Dluxe's World

Thursday, November 30

Is there a problem, Officer?

A conversation I've had a couple times over the last couple weeks has inspired me... So, today I will try to offer an answer to the age-old question: Is speeding a sin?

For those non-VBC people on here, our adult Sunday school class has been reading through Jerry Bridges book, The Pursuit of Holiness. One teacher used the example of speeding to show how easy it is for us to sin. But is speeding really a sin?

Obviously, the Bible doesn't specifically deal with speeding. Though Leviticus covers just about everything else you could imagine, it doesn't tell us any limit on how fast a camel should be driven or anything that we could reasonably consider an analog to speeding. So, I think it could be fairly said (as someone mentioned at dinner last night) that speeding is, in and of itself, morally neutral before God. That is, there's nothing inherently immoral about driving over an arbitrary speed limit.

However, I would submit that the Bible does deal with our need to subject ourselves to the 'laws of the land' in several place. Paul's discourse in Romans 13 is the most robust of these and so I've chosen to use that as a launch point... We'll make reference back to some other verses in the following discussion. So, here's Romans 13:1-8 in one big chunk, then we'll pick it apart.
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. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 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, 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. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (ESV, emphasis mine)

Paul, writing to the church at Rome, urges the believers to be subject to their governing authorities. Actually, he goes beyond urging and actually commands them to do so... Paul grounds this imperative (Gk. hupotassestho) firmly in the authority of a Sovereign God. Whatever earthly powers are established, they are established ultimately by God and for His purposes. It's really fascinating that Paul calls such earthly rulers as "God's servant"... Looking back, it's obvious few of them were deliberately serving God with their conduct (a fact I'm sure was obvious to Paul as well). There's also the irony that it would be Roman authority which rose as the chief persecutor of the church - eventually swallowing up Paul's life.

So, what does it mean to be "in subjection" to authority? Certainly obedience is at least one virtue that is in sight here. Where authorities levy taxes, we should pay. Where civil laws are established, we should conform. And we should do so joyfully! Ultimately, I obey my parents because they are gifts from God for my good. Same thing with earthly government... My obedience is not to them directly, but is obedience to God through submission to them.

In Jeremiah 29, Israel has fallen into the hands of the Babylonians and many people have been carted off into captivity. But God, through His prophet, makes a startling statement:
Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (vv4-7)

God's command is that the captive Israelites would, in effect, make the blessing of Babylon their goal, which certainly has a level of civil obedience in view. How counter-intuitive is that? "Love and obey your captors, folks. Seek the welfare of their city, in which you are imprisoned." Look at the book of Daniel, and you'll find that's exactly what some of them did, to the city's great benefit and to God's glory.

What does all this have to do with speeding? A lot, I think. God has called us, as Christians, to be holy and live in a manner that is glorifying to Him. Part of that call is to be humbly and joyfully subject to the earthly authorities that God places over us. We should endeavor to obey the law of the land as long as it doesn't violate Scripture.

There are some stock questions that naturally must be addressed... I wanna take a stab at each of them in turn:

Speed limits are not 'moral' or 'immoral', so why do I need to follow that arbitrary standard? Well, again - I'd offer that God has established the governing authorities over us, bureaucratic nonsense and all, for our good and His glory. Speeding, though admittedly not Biblical grounded, is a law that has been established by a God-ordained government. Our obedience is required because of God's rule over us. By God making it a command, it becomes a moral issue.

That main idea aside, I'd offer three other reasons obeying the speed limit is potentially 'spiritually edifying' to us.
  • We should develop a love of virtue. I think this is what Paul is driving at when he instructs us (in Romans 13:5) to obey for conscience. Mind you, there's nothing virtuous about 55mph in and of itself, but virtue is found in a heart that joyfully obeys the law. Our joy should come from doing what is right in God's eyes even when it is uncomfortable for us or foolish in the eyes of the world. We should want to honor God, not simply stay out of trouble.
  • Skirting the edge of the law breeds unhealthy attitudes in us. First off, it seems we aren't given the luxury by God of picking which rules to follow and which to ignore. If we afford ourselves that right, I think we're in dangerous territory. In addition, think about that feeling you get in your stomach when you're cruising 10mph over the speed limit and see a cop nestled in the woods. We hit our breaks, buckle our seatbelt, and start glancing in our rearview to see if "he's pulling out to pull me over". John Owen, in the book I recently reviewed, points out that if we start pushing boundaries in one area we risk making that kind of limit-testing habitual. "How far can I go without getting in trouble? If I set my cruise for 9 over the limit, it's probably not worth the cop's time to stop me." That's the wrong question...
  • We also need to think of our lives as missionary endeavors. What does my behavior say about God? Do I demonstrate that God is supremely valuable and glorious when Smokey stops me on the side of the highway? There is a sense in which our lives should (indeed, must) look different to the world around us. While driving the speed limit might seem a pitiful way to be different, I think we need to honor God and trust Him to use our right conduct as a testimony to who He is.
Pheh. No one is going to be positively influenced by my driving 55 in a 55. In fact, they'll probably flip me off as they zip past. Is that really a good witness? Assuming you smile and don't return the gesture, then yeah. It is. Why do we really get grumpy when someone is holding up traffic by *gasp* obeying the law? At the root of it is prideful sin. My agenda, my schedule, my desires have become supreme and now someone is negatively impacting them. My obedience to God's rule has become secondary.

Who are we to say that God won't use our little acts of obedience to convict someone else of their own pride and sin? But if we look just like everyone else, then how are we being salt and light? I think this gets at the core of what Paul meant when he said to do everything (eating, drinking, sleeping, driving) for the glory of God. We need to think about how to drive in a way that shows God is most important to us...

Ok... Fine. But where does this obedience stop? You cited Daniel earlier - did you forget that whole bit about the idol and the furnace? I have to admit that I still giggle when I think about the gigantic, chocolate bunny from the Veggie version of the tale.

Our first, and in fact only, allegiance is to God. Everything else is secondary. I love my neighbor because I follow Christ. I'm faithful to my wife because she is God's provision to me and I desire to exalt God's glory. I obey, albeit imperfectly, the authorities God has placed over me because God placed them over me. Everything goes back to the first commandment.

Therefore, my obedience to any earthly power stops when that power contradicts God's higher rule on my life. In the case of Rack, Shack, and Benny, the King decides to force all the people to worship a golden idol he made. Their response to the King's questioning (recorded in Daniel 3:16-18) is clear and decisive. Where these young men had previously been obedient to the King, there is no trace of that honor left. When the King's command comes into conflict with God's command, obedience to God's word stands even though it that devotion may bring death. If you don't believe me, look at the conduct of Stephen, Paul, and especially Christ under persecution from earthly authorities. We don't see people rising up to rebel or fight, but instead are faced with examples to humbly bear, even in our own flesh, the cross of obedience to God.

But isn't this just legalism? Isn't following all the rules what Christ came to end? Isn't that what Jesus chastised the Pharisees for doing? I suppose it depends on how your defining legalism. Rightly understood, legalism is the [mistaken] belief that our obedience to the Law is the basis for our right-standing (justification) before God. Legalism operates on a premise that if I obey, God will accept me.

Using that definition, legalism is heresy and an affront to God. The entire teaching of the Bible is that we cannot uphold the Law perfectly and therefore stand condemned before God for our transgressions. The Good News of Christ is that God Himself offers a perfect sacrifice to pay the debt of sin we owe. Our right standing before God, therefore, is only assured through simple faith placed in the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the Cross.

So, legalism is flat out wrong.

However, that doesn't mean that we get to stop following the rules!! Paul makes that specific point in Romans 6, where, anticipating the pronouncements of some, he says:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:1-4, 12-14)

Just because we are free from sin doesn't mean we should ignore the law. In fact, exact opposite is true. Because of the unbelievable grace that God has shown us in Christ, we should work diligently to walk in obedience to God. Not because that makes us righteous, but because we have been clothed in righteousness that is not our own... And we should worship our Savior who loved us through lives that are increasingly conformed to his will.

So, is speeding a sin? I don't think you can make any other case stand up Biblically. Now, I'll capitulate a little and admit that I think I have far more heinous planks sticking out of my eyes that need to be dealt with. And perhaps it's worth focusing there instead of 'sweating the small stuff'. Nonetheless, if I desire to be obedient to God - offering my life as an act of worship, that obedience will manifest itself in a willing, joyful submission to earthly authorities...

Meaning I need to slow down a little. And you should, too. Soli Deo Gloria!



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