As government grows like the fib from Veggie Tales’ “Larry Boy! And the Fib from Outer Space,” it seems more and more impossible to re-contain within the boundaries set forth in the U.S. Constitution. As government attempts to undermine clearly scriptural absolutes, do we jump in the battles to legislate morality? Do we invest our time, energy, talent, and resources in electing and unseating governing authorities, passing and defeating laws? While one believer may insist on front-line warfare, another may insist we not engage at all, leaving us where we left off Monday in “Yield or Wield: Believers and Politics?” What does God’s word say? Is one right and the other wrong? Is the answer up to us?
The black and white of Romans 13:1-8 establishes a number of non-negotiable truths that can help us sort out the gray. Timeless points of certainty exempt from argument and controversy. Verses one, two, the first half of three, and four deal with our mindset. The attitudes with which we approach authority based on who God is, His power and authority, and the system He set up. The last half of verse three and verses five through eight establish specific directives. The do’s. If we don’t believe, accept, and submit ourselves to conceptual truth of the first set of verses, it will be essentially impossible to do that which is asked of us in the second set. Let’s start with the first.
“There is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God” (verse one).
Every authority is from the Lord. Not just the office of authority, but the very person who occupies it. No exceptions. If a person is in authority over us, it is because God put them there, whether we agree with their personal, moral, and political convictions or not. Whether we think what they are doing is right or not. Whether what they believe, say, or do lines up with the word of God or not. Whether they are Democrat, Republican, Tea Party, or Independent. There is no authority except from God. When Jesus wouldn’t answer Pilate regarding the charges brought against Him, Pilate challenged him in John 19:10, "Are You not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?" Jesus answered in verse eleven, "You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above." Not one person has power over us that is not given them from above. Of God’s absolute power and authority, Daniel 2:21 says, “He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding.” Not one of us has anything besides what is given us by Him, including power and authority. “The Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses” (Daniel 4:25).
“Let every soul be subject...” (verse one).
My fingers lie still on the keyboard as I absorb the magnitude of these five words. It is the life of following Christ. A life wholly His. Why the word soul? The implications sink deep. The soul, according to Strong’s G5590, is from the Greek word psychē (www.blueletterbible.com) and refers to the “breath of life; living being; seat of the feelings, desires, affections, aversions (our heart, soul etc.); the soul as an essence which differs from the body and is not dissolved by death.” Be subject in the Greek is to willingly assume our place in God’s order under and obedient to those He appoints over us.
We can justify defiance any way we want, but nothing changes the word of God. Nothing changes God’s ultimate power and authority over all things. No matter how great the offense, how tragic the infraction, how unfair the mandate, how immoral the ruler. We are under that which is ordained by God. Every living, breathing human being is to put themselves in His order, to remain in our assigned place. Not only are we to submit to authority with the actions of our flesh, but with the attitudes of our heart, mind, and will.
If we are saved by grace through faith, the Lord holds the ultimate place of authority in our lives. When we place our faith in Jesus, what the Father says goes. If someone is in authority over us, it’s because God put them there. If He says we are to submit to the authorities He establishes, by golly, that’s what we need to do. If we believe He is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do, we will be able to do this, even when the individuals holding offices of authority stand in direct opposition to the One who ultimately put them there. We’ll be able to be subject as a matter of the heart, mind, and will because our faith, trust, and well-being aren’t dependent on who’s in authority and what laws they’re enacting. As His children, we can know He will take care of us, no matter what. No matter who is the president or what threatens our nation. Nothing slips under His radar or catches Him off guard. He is in control, so we don’t have to be. Secure in the assurance of His promises to us, we can continue in His joy and peace even in the midst of cultural, moral, political, financial, and national chaos. We can be subject to governing authorities because God is our Governing Authority.
“Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves” (verse two).
When we resist our governing authorities, we bring judgment on ourselves because we are actually resisting God. There is but one exception, and that is when the word of authority opposes the word of God. If a mandate requires that we directly disobey God, we are to obey God. Peter makes this clear in Acts 5:29 when he tells the high priest who forbade him and the apostles to preach in Jesus’ name: "We ought to obey God rather than men.” The Bible is a higher authority than any civil government. But if the law of the land does not directly oppose the Bible, we are to obey civil and governing authorities, whether we agree with their mandates or not. Mandate being the key word, here, which I’ll touch on more later.
“For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil...For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil” (first part of three and verse four).
I find this one a little challenging, as many of our rulers do not appear to be God’s ministers to us for good. They do not appear to be executing wrath on those who practice evil. Quite the opposite, in fact. Yet, God’s word is infallible, which takes us back to verse one. Do we believe in God as our ultimate authority? Do we trust God as our ultimate authority? Do we believe all authority is from Him? Either we believe or we don’t. Either He is God or He is not. If we do believe, then we must believe ALL those He puts in positions of authority are His ministers for our good. Because He says they are. Not easy to grasp in our limited understanding, but necessary.
Lord, help us accept Your word in its entirety, even the hard verses, in order to be more wholly Yours today. Thank you for the black-and-white truth You set forth. By the power of Your Holy Spirit, I ask You in Jesus’ name to please enable us to stand firm on these absolutes so we can more effectively navigate the gray.