I recently ended a series on Liberty of Conscience (to be published in the future) with these questions: To what extent does government have culpability for the behaviors and beliefs it allows? Liberty of Conscience demands a certain amount of liberty of action. But when does freedom go too far? Will God judge a whole nation because of the freedom given a few?
When some of us think of national judgment we tend to think in terms of disease, war, economic failure, or oppression. This type of judgment has certainly happened in history, but it is not the normal way God judges nations.
In Romans chapter 1, we are taught that God’s judgment begins by the removal of the spiritual force He uses to restrain wayward humanity. This restraining force has been in place since mankind first fell and God’s grace became the only preserving force. This restraint is necessary for fallen humanity to live in a productive, relatively peaceful society. Without this common restraining grace there can be no civilization.
The primary reason revealed in Romans 1 for this judgment is corrupt religion. That is: religion which dishonors God, the Creator. This is why many of our forefathers, and some founding fathers, declared that the United States would continue in liberty only so long as the Christian God is properly honored by the people of the United States. It was not a legalistic system they were promoting, but the recognition and honor due from and given by creatures to their Creator. They were students of history and Romans 1 enough to know the awful resulting judgment upon a population which dishonors the Creator.
Primary judgment comes in the form of dishonor. God, in judgment, withdraws His gracious restraint which results in a substantial number of citizens vigorously engaging in dishonorable behavior. The scriptures say God “gave them up”. That is: He released them into the captivity of dishonor in response to their dishonoring Him. This state of judgment is evidence of rotten religion.
This puts a nation into an insane spiral out of freedom into the cold captivity of reprobation. Corrupt religion points to the dishonorable behavior of fellow citizens and threatens God’s judgment if it isn’t outlawed. But… law will only lead to further judgment, because it is not fundamentally a problem that can be solved by force of law; it is a problem of corrupt religion. And one of the characteristics of corrupt religion is it points to law (human effort) instead of grace (God’s remedy) as the route to divine favor. But this religious humanism looks like the sin fighting, culture changing answer, so it is then given more power, politically and otherwise. And the spiral into judgment continues.
The judgment detailed in Romans 1 comes in the form of more freedom for dishonorable behavior demanded by the citizens, and more license granted by government to engage in these behaviors until the people become uncivilized and thoroughly corrupt. Religious humanists (addressed in Romans 2, 3) call for more laws… and a culture once blessed by grace moves into justice. May God have mercy upon us… sinner and saint alike. God’s mercy in Christ Jesus is our only hope, and it has always been our only hope.