A Christian lawyer is, for some, an oxymoron. Can a follower of Christ also practice law? The question seems to imply that some professions are “more Christian” than others. The question, however, seems to be in denial regarding the nature of work and our sinful human nature.
God created men and women to work. God created us for more than work, but not less. In the opening chapter of Scripture, God gives Adam the “cultural mandate” to be fruitful and multiply, to fill and subdue the earth, and to exercise dominion over the rest of creation (Gen. 1:28). The scope of this cultural mandate is broad, but to be faithful in fulfilling this call requires, at minimum, work. Furthermore, in the very next chapter, God places Adam in the garden “to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). A quick reminder of the chronology of events is important here. The calling for Adam to work as a gardener was before the fall and the curse of Genesis 3. Work became hard after the fall, but the original call for Adam and Eve was to live in fellowship with God and to work.
Christians are not immune from managing the “thorns and thistles” that now accompany work. Work is hard because, among other things, we are sinners working with other sinners in a fallen world. We are tempted and tried at every turn: to make work an idol, to promote ourselves at the detriment of others, to be angry, to lie, to cheat, to steal, to gossip, to lust, to be lazy, to covet, to be proud and arrogant. The trouble is not necessarily the vocation; rather, the trouble, as G.K. Chesterton is reported to have noted, is us.
Are Christian lawyers tempted with these particular sins? Yes. What about teachers, doctors, real estate agents, homemakers, insurance agents, mechanics, or electricians? Yes. What about pastors and missionaries? Yes. Maintaining Christian convictions in one’s profession, regardless of where one takes a paycheck, is difficult and will remain so until Christ returns.
Perhaps the better question then is how does one live faithfully as a Christian who practices law? First, one must be regularly grounded in the Word of God and actively involved in a gospel-centered church (e.g., Rom. 12:1-2; Acts 2:42; Heb. 10:25; James 5:19-20).
Second, the Christian is practices law needs to have the humility to acknowledge that some areas of law or some firms may prove to be a stumbling block (e.g., Prov. 4:23; Rom. 14:13-23). Thus, where some Christians may flourish, for example, at a larger firm or in a particular focus of the law, others may need a smaller firm or a different practice area to thrive in their Christian walk.
The practice of law is too nuanced to make a blanket statement that one cannot be a Christian and be a lawyer. While some types of firms or areas of law may prove challenging, those struggles are not unique to the law. Rather, they will be part of the struggle of working in a “Genesis 3 world” until Christ returns. God created us to be in fellowship with him and, among other things, to work. As we work, even as lawyers, we can glorify God and love others through our work. Thus, the call to the Christian is to be faithful, by God’s grace, wherever the Lord calls him or her to serve.
Jonathan B. Austin, J.D. is Assistant Professor of Law at Boyce College and Senior Vice President of Institutional Administration at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.