The Government of God. There is scarcely a more practical and foundational subject in that Word of God than the subject of God’s government in the lives of sinners and saints. The basic principle is this: because God is righteous and sovereign over all things, He generally rewards people on earth according to their deeds, whether good-for-good or evil-for-evil. The government of God is universal in that it applies to all people, whether believers or unbelievers, and across all dispensations (e.g. 2 Sam. 12:14). Paul nicely summarized the government of God in a few words, illustrating it with the example of agriculture: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7). We understand that, in agriculture, the plants that grow out of the ground are the same kind as the seed that you sowed earlier. If you plant beans, you should expect to get a crop of beans. In the same way, Paul went on to say, “he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting” (Gal. 6:8). Even the Gentile world is aware of this, and will say when a liar or cheat gets hurt accidentally, or when a pious person wins the lottery, “they got what they deserved”. Peter gives his own concise summary in 1 Pet. 3:10-12. See also John 15:1-10, 1 Cor. 11:27-32, Heb. 12:5-11. The government of God works positively and negatively. Often we speak of it only in the negative sense, as a warning against sinful deeds, but the principle applies to doing good; “let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Gal. 6:9). For example, if I commit violence against other, I can expect to encounter some misfortune. Or, if I am kind to others in need, I can expect to reap kindness in my time of need. Is “reaping” in the government of God always material? Scripture would indicate that it could be material; i.e. “good days” (1 Pet. 3:10), but it also can be spiritual; i.e. “life eternal” (Gal. 6:8). In the Old Testament reaping was primarily material because their blessings were earthly. Our blessings are spiritual and heavenly. Not only will we reap according to the kind of things we have sowed, but according to the measure we have sowed. Paul affirms in 2 Cor. 9:6 that “this is true, he that sows sparingly shall reap also sparingly”. You can’t expect to sow a little kindness and reap much. Furthermore, God’s government takes into account our motives and attitude; “he that sows in the spirit of blessing shall reap also in blessing: each according as he is purposed in his heart; not grievingly, or of necessity” (2 Cor. 9:6-7). We can do things with ulterior motives, but God takes those things into account in His government. God’s government is righteous and impartial (1 Pet. 1:16-17; Psa. 19:9). For believers, governmental consequences do not extend into eternity; they are for this life only. The furthest they may reach is to death. For example, a believer may sin “a sin unto death” (1 John 5:16), but it will not affect their eternal security.
Misconceptions about the Government of God. There are several misconceptions that we can have about the government of God that can lead even believers to act wrongly.
- Failing to see the reality of God’s government. The first misconception that people have is that God will not not exercise his government. Paul warns against this: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7). Since he says “be not deceived”, it is clearly possible that we might be deceived. To continue willfully in sin is to mock God.
- Failing to see the grace of God. Not every circumstance is a result of the government of God. The book of Job is a great help on this issue. Job and his three friends has a partial understanding of God. They all believed that every circumstance in a person’s life is a direct consequence of how their moral behavior. When God allowed Satan to take away all earthly comforts from Job, this posed a serious issue, because Job was a righteous man. The three friends began to accuse Job of secret sins, because that what the only solution their minds could grasp. Job himself knew their conclusion wasn’t correct, because he really had lived righteously. Throughout the book, the three friends grow increasingly more accusatory, and Job increasingly more defensive of his own righteousness. Finally, young Elihu speaks. Even Elihu didn’t have a full understanding of God, but he did understand that chastening does not always come into our lives because of some sin we have committed (Job 33:19). God’s grace is at work, as well as His government. In fact, for the elect, the government of God is administered by the grace of God. The circumstances in our lives are ordered by God for purposes, to draw us to Himself, and to conform us to the image of His Son! To fail to see the grace of God is to develop a skewed understanding of the government of God, like the disciples who said, “Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2).
- Taking it on ourselves to administer justice. We need to remember that it it God’s government, not ours. It is not the place of Christians to take judgment into our own hands, even if we do have a right view of sin. “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Rom. 12:19).
Governmental Forgiveness. Each one of us has accrued the governmental judgment of God over a lifetime of offenses committed against Him. But God is very gracious and patient, and has passed over those sins in a governmental sense, so we can live day to day free from many of their consequences. This exemption from the governmental consequences of our sin is called governmental forgiveness. For the believer, God has chosen to make governmental forgiveness dependent on: (1) a contrite spirit about our own failures, and (2) a forgiving spirit towards those who have offended us.
This might seem like the strangest aspect of forgiveness, but it is well documented in many locations in the Word of God, including the Old Testament and the gospels. The Lord Jesus taught this truth in His sermon on the mount; “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15; see also Luke 6:37). In Matt. 7:1-2 we learn that if we harbor a judgmental attitude, it will result in God judging us governmentally. In Mark 11:25 we learn that, without forgiveness for others in our hearts, even our prayers will be hindered. The Lord expanded on this subject in the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:21-35.
God sometimes waits until thing are cleared up to His satisfaction before granting governmental forgiveness. Often a single action has long range consequences. The Lord restored to David the joy of his salvation, but the governmental consequences of his sin were never removed, and four of his sons were lost. Sickness can sometimes be allowed as governmental judgment on the believer for sin; “Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him” (James 5:14-15). In certain cases, a person may never be forgiven this side of heaven, such as when someone refuses to forgive their brother. If we harbor an unforgiving spirit, God will deliver us up to bitterness, anxiety, and resentment; these are destructive forces pictured by “the tormenters”. God will wait as long as it takes. He will be glorified in judgment, even if it means never lifting His mighty hand until we are taken home. Some sins have consequences beyond the reach of governmental forgiveness; “There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it” (1 John 5:16). Yet there is no sin beyond the reach of eternal forgiveness! And we can still enjoy the sunshine of God’s presence while passing through the governmental consequences of our sins if we have confessed it, and been restored to communion with God. Remember, the government of God works for us when we sow to the Spirit, as well against us when we sow to the flesh. But generally, God is pleased to grant governmental forgiveness when we have a spirit of forgiveness toward others. A good example of this is Job. The Lord “turned the captivity of Job” when he prayed for his friends.
Summary of Principles. The basic principles of the government of God are summarized below:
- Generally, God rewards people on earth according to their deeds, whether good-for-good or evil-for-evil (Gal. 6:7).
- The government of God is universal in that it applies to all people, whether believers or unbelievers, and across all dispensations (e.g. 2 Sam. 12:14).
- The government of God has nothing to do with our acceptance before God in Christ (our standing).
- The government of God works positively and negatively (Gal. 6:8).
- We will we reap according to the kind of things we have sowed (Gal. 6:8).
- We will we reap according to the measure we have sowed (2 Cor. 9:6).
- God’s government takes into account our motives and attitude (2 Cor. 9:6-7).
- God’s government is righteous and impartial (1 Pet. 1:16-17; Psa. 19:9).
- Not every action of God is a result of His government… His transcending grace is also at work (John 9:2-3).
- Christians ought not to take God’s government into their own hands (Matt. 13:28-29).
- Reaping may occur in spiritual things or in material things (1 Pet. 3:10; Gal. 6:8).
- God grants governmental forgiveness according as we forgive one another (Matt. 18:35).