You can’t legislate morality!

legislation2As our country wrestles with moral questions on topics like abortion, gay marriage, etc.., some Christian leaders are telling us, with increasing frequency, that the discussions about public policy have no place in the church. They tell us that the battle for peoples hearts will not be won through the legislative process and that by taking a stand on “political” issues we are alienating those who most desperately need to hear the Gospel message. Often they tell us that there are many interpretations of Scripture and we cannot expect others to accept our interpretation. The Christian leaders who tell us these things do raise some valid concerns but their response to these concerns has been largely misguided. Let’s take a look at the issues they have raised and see why the answers provided by some Christian leaders are inadequate.


You can’t legislate morality!

This is probably the most deceptive of all the arguments made because virtually all legislation is rooted in morality. We have laws against murder because we believe it is morally wrong to commit murder, we have laws against theft because we believe it is morally wrong to steal, we have laws against slavery because we believe it is morally wrong to own slaves, etc… The issue has never been about whether we should “legislate morality,” the issue has always been about deciding which standards of morality should form the foundations of the laws we enact. Christians have a lot to offer our country in relation to this topic and it would be a tragic mistake to chose not to participate in this important national debate.


You can’t change a person’s heart through legislation!

No arguments here! This is a point on which we should all agree. Scripture is clear that salvation cannot come through the Law. It is only through the unmerited grace of God that we can come into a relationship with our Lord and Savior and it is through that relationship that we are saved. However, that does not mean that there is no purpose for having laws, it only means that the purpose for having laws is not to change a person’s heart. Paul tells us in Romans 7 that the ultimate purpose of the Law was to reveal sin. Sin always produces broken relationships and it God’s laws that provide the boundaries that protect those relationships. In other words, it is the Law that provides the framework for order, civility, and love in our society. We should remember that God, who created us, understands better than we what boundaries should protect our relationships and our society functions best when we choose to be guided by the laws given to us by our creator. Additionally, when laws are founded on God’s law, they provide opportunities for sinful people to see their own depravity in ways that they may not have otherwise had and those who see their own depravity can more easily recognize their need for a Savior.


Everyone has their own interpretation of Scripture!

God’s law is the standard by which we measure good and evil and it is the light that reveals sin in the darkest places of a man’s heart. One of the best ways to obscure that light is to suggest that Scripture is unintelligible. If understanding Scripture is only guess work then no one can be sure what boundaries exist or when those boundaries have been crossed. While it is true that there are places in Scripture where two people honestly seeking answers will arrive at very different conclusions, there are also many places where an honest investigation of Scripture reveals the same answers to everyone. While we recognize that many people today have their own opinions about how Scripture should be interpreted, it is equally important to recognize that simply having an opinion about what Scripture means does not automatically mean that there is merit to that opinion. An interpretation of Scripture is not valid just because someone believes it, it is valid when there is historical and linguistic evidence to support it. In many ways, the study of Scripture is similar to study of science; while there may be competing theories that seek to explain the world around us, not every competing theory is equally valid and in many cases, there really is only one theory that can adequately explain all of the evidence we see. Sometimes there is room for honest disagreement but at other times disagreement is only demonstration of either ignorance or willful deception and we have made a tragic mistake when we fail to recognize this.


Concluding thoughts

We need to be grace filled when we enter into public debates regarding the laws that govern our land but we also need to be willing to declare the truth found in God’s word. We must remember that God desperately loves even those who oppose him most vigorously and he has called us to demonstrate that love to those who hate him but we also must remember that it is not loving to hide the truth from those who most need to hear it. We should do all that we can to avoid causing offense but we need to recognize that some will take offense simply because we have lovingly spoken about God’s love for them and his plan for their lives. Christ himself, who modeled a perfect picture of love, grace, and truth was hated by those who had rejected his message, why should we expect a different outcome?


Kevin DeYoung, Collin Hansen, Trevin Wax discuss this topic in this short video.

Should Christians Try to Legislate Their Morality? from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.