If a Christian breaks the law, should he turn himself in?

By Grant MacKenzie

Judgmental rooster is judgmental.
The Bible says that Christians should obey the laws of the land. If there's a warrant out, of course a Christian should turn himself in. But what about more minor infractions, like speeding? Should we turn ourselves in? What about accepting a reduced sentence or claiming the Fifth?

Let's break this down in a kind of step-by-step analysis. First, we know we should repent from sin and ask forgiveness from God. Second, we should obey our governments. Given those two biblical facts, we can analyze some of the situations presented.

1. Breaking the law, no warrants or outstanding cases (like speeding) — First, we have to recognize that breaking the law is a sin. "Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves" (Romans 13:1). Since breaking the law is sin ("resists the ordinance of God"), then we should strive not to do it. If we do break the law, then we should repent (turn away) from that sin and not repeat it. If we are caught in that sin, then as Christians, we have no recourse against whatever punishment comes as a result ("...bring judgment on themselves.")

2. Obeying the government does not mean ignoring God's Law — Since we are to obey our government, we are subject to all the laws of that government, provided they do not conflict with the laws of God. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not commit sin when they refused to bow before the idol (Daniel 3), even though it was the law of the Babylonian government to do so. Worshipping idols is against God's law, so we are not bound to serve other Gods if a government commands it.

3. Reduced sentences, 5th Amendment, etc. — If the law of the government allows leniency, we are allowed, as Christians, to be subject to those laws, as well. For example, if we are stopped for speeding and the police officer lets us off with a warning, we do not have to say, "Oh no, officer. I'm a Christian. You have to give me the maximum punishment." Being subject to the laws of a government means we are subject to all the advantages as well as the judgments that are within those laws.

4. Warrants or open cases — In these instances, I believe we, as Christians, must do our best to have the legal case against us resolved. We see this explicitly in Paul's dealing with Onesimus, who was a runaway slave. As such, he would have had the equivalent of a warrant against him in order to bring him back to his master. Onesimus becomes a Christian after interacting with Paul (Philemon 1:10). Paul then sends Onesimus back to Philemon to settle the legal matter between them and asks for leniency so Onesimus could continue in his newfound faith.

Given these different scenarios, I think we do not have an obligation to turn ourselves in to authorities for minor infractions of the law, but we should, as Christians, strive to remain within the law and repent from the sin of committing even the most minor infractions. If we receive a punishment, such as a fine for parking illegally, we should pay it promptly. If the law gives us the opportunity for leniency or self-protection (plea bargain, 5th Amendment, clemency, etc.), we are not obliged to ignore those aspects of the law. If we commit a major infraction that results in a warrant, an open case, or similar, then we should turn ourselves in and settle the case, all the while asking for support and guidance from God.

Image Credit: Victor; "Handcuffs"; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Calvinism-Tulip  | Christian-Life  | Sin-Evil

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Published on 7-20-2015