Tag Archives: obedience

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

Would you go?

If I’m completely honest with myself, I have two expectations:

  1. God desires me to be “successful” in my service to Him.
  2. If I obey His leading, He will make me wildly “successful” in my ministry.

As Americans, it would be unthinkable for us to say something like, “God has called me to a small, obscure ministry that will never bear much fruit; instead, I’ll actually pour my life into just a few guys and then one or two of them will have ministries that far exceed anything I ever could have accomplished.” Of course, if you really think about it, isn’t that what Christ did? Didn’t He just focus on 12 men who took His message much farther than He ever did? Interesting… but I digress, back to my two expectations.

It’s easy for us to think that God will be so amazed by our passionate devotion that He’ll have no choice but to make us the main catalyst for the next Great Awakening! But as I’ve been reading through the Prophets, I see something a little different happening. To understand what I mean, take a look at the “commissioning” of some of the prophets.

Isaiah’s Commission from the Lord

8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” 9 And he said, “Go, and say to this people:

“‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
10 Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”
11 Then I said, “How long, O Lord?”
And he said:
“Until cities lie waste
without inhabitant,
and houses without people,
and the land is a desolate waste,
12 and the LORD removes people far away,
and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. (Isaiah 6:8-12)

Do you see what just happened? Isaiah answered God’s call and God told him to go preach to a people that would absolutely refuse to listen. Isaiah asked how long he is supposed to do this, and God tells him to keep preaching until the entire land is a desolate waste! That hardly sounds like the modern promise that God has a wonderful plan for your life. Let’s look at how cheerful Jeremiah’s commissioning is, I’ll just underline the parts that I want to emphasize.

The Call of Jeremiah

14 Then the LORD said to me, “Out of the north disaster shall be let loose upon all the inhabitants of the land. 15 For behold, I am calling all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north, declares the LORD, and they shall come, and every one shall set his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, against all its walls all around and against all the cities of Judah. 16And I will declare my judgments against them, for all their evil in forsaking me. They have made offerings to other gods and worshiped the works of their own hands. 17 But you, dress yourself for work; arise, and say to them everything that I command you. Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them. 18 And I, behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land. 19 They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, forI am with you, declares the LORD, to deliver you.” (Jeremiah 1:14-19)

We see the same thing: Jeremiah is sent to fail. God doesn’t say something like, “Go to my people and save them from disaster.” Instead, he says “My people will be destroyed and I want you to spend your days calling them to repent. They’ll never do it, but that’s not your responsibility.” The same thing happens with Ezekiel.

Ezekiel’s Call

4 And [God] said to me, “Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with my words to them. 5 For you are not sent to a people of foreign speech and a hard language, but to the house of Israel— 6 not to many peoples of foreign speech and a hard language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely, if I sent you to such, they would listen to you. 7 But the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me: because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart. (Ezekiel 3:4-7)

God tells Ezekial, “Although I could send you to a foreign nation, and although they would listen to you and worship me, I’ve called you to the house of Israel. They will reject you.” And don’t forget what God tells Hosea: “Marry a prostitute so she can cheat on you and have other men’s children. I will use this as an example to show Israel how they have cheated on me” (Hosea 1:2).

Do you see what’s wrong with my original two expectations? They’re completely wrong! If I’m honest with myself, I’ll admit that those two expectations are really just a spiritual-sounding twist on the American dream. So here’s the question that is haunting me (and I want to share with you so you’ll be haunted too): If you knew that God was not calling you to a successful ministry would you still go? The thing is, if I’m honest, I’ve created a formula that goes something like this:

God’s calling + my obedience = ministry success

But the truth is, as we’ve seen, God doesn’t call anyone to be successful, He doesn’t owe anyone success, nor does He promise anyone success. God calls us to faithful obedience, no matter what. We aren’t called to success, we’re called to obedience. I pray that God will give me the courage to obey Him unconditionally. So here’s my question for you: Would you go?

Tullian Tchividjian on Gospel-Centered Obedience

Any obedience not grounded in or motivated by the Gospel is unsustainable. Won’t last! Because the Gospel focuses on Jesus’ performance for us not our performance for Him. When the Bible speaks about sinners being justified it means our standing with God does not depend on our obedience; our standing with God is dependent on Christ’s obedience for us.

Tullian Tchividjian, Jesus + Nothing = Everything Sermon

Seek ye first…

One of the things that I love about God is when He tells us to do something, He does it Himself too. God sets the example. He tells us to love Him because He loved us first. It’s not something that we initiate, but it is instead a reaction to how wonderful He is. For example, Leviticus 19:18 says,“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.”

God sets the example in two ways in this scripture. First of all, our God is a forgiving God who does not bear a grudge but instead forgives us for our sins. Secondly, God showed us how to love one another by putting skin on and dying for us on the cross. So with Gods ability to lead by example in mind, let’s look at Matt 5:33-37:

“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by Heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

This is a passage from Jesus Sermon on the Mount. Here we have Jesus telling us that anything we say we will do should be done. For example, if I tell my mother I’ll call her on Saturday, there isn’t any need for me to say, “Mother, I swear by the hair on my head that I shall call you before the sun sets on Saturday.” Just the fact that I said I would call should be more than sufficient.

God would never ask more of us that He could give, which is why I like to think of the Bible as a promise. I know I can take God at His Word. I know that if God says He loves me, there isn’t any need to swear by anything. His word alone can be trusted. As we go through more scriptures, look for two things: look for a challenge, and look for a promise. You’ll see what I mean.

One of the greatest challenges of being a Christian is not worrying. I get so caught up with work and my career, social engagements, my lack of a dating life, the list goes on and on. Eventually I get so concerned with all these side things that I forget that my primary focus should be on my walk with Christ; everything else is secondary, whether I can remember that or not. I feel like the disciples when Jesus feeds five thousand: They were so worried about the problem of feeding the crowds that they lost sight of the solution: Jesus Christ, who had the power to feed the crowd easily! (Just a neat little fact: this is the only miracle that is in all four gospels.) The bottom line is this: if we remain intently focused on Jesus, He will provide for us. He tells us this in Matt. 6:33

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Ah yes, sweet relief. If I seek after His kingdom and His righteousness (challenge), then everything will be given to me as well (promise)! Yes! But wait a minute…what does seeking His kingdom and His righteousness mean? Do I need to find something? One of the things I’ve noticed and grown to appreciate about reading scripture is that its not about finding answers; its more about seeking a deeper understanding. When I get into the Word, I usually walk away with more questions than answers. So how do we seek His kingdom and His righteousness? Well if you look back at Exodus 20:1-7 you’ll see the first three commandments.

And God spoke all these words:
I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
(1) You shall have no other gods before me.
(2) You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. (There’s a challenge and a promise if I’ve ever seen one!)
(3) You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

What I’d like to point out is that these are the first three commandments, and they’re all about your relationship with God. The next seven commandments are about your relationships with others. We are called to love God from the inside out. We must first focus on loving Him, and then we will have the ability to love one another. Deuteronomy 6:5 tells us how much we are supposed to love God:

“Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”

So we have to love God from deep within us until we have no strength left, and then, just when you think you’re all out of love, we are supposed to love more. But this leads me to another question: How do I love God? What are signs of my love for God? Am I supposed to write ‘I heart God’ on my notebook? Well Jesus answers that question in John 14:21.

“Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”

Wow, so one of the signs of my love for Jesus is obedience to His commands? That’s a monumental challenge, but it also comes with a monumental promise. If I love God and develop an obedient attitude, He will love me and Jesus will love me and show himself to me. You want Jesus to show Himself to you? Well that’s easy, just obey His commands. But now I’m left wondering how to obey His commands. Well I’ve got the Ten Commandments as a good start, but it takes more than that. Lets look to Joshua 1:8 for some guidance.

“Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”

God’s Word always amazes me. Here I’m told to meditate on God’s word. I can’t just read it and then brain-dump it. I need to chew on it. I need to look for deeper meaning than what can be easily seen by skimming through. But look at the promise that God gives us here. He tells us that we will be prosperous and successful. So the key to success isn’t thinking and growing rich, it’s thinking and growing in the word of God. There’s a difference between understand something and meditating on it. For example, if you look at the Pharisees, it’s clear that they understood what the scripture meant at face value. ‘Do not murder’ means that you don’t murder. Simple, right? Wrong! Jesus has a deeper understanding into what the Law really means. If you look at Matthew 5:21-22 you’ll see Jesus telling us what God really intended for us:

“You have heard that is was said to the people long ago, Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.”

So it’s not about simply obeying the commands so that you can check off a list of accomplishments. Its about obeying these commands from the inside out. Psalm 119:9,11 paint an excellent picture of this:

How can a young man keep his way pure?
By living according to your word.
I have hidden your word in my heart,
That I might not sin against you.

Here David tells God that he has hidden Gods commandments in his heart. He had meditated on it, he has searched it for the deeper meaning, and he has realized that Gods word is key to living a Godly lifestyle. It seems so simple, but it’s a challenge.

So let’s review. First and foremost, you can trust God. He will always live up to His end of the deal. The real question is, ‘can we be faithful to Him?’ Next we learn that we need to focus on Him. If we look intently at God, all the problems of the world seem so much smaller in comparison. We learn that if we’re going to love God, we need to know how to follow Him. And finally, the key to loving and following God is getting into His word. So I encourage everyone to dig deep into the truth. If we listen carefully, we will hear what God has to say to us. And that, my friends, is the key to success!