Christians and the Death Penalty

News broke out across the country that Dylan Roof was found guilty, and that the jury has recommended the death penalty for him. (I have written about the case elsewhere here.)

This was not surprising to most given the nature of his crime and his clear unrepentant heart in the after-math. He showed no signs of remorse or guilt, and given the evidence of the case, the jury convicted him quickly and has now recommended the highest form of punishment is required to call his sentence just. 

What was so ironic in all this news was that the church Dylan Roof attacked; specifically, many of the family members of the victims, does not believe in the death penalty. 

All the other issues aside about whether or not Mr. Roof will receive the death penalty, whether he will sit and wait for it so long he will still die in prison I do not want to address. I would rather address the idea of Christians and how we ought to view the death penalty. What should Christians feel and think about capital punishment? 

Ironically, there seems to be both room for some black and white standards, as well as for some Christian liberty on this issue.

Black and White:

What seems to be indefensible is a position which advocates that capital punishment is sinful, and that it can never be practiced. This is quite contrary to Biblical testimony. 

First of all, many of God’s laws required the death penalty. For example: homosexuality, adultery, incest, and bestiality were all punishable by death, just to name a few (Leviticus 20: 10-14). 

So the first thing we know is that God is not always against capital punishment. To the contrary, He ordained it and commanded it be done in certain circumstances. 

However, that begs the question: 

Since we do not live under the Old Covenant Law any longer, is God pleased with other forms of government exercising capital punishment in the New Testament age? 

Romans 13: 1-4

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”

I emphasized what I did for 3 reasons: 

1) Paul is clearly talking about current governments both in his day and in ours. 

Every form of authority is the object of Paul’s message. He is not talking about Old Testament Israel. 

2) Bearing the sword means killing.

Paul states that the government “does not bear the sword in vain”, which is clearly a euphemism for killing. Swords were not used to spank people with the flat end; the sword was used as an instrument of death. 

3) God is working through the government’s sword.

Paul says when the government uses the sword it is not in vain. He does not condemn them for it. Not only that, but he attributes it to being the very wrath of God, telling us God approves of using the sword, through Governments, to carry out His own justice on earth. 

Romans 13 is clear, and especially when coupled with O.T. biblical Law, it can be determined that God is not angry when governments practice proper capital punishment. Capital punishment is not always sinful.

Christian Liberty

There is room for liberty however. Just because capital punishment is not sinful, this does not make it mandatory. It does not have to be preferred. This does not mean a government must use capital punishment. 

Many Christians have submitted that a person has a better chance of coming to know Christ by spending life in prison. This is important to the situation at hand. 

Dylan Roof does not know the Lord. Christians should not be gleeful about this. We should long for and pray for his salvation. The sooner we rush to execute him, the sooner he goes to hell forever. It is perfectly acceptable for Christians to choose mercy in the hopes he comes to repentance and faith.

In summary, capital punishment then is not commanded, but it is not condemned.  

Regardless of where you stand on the issue, to pray for our enemies is a command from the Lord, not from me. Thus, pray for Dylan Roof

Pray too for the families of the victims. Pray that they heal, forgive, and find peace and joy in Christ. 

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