like “hard totalitarianism” with gulags and burning books. Rather, he saw something much more insidious: a “soft totalitarianism” that aims to keep people comfortable and meet their felt needs. This rise of soft totalitarianism is eloquently described in a new book by Rod Dreher called Live Not by Lies. The book is based on the work of the late Mr. Solzhenitsyn. Consequently, what the author sees coming down the pike is a superficially kinder and gentler form of total State control where people are manipulated as a function of regulating access to comforts and conveniences while keeping at bay those things that displease them. The desired result is that people voluntarily surrender their rights in exchange for well-being. In this sense, the “soft” part of the totalitarianism refers to control that is “soft” because it is therapeutic. Thus, while the old totalitarianism conquered society through fear and pain, the new one will conquer by providing niceties and benefits that you can’t live without. The old State wanted to force us to surrender at gunpoint; the new “soft” State still wants surrender but by means of surrendering our wills. Soft totalitarianism will say, “Let the Christians have their faith,” but it will be a “Christianity without tears.” Consequently, the author of Live Not by Lies writes, “[Soft totalitarianism] masks its hatred of dissenters from its utopian ideology in the guise of helping and healing.”
The fact is, Caesar still abhors anyone who does not ascribe to his version of a utopia; the only difference now is that Caesar seeks to destroy nonconformists with a smile. Hence, make no mistake; this new regime still has the old agenda: to define truth itself and to have a totalitarian control of reality. This refers to not just what you do but also how you feel and think. This agenda also invariably means displacing all those traditional institutions (e.g., the Christian Church) that have power and influence in people’s lives. Indeed, true evil exists neither in its cause nor in its effects; it exists in the nature of a thing, and the nature of soft totalitarianism is self-exaltation and the lust for total control in the absence of God. The ideal citizen in a soft totalitarian State loves the State and bends the knee before it. In essence, the ideal subject lives by lies, and the ultimate political lie is “Caesar is lord.” Woefully, the tribe of soft totalitarians is once again trying to rebuild Babel in a move to supplant the Lord; ironically, this will leave Caesar as the only thing left that will be above and beyond anything of this world.
Thus, in the midst of an emerging totalitarian State, how do Christians respond? The way is certainly not to follow the mantra “Hail Caesar” when Caesar is contra Christ. Also, it simply won’t work to respond to totalitarianism in the same way that we would respond in the midst of a constitutional republic. Sadly, Christian resistance thus far has failed because it hasn’t been very Christian at all; in many instances, it has amounted to many within the Church sticking to the thoughtless principle “If Caesar decrees it, then we must obey.” This principle does not promote godliness; nor does it animate perseverance. This principle does provide legitimacy to an immoral, illegitimate State whose goal is to devour those who submit to it. Accordingly, in The Gulag Archipelago Volume II, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn wrote:
The timid civilized world has found nothing with which to oppose the onslaught of a sudden revival of barefaced barbarity other than concessions and smiles.
Solzhenitsyn believed that the core of the crisis that sustained totalitarianism was not political but spiritual. In other words, those who obeyed had faith in the system, and those who failed to resist lacked faith in anything else. What Solzhenitsyn saw in his fellow brothers and sisters who were worn down by State oppression is dehumanization: people forgot who they were and merely went with the flow. They smiled in a cowardly fashion and mumbled with their tongues tied. People were so beaten up that they were willing to abandon all their core principles as long as their delicate existence was not disrupted. How full of sorrow those in heaven must be when they look upon the earth and see bold sinners, fearful saints and hell advancing on the battlefield.
I’ll ask the question again: how then do modern Christians in the West respond to the looming threat of soft totalitarianism? The answer is, first, by trusting in God and living not by lies. You see, totalitarianism, in all its forms, is built on a foundational lie that the State is the sole source of truth. Furthermore, the most diabolical lie is that “I have no choice but to conform.” That, in fact, is the lie that gives Caesar all his power. Why do people believe these lies? Because they want to. They want their world to make sense and will desperately hold on to a lie if it helps them make their life comfortable. Additionally, if they hear that lie consistently, that is what convinces and persuades, not the content nor the veracity of what is being said. People, of course, are eager to gobble up the lies of men because their minds are not saturated in divine truth. As Mr. Solzhenitsyn once wrote, this teaches us that the most accessible key to individual liberation is personal non-involvement in lies. Yes, the powers that be may have power, but said power must not receive any help from you, the person who lives not by lies. Yes, let them be in control but without your assistance, for when a person refuses to live a lie, that lie’s days are numbered, as are the days of the power built upon a lie.
Moreover, it is not enough to simply be contra Caesar or against everything bad. A person remains whole by being for something virtuous. Accordingly, our upcoming roles as Christians cannot be to merely draw the shutters and hide; we must prepare to be of active service to the Church and to the world at large. We must recognize that in a world that is upside down, the value of truth claims does not depend on truth; it depends on who is making them. Christians therefore respond by not falling prey to the delusion that the entire problem is “somewhere out there” and not the person in the mirror who uncritically accepts falsehoods. Hence, the first step in living not by lies means making sure that your spiritual life is in order. Without this, you will be miserably unable to resist because without a mind that is renewed and transformed by heavenly truth (Romans 12:1–2), there is no reliable resistance against the lies of earth.
Second, living not by lies means knowing what is true (the Word of God) and then living divine truth; it means standing firm in what will stand forever, cognizant that right now, many will reject transcendent, objective truth for comfortable lies and convenient deceptions. After all, look at what the majority did to Jesus, the Truth incarnate—they crucified Him. Standing for divine truth has always been the minority position, and courage is the perquisite for all virtuous behavior. The Christian can therefore have bold confidence in the fact that God’s truth is settled in heaven forever (Psalm 119:89) and will endure when soft totalitarian regimes are gone. This provides a resilient immunity to convenient deceptions such as “The greatest threat to life right now is a novel virus,” “If you just go with the flow, everything will be okay,” or “No matter what you do, you can’t do anything about it.”
People often lie to themselves first in private before they can fake it in public. This simply means that knowing what is true and then living it does not first compel us to point a finger at someone else; it means pointing our own finger at the person in the mirror. The fault does not rest with them, the fault first and foremost rests on us. The New Testament provides many examples of how the Christian ought to live. Consequently, in his general letters to the churches, the apostle Peter writes to those believers under trial. In I Peter 3:8-9, 13, 17, he writes:
To sum up, all of you, be harmonious, sympathetic, loving, compassionate, and humble, not returning evil for evil or insult for insult but giving a blessing instead, for you were called for the very purpose that you would inherit a blessing . . . And who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? . . . For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.
Christ died to set His people free and thus, every act done out of love and inspired by freedom counts, even in the simple, ordinary, and unnoticed acts of everyday life.
Third, living not by lies means speaking the truth everywhere, always, all the time, all for the glory of God. I Peter 4:11 reads:
Whoever speaks is to do so as one who is speaking actual words of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies so that in all things, God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
The reality of life is that few people will express truth and then allow it to be memorialized on paper; even fewer will speak up in public and say what they really think in front of an audience. That is okay because living not by lies does not mean that everyone will be a revolutionary or a public agitator. (Neither is being a public agitator equally necessary for everyone.) However, living not by lies does mean refusing to say what you do not think everywhere, always, all the time. This may practically mean refusing to listen to media that propagates lies or refusing to use language that rejects what it real. Truly, in following this course of action, some will have their lives disrupted. However, Solzhenitsyn once famously wrote, “[T]here are no loopholes for anybody who wants to be honest. Either truth or falsehood: toward spiritual independence or toward spiritual servitude.” Therefore, choose ye this day whom you will serve. If God is God, then follow Him; if Caesar is god, then follow him. Whatever you choose to do, you have chosen to do. Hence, if you are reluctant to act, then it’s not because something without is holding you back; it is because the fear within paralyzes you from doing something.
Fourth, living not by lies means that indeed, the Christian may potentially lose everything here on earth for the sake of truth. However, whatever we lose right now, God will restore in eternity. Revelation 21:4 tells us that God Himself will wipe away every tear from His people’s eyes. In His presence, there will be no death, no suffering, no crying, and no pain. The point is that the Christian’s ultimate hope is never right now; it is in the Lord and the reward He prepares for those who remain faithful to Him. Still, right now, we are empowered to endure by God’s presence and His promise never to forsake His own. This is neatly explained in Psalm 125, one of the songs of ascents. Verses 1 to 3 read:
Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved but remains forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people from this time and forever. For the scepter of wickedness will not rest upon the land of the righteous so that the righteous will not extend their hands to do wrong.
This text communicates the idea that on the one hand, the guardianship of God does not make us immune from experiencing difficulties. On the other hand, it is sufficient that the elect are not abandoned by God in times of trial. So yes, from time to time, we will be crushed by the tyranny of the wicked. Nevertheless, trusting in the Lord means waiting on the one who possesses holy omnipotence; He alone has the power to break into pieces the scepter of wickedness, and while we wait, His power will also nourish and sustain us.
Fifth, looking forward, living not by lies means recognizing that extreme evil is coming and that evil will attempt to fashion a reality based on lies. We therefore must decide now to stand in the truth and not lie to ourselves by practicing cowardice in the face of evil. The Bible is crystal clear that nothing divides like the truth, and living by the truth is inherently risky. Yes, the stakes are higher for refusing to compromise on that which is true, but accepting convenient lies confirms that the shackles we wear were not forced but earned.
Sixth, living not by lies means not pretending. It means saying what you mean and meaning what you say; it means not performing in public or, figuratively speaking, not “wearing a mask.” Truly, it is impossible for me or you to change anyone else’s mind. This fact must be accepted in a world built on lies, for the truth is a minority view. Words create worlds, and the second you begin to speak as the world, that means you have tacitly accepted their definition of reality. This acceptance can neither be public nor private. Truly, while you are unable to change others, you still have a tremendous ability to control what you think and to take responsibility for yourself. The fact is that you have little power to change the world, so if you try, you will find yourself quickly burnt out. You will be the most efficacious and persuasive with family, friends, and close associates. Eventually, what will be sufficient are the members of a local remnant who associate with you and who are disciples of truth.
Finally, living not by lies means sticking to your individual calling. A fact of life is that a person is prone to desire another’s work more than their own (John 21:22). We covet that which we see because that which we see is the most accessible to us. Individually, this means what you are called to do is often distinct from what your neighbor is called to do. Communally, this means that which is Caesar’s business is not the Church’s. Conversely, that which is the Church’s business is not Caesar’s. In fact, the service that the Church does out of its calling is not acceptable to God, so do not expect Him to bless or thank us for that which He never called us to do. The danger of ignoring this warning is that once we step out of our calling, we also step out of God’s protection. Living not by lies therefore means that you understand that total societal transformation is not your calling, but you are thus liberated to do what you have been called to do without distractions, focusing on leading and being a model for those whom God has placed immediately around you. As the saying goes, “Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future.”
Conclusion: Where to go from here
Trials have a sanctifying purpose, and the kind of Christian you are in times of testing is who you really are—including whether you are Christian or not. If you have a reason for doing something, you can endure almost anything this life throws at you. Why would any Christian endure suffering? Why would any Christian allow comforts and conveniences to be taken away and thus invite inconveniences? The answer is, for the sake of the truth, all for the glory of God. Christ suffered for the truth, and He endured unjust suffering for the sake of those whom He had sought to save. Christians value the eternal and heavenly over the temporal and earthly. We Christians suffer because when the State acts contra Christ, we stand firm in God’s truth, knowing the He will “strengthen us, help us, and cause us to stand because we are upheld by His righteous, omnipotent hand” (adapted lyrics from the hymn “How Firm a Foundation”).
A time of painful testing, even persecution, is coming. Feathery Christians will not come through with their faith unharmed. Christians must therefore sink their roots deeply into the Word of God, engage in daily fervent prayer, and submit to the Sovereign King, Jesus Christ. He is not only sufficient but also supreme. Beloved, Christ never sought out mere admirers; He sought out disciples. Admirers keep their distance and observe from afar; disciples aspire with all their strength to be like the one whom they closely follow. What history teaches us is that one of the tests of genuine biblical faith is whether that faith costs you something. Thus, if you seek cheap grace or a Christianity without tears, it’s time to pray, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” Indeed, if your faith in Christ is not solid, the world will relentlessly try to break that faith into pieces.
Consequently, Rod Dreher writes in his book Live Not by Lies:
[I]f latter-day believers are not able and willing to be faithful in the relatively small trials that we face now, there is no reason to think we will have what it takes to endure serious persecution in the future.
Resisting an immoral State and living not by lies does not mean responding sinfully. In other words, if we are led to hate, rebel, or seek vengeance, then we have become like the State that we are resisting, and hate rejects the impetus to love.
In the end, a Christian who lives not by lies is totally free in a biblical sense. True biblical freedom is not license; it emphasizes the responsibility to act out divine truth. The purpose is not to “win” but to defend and do what is right. The truth has the power to end every tyranny, and we already know that the stone that the builders reject is also the stone that will topple all forms of secular power. Solzhenitsyn favored an old Russian proverb: “One word of truth outweighs the whole world.” The truth is that Christ was sent to set the captives free (Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:8). Satan knows that nothing can prevail against those who trust in Christ; therefore, he studies how to direct our attention to earthly realities. How then shall we persevere? By faith. Faith looks over and above anything of this world and sees the greatest good in Christ Himself. Focusing on heaven makes paradise become a present reality and enables you to know the supremacy of and find sufficiency in Christ alone. Trust Christ and pray to receive the love of God in your heart and the will to obey God’s commandments. Pray to grow deep in humility, holding fast to the biblical principle that a man is truly humble when he counts his sin as his greatest evil and the grace of God his chief good. A man who holds fast to these will persevere. Indeed, since Christ left heaven to suffer for us, shall we not be willing to suffer some trials for Him? In Revelation 3:17–22, Christ gives his final message to the seven churches. He says:
Because you say, “I am rich and have become wealthy and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore, be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him and he with Me. He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Amen and amen.
Dr. C. H. E. Sadaphal
Throughout this discussion, I will use several terms interchangeably that refer to civil authorities that wield political power: Caesar, the State, Rome, secular authorities, civil authorities, and governing authorities. ↑
See also Joshua 1:8; I Samuel 15:22; Matthew 7:21; Luke 6:46, 11:28; John 14:23; James 1:22, 4:7; I Peter 1:14; I John 5:3; and II John 1:6. ↑
See Deuteronomy 13:1–5; 18:18–22. ↑
See Numbers 18:1–7. ↑
See Deuteronomy 17:14–20. ↑
See Isaiah 53:5, 64:6; Jeremiah 13:23, 17:9; Psalms 14:3, 51:5, 58:3; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:10, 23; 7:10, 8:7–8; I Corinthians 2:41; and Ephesians 2:1-3. ↑
See Psalms 2; Matthew 28:18–20; and Revelation 21. ↑
See Jean-Loius Panne et al., The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999). ↑
Rudolph Rummel, Death by Government (Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 1997), 1–2. ↑
As opposed to force which is the use of power that is guided by moral principles. ↑