“Don’t you understand yet?” Jesus asked. “Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer. But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you.” (NLT)
Some things are sins but not crimes. Coveting my neighbour’s goods might be sinful, but it is only when I steal those goods that it becomes a crime. Getting angry may be at least on occasions a sin, but it is not a crime until I assault someone out of that anger.
Our civil laws cannot deal with private sins. And in our pluralist society, we cannot expect our civil laws to reflect biblical standards. We are perfectly free to seek to influence our lawmakers so that they pass laws that best reflect those standards, but we can’t demand them. And nor can we assume that passing a law deals with the sin issue.
As Jesus says, the problem of human sin is deep in the heart. Mere rules will not resolve the problem. Passing a law is one thing, keeping our hearts right before God and others is another thing. It is not as if we should not pass and keep good laws. Rather, we must not expect them to make society as God intends it to be. Laws can help but not fix.
Martin Luther King once put it like this: “Morality cannot be legislated, but behaviour can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless.”
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