What is the Christian's place in this world? - by Keith Petersen
There is a deep conviction with many Christians that God desires that, for whatever time they are left on this earth, they should attempt to rejuvenate a world-system here that has been damaged and changed by the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. However, is this a scriptural precept? The Lord said in John 8:23 "I am not of this world" and said to His own in John 15:19 "Ye are not of the world."
A related question has been raised as to whether Christians, whether as civilians or as serving in some branch of the armed forces/police, etc., are sanctioned of God to take up arms in self-defense - even to the inclusion of the use of deadly force. This question is a troubling one to many Christians.
We can only properly decide these and all questions by turning to Scripture. The most immediate and important scripture bearing on the question of armed and deadly force says, “Thou shalt not kill.” Many arguments might – and are – raised against this scripture; however, it cannot be dispensed with – these four words show God’s primary thoughts as to taking the life of another – Thou shalt not kill. “The scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35) and in resolving any questions it is always necessary to start with God’s primary thoughts – which do not change. Genesis 9 – a scripture very early, obviously, in the Bible and thus of extreme importance as setting out a primary thought of God – states “And indeed your blood, [the blood] of your lives, will I require: at the hand of every animal will I require it, and at the hand of Man, at the hand of each [the blood] of his brother, will I require the life of Man. Whoso sheddeth Man's blood, by Man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God he hath made Man.”
This issue for many then can appear clouded since in the Old Testament God instructs Israel to dispossess and kill those of the nations that were inhabiting the promised land, and in the New Testament the government is given the authority to kill – “it is God's minister, an avenger for wrath to him that does evil.” So, killing does take place.
The simple truth – since “God is not a God of disorder” – is that God in his sovereignty has, ever since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, been working in a provisional and earthly way in “this present evil world” to control and displace evil and evil persons. This is evident. That God always retains His primary thoughts but provisionally might make allowance due to earthly conditions since the fall of man is clearly shown in various parts of scripture, and an example of this is seen in what the Lord said to the Pharisees in Luke 19 in relation to divorce – “Moses, in view of your hardheartedness, allowed you to put away your wives; but from the beginning it was not thus.” Genesis 2 states, "And Man said, This time it is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh: this shall be called Woman, because this was taken out of a man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh." This "from the beginning" statement showed God's primary thoughts as to, in this example, marriage. God's thoughts were never abandoned since the Lord added to His statements in Luke 19 the following: "What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate"; however, Moses allowed a bill of divorce - something provisional, but not in accord with God's intent.
The governments of the nations today have been appointed by God (“For there is no authority except from God; and those that exist are set up by God”) and have been given authority by God to deal with evil and injustice – including the use of deadly force. Israel was given the same authority provisionally under God’s hand in the Old Testament to serve His will both in giving a promised land to Israel and, reflexively, to mete out God’s judgment against the wickedness of the nations in that land (see Jeremiah 51 for the principle - especially "Thou art my maul, [my] weapons of war: and with thee I will break in pieces the nations, and I will with thee destroy kingdoms").
We as Christians living in an entirely different dispensation cannot decide to substitute what was provisionally given as authority to Israel in the OT and make it a Christian authority in the NT – especially since God has now instituted the government as bearing the sword. We have to bear in mind, then, God’s intent in his primary thoughts. These thoughts are applicable in principle at all times in all circumstances to all men – and what might be a provisional allowance as to those principles at a given time is simply due to God's grace in dealing with a fallen creation. Thus, in Act 17 Paul preaches "Athenians, in every way I see you given up to demon worship" - something patently wrong - but, then, further on says "God therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, now enjoins men that they shall all everywhere repent". Does the overlooking of God mean that He was in favor of demon worship; or, does it mean, as Peter says in his 2nd epistle "The] Lord does not delay his promise, as some account of delay, but is longsuffering towards you, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance"?
This brings us to two vital points relative to any question of a Christian bearing arms. The first is that Israel is clearly viewed in scripture as God’s earthly people. The governments of this world are also – clearly – viewed in an earthly setting.
The second point is that Christians, on the other hand, are not viewed in scripture as an earthly people at all. We are, of course, presently here in an earthly setting – left here to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” and to "appear as lights in the world" – but we are a heavenly people – a “peculiar people zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). Paul writes, “if any one [be] in Christ, [there is] a new creation”.
This fact as to our heavenly position and change from an earthly stature is possibly the least understood reality in Christendom with many if not most Christians. As already quoted, the Lord distinctly says in John 15 “If ye were of the world, the world would love its own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world”. The apostle Paul writes in 1st Corinthians 15, “But that which is spiritual [was] not first, but that which is natural, then that which is spiritual: the first man out of [the] earth, made of dust; the second man, out of heaven. Such as he made of dust, such also those made of dust; and such as the heavenly [one], such also the heavenly [ones].” This language shows a present reality. In the Book of Matthew the Lord used the phrase “the kingdom of the heavens” no less than thirty-one times, and said “And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of the heavens; and whatsoever thou mayest bind upon the earth shall be bound in the heavens; and whatsoever thou mayest loose on the earth shall be loosed in the heavens.” This is an amazing and powerful statement showing, as it does, that our place in authority as God’s sons in the kingdom of the heavens is indeed a present reality. This is not something abstract – it is scripture. The binding, of course, is a spiritual binding - we as Christians are not going around literally tying up people with physical methods of constraint.
This all brings in another, lateral reality – which is that Christianity is entirely a spiritual system. We’re in a flesh and blood condition currently; but the apostle Paul concludes the section quoted above in 1st Corinthians 15 by saying, “And as we have borne the image of the [one] made of dust, we shall bear also the image of the heavenly [one]. But this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit God's kingdom, nor does corruption inherit incorruptibility.”
We shall have a change of the body at the Rapture to suit our heavenly home (“We shall not all fall asleep, but we shall all be changed, in an instant, in [the] twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet”); but, it is another present reality that the Lord said, “God is a spirit; and they who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). Christianity is a system governed in, of and by the Holy Spirit and of which Christ is the Center. The apostle Paul writes in Ephesians, “in whom ye also are built together for a habitation of God in [the] Spirit.” This is a present truth – it is not awaiting our entrance into Heaven although that will be the fullest realization of this lovely provision of God.
These spiritual realities are meant by God to elevate us in our mind, our hearts, our spirits and our Christian testimonial path here. This is not anything mystical – it is simply what God presents to us in scripture to enlighten us with our heavenly calling.
According to scripture, then, we are not now morally and by our heavenly calling of this world – the Lord “gave himself for our sins, so that he should deliver us out of the present evil world, according to the will of our God and Father”, and we are longer to be “conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2) although still in it physically.
There is an infinite moral divide between man in his natural, unregenerate estate – with the accompanying world system man has built that “lies in the wicked one” (1 John 5:19) – and a God who Himself “is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” As Christians God has now through new birth and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit “made us fit for sharing the portion of the saints in light, who has delivered us from the authority of darkness, and translated [us] into the kingdom of the Son of his love” (Colossians 1). We have now been brought, so to speak, onto God’s side of the divide.
If we properly grasp the enormity of these elevating truths, they will deliver us from undue entanglement in this world system and its affairs. Christians endeavor to fix this world; however, God has already judged it in the Cross of Christ (“Now is [the] judgment of this world” – John 12) and it but awaits the practical implementation of this judgment (2nd Peter 3). We are certainly called upon to pull our neighbor’s sheep out of the well, to act as a good Samaritan, etc.; but, our Christian testimony should be that “they think it strange that ye run not with [them] to the same sink of corruption” (1st Peter 4) and that we are a people that morally “dwell alone” (Numbers 23:9).
Many Christians are vigorously engaged in the attempted rejuvenation of and/or the social and entertainment character of this world system that is, under God's judgment, to be burned up - including all the works in it. There is much occupation with many with politics, the arts, the world of sports, the world of music and entertainment - and, other facets of a world system fashioned by man and morally apart from God – it all is part of a scene of corruption out from which God has, as already shown in this paper, taken us. We are certainly called upon to make an honest living, to obey the authorities, to be at peace as far as we are able with our fellow man; but, as far as “having part” with such – we are called to be at a moral remove (please read 2nd Corinthians 6 – the language of the Holy Spirit as to this could not be any more direct).
All the foregoing being true, the notion, then, that a Christian thinks they could righteously with great violence shoot, strangle, stab or bludgeon to death in the Name of Christ a potential perpetrator of evil is a delusion of the highest order. A “peculiar people zealous for good works” are prepared to violently end the life of another? This extends from civilian acts to those that might be done in the military. The Lord said when being delivered to the agony of the Cross in John 18, "My kingdom is not of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, my servants had fought that I might not be delivered up to the Jews; but now my kingdom is not from hence." In Luke 9 the disciples suggested to the Lord that they call down fire from heaven to consume a village of the Samaritans who were not receiving the Lord – “turning he rebuked them [and said, Ye know not of what spirit ye are].”
A lateral consideration as to a civilian christian prepared to mete out death and violence is this: There are approximately 320 million people in the USA. Polls show approximately 80% that say they are Christians. Let’s arbitrarily make half that number professing Christians and the other half genuine believers – thus, 160+ million believers. As a simple question, out of this 160 million how many will ever be confronted in their lifetimes with a situation where an intruder comes into the house, etc. to rape or murder? 60 million? 10 million? 300 thousand? 50 thousand? 10 thousand? The statistics are confusing on this point; but, some simple math results in an approximation of a .00005 % chance for serious injury/death, etc. in a home invasion for any of these 160 million Christians. And yet many Christians – ignoring God’s edict “thou shalt not kill” – are prepared in mind and heart to kill. And, let’s be clear – if oneself kills someone it is homicide – whether in self-defense or not. Is God intending that Christians be walking through this scene with homicidal intent?
Dear brethren – Christians are called upon to preach the “glad tidings of peace”; not, to preach the violence of homicide. Please consider honestly everything that has been set out in this paper – keeping in mind that supporting scripture has been steadily quoted. The Spirit of Christ is grace; not, violence - and the Bible shows that we "have the mind of Christ" (1st Corinthians 2:16).
I apologize for the length of this paper; but, it is vital that we understand properly our Christian calling. The Lord said “Ye appear as lights in this world”; but, if our testimony is close to identical with the unbeliever, our lights become indistinguishable from the confusion of this world. Thus, in The Revelation chapter 3 the Lord says in His address to Laodicea, “because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spue thee out of my mouth.” I trust no honest Christian has any desire to be found as only lukewarm in their testimony here – rather we all should “Strive diligently to present thyself approved to God, a workman that has not to be ashamed, cutting in a straight line the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2). Amen.