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Should We Legislate Immorality?

Written by Gary North on June 18, 2016

“You can’t legislate morality!”

How many times have you heard that one? Too many, I’ll bet. Have you ever sat down and thought through the implications of this humanist slogan? Does anyone really know what it means? We all know how it’s used: to try to reduce support for a proposed law that the complainer doesn’t approve of. But what does it mean?


To legislate is to declare a law. In the days when academically oriented people and statesmen still believed in neutral natural law, they argued that “true” law is discovered by legislators, not created by them. This placed the legislator in essentially the same position as a pre-twentieth century judge, who also used to be thought of as someone whose task it is to discover how to apply universally valid laws to concrete historical situations.

Today, the influence of legal positivism has destroyed men’s confidence in the existence of natural law and therefore also their confidence in the ability of judges or legislators to discover an underlying, concealed, universal law code. Men increasingly see law as simply the declaration of the State, for better or worse, in sickness and in health. Mostly in sickness, as it has turned out.

The Bible teaches that God declares His law to man. Basic to the doctrine of soteriology (salvation) is the doctrine of justification. God justifies a person by declaring him innocent of all charges. What charges? Charges of having committed a crime against God. Sin is therefore law-breaking. Salvation is God’s declaration of regenerate man’s immunity from prosecution. “It is God who justifies: who is he that condemns?” (Romans 8:33).

God makes this declaration because Jesus Christ has paid for the sins of His elect. God imputes (legally transfers) Jesus’ perfect righteousness to those whom God has chosen to be conformed to the image of His son–not conformed in being or essence to the Second Person of the Trinity, but ethically conformed to the perfect humanity of Jesus (Romans 8:29).

Salvation is therefore something theologians call a forensic act. “Forensic” refers to a court of law. God’s granting of salvation is a judicial act. But if it is a judicial act, then God’s court must be in session. God is therefore a judge. A judge decides a case in terms of a law code. How can we speak of God as a savior if He isn’t also a judge who can declare men immune from judgment? Furthermore, how can we think of God as a judge if there is no law by which He renders judgment? In short, how can the Bible be true if God has not legislated morality?


A moral decision is a decision concerning the legitimacy of an act or thought. Is the fact or thought acceptable in terms of an acceptable, valid standard of behavior?

(For the rest of my article, click the link.)

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