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We live in an age ruled by passions and lusts. We are cities broken down without walls. As Christians, we need to constantly remember that the source of this anarchy is the heart of man. Unless the heart of man is regenerated so that it can be self-governed by the Spirit of Christ, all other governments will fall.
Various Texts: “He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls” (Prov. 25:28). “Now as he reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid…” (Acts 24:25). “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22-25). “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you will keep my judgments and do them” (Ez. 36:26-27).
On the one hand, we know that the “heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9). And the following verse says that the Lord searches the heart and tests the mind. But this doesn’t let us off the hook. Proverbs says, “Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out” (Prov. 20:5). So it really is like deep water in our hearts, but a man of understanding lets down the bucket of God’s Word (Js. 1:25). In other words, the dominion mandate/Great Commission includes our own hearts. If we have been given rule over all creation and commissioned to disciple the nations (and we have, cf. Gen. 2:28, Ps. 8, Mt. 28), this includes self-dominion, self-government, self-discipleship. But this is still an odd and challenging endeavor. How do you look at you? How do you rule you? Or, how do you obey you rightly? This is highly mysterious, but the Bible says that it can and must be done: “The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord, searching all the depths of his heart” (Prov. 20:27). “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23).
Good Hearts & Good Governments
The Bible teaches that this self-government is the first government, the foundational city for all cities. This is self-evident simply by the fact that all governments are made of people: families, churches, and nations. But the point really does need emphasis. You cannot get a just nation from unjust men. You cannot have a pure church made up of impure men. You cannot have a gracious family, if the hearts of the members of that family are not full of grace. Good laws are God’s gift to sinful men to constrain them, but long term, even the best laws will be overthrown by unrighteous men. No amount of outward constraint or pressure can create good men. Out of the heart “springs the issues of life.” Men cannot ultimately be other than what they are in their hearts: “every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit” (Mt. 7:17-18). So in the flesh, man is ruled by the flesh and therefore he does the works of the flesh (Rom. 6-7, Gal. 5). “So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His” (Rom. 8:8-9). The central stronghold of rebellion against God and His justice is in the citadel of the heart of man. Christ always conquers that city first and rebuilds it into a new city with walls, governed by His Spirit, to keep God’s law (Ez. 36:26-27). “But judgment will return to righteousness, and all the upright in heart will follow it” (Ps. 94:15).
Personal: You may or may not be able to keep rules, but unless you have the Spirit of Christ, you cannot please God. And it is only the pleasure of God that makes obedience a real joy and real freedom (Ps. 16:11). “Bless the Lord, all you His hosts, you ministers of His, who do His pleasure” (Ps. 103:21). Autonomy means “law unto self.” Fundamentally, this is the great war: between the true God who is Autonomous and every god-pretending heart that demands autonomy. You can never be happy in that state because you are at war with God. Lay down your arms, surrender to Christ, and begin to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). And when you do this, God will give you a new heart, and you will begin to take glad responsibility for your heart and its fruit, not in servile fear but in real joy and freedom.
Family: You cannot rule in your home rightly, if Christ is not ruling in your heart completely. “But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3). Husbands, you cannot be a good head to your wife if you are not constantly submitting to your head in Christ. If you are unsubmissive to Christ, it doesn’t matter what you say, you are teaching rebellion. “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). Parents, you can only teach this discipline and culture of the Lord if you are practicing it. You cannot give what you do not have.
Church: Learning wise rule in the family is directly related to being able to rule in the church: An elder must be “one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?)” (1 Tim. 3:4-5). “Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct… Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you” (Heb. 13:7, 17). An elder is someone who is qualified to watch out for your soul because by the grace of God and power of the Spirit, he has been watching his own soul and the souls in his house. You know this by the outcome of his conduct. And this means you really do need to pray for them, and you need to let them meddle in your life.
Nation: “Now therefore, be wise, O kings; Be instructed, you judges of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling” (Ps. 2:10-11). This means that a king cannot be wise or rule well apart from the fear of the Lord ruling his heart. “Therefore I exhort first all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and humility” (1 Tim. 2:1-2). Paul wrote this in the midst of the Roman Empire, and this is not political apathy. He preached “righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come” to Governor Felix (Acts 24:25). Prayer is political activism because the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, like rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes (Prov. 21:1).