Pursuing Justice alongside Non-Believers

14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.

Romans 2:14-15 (ESV)

When a “Credit Cardholders Bill of Rights” passed the U.S. Congress in May of 2009, it enjoyed broad support, not only across party lines, but across religious boundaries. Among supporters were Muslim Keith Ellison (D-MN), Buddhist Hank Johnson (D-GA), Baptist Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Antiochian Orthodox Darrell Issa (R-CA), Jewish Paul Hodes (D – NH), Christian Scientist Lamar Smith (R-TX), Mormon Ernest Istook (R-OK), Unitarian Nancy Johnson (R-CT), and Catholic John Dingell (D-MI). And had the only atheist in the House, Pete Stark (D-CA), voted, he likely would have said yea, for his party was 252-1 in favor of it.

The merits of the bill are not the issue here. Rather, the fact of cooperation across denominational lines – indeed, between Christians and non-Christians – is the focus. If God’s moral code were purely sectarian and discerned only by the redeemed, then Christian legislators would find themselves a lonely tribe. But, by God’s design, those who pursue justice seriously will find themselves in frequent agreement with those who have not placed their faith in Christ.

The Apostle Paul, a Jew by birth and religious training, was called of God to extend the gospel to the Gentiles. In chapters 1 and 2 of his letter to the Romans, he explains that God has revealed Himself to Jew and Gentile alike and that both groups are accountable for their deeds. Both are able to distinguish natural from unnatural behavior. For instance, a person need not read the Torah to understand that homosexuality is perverse (1:26-27); he can simply observe that such behavior is contrary to the creation order.

Furthermore, peoples of every nation come equipped with a conscience able to steer them toward the good and away from the bad. By means of it, they can come to their senses in the midst of sin, or stand firm when their neighbors are mocking their standards — the conscience’s dual work of “accusing” and “excusing.”

So Christians who enter the public square should expect to find allies for worthy causes in all matters of justice, whether the criminal code, the tax system, the conduct of war, the regulation of commerce, the settlement of lawsuits, or the establishment of basic liberties. Of course, there will be wide variance, and consensus can be elusive, but substantial agreement on the fundamentals of decency is a genuine possibility.

To be sure, a spiritual gulf separates the lost from the saved, and the Church must never compromise on this biblical truth – “For there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). And it is only in Christ that one becomes a new, redeemed creation (2 Cor. 5:17). But the lost are not Martians. They are members of Adam’s race, just as are the Christians. And as such, they are made in the image of God, bearing marks of His moral standards, however smudged or overlaid they may be by sin. So God’s people can enter the realm of politics and law in reasonable hope that they will enjoy a measure of cooperation with even “the Gentiles” of this day.