The Bible has a lot to say about how much influence it should have on society. As Christians, we believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God and provides guidance for how to live our lives in a way that is pleasing to God (2 Timothy 3:16-17). At the same time, there is diversity of opinion among Christians regarding exactly how the Bible should influence society and to what extent biblical principles should be enshrined in civil law.
There are several key principles we can look to in Scripture as we think through this complex issue:
1. God’s truth and moral law should undergird society’s values
The Bible makes clear that God’s truth and moral standards are meant to provide a foundation for society. Passages like Proverbs 14:34 state that “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” God calls his people to be “salt and light” in the world (Matthew 5:13-16), preserving truth and virtue in society. Christians are exhorted to “not be conformed to this world” but to discern and uphold God’s good and perfect will (Romans 12:2). So while the Bible may not mandate specific public policies, its moral principles should influence society’s values and shape how Christians approach public life.
2. Civil law cannot directly enforce all biblical commands
While biblical truth should undergird society’s values, the Bible recognizes distinctions between personal morality, ecclesiastical law, and civil law. For instance, Jesus said “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). Not all biblical commands are directly enforceable through civil law. The law cannot make people righteous or ensure they act according to biblical standards in their hearts and lives. So there are limitations to how fully a society can or should enforce biblical commands through civil law.
3. Christians should advocate for civil laws that promote justice and restrain evil
At the same time, Christians have a duty to advocate for civil laws that line up with biblical values as much as realistically possible. Laws should protect life and liberty, promote justice, restrain evil, and punish wrongdoing (see Romans 13:1-7). Christians can make a case that public policies prohibiting violent crime, fraud, theft, and dishonesty are prudent based on biblical revelation about human nature and morality.
4. There are open questions where sincere Christians disagree
There are many open questions today about what policies best live out biblical principles. Sincere, Bible-believing Christians disagree over whether the Bible, for instance, supports capital punishment, requires environmental regulations, prohibits all war, or necessitates a particular economic system or tax policy. Christians of good faith can analyze these issues differently based on how they prioritize different biblical teachings and how they assess “wisdom” in applying biblical principles (see James 3:17).
5. Christians should advocate their views with humility, civility and respect for others
When Christians advocate policy positions based on biblical principles, we must do so with humility, civility and respect (1 Peter 3:15-16). We should acknowledge that we see through a glass dimly and that sincere Christians weigh these issues differently (1 Corinthians 13:12). Our positions should not be simplistic proof-texting but should reflect nuanced application of broad biblical themes. Christians should articulate their views charitably, recognizing the limits of human wisdom and that God alone is the true Judge of all.
6. The church should not impose beliefs on society through force or coercion
A consistent biblical theme is that faith must be voluntary and cannot be externally imposed (2 Corinthians 3:17). The gospel spreads by persuasion, not political coercion. So the church should advocate political positions with humility and civility, not with the aim of imposing its beliefs coercively on those who do not share them but with the aim of building a society where justice and liberty are secured for all.
7. Our ultimate hope is in spiritual transformation, not political power
The Bible’s emphasis is on changing hearts and lives through sharing the gospel, not on externally enforcing moral behavior (Hebrews 4:12). While we seek positive change in society, our ultimate hope is in individual repentance and spiritual rebirth that will only fully come to fruition in eternity (Revelation 21:1-4). So we avoid utopian political ideologies and entrust ourselves to God’s work in changing lives and ushering in his kingdom.
In summary, the Bible gives principles, not detailed policy positions, for how faith should permeate public life. Christians of good faith weigh these biblical themes differently. We should advocate our views humbly and charitably. While seeking justice in society, we recognize that only the return of Christ will bring perfect righteousness, justice and shalom.
8. Christians have a duty to obey civil authorities and respect those with different views
The Bible clearly commands Christians to obey civil authorities (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:13-17). The only exception would be if authorities require us to disobey God (Acts 5:29). But even then, we are to respond respectfully and suffer willingly any consequences. We are also to show respect and pray for those in authority over us with whom we disagree (1 Timothy 2:1-3). Christians should lead by moral example, not by political coercion (Matthew 20:25-28).
9. Christians should be involved in civic life but not equate any party or nation with God’s kingdom
The Bible calls Christians to be good citizens and neighbors (Jeremiah 29:7), doing good to all people, as much as possible, for God’s glory (Matthew 5:16). Christians have responsibilities in civic life (Romans 13:1-7). But Scripture also teaches that our ultimate citizenship is in heaven, not any earthly nation (Philippians 3:20). No political party or nation equates to God’s kingdom. Christians’ political involvement should reflect humility, servanthood and concern for truth and justice.
10. Christians hope for righteousness through changed hearts, not just altered laws
The Bible emphasizes that God’s kingdom advances by transforming hearts and minds, not just through external law (Hebrews 8:10). So Christians’ efforts focus not merely on enacting laws, but on sharing the life-changing gospel message in word and deed. We believe righteous laws are desirable but insufficient for building a righteous society absent inward heart change. Our message centers on God’s offer to forgive sins and transform lives through faith in Jesus Christ.
This biblical framework helps guide Christians in thinking through complex issues of faith and public policy. We advocate justice and biblical principles in a humble, thoughtful manner while relying on spiritual transformation, not political power, for true lasting hope and change.
11. The Bible condemns injustice and commands concern for the vulnerable
A pervasive biblical theme is that God cares deeply about justice for the poor, needy and oppressed (Isaiah 1:17, Micah 6:8). Scripture condemns injustice and commands God’s people to love their neighbor as themselves (Matthew 22:39), defend the weak (Proverbs 31:9), welcome strangers (Hebrews 13:2), and show compassion to those in need (Matthew 25:35-40). Laws and policies that exploit the vulnerable clearly violate biblical values. Christians have a duty to advocate for reforms that protect human dignity.
12. The biblical view of human nature recognizes humanity’s fallenness and need for checks on power
The Bible teaches that human beings are created in God’s image but also fallen in sin (Genesis 1:26-27, Romans 3:23). This biblical perspective on human nature informs a Christian approach to politics and power. Since humanity’s inclination toward selfishness and corruption persists, checks and balances are needed in society and government to deter abuses (Jeremiah 17:9). Concentrated power risks being exploited for evil ends, given human fallenness. Christians support dividing and limiting power prudently based on biblical revelation about human nature.
13. Christians should prioritize persuasion over political control in advocating policies
Biblically, the way of Christ is not to seek worldly power and control but to serve and sacrifice for others, trusting in God’s power to change hearts (Mark 10:42-45). The early Christians lived out their faith under pagan rulers, winning converts through persuasion, not political control. While Christians have civic duties, their emphasis is on the church’s spiritual mission, not grasping political power. Even in advocating just laws, Christians prioritize changing hearts and minds over top-down control.
14. The Bible commends diversity of administration under broad moral law
The Bible does not require detailed uniformity in civil administration but commends honoring local traditions under governing moral principles (see Acts 6:1-7, 15:19-21). Godly leaders like Moses (Exodus 18), Jethro (Exodus 18:13-27), and Nehemiah (Nehemiah 2:16-18) decentralized administration based on subsidiary need, not top-down control. Scripture values diversity in application of God’s moral law. Uniformity in procedures is not inherently biblical, allowing flexibility in policy applications.
15. Coercion cannot achieve true virtue, which requires voluntary assent
Biblically, God wants wholehearted devotion motivated by love, not mere outward compliance (Deuteronomy 6:5, 10:12). The Bible recognizes virtue requires voluntary assent of one’s will; it cannot be externally coerced but must come from inward conviction (2 Corinthians 9:7). So the foremost goal of Christian influence is persuading people to freely embrace God’s principles, not just conforming outwardly to biblical law. Coercion cannot achieve true virtue.
In conclusion, biblical wisdom must temper Christian political thought and advocacy. Our positions should reflect humility about limited human understanding of complex issues. While seeking greater alignment with biblical values, our main emphasis is on proclaiming the gospel message that transforms individual hearts and lives.