America Needs the Law of God: Written in the Heart
by Alan J. Reinach
A recent poll found that Americans can name at least two members of the Simpson family, of the television show, but they cannot identify two of the freedoms protected by the First Amendment. It makes me wonder whether Americans are willing to defend freedoms that they don’t even know exist, or if they would resist the erosion of such freedoms.
A Christian pollster, George Barna, has been polling Christians for years, with similarly shocking results. Christians, it seems, are no more informed about the basic doctrines and teachings of the Bible than Americans know their own First Amendment rights. It is doubtful, for example, that many of those who demonstrated in Alabama to keep a stone monument of the Ten Commandments on display in the state Supreme Court building would have been able to list all ten of the commandments. Or nine. Or eight. Or seven. It is even more doubtful that many of those fighting for the place of the Ten Commandments in our society could answer correctly the basic question: what is the new covenant? What is the new covenant?
So what? You ask. We’re not saved by what we know, we’re saved by who we know? After all, if we’ve invited Jesus into our hearts, our salvation is secure, and can never be lost. Or, an alternative version of the gospel says that God chooses whom to save and whom to condemn to the fires of hell, so what difference if I don’t know what the new covenant is. It would seem that there is great confusion over the gospel, itself.
So what? Why it so important that we understand the new covenant, or the gospel, or if we know our first amendment rights? Actually, the destiny of our nation and our planet depends on it. Upon the destiny of the gospel, our freedom, and the very survival of our civilization depends. No, I’m not being dramatic. This is biblical.
First, let’s address the question: what is the new covenant. No, the new covenant is not the new testament. The new covenant did not begin with Christ. It was first announced by the prophet Jeremiah some 600 years before Christ.
This covenant is based on a promise. Whose promise? God’s promise. What does God promise to do? Write His law on our hearts. Is God faithful? Can He be trusted to keep His promise? What is the result of God’s writing His law on our hearts? We know God. We know Him intimately. We know God’s will. We don’t need to teach one another, because we have truth in our inmost being. This promise didn’t originate in Jeremiah’s day. It actually goes back to Adam and Eve, when God first promised a saviour, the seed of the woman, who would bruise the head of the serpent. Salvation has always been based on God’s promise, on God’s action. Our response is to gratefully accept it, and to allow God’s grace to transform our lives.
Is the new covenant relevant to our nation today? Have you not heard the voices of moral reform crying out about how America is going down the tubes, and how we need to get back to God? Have you not heard the voices proclaiming that America is a Christian nation, and that we need to stop the atheists and the Supreme Court from kicking God out of public schools, and taking the Ten Commandments down from public display?
Today, Americans are rediscovering the law of God. This is good. This is right. This is important. America needs the law of God. Desperately. But we need the law in the right place.
Earlier, I said that the destiny of our nation, our freedom and our civilization hangs on a single question. I’d like to phrase that question more narrowly. Where will the law of God be written? I think this is the key question, the answer to which determines our future.
Let me suggest two possible answers. First, since Christians are a majority in this country, and we are a democratic country, we have the votes to write the law of God into the congressional record. For years, Christians have been fighting over the public display of the Ten Commandments. The former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore said that the public display of the Ten Commandments was a significant symbol of our national commitment to keeping the First Commandment – to acknowledge the sovereignty of God, and to have no other gods before our Creator.
But its not enough to fight over a symbol of the law of God. It is time that we got around to actually keeping the law of God. We need to take a good hard look at how to go about legislating the law of God, so that Americans will be more faithful in keeping the Commandments. It may be sad but its true, that Americans will not actually take the law of God seriously until and unless we legislate them, and make people do them. Let’s see, where should we begin. Well, I think the fourth and fifth commandments need the most work. Our families are falling apart, and there is much we can do to strengthen our families by getting serious about the fifth commandment, and restricting divorce laws. Our churches are also falling apart because there is such lax church attendance. So putting some teeth back into Sunday laws would definitely help.
One answer to the question: where do we write the law of God is to write it in the law books, in Congress, in the states.
Folks, I’ve just given you my best answer to the question: how will Sunday laws come about. I believe they are likely to come about because of the push for moral reform, a Back to God movement that will sound great to most people.
Right here, we need to make a vitally important distinction. There is a crucial difference between the first and second tables of the law. The first table of the law, the first four commandments, involve man’s obligation to God. The second table of the law is about our duties to one another. Some of these duties have been the subject of laws in every human society from the beginning of time. Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Every society has recognized these laws.
The issue really comes down to the first table of the law. The issue is not whether we should legislate concerning our social duties, the second table of the law. We always have. The issue is whether we should legislate concerning our duties to God, the first table of the law. Should we as a nation keep the First Commandment, and acknowledge God collectively? Should we enforce laws against idolatry, blasphemy and Sabbath breaking? The national debate hasn’t gotten to this point, yet … Yet… According to Bible prophecy, we know this is where our nation is headed.
So, what’s your final answer. Where do we need to write God’s law? Do we need laws that compel us to faithfully discharge our duties to God? Must the state tell us when, where or how to worship God? Must the state compel us to pray, and tell us whom to pray to, and on what day?
I’m reminded of a simple saying of Jesus: render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s. The context for this comment was a coin bearing the head of Caesar. Jesus taught his followers to pay their taxes faithfully. A lesson we still need today. How do we distinguish between what is properly rendered to Caesar and what belongs to God? What about Sunday laws? I can hear advocates of Sunday laws saying that such laws are compelling you to render your proper duty to God, not to the state.
This can’t be true when the state will punish you for not fulfilling your duty. The state is not punishing you for not rendering a duty to God, but for not fulfilling an obligation under civil law. The court is not going to interpret the Bible in deciding your innocence or guilt. The court will look at the statute. The court won’t interpret whether the Bible commands you to go to church on Sunday, or to close your store. The court will look at the statute and see what it says.
Friends: there are no two ways about it. Human laws cannot make people love God, worship God, believe in God, or do God’s will. Human laws can only create hypocrites. The state cannot change hearts, only God can. What state laws can do is make us do what we are unwilling to do. We have a word for that: tyranny. The state could force Sunday keepers to go to church on Saturday, or it could make Sabbath keepers go to church on Sunday, but it can’t give us the experience of rest, peace and joy that the Sabbath is all about. The state can control our behavior, but it cannot control our spirit.
What happens if we choose this answer: writing the law of God in our state and federal laws? What happens if this is where we write God’s law? The result is tyranny. People are forced to engage in religious activities that they would not freely choose, that they don’t believe in. They are made to be hypocrites, to believe one thing and to do another. Can this possibly have any beneficial effect on society? No. In fact, Bible prophecy teaches us that when the church and state reunite to enforce the worship of God, national apostasy will lead to national ruin. The fall of Babylon, described in stunning detail in Revelation 18, entails nothing less than the collapse of civilization as we know it.
Let’s take a look at our second answer to the question: where will we write God’s law? Remember, we have said that America needs the law of God. Desperately. We need the law of God because in our getting away from the law of God, we have experienced the curses of disobedience. The break up of our families, our churches, our communities, the epidemic of social and moral problems in our society can be traced to our unwillingness to follow God’s ways. We are both unwilling and unable to do what is right by our spouses, our children, our churches and our communities, unless something changes. But we need this change from the inside out, not the outside in. We need a new heart and a new spirit. We need the new covenant experience of the law written, where? In our hearts.
The law written in the human hearts does not result in tyranny, but the opposite: freedom. For where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” And again: “I will walk at liberty, because I observe your precepts.”
Freedom and the gospel share a common destiny. You may not realize it, but in history, freedom and gospel rose and fell together. The gospel first arose in the context of the Roman civilization that provided a measure of social and political stability and freedom that had never been known before. The size and ethnic diversity of the Empire meant that, as a practical matter, there would be a high degree of tolerance for differing religious beliefs and forms of worship. Although there were periods of persecution, God provided a stable social and political world to nourish the gospel seed.
Apostasy from the gospel led church and state to unite, and resulted in the loss of religious freedom. The Inquisition was the logical result of a system that claimed the authority to rule over the human spirit. Torture became a fine art, as the means justified the ends, if by chance we could save the soul even if it meant destroying the body. That’s ancient history, of course, we’re not that barbaric today. Are we?
With the Protestant Reformation, there was a new birth of freedom. Martin Luther wrote that “freedom is the very essence of faith.” One of the great milestones in the history of human freedom occurred in 1529 at the Diet of Spires. The powers of church and state came together to crush the Reformation. They issued a decree greatly restricting the spread of the reformed faith. The German Princes who had embraced the Reformation were faced with a solemn choice. Should they accept the decree, and compromise for the sake of peace, or should they risk their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor for the sake of the gospel? They reasoned from the core teachings of the Reformation, doctrines like the priesthood of all believers, sole scriptura, the bible and the Bible only, and justification by faith. They reasoned that if a man is saved by faith in Christ, if a soul must respond directly to Christ, then neither the powers of church or state had any right or authority to interfere between a soul and its Maker. They rejected the decree and issued the famous Protest that gave the name Protestant to the Reformation. In that Protest, they announced the foundation principles of Protestantism, namely, that “in matters of conscience, the majority has no power.” “In matters of conscience, the majority has no power.”
To be fair, they quickly backed away from these principles when faced with the difficulty of administering a country with both Protestant and Catholic factions. The two sides were engaged in such violent conflict for centuries that co existence seemed impossible. It became expedient to require one’s subjects to conform to the religion of the ruler.
It remained for the American experiment to more fully implement the Protestant principles of liberty of conscience. Where church and state had been united throughout Europe, whether Catholic or Protestant, in America, church and state were kept apart. No longer would the church have special claims on the state. No longer would the state’s power be used to enforce the teachings of the church. No longer would state funds be used to pay the expenses of the church. This was revolutionary.
But few Americans today realize how great a debt the American revolution owes to a spiritual revival that took place a few years earlier. You see, freedom and the gospel rise and fall together. The First Great Awakening was an intense spiritual revival that blew through the colonies in the 1740s and 1750s. Americans still reverence the great preachers of that day, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield, John Wesley. The First Great Awakening planted the seeds for freedom, for the revolution, and for the American constitution.
Just as a spiritual revival led to a new birth of freedom in the 18th century, a spiritual revival led to a new birth of freedom in the 19th century. Again, many Americans fail to connect the spiritual revival of the Second Great Awakening with the rise of the abolitionist movement, and the American Civil War. The Second Great Awakening took place in the 1830s and 1840s, and created the social climate that forced the issue of human slavery.
In the middle of this great war, at a time when the outcome was by no means certain, Abraham Lincoln appeared on a battlefield in a small Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg. What he said there, contrary to his expectations at the time, the world does remember. Abraham Lincoln prayed for a rebirth of freedom, and connected this with his hope that government of the people, by the people and for the people would not perish from the earth.
The Civil War did indeed give us a new birth of freedom. It gave us new amendments to the constitution. Amendments that outlawed slavery, and that protected basic civil liberties as a right for all Americans, not to be restricted by the states.
Did the 20th century also connect freedom and spiritual revival, freedom and the gospel? Let me answer this question with another question: would the civil rights movement have been effective without the spiritual foundations of its leaders, like the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. ? I think not. The civil rights movement depended on its spiritual leaders even more than on any political leadership.
So the question comes to us in the 21st century. Will we experience a spiritual revival that can lead to a rebirth of freedom?
Seventh-day Adventists understand that the American destiny is a dark one. Our nation will ultimately reject our Protestant heritage of civil and religious freedom, and we will write God’s law in the statute books. We will return to the maelstrom of medieval madness, where church and state combine to rule the minds of men.
But where is it written that it must happen in our generation. On our watch?
America needs the law of God, yes, emphatically yes. But we need God’s law written on the heart, by God, not written in the statute books in Washington, D.C., or in Sacramento. What America needs is a genuine spiritual revival.
Bible Prophecy tells us that the the gospel and freedom will perish together. As the church loses the power of God, she grabs hold of the power of the state, and freedom dies. It is not written that this must happen on our watch, in our generation. God is longsuffering, patient, unwilling that any should perish, but are we?
We have come to a crisis time in history. There are only two paths ahead. One is the path ofspiritual decline and the loss of freedom. There is only one way to avoid that path – genuine spiritual revival and reformation. The new covenant experience of the law of God written in the heart is the only way to bring transformation to our families, to our churches, to our communities, to our nation. One heart at a time.
So make your choice, today, brothers and sisters. Choose ye this day which path you prefer. As Adventists, you may choose the path of lukewarm Laodicea, business as usual, or you may choose to get on your knees and pray for a new heart and a new spirit, a new fire to be lit by the Spirit of God, that will change your life, your family and your church.
Friends: we have been called to the kingdom for such a time as this. Let us faithfully live the gospel, live a new life in Christ, and preach it by word and deed. There is too much confusion in the world and in the church. Let us rededicate ourselves to God, now, today, as it is written: Today, if you will hear my voice, harden not your hearts.