Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled, either by a power within them, or by a power without them; either by the word of God, or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible, or by the bayonet.
—Robert C. Winthrop, Addresses and Speeches on Various Occasions, 1835-1851
Biblical self-government is the fundamental level of government in society. Every other sphere of government is shaped by how successfully individuals govern themselves.
In a nutshell, Biblical self-government is “the desire and the ability to willingly submit to God-given authority without being forced, coerced, or constantly reminded to do so.” Throughout the Bible there runs a theme of government; of God, society and self. It tells the story of our rejection of God’s government through sin, how man’s rule over others tends to abuse and of how we need to govern ourselves well. It is a story of deliverance from our (old) selves; of faith, hope and love and how this is vital to how we respond to and use government.
Robert Winthrop was an American philanthropist, congressman from Massachusetts and one-time Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. He had a remarkably clear insight into the role of self-government in society.
All societies of men must be governed in some way or other. The less they may have of stringent State Government, the more they must have of individual self-government. The less they rely on public law or physical force, the more they must rely of private moral restraint. Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled, either by a power within them, or by a power without them; either by the word of God, or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible, or by the bayonet.
When God created mankind and placed them in the Garden they were to be self-governed. “5 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’” (Genesis 2:15-17, ESV). In this good place God gave mankind a poor choice. There were no guards set around the tree forcing them to stay away. God didn’t hide it in the middle of a prickle bush or place it on the top of Mt Everest, completely inaccessible to the ‘naked people’ in the garden. Mankind had God-given boundaries and they were expected to exercise self-government to keep them. Only where there is genuine choice is there genuine freedom. Only where there is genuine freedom can there be genuine love. The mark of a free people, created to love and be loved, is the ability of self-government.
However, when Adam and Eve sinned “He [God] drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life” (Gen 3:24). One of the awful results of the fall was since they could not govern themselves internally they had to be governed externally. Sin had made them slaves. Sin had corrupted their will to the extent that they were now unable choose love, choose God and choose freedom. In fact, even Israel, the people of God, needed to be externally controlled by the Law of Moses. An external relationship governed by an external law with external boundaries and sanctions.
Jesus Christ reversed all of this at the Cross. He completely and finally made an end to sin. As a result all who now trust Him have been made new, spiritually resurrected into a new life, free from sin and free to successfully govern themselves once again. No longer do we relate to God externally via the Law. This life is now one of internal relationship to God where God has written His nature and law on our hearts. There is only one valid form of control in the New Covenant and that is self-control.
The story of redemption shows us that only believers – those saved by God – are truly free and so truly free to govern themselves well. This is why the idea of Biblical self-government is foundational to all other aspects of government. As saints, with a new nature that tends toward holiness, we are able to govern ourselves well without requiring an external force to make us act righteously.
Watson, S.J. Biblical Self-Government, Chalcedon Foundation (http://chalcedon.edu/research/articles/biblical-self-government/)
 Robert C. Winthrop, Addresses and Speeches on Various Occasions: 1835-1851 (http://books.google.com.au/books?id=tKohAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA172)
 Paraphrased from Danny Silk’s Loving Our Kids On Purpose DVDs