May a Christian Apply the Standards of God Even to the Lost?

Amos 1:3-5

3 Thus says the Lord:
“For three transgressions of Damascus,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because they have threshed Gilead
with threshing sledges of iron.
4 So I will send a fire upon the house of Hazael,
and it shall devour the strongholds of Ben-hadad.
5 I will break the gate-bar of Damascus,
and cut off the inhabitants from the Valley of Aven,
and him who holds the scepter from Beth-eden;
and the people of Syria shall go into exile to Kir,”
says the Lord.

The prophecy of Amos begins with the Lord pronouncing judgments on lands that surround the northern kingdom of Israel. One might imagine the judgments of God falling on neighboring lands, encircling Israel, coming closer and closer until the northern kingdom is squarely in the sights of the Lord. With the first pronouncements, the people of Israel probably celebrated. But as the pronouncements drew closer and closer to Samaria, the people likely got more and more nervous.

For me in this reading, the thought that got my attention is not the slow and steady shelling of the lands around Israel until it is finally hit. Instead, it is the fact that God first pronounces judgments on Syria, Philistia, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, and Moab. (A pronouncement is made against Judah as well, but that is not what grabbed my attention.) In Amos 1 and 2, God pronounced his judgments upon lands and peoples who never agreed to follow him or his ways.

One common misconception that I have recently heard voiced is that the people of God have no right to bring the morality of the faith to bear on those who do not know the Lord. If a person is not a Christian, some reason, we cannot attempt to impose the standards of the Bible upon them.

But look at any proclamation in the first 2 chapters of Amos and see what the Lord is doing. God is judging lands like Syria for their cruelty and evildoing. In the section I cite above, God judges Syria for their harsh treatment of Gilead. One might say that this is OK, because the Syrians were hurting other people . But stop and let yourself think of the point that God clearly makes here.

For what reason is God judging Syria? In simplest terms, God is judging Syria for their sin. This nation is crushing people, killing people, and this is wrong. Why is it wrong? Is it only wrong because you say so or I say so? No, that cannot be it. In Genesis 9, God is quite clear that murder is an attack on the very image of God. In Exodus 20, when God outlines his covenant with Israel, God shows us that to unjustly take a life is to go against the holy standard of right human behavior. The leaders in Damascus have treated people wrongly in clear violation of the standard of God. And the Lord has pronounced punishment upon them for this treatment. And this is just of God, even if the people of Syria have never heard the law of God proclaimed and even if they have never agreed to follow the Lord or his ways.

So, do we have the right to bring the word and standards of God to bear in our discussions with and our response to the lost world? Absolutely we do. Whether the world agrees or not, Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth. Jesus commands all to believe in and follow him. To violate that standard is to oppose the one who has final and lasting authority. If this is not the case, then we must conclude that God did not have the right to judge the six surrounding nations outside of Israel and Judah in Amos 1 and 2. And I do not think we are ready to declare that God overstepped.

Do not be confused here. I am not at all suggesting that any lost person who obeys the basic morality of God will somehow earn his or her way to heaven. In Adam, all humanity fell. All of us are already guilty of violating God’s holy standard. No amount of law-keeping will earn us heaven. We must have Jesus and his perfect atoning work on our behalf if we are to have life with God. Neither am I pressing toward making Israelite civil law the law of every nation. But, and this is the point, we still live in God’s world. We all still live under the “all authority” that Christ claimed for himself (cf. Mat. 28:18). And so, when God says murder is wrong, it is wrong for the Christian and the lost person alike. When God says adultery is wrong, it is wrong for the Christian and the lost alike. All of God’s ways are right, and no person on earth has the right to live in opposition to the commands of the God who made us.

So, yes, believers have not only the right but also the responsibility to apply the word and ways of God in every situation. And, yes, we must reject any claim that we cannot bring Scripture to bear, even in situations that involve those who have never surrendered personally to the lordship of Christ. Christian, do not fall prey to the false argument that says that you have to keep your Bible to yourself. Your Bible is the expression of the will of the one, true, ultimate, complete, and final authority.