Christian Conduct Toward the Government: A Study of Romans 13:1-7 Part 1

aaron-burden-143103-unsplashRight in the middle of what is perhaps the Apostle Paul’s most highly regarded book of the Bible, he offers what might be the most ignored passage in all of Scripture:

“13 Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor” Romans 13:1-7. 

When read from an American’s point of view, this passage might be somewhat easy to digest. While we may disagree on the particulars, most of the time, our government considers itself to be a positive force in the world and civic pride convinces us we are the side of right, even when we’re wrong. Consider, however, that Paul wrote this passage while living under the reign of Nero. Nero is historically considered somewhat unstable. He is the ruler who pinned the great Roman fire of AD 64 on the Christians in order to avoid blame. He was by all accounts a ruthless and oppressive ruler. One might expect Paul to encourage believer to rise up and revolt against such authority, but he says the exact opposite. Paul actually tells Christians to be in subjection to governing authorities. Paul explains that when we resist the government, we are opposing the ordinance of God.

I thought of this passage this week while watching the video footage of protestors storming state houses in opposition to various COVID-19 stay at home orders. I personally think our governments reaction to the virus has been heavy handed. I also suspect many of our leaders are making decisions in regards to COVID-19 for political purposes … but how is a Christian to respond when they disagree with their rulers? What if their government is evil? What if their rulers are ungodly? This passage raises a lot of questions … and I think, for the most part, most of us ignore those questions. Heck, just a cursory review of trending tweets tell me that. So, how are we supposed to apply this passage to our lives? 

The first question we need to answer is, “Are we supposed to apply it to our lives?” Context suggest we are. Beginning in Chapter 12 of Romans, Paul begins giving Christians guidelines for living in light of God’s grace. He passes on such wisdom as avoided pride, blessing those who persecute you, and conquering evil with good. But in Chapter 13, he gets personal by suggesting the gospel should govern the way we live in relation to the government – he knows we’re Americans, right? 

As I write this, it occurs to me that this will probably be a deeper dive than one post will allow. So I will take these questions one at time and write a series of posts.

First, what if I don’t agree with my government? 

I think it is worth pointing out that no where in this passage does Paul suggest we have to agree with our government. I don’t think his intention is to turn us into citizen cloned automatons. Rather, Pauls says we should live in subjection to our government authorities. Scripture’s use of the word submit has been hotly debated in terms of a husband and wife relationship, but here, Paul uses it to describe our relationship with government. In his commentary, Dr. Thomas Constable describes subjection as an attitude of deference or support. In the marriage relationship, I often define submission as voluntarily placing another’s needs above your own. I think the same is true in this passage. When I submit to the governing authorities, I am placing the needs of the many, above my own. As a rule of thumb, when I disagree with the government, I should ask ourselves, what’s best for the majority of the people? Is this an issue that allows me to place the needs of the many above my own? Does doing so violate my faith or religious conscience? 

In most cases, I think we’ll find we can submit to our government authorities (at least in America) with relative ease on most issues. I can remember when the laws changes requiring automobile passengers to where a seat belt. I hated it! Seatbelts aren’t comfortable and I felt like like I had the right to ignore the law. Guess what, I was wrong. The same is true with speed limits and even our current social distancing guidelines. I can stay 6 feet away from most people without violating my conscience. It’s just a rule of thumb, but in most cases, I think we can submit to the government.

But what about when their laws violate my faith? I’ll look at that matter in the next installment.

 

The Erosion of Our Worth and Dignity

upmisxb0wd0-srikanta-h-uIn his proclamation declaring January 22, 1984, the National Sanctity of Human Rights Day, President Ronald Reagan wrote the following about abortion on demand:

“We are poorer not simply for lives not led and for contributions not made, but also for the erosion of our sense of the worth and dignity of every individual.”

In his proclamation, Reagan claims that abortion has made this country poorer because it had eroded “our sense of the worth and dignity of every individual“. When the President wrote these words, 15 million babies had been aborted due to the ROE v. WADE decision. Today, that number stands at nearly 60 million babies. Sixty million lives lost due to abortion on demand. As a nation, we have been forced to develop a pretty thick callous over our hearts to ignore such a loss of life. There is even a huge segment of our population that justifies and defends abortion as a basic human right. President Reagan was correct — this callousness is beginning to permeate our culture in the way we treat all life.

Nearly every crime and injustice committed in this country can be attributed to a lack of respect for human life. Murder, discrimination, racism, hate crimes, rape, schoolyard, and cyber-bullying are all birthed amid this lack of respect for one another. It is a lack of respect that has existed since Cain first killed Abel but never had it been legitimized more than it was in 1973 when the United States legalized discrimination against its weakest citizens in the form of ROE v. WADE. And now, 44 years removed from that moment, respect for all human life is at an all-time low. Our hypocrisy is inescapable when we scream about the injustices so evident in our world yet encourage the murder of innocent babies. If we can’t defend the weakest among us, who is worth defending? 

The truth is, all lives matter in the sight of God and all lives are worth defending. However, the erosion President Reagan wrote of is a real thing. If our country doesn’t stand up and defend the rights of the unborn now, our culture’s respect for human life will continue to decline. Where will we be twenty years from now? What will be the state of crime in our country? Will we justify ending the lives of the elderly, sick, disabled, and obese prematurely? Heck, just look at the political landscape today. Ask yourselves, do the liberals in this country respect the conservatives and vice versa? If the lack of respect we’ve witnessed during our recent political season is any indication,  I have my doubts that our government will even be standing in its current form twenty years from now.

And it all started because we failed to protect the innocent.

God’s Word challenges us to defend those who can’t defend themselves:

“Rescue those being taken off to death, and save those stumbling toward slaughter” (Proverbs 24:11, HCSB).

If we fail to do live up to this responsibility, Scripture makes it clear that we will someday answer to a God Who will “weigh our hearts” and “repay [us] according to [our] works” (Proverbs 24:12).

As difficult as it may be to put a cork back in the bottle that is ROE v. WADE, now is the time to do it. I call on our government to take every opportunity and every possible step needed to end abortion on demand in this country. If that means defunding Planned Parenthood, defund it. If it means stacking the deck on the Supreme Court than stack it.

We have reached a breaking point in this country and we can afford no further erosion to the dignity of our lives.

Holier than Thou

I was using the Stumble Upon gadget yesterday to surf WordPress blogs when I happened on an Atheist’s website. This particular atheist was absolutely gleeful that South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford was caught up in the mess of having an extra-marital affair. The writer called Sanford “holier than thou,” referred to him as a hypocrite, and used his example as a reason Christianity is a sham. Sanford has made no secret of his faith and often quotes Scripture in the public arena.

I will make no defense of Sanford here. What he did was wrong. Apparently, he disappeared for a number of days during the course of his affair and I think that alone merits his resignation. However,  it was the phrase “holier than thou” that stuck out like a sore thumb to me. You hear it all the time from non-Christians. As a Christian, the phrase stings a little because it strikes against the core teachings of Christ. The whole point of Christianity is Grace. Grace is on the opposite spectrum from the “holier than thou” concept. Grace should be humbling. It should remind us that we are in no way “holier” than our non-Christian friends. It was Paul himself who said, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst (1 Timothy 1:15).”

There is no doubt that the “holier than thou” attitude is in no way a Christian attitude. Perhaps if more Christians would examine their lives and humble themselves in the name of Christ, we would all be cut a little slack from non-Christians when we make a mistake.

Granted, I have seen many non-Christians jump the gun to label someone as “holier than thou.” In many circles, you only need to profess a belief in Christ to receive such a label. It is often the first response of a non-Christian when someone is trying to share the Gospel with them. I believe this response is also born out of a misconception of Christ’s message. In my pre-Christian life I often claimed that I didn’t want a God who didn’t feel I was good enough for Him. It was quite the shocker when I learned that none of us are good enough for Him. There is no Christian or non-Christian that has ever lived that was “good enough” to deserve God’s grace. In light of this revelation, there is absolutely no room for a “holier than thou” attitude from anyone!

I enjoy debating my beliefs with non believers. I rarely hesitate to share the teachings of Christ when given the opportunity and I am confident that His Gospel can withstand any criticism aimed at it; however, I sincerely pray that in defending and sharing my faith I never come off as “holier than thou.” There is no doubt the charge will be leveled at all of us at times, but it is my desire to brand the words of Paul on my heart as a reminder that I’m no better than anyone else.

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. (Timothy 1:15)”

Clark