Hope you’re shoveled out and warm… On Monday night we resumed our study of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome by looking at the first seven verses of chapter 13. This is the paragraph where Paul describes how the “renewed mind” (which e wrote about in the beginning of chapter 12) leads a Christian to relate to the government he or she is under. Here are the notes:
Intro: Let’s not forget that Paul begins his letter with 11 chapters giving us total truth about the world and how someone can be reconnected to God. Then in Chapters 12-16 he shows us how our lives will look if we’ve been reconnected to God. If you don’t know Christ, we’d like to commend a certain kind of life and thinking. The Christian life is part of the Christian message. (It’s a better way–for real!)
“The Renewed Mind”— A mind that’s being renewed produces people who…
13:1-7 …Submit to human governmental authority, because…
v.1-2 we see God behind all human authority. (v.1-2)
v.3-4 the purpose of government is to conform generally to God’s moral laws. (also: we see that corrupt government is no excuse for corrupt behavior on our part)
v.5 the conscience of a Christian should convict us of this truth (12:2)
v.6 this is all rooted in Christ’s teaching: see Matthew 22:17-21–Christ teaches that God has ordained for us to give to Caesar the things that he has given to Caesar. So if God gives the government (Caesar) authority, we acknowledge that fact by submitting to the authority. But, implicit in Christ’s teaching here is the idea that God will never give Caesar certain things, and we never have to either. The key is seeing that the renewed mind (Romans 12:1-2) knows the difference.
v.7 Once we see these things, it frees us up to also see that acknowledging humans in the proper way does not mean that we’re not acknowledging God. Instead, showing this “honor” Paul speaks of, is how we acknowledge God—by acknowledging what He’s put in place in the world.
Here’s another way to frame the issue. If we lived in a universe in which there was no God, and if we were not created, then there would be no such thing as legitimate authority. No human would have to acknowledge, against his or her will, the authority of another human, because we’d all just be animals made of matter. But since our God is the creator of the universe, then authority is present in the very nature of what our world is. And all of humanity is under Authority—the great King. One day he will rule the world directly, physically and personally in the Lord Jesus Christ, but until that time he has chosen to rule the world through human intermediaries.
Therefore, we can conclude that the default Christian posture towards government is that of submission.
To say it another way, the instinctive “first move” of the renewed mind is to obey the law, and then we should be watchful for laws and orders that would cause us to transgress God’s laws. In a basically functioning society, we should generally be positively contributing citizens. Our basic heart attitude becomes that of willing compliance…but…we are the first to refuse obedience, to the point of death, when we are sure the government is requiring something which would cause us to sin.
But this doesn’t only apply to government. If we zoom further out, we could say that the renewed mind, generally speaking, does not rebel against circumstances, and does not resent authority in general. Instead, it submits to God by submitting to circumstances.
Other verses: 1 Peter 2:9-17; Titus 3:1-2; Daniel 4:17; Jer 27:5-6
Now, Can we apply this all to non-believers as well, and see how this teaching of Paul relates to the good news of salvation? Yes. Part of the Christian message is found in Matthew 28:18-20. The true King has come. He’s the perfect, loving and righteous king. (He died for you.) He’s the king you want. He’s inviting you into his kingdom now. He’s coming back to rule. So, we don’t just preach, “Do what the government tells you!” We preach, “You don’t need to worry that the government can every really ruin anything for you or steal anything from you! They are under the authority of Christ, the authority to which we all must bow. Bow the knee to his authority and find love and acceptance. Then you’ll be able know how to coexist with (and when to resist) any earthly government, without fear or anxiety. Regardless of the human power you’re under, you’ll be free, liberated by the true king into his everlasting kingdom of life and light. Believe this message, enter his kingdom, and be made alive and free!”