By Jeremy Stalnecker


One of the many lessons that I have learned over the last few months is this:

Compliance is a Choice.

I don’t say this to make a statement about whether or not you SHOULD comply, but rather to make a statement about how you FEEL when you make the decision to comply. The challenge in being told what to do, particularly by those who do not really have the authority to tell you what to do, is that you can feel powerless. We say things like, “I would not do this, but I don’t have another choice.” Or, “I’m stuck and have to go along because they are in charge.” While it can be frustrating to be told that we must do one thing or not do another, taking the position of the victim is never helpful. The ability to choose is one of the most powerful tools that we as human beings have but oddly, we need to be reminded from time to time that we really do have that power.

So, what are some of the reasons you might choose to comply:

Consequences of not complying

Sometimes the hammer, or the gun, or the jail key, is a powerful motivator for compliance. But even though these or many other potential consequences may be “on the table”, so to speak, they do not demand compliance. You get to choose whether you are willing to accept the consequences or avoid them by going along. But you get to decide.

A lack of clarity in my own mind as to what should be done

In my opinion, this is one of the main reasons that people comply with rules and edicts that don’t make sense. If we lack clarity in our own mind about what we should do or, at the very least, the principles that should guide our decisions, then following the rules makes the most sense. This has been the case with many of the restrictions enacted because of Covid-19. Since very few of us are doctors we are not fully convinced in our own minds of the right response to what we are being told. This is where principled decision making becomes especially important. We do not need to understand every aspect of a circumstance if we are clear on the principles that guide our decisions. What are the Biblical and Constitutional principles at work? Until we can answer that we will have a hard time knowing exactly what we should do.

Extenuating circumstances

This may be the “catch-all” for compliance, but in many cases is just is valid. Sometimes we comply because of our specific situation.

A few examples come to mind:

If the place that we work has dress or behavior guidelines for all employees, it becomes your responsibility to comply if you want to stay employed. This does not mean that everyone everywhere should do the same, but that because of your circumstances (and to keep your job) it is in your best interest to do what you are told.

Maybe you disagree with the mandate that a mask, for the good of humanity, be worn at all times in public. It is also possible that you have a compromised immune system or that you are working with those vulnerable to illness. In this case it is your specific circumstance that makes compliance the better option. Again, this does not mean that everyone everywhere should comply, but because you care about your health and the health of others compliance makes the most sense.

It is possible that in the name of testimony you decide to comply to a rule or guideline that is not illegal or immoral simply because not doing so would cause someone close to you to stumble. You may not be personally compelled to comply, but since you care more about your RESPONSIBILITY to someone spiritually weaker than you do your RIGHTS, compliance is the best path. This could be the case in many situations and hopefully provides an opportunity to help the “weaker” grow spiritually. Regardless of the circumstance, how your decisions affect others should always be considered.

Interpretation of “Data”

I add this one only because of the health “crisis” (I feel like I am using quite a few quotation marks today) that we are currently all living through. If you believe as I do that we are all individually responsible for our health, safety, and conduct than you also have a responsibility to examine the data being used to impose guidelines and restrictions so that you may draw your own conclusions. Do not simply trust the experts. Do your own research, which should include expert opinion and consensus, and then behave in a way that reflects your findings. This is a fine line of course since experts should be consulted. It is prudent, however, to bounce the “expert” opinion off common sense and the opinions of others. Think second opinion before surgery or learning how to read so you don’t have to blindly go along with what others tell you the Bible says. How you interpret the data available should inform your decision to either comply or choose another direction.

Legitimate Authority

This one is also important and has been saved for last on purpose. Throughout our lives we will find ourselves under legitimate authority and, if not compelled to do something immoral, unethical, or unscriptural, should be followed. This becomes difficult when the definition of “legitimate authority” is unclear. Since I do not have room here to fully develop that thought it is on you to decide if the authority that you are following is indeed legitimate. Understand when considering this though that “legitimate authority” will not violate the documents that govern their position and behavior. For example, a “legitimate” ministry leader becomes “illegitimate” the moment they compel others to violate the Bible. The same is true of a political leader. Legitimacy is lost when the leader must circumvent the rule of law (i.e.-Bible, constitution, workplace policy manual, etc.) in order to compel specific behaviors from those they lead.

*A note on this point: While adhering to rules, laws, etc., is a decision that you have the opportunity to make, the decision NOT TO ADHERE simply because you can, is just rebellion. Rebellion for rebellion’s sake is not ok at any stage of life (we always pull out the rebellion card for teenagers and forget that it can apply to anyone). A non-compliance decision needs to be tied to a sound, honest, thoughtful and humble process of decision making, or it is little better than a toddler throwing a temper tantrum. Deciding not to do something simply because you can does not make that decision ok.

There are many reasons not to comply with the orders, edicts, rules, or guidelines that you find yourself under but there are also many reasons to go along. My purpose for writing this is not to stir up rebellion but to hopefully stir up thought. I am growing weary, as I’m sure you are, of folks on both sides of the authority equation who either believe we must do what we are told without thought or, on the other side, that it is our duty to rebel at every turn. Both positions, even though they look very different, are the position of the victim. I am behaving this way because of what YOU (person in authority) are making me do.

Once again, we need to be reminded that we are not victims. We need to make our own decisions, being fully persuaded in our own hearts and minds (as instructed in Romans 14:5), and deal with whatever our decision may bring.


Photo by Bertrand Gabioud on Unsplash

(Find more articles such as this on Jeremy Stalnecker’s blog.)

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