At the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ is the reality that all men are sinners who have defied their creator and, accordingly, are are desperate need of redemption. No small factor in this defiance of God is our desire for autonomy – our wish to be self-governed on an individual level, with no moral requirements outside of our own self-determined standard – which aligns with our own malleable desires.
A major element, then, of a person turning to Christ as Lord is the rejection of such autonomy; it is a shift from self-will and self-governance to a heart that willingly (even if with great difficulty) submits to the authority and Lordship of Christ.
This submission to Christ brings with it what logically follows: submitting to Christ’s commands concerning submission to human authority (Titus 3:1; Ephesians 6:1, 5; 1 Timothy 6:1-2; Romans 13:1-7).
But when authorities of any type challenge our will, it’s easy for the flesh to revert to this pursuit of autonomy and to justify it on the basis of any number of reasons.
COVID-19 and its accompanying governmental responses has challenged the will of many people, including Christians, with respect to their desire for autonomy. They don’t like the restrictions and rules placed upon them, whether it be with regard to masking, “social distancing”, curfews, or other procedures and limitations (and, really, who does?). And, to be sure, some of these restrictions are difficult, if not outright harmful; official COVID-19 deaths are not the only casualties of the pandemic. But often, no matter how insignificant the restriction, rather than go along with the mandates of those who are placed in authority over them, people often choose to chart their own path, even with regard to the most mundane requirements.
There is no freer person than the Christian, who is free even if he is a literal slave (1 Cor. 7:22). But even this great freedom is to be exercised with a submission to God-ordained earthly authority.
The apostle Peter tells his readers to “Act as free men” (1 Peter 2:16); but he then immediately warns them in this way: “… and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.” What does this mean? He has just told them two verses earlier: “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.” (1 Peter 2:13-14).
Peter even goes on to tell believers that they should submit to authorities who are unreasonable: “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable.” (1 Peter 2:18). Peter knew a little bit about unreasonable authority, as he was writing to a group of readers who were suffering as the result of actual government persecution by a literal dictator of a literal empire (Rome). And yet he said that even such rulers were to be followed in such matters despite perhaps appearing in and of themselves to be unworthy of such obedience by God’s people.
Government leaders exist to make certain decisions and laws that are not intrinsically pleasing to the ones who have to follow them. These decisions and laws are within their purview as God-ordained servants toward the populace as a whole. This is their right and their responsibility (the very existence of such a thing as “law enforcement” implies as much). And because of this we are obligated to follow these rules, even when we don’t like them.
There are, of course, times when Christians must disobey human laws, because there are cases when the commands of Scripture explicitly contradict these laws, and we have to pick one or the other. But in many cases, it’s not a matter of man’s law vs. God’s law; it’s a matter of man’s law vs. our self-will.
So it may be that you think that masks are stupid; that they are uncomfortable, that they don’t work, that they make you a sheep, or even that they are the last step before conceding to totalitarianism.
You might think that the “experts” are fools or that they are misleading people on purpose, and often you might be right.
You might think that government leaders are acting out of purely self-preserving or self-promoting dishonesty, and there’s a decent chance that’s true of some of them.
You might think that many government restrictions are unreasonable and not following actual science, and there is a good case to be made for that in many places.
All of that could be true – and yet, despite all this, it still doesn’t give you a free pass to do whatever you want with what they require you to do.
Why? Because Christians, despite being free in Christ, do not ever possess full autonomy, even if we happen to be American citizens.
So yes, question the wisdom of government decisions, and vote accordingly if you wish. Discern what type of laws and orders are harmful to you or to others and proceed with legal challenges where necessary. And recognize where submitting to government action may in fact go so far as to directly contradict biblical faithfulness.
But also be careful to distinguish this: where you are acting in principle, versus when you just aren’t getting to do what you want.
For those with latent tendencies toward self-will and individual autonomy, COVID-19 has been a great opportunity to identify and put to death the sin of self-government. So before it’s too late and the pandemic has passed with all its restrictions and accompanying challenges to our self-driven desires, make sure to take advantage of it!