Bible Passage: Romans 13:1-7
Point 1: Christians should “in principle” submit to Governing Authority
Show: Rom.13:1-2 (READ)
Explain: Well here is a general principle. Everyone who is a Christian should submit themselves to governing authorities. THE FACT IS every country needs an agreed set of rules for society to function in a reasonable manner. Without the rule of law – society degenerates into ANARCHY very quickly. So God (in His common grace) gives some people authority to establish laws and uphold laws for the good of everyone. In the absence of agreed law – people quickly adopt – the law of the jungle – which is survival of the fittest. And when Darwinian evolutionary theory becomes “THE LAW” – the big losers are those who are most vulnerable; the least, the last and the lost.
Now as Christians we understand the reality of sin and the absolute depravity of man. Romans 1-3 explained this truth. So we know (better than most people) that without law and order – society will degenerate into anarchy very quickly. So as Christians we should recognize and respect and encourage people to submit to governing authorities.
Now we may not always like the rules. We may not like PAYING TAXES. But without taxes – there are no hospitals, no schools and no social security payments for the poor. WELCOME TO KENYA. On the road, we may not like speed limits or rules about seat belts. But without some road rules – driving a car becomes very risky. AGAIN, WELCOME TO KENYA. There are no road rules in Kenya. No seat belts. No speed limits. No stop signs. It is the law of the jungle. THE BIGGEST VEHICLES on the road set the rules and everyone else gets out of the way. IF A TRUCK OR LARGE 4WD wants to turn across oncoming traffic it just turns (and everyone else jumps on the brakes). I kid you not. People die (especially the little people on motorbikes) and no one cares – because it really is survival of the fittest. That is the law.
So Romans 13 says we should submit to the laws of the land – as a general principle – because it is an expression of love to our neighbour. Everyone is better off when law and order is respected. So even if we don’t like specific laws 1) forbidding the use of marijuana or 2) saying we must register our car – we should still obey them, because other people don’t like the laws saying they have to pay taxes. If you disobey the marijuana laws, why shouldn’t they disobey the tax law. And if they disobey the tax laws – there is no social security, no government housing or hospitals – for all those smoking too much pot. So if you want these things to remain (and you want people to continue paying for your social security benefits) that do not exist in Kenya – you should also obey the law. Obeying the laws of land (is an expression of loving our neighbour) and there are some people in our church – that really need to REPENT in this area. If you are blatantly disobeying the laws of the land, you are disobeying God and you are not loving your neighbour.
Paul goes on (second half of verse 1) and says “The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted.” Now basically this is a reminder that God is the ultimate King (who has put people in various positions of authority) to uphold law and order. God has done this because law and order is good for everyone. So, when we intentionally disobey the authorities (or disobey the Police), we are not just rebelling against these institutions, we are rebelling against God who established these institutions for our good.
Apply: Now remember (James explained 2 weeks ago) this is all part of our Christian response to God saving us in Jesus. Romans 1-11 is about how God saves the Jews and the Gentiles through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And Romans 12-15 explains how we should now live as Christians. (GOSPEL) Prior to becoming Christians all of us broke God’s laws on a regular basis. And some us also broke the laws of Australia. That’s why some of us have been in prison. BUT ALL OF US (have a similar problem) we don’t like obeying laws. We are by nature – sinful; and rebellious.
But breaking laws, (and especially breaking God’s laws), always has NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES. It hurts the people around us, leads to anarchy and death and ultimately takes us to hell. But thankfully, when Jesus died on the cross – he took the penalty – for our rebellion. Jesus died on the cross to take the punishment for all our sin. Jesus did the time for our crime. So (as Romans 1-11 explained); if we believe Jesus died for our sins and we endeavour to repent of our wrongdoing – God forgives us and promises to take us to heaven when we die. This is the good news of Christianity.
So Paul begins Romans 12 saying; (SLIDE 3; – Rom.12:1-2). This is our response to Jesus saving us. Instead of being rebellious hooligans (like the world) – we are now testing and approving what God’s will is for us as Christians. And God’s good, pleasing and perfect will for us as Christians is that; (ENTER; ENTER; ENTER)… Now in Romans 13:1-7, we see that one of the things God wants us to do is that (in principle) we submit to the governing authorities. NOW IN AUSTRALIA, that means we participate in elections. We obey the federal laws and state laws; the civil laws and criminal laws; the local laws and the road rules. We also pay our taxes. Yes, we may not like all these laws.
But as Christians – God is asking us to be obedient citizens – because it is good for society and is therefore an expression of loving our neighbour. I also believe (based on other Scriptures) God asks us to be obedient, submissive citizens – because this is conducive to the advance of the gospel. When Christians are good citizens it facilitates the spread of the gospel because it doesn’t make us unnecessary enemies of the state. But of course, there are limits…
Point 2: Christians should know the Purpose of Authority is Good
Show: Rom.13:3-4 (READ)
Explain: Please note that Romans 13:3 says rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Really? All the time? That certainly isn’t the case in Kenya and it wasn’t the case in Hitlers Germany. The fact is – some rulers in authority punish those who do right and reward those who do wrong. So straightaway, we know the apostle Paul is talking in principles, not in absolutes. IN PRINCIPLE – God gives authority to certain people to 1) uphold what is good and 2) punish what is evil. Those in authority are meant to commend those who do good and punish those who do evil. So how should Christians respond – when authorities punish those who do good and commend those who do evil?
Well a very shallow, non-theological reading of Romans 13 might conclude that what is RIGHT is whatever the authority says is right and what is WRONG is whatever the authority says is wrong. Some interpretations of Romans 13 come close to this lunacy. SOME MINISTERS (especially of the Anglican variety) say things like – Christians should always obey those in authority (irrespective of what they say) – because each and every person in authority has been established by God. So, if God has put such and such in authority, then God must want us to obey everything they say. This is what I would call a hyper-Calvinist reading of Romans 13 – that pushes God’s Sovereignty so far, it denies personal human responsibility.
Sadly, in the past, some Anglicans have taught Romans 13 this way – because the Anglican church was traditionally a state-church. So, Romans 13 was often used (and I would say abused) to support our denominations undivided allegiance to the monarchy. Some Christian denominations may be inclined to reject all governing authorities as being evil. The Anglican church’s danger is that we may be too accepting of those in governing authority as always being good.
Please understand that the Anglican church’s RELATION to the state has in my opinion affected its interpretation of Romans 13, in a pro-state direction. I don’t think this has arisen from good exegesis.
Now I know I spoke about Romans 13 in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic because – I saw the government – seriously beginning to overstep their God-given responsibilities. When Paul says the government exists to commend those who do what is right and punish those who do wrong – the actual Greek words in Romans 13 are “GOOD” and “EVIL”. This “GOOD” – “EVIL” dichotomy is actually one of the themes of Romans 12-15. God’s good, perfect and pleasing will is that Christians choose what is good and reject what is evil. Let me show you these words in Romans 12-15 (SLIDE 7, 8 & 9).
This is what God wants for our lives. He wants us to be full of goodness. Now the governing authorities are meant to facilitate Gods ends. They are meant to commend what is good and punish what is evil. But if a governing authority starts to commend what is evil and punish what is good – what does the biblical context of Romans 12-15 say Christians should still do? (PAUSE) Should Christians simply go with the flow of government and start accepting evil? Or is Romans 12-15 telling us to always pursue what is good? Of course, it is the later. TO INTERPRET ROMANS 13 in a hyper-Calvinist – the government is always right sort of way – is NOT ONLY A) repugnant to other Scripture, it also totally ignores B) the biblical context of Romans 12-15. Christians are meant to take hold of what is good and reject what is evil.
But I’m not just saying this in our church. I’m also saying this to Bishops and in the Anglican Synod. In September this year – Pastor Andrew Barry from Menai and myself moved A MOTION at Synod – asking the DOCTRINE COMMISSION (the leading academics of our Diocese) to write a report on when it is right for Christians to blatantly disobey the government? (PAUSE)
Let me show you the motion (Slide 10-11). Now thankfully, this motion was passed and the Doctrine Commission will now write a muvch needed theological paper. In principle Christians should submit to governments when they are upholding the good and punishing the evil. But that submission is not absolute. A wife should not submit to an abusive or violent husband and Christians should not submit to abusive or violent governments. Thankfully, the Diocesan Synod recognized that we have to give more biblical thought to how and when civil disobedience is necessary. God’s definition of good and evil is absolute, not governments.
Point 3: Christians Should submit to Authority, so far as Conscience Allows
Shows: Rom.13:5 (READ)
Explain: Please notice, the word “CONSCIENCE” in this verse. Paul says we should obey the governing authorities to avoid punishment, but also for conscience sake. But this appeal to conscience presupposes that the government is upholding good and punishing evil. OUR CONSCIENCE is our God-given moral compass.
Now because of sin our conscience can become faulty or defective. If we engage in enough evil and consume enough lies our conscience stops working properly. But when we become Christians (and start reading the Bible again) the Holy Spirit begins to renew our conscience, so that it works properly again. And the Bible is very clear that we should not go against our biblically informed, Spirit-filled conscience. The Bible talks about keeping a CLEAR conscience and a GOOD conscience before God (1Tim.3:9; 1Tim.1:19). The Bible says our conscience testifies to us – that we are walking in the truth (2Cor.1:12; Rom.2:15). A clear biblical principle is that Christians should not go against conscience. So telling us to obey the government A) to avoid punishment and B) for the sake of conscience – presupposes the government is upholding what is good. If the government is asking us to do something evil and we comply – then we will be going against conscience, which is wrong.
Now let’s face it – Paul could hardly write a letter to Rome openly telling the church to defy the Roman authorities, if they are being unbiblical. That would not have been wise. It would have been a red-rag to the bull. Yet, when Romans 13 is held in its BIBLICAL CONTEXT, Paul is saying A) submission has limits without explicitly saying B) submission has limits. Telling us that government exists to uphold good and punish evil, naturally raises the question “what if they are not upholding good and punishing evil?” Appealing to conscience is also a reminder that there is a law, higher than the law of the land. There is the law of God. And Romans 12-15 tells us to choose good and reject evil.
The point is – to suggest that the governing authorities have some sort of ultimate authority (higher than Scripture and higher than conscience) because they were “established by God” is actually repugnant to other Scriptures. No! Paul upholds the authority of Roman government within the limits of good and evil and with a clear appeal to conscience. He is simply reiterating Jesus’ words give to Caesar what is Caesars and fgive to God what is God’s.
But this raises two further difficulties. Being true to conscience is NOT a black and white matter. In Romans 14, Paul explains A MATURE CHRISTIAN may know that eating pork is ok, because it’s not what goes into a person that makes them unclean, but what comes out of them (Mk.7:18-19). BUT A YOUNG CHRISTIAN or JEWISH CONVERT – may believe from the Old Testament, that pork should be avoided (Deut.14:8-9). Paul says, that even if you are CONFIDENT that it is ok for you to do something – be careful you don’t cause a younger Christian to stumble or go against conscience.
Yet, the Anglican church clearly broke Romans 14 in the Coronavirus pandemic. Despite some Christians having sincere and plausible conscience objections (to the vaccine) the Anglican church penalised them and tried to coerce them to go against conscience. That’s why our Synod motion has an appeal to CONSCIENCE. Look again (Slide 13).
As secular laws start to take away Christian freedoms – some Christians will feel convicted to oppose that abuse of authority, sooner than others. So will we support them (and stand with them) where it is evident they have a reasonable biblically defensible copnscience position – OR will the Diocese have a one-size fits all conscience position – as happened in the coronavirus pandemic?
SECOND, is it A) the churches responsibility to politically fight the unjust laws OR B) should the church just engage in quiet civil disobedience and get on with the task of preaching the gospel? I don’t yet have the answers? But one of our Diocesan bishops is pretty much employed now to fight the political fight – full time. In many ways he is like the proverbial King Canute who tried to command the tide to stop coming in. That’s a fight – that he is unlikely to win. So is it good stewardship for the church to fight that political fight OR should we engage in quiet civil disobedience (and get on with preaching the gospel?)
An Anglican Bishop named ZACHAEUS OBUNGA came to the pastor’s conference in Kenya last week. About two years ago – his DIOCESE OF KAKAMEGE left the Anglican Church of Kenya because of politics. As Kenya became more and more corrupt – the Anglican Church and Catholic Church took it upon themselves to fight the corruption and injustice. The fight came from good, biblical aspirations to defend truth, justice and the disadvantaged. But in the end it completely consumed them to the detriment of the gospel. The Anglican church of Kenya simply became a political mouthpiece – that supported certain “ethical” politicians and decried others.
So Bishop Zachaeus – led his Diocese away from the Anglican church of Kenya – simply to get his pastors back to preaching the gospel and growing the church. So I wonder how much time we will waste playing politics and rebuking the incoming tide. Again, I don’t have the answers. But I found myself listening to a simple, uneducated, African bishop named Zachaeus with a certain amount of respect and admiration.
Apply: Paul finishes in Romans 13:7 saying “Give to everyone what you owe…” and this is A DEFINITE ECHO of Jesus’ words “Give to Caesar what is Caesars, and give to God what is God’s.” The difficulty is that in Australia Caesar and God are now headed in blatantly different directions. So how far can and should we go with Caesar – before we are searing our conscience, becoming poor stewards of the gospel and no longer offering ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God? Yes, give to Caesar what is Caesars, but not at the expense of giving to God what is rightfully God’s.
So the longer we’ve been a Christian and the more we’ve been faithful to God’s Word the more our conscience will properly align with Scripture. For instance
But saying those in authority this is what I would call a hyper-Calvinist position. But such a shallow interpretation, that ignores other parts of Scripture, then says we should obey those in authority whatever they put into law. The law was a normal part of life. We all disobeyed God’s laws Romans 12-15 then explains how Christians should live once we are saved by faith in Jesus. society begins to break down into anarchy. When everyone does what is right in their own eyes –