Article of the Month

June 2013

 

  OBEYING THE LAWS OF MEN   

 

The book of Romans is rich in two kinds of content:

 

1.        From the first chapter through the eleventh chapter it discusses doctrine. Primary among its doctrinal points is its focus on justification (or righteousness) by faith rather than by works.

 

2.        Once Chapter 12 is reached, however, Romans becomes a treatise on sanctification — the work in self to grow a character consistent with faith.

 

When the Apostle Paul begins his extensive list of practical things to do in order “to be conformed to the image of God’s son” (Romans 8:29), he suggests two important basic standards in Romans 12:2:

 

(1).  “Be not conformed to this world.”  In other words, a true Christian should not allow himself to LOOK LIKE THE PREVAILING STANDARDS of the age in which he lives.  But that is outward appearance—important, but not the primary objective. 

 

(2).  So, Paul adds, “Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  The word “transformed” is a Greek word we have adopted into English:  METAMORPHOSIS.  It implies an inward and actual transformation of being, not just an outward appearance.

 

It is this second standard that is the difficult one to attain.  As Paul points out, it takes MIND RENEWAL — learning to think differently — learning to think in a way that doesn’t come naturally to a human mind.

 

In all of the chapters following this admonition, Paul, one by one, lists rules, examples, suggestions, endorsements, and kinds of behavior that a Christian will want to accept, develop, and value deep within himself in order to be more like his Lord.  In Romans 13:1-7 we find one of those many rules for sanctification.

 

—  THE CHRISTIAN’S RELATIONSHIP TO THE POLITICAL SYSTEM
UNDER WHICH HE LIVES
  —

 

The Apostle’s words are these (New American Standard Version):

 

Vs. 1 Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.

Vs. 2 Therefore, whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.

Vs. 3 For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil.  Do you want to have no fear of authority?  Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same;

Vs. 4 for it is a minister of God to you for good.  But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.

Vs. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’s sake.

Vs. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing.

Vs. 7 Render to all what is due them:  tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.

 

What is the Apostle Paul saying? First of all, we should not be ready to think that these admonitions are good only IF WE HAVE GOOD RULERS. Paul is not interested in the quality of the leaders. After all, he lived under Nero!  So, Paul’s admonitions are applicable under the most benevolent government or under the most repressive.  We will see why.

 

Sanctification is an attitude. It is a conviction that God has everything under control and works EVERYTHING for the good of those He has called.  (Romans 8:28) Therefore, any inner or outward complaint about government is outside the sphere of a Christian’s interests. Paul is not writing on behalf of, nor in criticism of, government. He is saying that government is there for one primary purpose:  to maintain order. The Jews of Jesus’ day and Paul’s day were in constant uprising, insurrection, and conflict with the authority of Rome. Paul wants the new Christian disciples to know that this is not acceptable to God. The true Christian must sanctify his thinking, knowing that the prayed-for Kingdom will be the perfect government; but, until that time, living without complaint under existing governments will allow as much as is possible of peace and order so that Christians may pursue their more important objectives. (See I Timothy 2:1-3.)

 

 

  ANALYZING THE APOSTLE’S WORDS 

 

 

Looking at verses one through seven with an unbiased eye reveals simple truths for our welfare.

 

In verse 1, Paul says we are to subject ourselves to the laws of the land because any and all authority, at any time, or at any place, comes from God. What does this mean? It means, in the present evil world, that God has determined to allow certain powers to exist. Therefore, their power comes from Him (John 19:11). If He chooses to change things, He deposes those powers. If He wills to have them continue, it is because their continuance furthers the objectives of His long-term plan. Therefore, if we foolishly disagree with their existence, we disagree with God’s judgment of the matter.

 

Verse 2 spells out that very point. By resisting authority, we are arguing with God, not with government. Paul says that this brings condemnation to us. But we don’t want condemnation; we want sanctification. Refusing to submit to proper laws (whether or not we agree with them) is the OPPOSITE of sanctification.

 

In verse 3, Paul explains why this is true.  In essence, he says laws (well or ill-conceived) are for our good. Therefore, we won’t fear the rulers if we submit; we will be considered “good citizens” — what Paul would call good “ambassadors for Christ.” (II Corinthians 5:20)

 

 The fourth verse confirms the above contentions:  worldly authority is GOD’S MINISTER in that it preserves peace which we need in our Christian pursuits and development. Paul warns that if we are law-breakers we should be afraid of the consequences. He argues that the government “bears the sword” for good reason — it is SUPPOSED to put down lawlessness. That’s its purpose!

 

So, in verse 5, Paul summarizes:  You must submit to laws — not only because not doing so will give you reason to fear, but because doing so will give you a GOOD CONSCIENCE — an imperative part of a Christian’s armor.

 

Paul then goes one step further in verse 6 where he echoes what Jesus taught in Matthew 22:17-21. The law requires taxes to support the government in its law-maintaining duties. So, pay them without question or complaint. (If the government misuses the funds, that is on its debit, not on those who paid them.  We are not here to correct government.)

 

Then, in verse 7, Paul gives the final general summary: This life requires and expects taxes, customs, reverences, and honors.  Until the Kingdom comes, God will support these things because any government is better than anarchy. We are indebted to go along with the system until God changes it.

 

 

 EXCEPTIONS  

 

 

Paul doesn’t talk about exceptions because his subject is our ATTITUDE OF SANCTIFICATION. He doesn’t want us looking for “loopholes.”

 

Nevertheless, the Divine Word allows that there are rare times when men’s laws are so impossibly in conflict with God’s laws that a Christian must choose (understanding the likely consequences) between God’s law and the laws of men. In Acts 4:18, 19 and 5:28, 29, the Apostle Peter gives such an example. But this is NOT TO SAY that Christians are to go around trying to change the laws, nor to rail against them. Peter merely is acknowledging that we must, on rare occasion, follow conscience in our personal lives.

 

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