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What is moral government theology?

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Moral government theology traces its roots back to a 16th-century Dutch jurist named Hugo Grotius. Moral government theology cannot truthfully be called a Christian doctrine as it is based on the unbiblical and erroneous idea that both God and man have a form of freedom known as the “power of contrary choice.” For man, this power enables all men to act and make choices free from the tyranny of our sin nature. Moral government theology claims that man is born morally neutral and is always capable of choosing whether or not to sin, and his moral character is determined by his choices.

For God, the power of contrary choice means He cannot know His own future choices for, if He did, He would in effect be restricted by those plans and no longer be able to make those choices freely. It also means His moral character is determined by His choices, meaning His will and His nature are changeable. Among its other detrimental effects, moral government theology is the basis of the “open theism” heresy which is currently gaining popularity in evangelical circles.

First, let’s examine the idea of the power of contrary choice in regard to mankind. The proponents of moral government theology claim that humans are able to fulfill the law, and we are not bound by a sin nature that continually wants to sin. Further, through our good choices and an iron will, mankind can turn away from sin, and we can achieve perfection if we work hard enough to make good choices. All these ideas directly contradict the Bible, which sets forth a completely different picture of man in his natural state. We are, by nature, objects of wrath (Ephesians 2:3) and dead in our transgressions and sins (Ephesians 2:1). A dead person cannot make choices of any kind, and a spiritually dead person most certainly cannot make a choice for God and His righteousness until he has been made a new creature in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). While we are still in our old sin nature, we are at war with God and we can’t choose to stop warring. Romans 8:7-8 tells us that “the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God” (italics added).

Further, even if we could make a choice to fulfill all of God’s laws—which we can’t—it still wouldn’t be enough to enable us to stand before Him because we are not justified by the law, but by faith in Christ (Galatians 2:16). The law was given to mankind by God to prove to us that we cannot fulfill it so that we stand hopelessly before Him, devoid of any way to appease His wrath against our sin. At this point, God’s grace and mercy were manifested in the person of His Son, whose death on the cross fulfilled the law (Matthew 5:17) and exchanged His righteousness for our sin (2 Corinthians 5:21).

So we see that the “power of contrary choice” does not exist. Until we are made new in Christ, we are slaves to sin (Romans 6:17), and a slave has no choice but to obey his master. Once Christ has given us a new nature, we are no longer slaves to sin, but to righteousness, and we can then make good choices, but only because the Savior now indwells us in the form of the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 1:14).

Second, the moral government theology impugns God’s character and recreates Him in the likeness of man. Contrary to moral government theology’s claims, the Bible declares that God does not change His mind, He is not surprised by anything that happens, and what He has foreordained will come to pass (Isaiah 14:24). God is—by His very nature:

omniscient (all-knowing): “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” (Romans 11:33);

omnipotent (all-powerful): "Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you” (Jeremiah 32:17);

immutable (unchanging): “I am the Lord; I change not” (Malachi 3:6); and

sovereign (in complete control of every atom in the universe): “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! (Romans 11:36).

To suggest that God is as the moral government theology proponents describe Him is completely without biblical foundation. In fact, it contradicts God’s own description of Himself—revealed to us in His Word—which is tantamount to calling Him a liar or at least accusing Him of being out of touch with His own reality.

Moral government theology also distorts the doctrines of sin, justification, and the atonement, which is the natural consequence of beginning with an incorrect view of the nature of man and the nature of God. Suffice it to say that when these two things are wrong, it follows that any doctrine involving man and/or God will also be wrong, and this is certainly the case with moral government theology.

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This page last updated: January 4, 2022