On 7 May South Africans will once again vote in a democratic election. I well remember the first one in 1994 and the incredible experience of seeing people lined up at polling stations to cast their vote. The Lord was gracious to us as a nation as peace reigned at a time when threats of violence were on several fronts.

Everyone has an opinion about the effectiveness of the present Government, but in so many cases unfortunately the discussions miss the fundamental issue: What is the function of a Government? The biblical answer is quite evident: the safety and security of those they govern. Finished en klaar.

In Romans 13 the Lord makes this very apparent as He inspires Paul to write, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgement on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same” (Romans 13:1-3).

The point of this passage is quite clear. Ultimately, a Government rules under the sovereign appointment of God, and those whom it rules are to submit to it. But further, the Government is to rule as a minister (servant) of God, and its primary responsibility is to maintain order. And one way it does so is by being a terror to those who defy godly order.

Unfortunately most people have the idea that the Government is mandated with the health, welfare and education of those it governs as well as safety and security. Such a pervasive mindset has resulted in a huge, inefficient and financially burdensome bureaucracy. Without attempting to settle the debate about how important health, welfare and education are to the safety and security of a nation, I want rather to focus on the clear injunction that Government is to be a terror to those who defy the laws of God. Yes, the laws of God.

Since the text informs us that those in authority are “God’s minister[s]” (vv. 4, 6) it stands to reason that those who govern are to serve the Governor, the Lord God. And they are to do so by maintaining the order that God prescribes in His Word. It is for this reason that Paul says that Government “does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.” And what is to be deemed “evil”? That which God defines as evil, as spelled out in His Word.

All conservative commentators agree that the reference to the “sword” is a euphemism for capital punishment. The context makes it quite clear that God expects the Government to so govern that those who are intent to do evil, those who break the law thus threatening the safety and security of society, are to be terrified at the thought of being punished if caught. Such sense of “terror” is for the purpose of discouraging the evil behaviour. This sense of just terror is intended as a deterrent. Yes, Government is to be viewed with terror by those who break the law.

Unfortunately, many Governments make up their own definitions of what is evil, and by doing so they often end up calling that which is evil good and that which is good evil. Such is the mindset that often leads to totalitarianism. And the result is that those committed to obeying God’s laws now live in terror while those who defy God’s law live “unafraid” and are “praised” (see v. 3). In other words, such Governments become terrible because they are no longer “terror-able.” They are unable or unwilling to be a terror to evil.

This is an essential matter to consider when casting your vote. Does the party that you are voting for have the ability—if given the opportunity—to be a terror to evil?

That is, will such a party, if privileged to govern, be committed—as its top priority—to the safety and security of society? Further, is it more prone to identify as evil what God identifies as evil and identify that which is good as God does?

Once you start asking that question, there are very few political parties in our land which fit the bill.

Often Christians make the wrongheaded conclusion that we need to be pragmatic in our voting. And so they end up voting for a party which, though it clearly calls evil good and good evil (e.g. pro-abortion, opposition to biblically defined marriage, etc.), nevertheless functions as a strong opposition to an even worse party. But I would argue that Christians are to vote informed by biblical principle rather than by political pragmatics.

I understand that some political parties claim that they will be “tough on criminals,” but that rings pretty hollow when the same party is pro-abortion. The killing of babies should be viewed as evil, and those doing so should live in terror of a Government that will punish such evil. In this scenario, the political party is still terrible because they are not yet terror-able.

Of course, this article opens a can of worms of much debate, yet may this stimulate you to think through these issues. If it does, then hopefully it will further equip you on 7 May to cast your vote as a Christian citizen, not merely as a citizen. May God be pleased to give us a terror-able Government.

(For a helpful guide on some of the bigger issues, visit the SA Voters Guide website.)