A Complicated Mess
Life in this world has always contained a lot of moving parts. Since time immemorial, humanity has wrestled with itself regarding religious faith, moral conundrums, social upheaval, political rivalries and warring parties. It has fought against common enemies such as health crises, geological upheavals, and meteorological threats. Currently though, it would seem like all of these have decided to crescendo in unison. The big picture sure does seem to reveal a complicated mess in which we are attempting to scratch out our existence.
The Christian culture, though, seems to be having a particularly desperate struggle in the current milieu of God versus the government; not that this is a new or recent phenomenon since even a casual scan of history reveals this to be true.
The Struggle is Real
Christians used to band together in solidarity and support for one another. Christ calls Christians to unity. He calls Christians to bear each other’s burdens. He states unequivocally that Christians will be known by their love. Unmistakably, the Bible places a high priority on being good citizens. The sad reality of today is that more than ever, the place Christians used to go for comfort and succor (fellowship with one another) is now oft-times filled with animosity and judgmental division over what it means to live as Christian citizens.
Where is our Allegiance? Two Foundational Truths
A Christian (at least as best as I can deduct from the Bible) is one whose loyal devotion is to the Lord Jesus Christ and seeks to live in submission to His word. His Word, the Bible, gives two very clear instructions:
- Obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29)
- Obey the governing authorities (Romans 13:1-7)
Both of those statements are true without qualification (though if qualification is desired, take even a casual look at who the governing authorities were when Paul wrote the book of Romans) and without contradiction. The clear instruction of God’s word is that unless the governing authorities command us to disobey the clear teaching of the Bible, we are to obey.
The dividing issue can at first glance seem to be, is our allegiance to God or to our government? I do not believe that truly is the case for many of us, though. The battle for allegiance, I am afraid, is between my God and my “Constitutional” rights. What I see is too many of us putting an asterisk next to Romans 13:1-7. The asterisk indicating, “Unless I feel my rights are being violated.”
Christian, believer, Christ-follower (whatever you call yourself), if what your governing authorities say does not violate the clear teaching of the Bible, we are called to obey. The question should be, “If I obey what I am told to do, will I be disobeying God?” THAT should be our default setting.
Jesus did not tell us to stand up for our rights. He told us to “…be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” (1st Corinthians 15:58).
Jesus Himself fully gave up His rights for the purpose of bringing salvation to sinners.
“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant…” (Philippians 2:5-7)
Does that mean we passively stand by with apathy? No, not at all. We must engage the political process and be socially engaged to influence the thinking of individuals around us and the legislative bodies over us. Neither does this imply that all situations and contexts yield quick and simple answers. This does of necessity provide the only proper foundation from which we have the resources to ascertain how we are to live as Christian citizens in society.
What is at stake?
The reality is this, we are standing on the precipice of eternity. We have been called to live for something more than our earthly existence. We have been called into the service of our Lord to bring the gospel to our world. We are His ambassadors as our heavenly vocation (2nd Corinthians 5:20). Since we are His ambassadors, we submit our vindication and glory to the mighty hand of God (1st Peter 5:6-7).
When we claim to love and follow Jesus (Who set aside all of His rights as Son of God) but our greatest allegiance is to our “rights” we potentially become the most dangerous heretics of all. How can we call people to full devotion, loyalty, and faith in Christ, when we are ourselves are not? We do not obey our government because they are “good” (they are certainly not). We aren’t only to be in submission when it is convenient or in agreement with our worldview. We are to obey as an act of fealty and worship to our heavenly Father. I pray we think more deeply and with greater clarity as we seek to understand how to live as Christian citizens with humility, wisdom, and redemptive purpose.