Put on the helmet of salvation
Put on the breastplate of righteousness
Clothe your whole being in holy armor
Worthy to stand the test
We’re in the battle of the ages
In the Lord’s army there’s no retreat
Fighting against the powers of darkness
For us there is no defeat
(It’s War/Change The World, 1985 Words and Music by Dallas Holm)
In the last Praiseletter we discussed how to prepare for the present situation we find ourselves in regarding increased persecution against Christianity by the government and any and all opposed to biblical truth.
We identified the fact that the real battle is: “…Against the rulers, against the powers, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)
We are clearly at war with the enemy of our souls and with those authorities and systems who ascribe to his rule and not God’s.
It’s war we’re fighting
It’s war we’re going to win
It’s war we’re fighting
And we’re fighting this war to win
So the question arises, “How do we as Christians respond to authorities and rulers when they mandate that which opposes the precepts of scripture and the laws of God?”
To arrive at a biblically based understanding, we must first examine what the role of government should be according to scripture.
Without going through every scripture dealing with this topic, starting perhaps with God’s instructions to Noah way back in Genesis 9:5-6, where God institutes a reckoning for the taking of a man’s life, to all subsequent instruction to the Israelites and their interactions with other cultures and governments, some who brought them into captivity; all the way down to New Testament times where Jesus, Peter and Paul (to name a few) taught “rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s”,“Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities” and “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution…”, let us just draw a conclusion pertaining to government, from a biblical perspective: According to scripture, the role of government is to protect, punish and promote.
Protect: Government must initiate some form of restraint and rule to protect citizens from themselves.
Punish: Government must impose punishment upon criminals. Peter tells us that governors are “Sent by Him for the punishment of evildoers.” (I Peter 2:14)
Promote: Government should promote the general welfare of the community where its laws are in effect.
In one sense this is a “short list” and yet the role of government in all its detailed nuances are, from a biblical perspective, addressed in this brief description.
Complications arise in the minds of many a Christian when they read verses such as Romans 13:1-2 and I Peter 2:13-14.
Romans 13:1-2 states: “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore, he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God.”
I Peter 2:13-14 states: “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as one in authority, or to governors as sent by Him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.”
So does God institute all governments, authorities, kings and presidents and ours is but to obey…end of story?!
This, of course, is where the complication arises in our thinking. Is there a difference between submitting and obeying?
I believe the answer is yes.
The Greek word used in both these verses (and others) meaning to submit or be in subjection to, is the word, hupotasso. It literally means to arrange things respectfully, in an orderly manner underneath.
It is important to note that there is a vast difference between subjection and subjugation!
The Greek word for obey is hupokouo. This word is used in verses that speak of obedience; however, it is not the word used in these scriptures regarding submitting and being in subjection. The original meaning of social orderliness denoted in the word hupotasso would have been understood in its proper context by the original readers.
Scripture does not instruct us to acquiesce to a person or system that demands obedience, by brute force if necessary, nor can the laws of man or governments ever take precedence over the laws of God.
Dr. Wayne Grudem in his book, Christian Ethics, addresses this issue in a timely and biblically based manner. He writes:
God does not hold people responsible to obey the civil government when obedience would mean directly disobeying a command of God himself. This principle is indicated by a number of passages in the narrative sections of the Bible.
One clear example comes from the early days of the Christian church. After Jesus had commanded the apostles to preach the gospel (see Matt. 28:19-20), the Jewish governing authority, the Sanhedrin, arrested some of them and ordered them “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18). But the apostles Peter and John answered, “We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (v.20), and later Peter proclaimed, “We must obey God rather than men” (5:29).
This is a clear affirmation of the principle that God requires his people to disobey the civil government if obedience would mean directly disobeying God.
Other passages also establish this. In Daniel 3:13-20, King Nebuchadnezzar commanded three Jewish men-Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego-to bow down and worship a golden statue that he had erected. But they refused and said, “We will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (v.18). God showed his approval of their actions by rescuing them from the burning fiery furnace (vv.19-30).
Daniel likewise disobeyed a law that prohibited him from praying to God (see Dan. 6:10). In addition, when King Herod commanded the wise men to return and tell him where the newborn King of the Jews was to be found, they were warned by an angel not to heed this command, so they disobeyed Herod and “departed to their own country by another way” (see Matt. 2:8, 12).
John Calvin put it this way:
But in that obedience which we have shown to be due to the authority of rulers, we are always to make this exception…that such obedience is never to lead us away from obedience to Him, to whose will the desires of all kings ought to be subject…And how absurd would it be that in satisfying man you should incur the displeasure of Him for whose sake you obey men themselves! The Lord, therefore is the King of Kings…If they command anything against Him, let it go unesteemed.
Flesh and blood is not what we’re fighting
We fight against what we cannot see
The prince of power of the air
Accuser of you and me
It’s so important to remember this lest we develop bitterness and even hatred towards those we disagree with, even those in positions of governmental leadership.
We are called as Christians to pray for our governing authorities.
“First of all then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.” (I Timothy 2:1-3)
Simple question: Do we pray for our governmental leaders as much as we complain about them?
I strongly disagree with and am quite frankly shocked by some of the policies being put in play even as I write this letter. But as a Christian, I am called to grumble less and pray more!
I am committed to obey God’s laws first and foremost no matter the cost, and there may be an increasing cost in the days ahead for those of unwavering commitment to Christ. Dietrich Bonhoeffer called it, “The Cost of Discipleship.”
James Renwick, the last leader of the Scottish “Covenanters” in the 1600s, after enduring torture and imprisonment (he was ultimately beheaded) for his unwavering faith in Christ, stated at the young age of twenty-seven, “I have oft counted the cost of serving Christ but never thought it would be so easy.”
Easy! Yes, according to young James, God’s grace was there in ample supply in his time of great need.
That same sufficient grace will always be there for us too when needed. I fear we sometimes lose perspective in the muddle of political chaos and end times pressures.
Truth has defeated the deceiver
Hell has no power to wound the Son
So why do we fight like we’re losing the battle
When the victory’s already won
Battles come and go, leaders rise and fall, elections are won and lost, but the outcome of the “battle of the ages” is already established! “And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. (Luke 21:28)
This is how we Respond!