Tag Archives: freedom

Guest Post: Romans 13 and the American Christian

(NOTE:  For anyone concerned by the direction Western Civilization is headed, Romans 13 can seem like an impossible passage. How do we balance, for instance, the commandment to honor marriage in a society that seems to think it can redefine marriage? How do we protect human life inside the womb in a society that thinks in can redefine personhood? Indeed, Christians throughout millennia have wrestled with exactly how to balance obedience to Romans 13 with obedience to God’s commands. For example, if we take Romans 13 as literally as possible, then the priests who saluted Hitler were doing the right thing. Do we actually believe that?

As the moral fabric of our society continues to deteriorate, how are we to balance the tension between being subject to the governing authorities with honoring God with our lives? Josh and I have discussed this topic off and on for a few years now and I feel like he has articulated a very helpful understanding of what it actually means to steward our American citizenship. While our identity is in no way based upon where we live, we have been granted certain freedoms and their inherent responsibilities. We have a duty to use our freedoms to love our neighbor and honor our Maker (Gal. 5:1). On this 4th of July, I hope Josh’s perspective–with which I agree wholeheartedly–will challenge you to rethink what it means to be a Christian in America. Take some time to think consider it, wrestle with it, and let us know what you think! – daniel)

Romans 13 and the American Christian

I’m an American. For years I’ve watched our country go in a direction contrary to wisdom, righteousness, and the standards I see in Scripture. With that in mind, I’ve struggled greatly with the lessons inherent in Romans 13, which teaches that we must subject ourselves to the governing authorities and leaves no room for rebellion. The chapter doesn’t give us leeway to “obey until this point” or “submit until X line is crossed.” So how does that work for me, as an American?

For the moment, I’m not concerned with what Romans 13 looks like for the rest of the world, or what it looked like for Americans as far back as the Revolutionary War (which, by nature, was a rebellion). I’m not even primarily concerned with what this looked like for the Romans to whom Paul was writing – although this has some bearing on the issue at hand, the first application of these principles (Romans under Nero) is less of a concern to me than the present application of these principles (Josh under the current American government). These are all valid concerns, discussions, and Bible studies; however, they’re beyond the scope of what I’m going to be discussing today.

First off, it’s essential to review the Scripture at hand:

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” – Romans 13:1-7

Application of this passage requires a basic understanding of the government system under which you live: if you live in an empire (as did the first readers of this passage), that would be defined as a “rule by an emperor” and he would be your ultimate earthly authority. If you lived under a monarchy, defined as “rule by a king,” then he would be your ultimate earthly authority. In the same way those under a democracy (rule by the people), an oligarchy (rule by a ruling class), or a theocracy (rule by God or a god) would have different authority figures. This is essential because you would be disobedient to Romans 13 if you tried to obey an emperor if you lived under a monarchy, or if you appealed to public opinion when you lived under a theocracy.

The government system in the United States is a constitutional republic, defined as a “rule by law.” Wait a second, that doesn’t make sense – don’t all nations have laws? Yes, all nations have “rule of law” but only a republic is “rule by law.” What’s the difference? In the same way that the definitions of the other types of governments identified the highest authority (e.g., emperor, king) a republic identifies the highest authority: in this case, the Constitution of the United States. How do we know this is true and it isn’t some ruling body or person? Check out the oaths of office below:

President of the United States:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Congressmen, Senators, and Justices of the Supreme Court:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely,without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.”

Each of these officials, representing the highest positions of the three branches of the federal government, pledge allegiance and subordination to the Constitution. The men and women who inhabit these offices are merely representatives for the Constitution; they bear no legitimate power or authority outside of those confines.

But what happens if Congress passes a law, or the President issues an executive order, or even if the Supreme Court makes a ruling contrary to what the Constitution says? By definition, that law, order, or ruling would be unconstitutional and unenforceable. But when would it be unenforceable? If Congress passes a law that you think is unconstitutional, are you required to obey it until it is struck down by the Supreme Court or rescinded by Congress? For guidance on this, let us turn to the Sixteenth American Jurisprudence, Second Edition, Section 177:

“The general misconception is that any statute passed by legislators bearing the appearance of law constitutes the law of the land. The U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land, and any statue, to be valid, must be in agreement. It is impossible for both the Constitution and a law violating it to be valid; one must prevail. This is succinctly stated as follows: The general rule is that an unconstitutional statute, though having the form and name of law, is in reality no law, but is wholly void, and ineffective for any purpose; since unconstitutionality dates from the time of its enactment, and not merely from the date of the decision so branding it. An unconstitutional law, in legal contemplation, is as inoperative as if it had never been passed. Such a statute leaves the question that it purports to settle just as it would be had the statute not been enacted.”

“Since an unconstitutional law is void, the general principals follow that it imposes no duties, confers no rights, creates no office, bestows no power or authority on anyone, affords no protection, and justifies no acts performed under it…. A void act cannot be legally consistent with a valid one. An unconstitutional law cannot operate to supersede any existing valid law. Indeed, insofar as a statute runs counter to the fundamental law of the land, it is superseded thereby. No one is bound to obey an unconstitutional law and no courts are bound to enforce it.” (emphasis mine)

Per Romans 13, we are absolutely required to be faithful and obedient to the supreme earthly authority governing the land in which we live (as long as that doesn’t require us to compromise our faith). The supreme authority in the United States is the Constitution; all public officials are required to swear that they will uphold it. Per the summary above, no unconstitutional law is ever required to be obeyed, since it is unconstitutional and illegal (read: null and void) from the first moment it was passed and not when it was first declared unconstitutional by a court.

The question then becomes how we can accomplish this. The first step is education: we have to know what the Constitution says and how it is applied in our lives. If we are ignorant of the text of the Constitution and its application we are as unfaithful citizens as we would be unfaithful Christians if we ignored the text of the Bible and its application in our lives; since Romans 13 requires us to be good earthly citizens, being poor earthly citizens means we’re being poor Christians as well. The second step is inspection: we must constantly compare the laws imposed upon us with the ideals of the Constitution; if/when we find inconsistency we are then obligated to participate in the third step: disobedience to those laws which aren’t laws at all. This is, by far, the most difficult step for the average Christian to take. We want to believe that our government has our best interests in mind, that anything they do will be within the boundaries of the authority they are given. Sadly, such is often not the case.

Let us examine the difference between the right to command and the power to command. If a gang of thugs bursts into your home in the middle of the night and overpowers you, beats your children, and rapes your wife and daughters, there’s no doubt that, in that moment, they have power over you. They do not, however, have the right to command power over you. If you were to sit idly by and allow them to have their way with your family, such would be completely contrary to the spirit of Romans 13. You should actively resist them, to the death.

Per Ephesians 5:22-24, the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church; the wife is required to submit to the husband. That, however, doesn’t mean any wife is required to submit to any husband; just because I’m a husband doesn’t give me the right to go around and command wives who have husbands with less upper body strength than me (although I may have power over their husbands, I do not have the right to command that power).

Hopefully through these extreme examples the difference between someone who has power to command and someone who has the right to command is evident.

We must be educated. We must apply what we know. And when those who have physical power over us command us to do something contrary to the Constitution, per Romans 13 we have no choice but to disobey that illegal edict; per our allegiance to Christ we are required to resist anyone and any order that would attempt to usurp authority from that which we are required to obey – the Constitution.

Joshua S. Burnett
Virescit Vulnere Virtus

You gotta serve somebody

One thing I’ve noticed while reading different translations of the Bible is how different one of Paul’s introductions often sounds despite the fact that the translation committees are all using (mostly) the same Greek manuscripts. Normally, Paul introduces himself as an Apostle (2 Corinthians 1:1, Galatians 1:1, Ephesians1:1, Colossians 1:1, 1 Timothy 1:1, and 2 Timothy 1:1). But elsewhere, in Romans 1:1, Galatians 1:10, Philippians 1:1, and Titus 1:1, Paul introduces himself with a different Greek word: doulos (pronounced “do-loss”). This is also the word the authors used to describe themselves in James 1:1, 2 Peter 1:1, Jude 1, and is even used to refer to all Christians in Revelation 1:1.

What I find interesting is that this word usually has two different translations:  bondservant or servant. In the English Standard Version, New American Standard Bible, New International Version, and King James Version all use the word “servant” or “bond-servant” and then they usually put “slave” somewhere at the bottom of the page as a footnote.) These are all considered fairly conservative translations. Yet in two of our more liberal translations, the New Living Translation and The Message, we find the word doulos translated a little accurately. They use the word “slave.” (The lesser-known Lexham English Bible also uses the word “slave.”)

So which is is? What are Paul, James, Peter, Jude, John, and all Christians? Are we servants or are we slaves? In The Gospel of God: An Exposition of Romans, R. C. Sproul helpfully writes:

In the Greek text, the word that the apostle uses is doulos which is not properly translated ‘servant’. A servant in the ancient world was a hired employee, a person who could come and go at will, who could resign from one job and seek employment elsewhere if so inclined. But a doulos was a slave owned by a kyrios, a master or a lord. Frequently in the New Testament this type of imagery is used to portray the relationship between Christ and his people: ‘You are not your own; you were bought at a price.’ Christians are those who belong to Christ. He is our Lord, he is our kyrios, he is our Master.
Paul will explain in the book of Romans that man, out of Christ, is in bondage to sin and a slave to his own evil impulses, inclinations and desires. This is man’s natural condition in the fallen state. Yet Paul wrote elsewhere that where the Spirit of the Lord is, where the Spirit of the kyrios is, where the Spirit of the Master is, there is liberty (2 Cor. 3:17). How are these truths to be reconciled?
Paul had learned that man is only free when he becomes a slave to Christ. Outwith Christ, he is a slave to sin; but when enslaved to Christ, he knows the royal liberation that only Christ can bring. Paul, in citing his own credentials, regards as his highest virtue that he is a slave of Jesus Christ.

In John 8:34, Jesus says that whoever sins is a slave to sin. Paul, James, Peter, Jude, and John all knew that the only way to become free from sin was to become slave to Christ (John 8:36). That’s why Paul the “slave” mentions that he is free in 1 Corinthians 9:1. As Bob Dylan once sang, “you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” The only question you can answer is who you’ll serve. Will it be a harsh taskmaster bent on your destruction? Or will it be a kind, gentle Lord?

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Jesus in Matthew 11:28–30.

Two Dimensions to Freedom

Today is the 4th of July. For us Americans, it’s a pretty big deal. There will, no doubt, be lots of families gathering, grills cooking, and fireworks exploding. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the idea of freedom for the last month or so and it all started when I listened to a sermon by Tim Keller called “Absolutism: Don’t we all have to find truth for ourselves?” I’ve also been reading The Reason for God, in which Tim Keller shares some of the same thoughts. Finally, yesterday at church, our pastor—Jered Rothwilson—gave a really great sermon about freedom.
Those three messages have been swimming around in my head and have really given me a lot to think about. Here’s the conclusion I’ve come to:  modern Americans have no clue what freedom means nor do we have an appreciation for how to keep it. We only know freedom with width, but for the most part I feel like we do not know freedom with depth; there are two dimensions to freedom. Allow me to elaborate.
According to dictionary.com, freedom is defined as:
1. the state of being free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical restraint
2. exemption from external control, interference, regulation, etc.
3. the power to determine action without restraint.
The general idea of these—the top three—definitions is that freedom is a complete lack of constraints, the ability to do whatever you want. I think this idea is reflected in our art, too. I did a Google image search on the word “freedom” and here are the top 8 results:




Notice all of the images (expect one) depict a wide, open area. Over half of them feature just one person. All of them envision the people with their arms spread wide or lifted to the heavens. These are all depictions of a one-dimensional freedom:  a freedom with width.
In his sermon, Keller argues that freedom is a lot more complex than you think, and I agree with him. He gives the example of a fish; a fish is only truly free when it embraces the boundaries of staying in water. Later he uses the illustration of a musician who forgoes many of their freedoms to become a world-class musician; they gave up some of their freedoms to enjoy a richer, deeper freedom. Here are some examples I came up with:
  • A single person can enjoy a wide dimension of romantic freedom, whereas a married person will enjoy a deep dimension of romantic freedom.
  • Someone who spends all their money however they want, whenever they want will enjoy a wide dimension of financial freedom, whereas someone who saves and invests will enjoy a deep dimension of financial security and freedom.
  • A person who eats whatever they want, whenever they want, and however much they want will enjoy a wide dimension of dietary freedom (as well as a wide waist-line), whereas someone who eats healthy foods in moderate proportions will enjoy a far healthier freedom.
Thus, freedom is not exclusively concerned with width, but also depth, and you cannot have both. There is a trade-off required. I can’t just go out with any woman I want because I’m married, but I enjoy a degree of intimacy and love with my wife that I could never have with a superficial girlfriend.
The same is even true for our great nation, which is why our founding fathers wrote the Constitution. Did you know that the Constitution was actually a follow-up to something else? Initially, the U.S. was loosely governed by the Articles of Confederation, which gave all the independent states a very wide dimension of freedom. In fact, the Articles gave a freedom that was so wide that it was useless, which is part of why the Federalist Papers were written and the U.S. Constitution was later adopted.
Freedom demands boundaries. Either we will place a boundary on how deep our freedom goes and we will enjoy a wide freedom, or we will place a boundary on how wide our freedom goes, and we will enjoy a deep freedom.
Jesus did the same thing when He came to earth. Philippians 2:8 says that Jesus came in human flesh and humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of dying on the cross. In this, we find Jesus limiting the width and even the depth of His freedom in order to grant us the deepest of all freedoms possible. Jesus talked about slavery and freedom in John 8:34 where He says “everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” Sin is an oppressive master that holds us under an oppressive and shallow freedom. But Jesus follows up by saying that if He sets us free we “will be free indeed.” To get a better idea of what exactly Jesus meant in this passage, I looked at the Greek and found out that the word for “indeed” in this passage is ont?s, which means “truly, really, or in truth.” By embracing the boundaries that Christ places on us we can know true freedom with real depth. Could this be what Jesus was describing when He said He came to give us “life to the full” (Jn 10:10)?
My prayer is that all who read this have a wonderful 4th of July and come to a deeper appreciation of our freedom. God bless and happy 4th!

Memorial Day – John 8:34-36

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

According to Wikipedia, Memorial Day commemorates U.S. soldiers who died while in the military service. Memorial Day is a time for Americans to solemnly remember that the freedom they enjoy came at a price. Memorial Day is meant to prevent us from taking our security and safety for granted.

In the above passage, Jesus’ words tell us that we were, at one time, slaves to sin. We were held captive. In 1 Peter 3:18 we’re told that Christ died for sins. We have been set free from our bondage to sin by the sacrifice of Christ and are free indeed! Our spiritual freedom was paid for at the greatest of costs. We must never, ever take this freedom for granted.

The freedom that Americans enjoy was paid with the blood of young men on battlefields around the world. The freedom that Christians enjoy was paid for with the blood of Christ on the cross. Today I invite you to take a moment to remember the cost of freedom. Remember that U.S. service members have died for your freedom and, more importantly, remember that Christ died to see you free. “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

Communion Message

This is the Communion Message I gave a week ago at the campus-lead church service:

Good morning church, my name is Daniel Delgado and I’m going to give a communion message. Today is a campus-led service, so this will be a little longer than most communion messages. I hope we’ve all been touched by the stories that were just shared with us. I also hope that we’ve all seen a common theme of lives changed, hearts set right, and souls liberated. And it’s with the theme of liberation that I’d like to look at communion. The word “communion” comes from the Latin word “communio,” which means “sharing in common.” I think that, as Christians, there are many things we share in common. But arguably, the most important is the fact that we’ve all been liberated from sin and communion is a time to not only remember that, but also to celebrate our liberation! I’m not sure if this is a new take on communion or not, but I’d like to share it with you. Let’s open our bibles to Mark 14:12-16:

12On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”

13So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. 14Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 15He will show you a large upper room, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.”

16The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.

We’ve all heard this before and we’ve all had the chance to get bored with it and think we’ve got this passage figured out. But have we dissected it yet? Have we really rolled up our sleeves and dug deep into this passage? Or have we simply taken it at face value? I think if we look carefully, we find that there are a couple questions that beg to be asked:

What is the Feast of Unleavened Bread and what is the significance of Passover?

Well I’m glad you asked, the Feast of Unleavened Bread is a celebration established by God in Exodus 12:17-20. This is when the Jews celebrate God liberating His people from slavery in Egypt.

This is like the Jewish Independence Day. Now in America, when we think Independence Day, we think red, white, and blue, fireworks, and barbeques. But for the Jews, this holy holiday is a time of reverence, fasting, and remembering what God has done. This holiday is a little more holy to the Jews of Jesus’ time that the 4th of July is to modern America.

And as we all know, freedom isn’t free, so who paid the price for the Jewish freedom? Well, in order for the Egyptian Pharaoh to set the Jews free, it took ten plagues, culminating with the death of the entire first born population in Egypt. This was especially devastating because the first born was supposed to carry on the family legacy; they received a double-portion of the family inheritance, and were also first in line to inherit the throne in royal families. The loss of an entire generation of firstborns had catastrophic effects to Egypt. Also, up until now, the plagues hadn’t affected Pharaoh—just his subjects—but this hit close to home because now his throne had no heir. There was no on to carry on his legacy. After this the Pharaoh didn’t want to have anything to do with the Jewish people.

From then on, this holiday has been celebrated by the Jews. So here are some key points.

* God’s People were slaves.

* God sacrificed the firstborn.

* God’s people were set free so they could worship God.

* God commanded the Jews to celebrate this liberation with the Passover Feast.

Do you see where I’m going with this? Let’s look at communion. When Jesus, at the Passover Feast, established the Lord’s Supper, he was telling us that The Firstborn over all creation was preparing to die for us to set us free from our bondage to sin. We all know what happens next, Jesus is betrayed and crucified within 24hrs of establishing communion. Coincidence? I doubt it! But it was necessary for Him to die if we were ever going to be set free. It was a cost that had to be paid if God’s people were ever going to see liberation from slavery.

I can’t help but marvel at the connection between the Passover Feast and communion. And as we take communion today, I want us all to think about what we share in common. Communion connects us all. It’s one body, broken into many pieces and becomes a part of us. We all, like God’s people so long ago, have been liberated from slavery.