Just War: A Christian Perspective Part 2

Read- Just War: A Christian Perspective Part 1

First, the Bible does have a clear teaching on the State’s power and its proper uses. Paul taught in Romans 13:1-4:

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”

Immediately we note that Paul is using moral language. “Rulers are not a terror to good conduct but to bad.” Christians are to “do what is good” so that we might avoid the ruler’s punishment and meet with his “approval.” The ruler terrorizes “bad” conduct; he punishes the “wrongdoer.” All this is moral language, and it causes us to ask questions like “What is good?” or “What is bad conduct?” The best person to direct these moral questions to is God, who has spoken to them in the sacred Scriptures.

Let’s start with Jesus’ interaction with the man known in Scripture as the “Rich Young Ruler.” Quoting now from Matthew 19:16-19.

“16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

When Jesus is asked, “what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” He answers by pointing this young man to what Christians call the Moral Law of God, meaning the Ten Commandments. Jesus focused in this passage, particularly on what is said to be the Second Table of the Moral Law because it instructs us in our duty to our fellow man. The complete Moral Law includes both tables of the Law. The first teaches us our duty to God and the second our duty to man. These Ten Commandments form the foundation of how a Christian understands what we call “moral good.” When asked by a lawyer who was trying to trap Him in His words in Matthew 22:36-40 by asking Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” Jesus gives us this famous saying:

37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)    

Obviously, for the Christian, law keeping is still something we must do. Jesus is the greatest law keeper (moral person) that ever lived. Orthodox Christian theology teaches that Jesus of Nazareth is the only righteous and sinless human being. The Apostle John in 1 John 3:4 defines sin in this way. “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.” Lawlessness? To what law is John referring? The answer, of course, is the Law of God. The Holy Spirit is indeed conforming us into His righteous image. If sin is lawlessness, then righteousness is lawfulness. And when we look closely at what is taught in Scripture as the “fruit of the Holy Spirit” in Galatians 5:22-23, we find a curious phrase at the end. “22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” The Spirit never inspires attitudes or actions contrary to God’s Moral Law.

What Does The Word Moral Mean?

What do we mean when we say something is moral? What we mean is this. What is moral is what is good no matter the time and no matter the place. What is good is always good. Whether in China 2000 years ago or Belgium 2000 years in the future. Time and geography have no bearing on what is morally good. It is always good. Traditional Christians do not share the modern view of subjective and changing morality. The Church may err, but God never does. If He has made a proclamation concerning morality, it remains in effect unless He, Who alone has the authority to change it, provides some revelation that negates it. Having shown from the New Testament that the Moral Law of God remains in effect, let us press on to answering the question, “Can Christians engage in warfare under the New Testament?” A proper understanding of the Moral Law of God will play an integral role in answering it.

The rule for whether or not a war is just is the same rule that applies to individuals when they harm another. Was it a violation of the 6th commandment or not? The 6th commandment, “You shall not murder,” is an injunction against the act of taking another’s life. “Was there malice in the act?” is the question. In other words, “Was it done as an offensive act with malice?” The Bible does not punish self-defense, nor does it punish accidental death, unless there was negligence to the degree that the person responsible should have been able to foresee that his lack of action could result in another’s death. Let me provide some biblical examples of murder, self-defense, accidental death, and death by negligence. We’ll then be able to expand our discussion.

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