The late Dr. Gary North was a prolific writer with superb insight, though, I would imagine that his style was not favored by those who prefer more polite speech. Thankfully, I’m not that type of individual. A little sarcasm, a little bluntness, a little stepping-on of the toes is my cup of tea anyway; so, I’ve never had anything but love for the man.
A few years back, I learned that he offered many of his works, specifically, those that he published through the Institute of Christian Economics for free in PDF format. I have downloaded and read a large percentage of the 90 or so works that he offered there. Some I have decided to purchase in either paper back or hardcover. (I don’t know about you, but I prefer to have a hard copy of a book rather than an electronic version of it; even though, I have many works in e-book’s in various formats). It is his comments in Unconditional Surrender that I wanted to share with you (the reader).
He says quite a bit that many professing believers would benefit from; if, they would be willing to listen. However, when it come to theonomy or the belief that God’s Law is not only valid but has applicatory power in the spheres of family, Church, and State (i.e., Civil sphere), the unfortunate situation is that many refuse to listen.
Kicking the goads..
I tend to think that the underlying reason is related to mankind’s natural tendency to kick against the goads, so to speak, in terms of God’s Law-Word. Greg Bahnsen observed this tendency in his own life and work as noted by him in his book, By This Standard, stating,
“Men repudiate the ‘interference’ in their lives represented by God’s commandments. This attitude of lawlessness (1 John 3 :4) unites all men because of their sin (Rom. 3:23). Even theologians today pretend to be ethical authorities in their own right who know better than the Bible what is right and wrong.”1–Greg Bahnsen, By This Standard
Something pointed to in Romans 8:6-8 where the Holy Spirit says,
“For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God,for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (NASB; emphasis added).
Now it is true that as men and women of the Spirit we are more malleable in our hearts in terms of God’s Law-Word, for it is our desire to fulfill it (or, uphold it), but in making this claim we must also admit that we are not always so inclined. There are times when our malleability is a bit more rigid than others. This is true, I think, to some aspects of the Law when seeking to apply it to our modern context.
There are some that argue that we live by grace and so, we are no longer bound to obey every precept, command, or statute. Others will boldly state that the Law only had true applicatory power when under the premise of an Israeli theocratic State—i.e., ancient Israel. Whereas, another segment of the Christian community will conclude that we are only bound to the Law of God in a Spirit-led sense, but not in a rigid—by the letter—one. Another popular claim made is that as members of the New Covenant we are only required to keep those laws that are repeated in the New Testament canon. The problem, however, with all these positions is that they are merely parroted (more often than not) without any meditative thought on the subject. A premise held to with conviction through ignorance—either purposeful or accidental—but lacking the necessary justification to warrant it.
In the third chapter of the book Dr. North speaks of the relationship of the “Law” and mankind when it is obeyed even by unbelievers. A very practical observation of the reality when people have, at the very least, and outward respect for God’s Law in the public and personal spheres. He writes,
“What we learn from the Bible is that God’s law-order, when adhered to by any people, including ethically rebellious cultures, produces blessings. At the same time, we also learn that no unrepentant culture can sustain forever its outward adherence to God’s law-order. If the Hebrews couldn’t, then rebellious nations can’t. The blessings create temptation: to be arrogant. Or better put: to be as God. To be the source of law, the source of prosperity; knowing (determining) good and evil: here is the familiar temptation for mankind. It was the temptation which destroyed Adam in the garden. How can it be resisted by rebellious men, this side of paradise, this side of perfection? It can’t. This is why God’s law-order has a built-in protection against ‘unauthorized use’ by ethical rebels. Rebels cannot forever pretend to be humble servants before a sovereign Creator. It grates against their very nature. They cannot stand it. They want prosperity that is the fruit of obedience to God’s law, but the terms of the treaty remind them of its first principle: total submission to a totally sovereign God. They rebel openly. They set up other gods to worship. They do what Moses warned the Hebrews against.”2–Gary North, Unconditional Surrender
Let those words sink in. What do you think? What’s your first reaction?
I remember a few years back when I made similar comments to my own congregation. Many were caught off guard. How can a sinner be blessed by external observances of God’s Law? Moreover, how can it be argued that an unbelieving culture or society would receive a blessing from God for keeping His Law?
Numerous times I have heard two common objections: First, that God’s Law doesn’t save; Second, that you can’t legislate morality. Both of these objections are meant to silence their opposition by shifting the argument. But they do not carry with them the weight that their users suppose. True, the use of God’s Law will not grant eternal life. But on a practical level the person who refuses to murder another human being is saved from the executioners block. Or, consider the individual who refusing to steal from his neighbor diligently labors to build his wealth. This person is saved from paying restitution. Both types of refusals to mistreat their neighbors are blessed. Blessed in the sense of not having the full penalty of the law pressed against them. Blessed in the sense of being able to live life.
Furthermore, every law-system is an instance of legislative morality. If not God’s Law, then whose? The end of the matter in this case is that all laws are the legislation of someone’s morality. To avoid legislating morality, a society would have to do away with all law—i.e., anarchy. But even anarchy has a law in force: the law of one. As chaotic as it might seem, the morality enforced by anarchy is the subjective law of individual forces; one form of government (organized) in favor of another (disorganized).
Blessings occur for both parties at least for a limited time…
But we are beginning to get far afield. Dr. North’s point is that there is a blessing that occurs when men of all stripes adhere to God’s Holy Law. This holds true even for sinners. However, another fine point he makes is that this is only a temporary alliance; it cannot last. The sinner loves the blessing of Gods’ Law, but in hating the Law-Giver their defiance to His holy rule (expressed through His holy law) always ends in rebellion.
And do we wonder what the result might be? The gavel slams down. The judgment of God is poured out. Often times I suppose we wait for fire and brimstone to fall from heaven (Gen 19.16-25; Deut 29.23-25), or the earth to open up and swallow them (Num 16.30-34). But the wrath of God is revealed in the handing over the reprobate to their own sin (Jdg 2.11-14; cf. Rom 1.18, 24, 26, 28). The cycle continues. It slowly eats them and kills them where they stand. Individuals and the cultures that are formed on the ungodly principles that saturate their hearts/minds are reflected in the world around them. Such a society will not long be left standing. The principles of those people are self-destructive. Over time they fail. It may take a generation or two, but in the end
“…they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all…” (2 Tim 3.9).
The initial point of Dr. North is that even sinners experience the external blessings of God (His material givings: rain, good crops, child birth, etc.) if they are outwardly faithful to God’s Law. So good, so wonderful, so true is the Law-Word of God that even if heathens will humble themselves to God’s Word—at least externally, for they cannot internally without God’s salvific grace—they will, for a time, as long as they are willing to submit to its tenets be blessed: individually and corporately (i.e., society and culture).
The other point of Dr. North is equally true. Sinners cannot play this hypocritical game forever. Eventually, their true colors will show. Eventually, they will begin to live consistently with their unbelieving worldview. Eventually, they will attempt to throw off the yoke of God. When that happens pardon the expression: All hell will break lose. And I mean that in the biblical sense. Hell being taken for the grave. For the end of sin is death (Rom 6.23).
But what we ought to consider, and I will close with this, is, “How wonderful is God’s Law? How good? How holy and spiritual it is. For, even reprobates can experience its blessings when their deeds align with its precepts. Makes you wonder why so many Christians are adamant against the reintroduction of it into our society when it served as the footing that made our nation so great (cf. Ps 33.12).
1Greg L. Bahnsen, By This Standard: The Authority of God’s Law Today (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1985), 48. PDF E-book.
2Gary North, Unconditional Surrender: God’s Program for Victory, 5th Edition (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision Press, , 2010), 77.
I am like you; I would still want a physical book even if I have an e-copy.
Nuanced point about the law and blessing in light of Gospel and Grace.
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