Around Memorial Day, we sometimes talk about how great it is to be a citizen of this nation. Being a citizen of the United States is great! People from other countries also believe that it is great to be a citizen here. Many of those who have moved here have become “Americanized.” They have learned English and adopted the customs. Our national values have rubbed off on them.
The Bible reminds Christians that we are citizens of Heaven. Heaven’s values ought to be rubbing off onto each of us. As a matter of fact, we should be more like Heaven than we are American. We should be speaking the language and adopting the values of heaven. We should represent our homeland. We should live under the authority of our Lord and Savior!
We are a citizen of two worlds. We have a responsibility to serve God. We also have a responsibility to live under the authorities God has placed in our lives. Christians are not to possess an attitude of rebellion. We recognize that God has put authorities here to exercise judgment against those who do wrong. Peter shared this in 1 Peter, chapter 2.
1 Peter 2:13-17 Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
1. God ordains authorities, and we must honor them.
“Be subject” is a military word meaning to arrange “in a military fashion under the commander. The lines of authority have been drawn and we must recognize them. For instance, when you are on the highway, you are expected to choose a lane to drive in, though there may be other lanes to your left or right. You are expected to stay in your lane and avoid swerving into a neighboring lane. If you move out of your lane, an accident may occur.
God places authority in our lives to help us stay in our lane. We stay in our lane so that we may honor God and avoid unnecessary pain.
God is our ultimate authority. He created the universe and gave us life. Any human power is allowed by God; leaders in human government may do things that displease God. However, government, in general, is God’s way of carrying out his purposes among people. Followers of Jesus Christ are called to obey the authorities God has put in leadership for the glory of God and the good of the Kingdom. Paul understood this.
Romans 13:1 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.
2. God is the supreme authority, and we acknowledge him above all.
Is it possible to be subject to the “institution” of leaders while objecting to certain laws? Yes. Christians are called to live in obedience to all the institutions of civil and social order. This includes the federal government, state government, the police, and judges. Only when the government tries to force a Christian to disobey God’s law explicitly stated in Scripture should a believer refuse to obey.
For example, Daniel and his three friends could not follow the king’s dietary laws because they believed those laws were against God’s instructions. Daniel and the three Israelites were not rebels; they were respectful in their disagreement.
Daniel 1:8-9 But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king's food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. 9 And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs.
Peter and the Apostles were in a similar predicament as they began to share the Gospel story. The Jewish council ordered them to stop teaching in the name of Jesus, but this was a command that Peter could not obey. Peter and the Apostles did not show disrespect to the council. They respected the institution of the council’s authority, but could not obey that particular command. The Apostles recognized Jesus’ higher power in that case. They did not hide their allegiance to Jesus Christ.
We always have to submit to the higher authority. The higher authority is always God. Recognizing this now will save you from trouble in the future.
A Navy captain was sailing and came upon a big light. He thought it was a ship coming toward him. He was the highest-ranking officer in the area. So, he got on a big bullhorn and said to the ship behind the light, “Move ten degrees south, or we’re going to crash!” It said, “I shall not move! You move ten degrees north, so you don’t crash!”
The captain was getting irritated. He said, “Don’t you know who I am? I am a captain in the United States Navy. I say, ‘You move ten degrees north so that you don’t crash!” The captain got back on the speaker and said, “Did you hear me say that I am captain in the United States Navy?” The voice came back, “Yes, but I am the lighthouse!”
God must always be the authority for the life of the believer who is living with a kingdom perspective.
3. Christians are called to be citizens of two worlds.
Christians are citizens of two worlds. We have responsibilities that relate to our heavenly citizenship. Also, we have responsibilities that impact our relationship to government. For example, Christians are instructed to pay appropriate taxes and live according to the laws.
Mark 12:14 And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone's opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?”
Mark 12:17 Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” And they marveled at him.
Jesus did not want believers caught up in self-destructive revolutions. Rather, Christians are to be examples of good citizenship. The believer’s obligation to God brings with it an obligation to those God allows to be in authority. Peter developed this thought in chapter 2.
As a church, we do not believe the government has any right to control what we teach or how we minister. However, we acknowledge that the government has requirements about safety and operation that are for the good of all citizens. We should obey those laws as good citizens. There are times when we should set aside our own privileges as citizens. On the other hand, the circumstances may demand that we use our citizenship for the greater good. For example, even Paul, when he was arrested on false charges, used his citizenship to insist on a fair trial.
In Peter’s day, the believers were reminded that they must respect the “emperor.” In our form of government, we have a president. Whatever the office, believers are called upon to silence the critics of the faith by doing good. Fearing God and honoring the emperor go together since the authorities are put into place by God.
During election season, the faceoff intensifies between the political parties. Each side competes in the arena of the media and the news cycle for votes. The spin doctors and pontificates are in high swing as voters sift through the information to find truth. Posters, Facebook ads, and bumper stickers push agendas.
In the style salons, ballparks, and church foyers, people talk about what is going on in the pre-election season. People make commitments to a party or an individual or philosophy. Some try to persuade others.
As important as the face-off in the presidential election is, it does not compare to the spiritual conflict going on in our nation. Two kingdoms stand in opposition. Christians are called to be unashamed and to share the hope of the Gospel. The kingdom of the evil one stands against the truth. Each believer is to be a spokesperson for Jesus Christ. We are to persuade others that Jesus is the name above all other names. We are called to let our voices be heard. We are citizens of two worlds, but our ultimate allegiance rests with Jesus Christ.
You honor your nation best when you advance the mission of the Gospel.
I grew up in a school in which I would begin the school day saying, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.” The teachers would lead us in this daily reminder of the privileges we have and the loyalties we share. I played baseball as a kid. Before sporting events, we would often sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” This was a reminder to us of our commitment to our nation. These customs were ingrained in me and helped to develop me into a citizen.
Jesus has asked us to make a pledge of our commitment to him. We are to identify with him and proclaim our loyalty to him publically. We are to make it known that we are followers of Jesus Christ. Jesus has called on us to name him as our Savior and Lord publically and to be representatives of him. We are not called to be undercover, secret-agent Christians.
For the most part, I am thankful for the authority to which I am subject to in the United States of America. I am a blessed man. I had no say with my Creator about where and when I would be born. In God’s plan, he put me here for such a time as this. I have this great freedom to preach and live out the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I am grateful for this incredible privilege!
Why did God allow us the freedoms we have as citizens in this country? We have it for the Gospel. What good is freedom of religion if we don’t take advantage of it? We are here to shape the culture by telling the story of Jesus Christ to our neighbors. We help the weak and helpless. We stand for justice.
How do we honor our authorities? We live as ambassadors for the Kingdom. We are charged to share a message from Jesus Christ, the One who sent us out. We are to say what he told us to say. We say it lovingly. We say it gently. However, we say it boldly. Some people are not going to like it.
“When Jesus went to Zacchaeus the tax collector’s house, he no doubt incurred the wrath of those who would argue that the morality of their embezzling and defrauding for the Roman government was none of his business. But he also caused the grumbling of those who said, ‘He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner’ (Luke 19:7). They wondered what sort of ‘signal’ Jesus was sending. Jesus seems placidly unperturbed by such things. If you’re not drawing fire from both Pharisees and Sadducees, you are probably saying something other than what Jesus said. And if your message is not drawing both tax collectors (Roman collaborators) and zealots (anti-Roman insurrectionists) to repentance, you are probably speaking with a different voice than does he. Jesus wasn’t inconsistent. He saw the Roman Empire, despite all its pretensions to preeminence both in its own mind and in the mind of its opponents, as a temporary obstacle, not the defining point of his agenda. We stand and we speak, with reconciliation in view. We see, therefore, even our most passionate critic not as an argument to be vaporized but as a neighbor to be evangelized. This doesn’t mean that we back down one iota from the truth. But we proclaim the whole gospel of truth and grace, never backing down from either.”