The king must stay in his lane
July 17, 2019
One unfamiliar biblical doctrine is called, “The regulative principle of government.” To boil the idea down, it means that civil governments are not supposed to make it up as they go.
Government is not accountable to the church, but it is accountable to God. God has defined what sin is. He has also defined which particular sins should be treated as crimes, and therefore prosecuted by the government.
Sins that come with specified punishments attached to them are crimes. Examples include restitution for theft and capital punishment for murder. Sins that are not listed with specified punishments do not fall under the jurisdiction of government. No king should try to punish people for lack of faith, for instance.
According to this regulative principle, government should have nothing to do with feeding the poor or educating children, which could be addressed by an endless parade of creative options, if the government got out of those businesses.
Imagine a world in which you would never be confronted with government agents until you had harmed someone. (Contrary to the slander of works like “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the Bible envisions a world nearly devoid of any government greater than individual self-government, and completely devoid of nit-picking busy-bodies in authority.)
See Deuteronomy 17:18-20. Speaking of any future king in Israel, it says, “When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.”
The king was to write out his own copy of the law. This was not so that he would have something to read during his morning devotional time; but, that he would be instructed in what God expected of him. He was to keep it with him, which is what you do with stuff that matters to you. He was to be a life-long student. He would learn his proper relationship to God (that is, below him as a worshipper) and to the people (that is, not above them).
Importantly, the king was commanded not to turn from the law’s requirements to the left or the right. He wasn’t to rely on his own, best judgment. He had to follow a relatively small set of rules. He couldn’t be more severe, or lenient. He couldn’t outlaw what God had not. He had to stay in his lane, and that lane was narrow.
The Bible goes on to show that this same principle is meant to apply in all the kingdoms of the world. This is at least part of what the Son of God meant when he told his disciples to go and teach the nations to observe whatsoever things he had commanded (Matthew 28:18-20).
Gordan Runyan is the pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Tucumcari. Contact him at: