Being a Rebel for Jesus

// January 19th, 2020 // Sermons

On January 13, 1984, President Ronald Reagan… You can listen online or download it and listen later…Being a Rebel for Jesus…issued a proclamation designating January 22 as the first National Sanctity of Human Life Day. He did this because on January 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion-on-demand in all 50 states.

All human life is precious.  Life is a gift from God for us to respect and protect through all its stages, from conception to natural death – if you question that, I challenge you to read Ps. 139.

Every person is created by God, in His image, and loved by Him.  Every life has inherent worth and dignity.  Therefore, we must treat people as bearers of God’s image, not as objects for our gratification.  Our lives are not our own; they belong to God (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

Winston Churchill once remarked that “democracy is the worst form of government until you consider the alternatives.”  Quite true.  Democracy is messy, difficult and frustratingly slow because it depends on the will of the people.  But, would we prefer to live under a dictatorship?

It has been said that God only established three institutions – the home, the church, and the state.  And, He gave explicit instructions on how all three were to operate.  Rom. 13 is the strongest NT teaching about how Christians should relate to human government.

This passage answers some questions, and it raises many others in the process.  Like, is violent revolution ever justified?  What about capital punishment?  Is it wrong to pay taxes to an unjust government?  What about picketing abortion clinics?  Under what circumstances should Christians disobey the law?  Is it wrong to refuse to pay taxes as a protest against abortion?  What is the separation of church and state?  Should Christians serve in the armed forces?  How do you respond when those over you are corrupt?  How far should we go to express our Christian concerns?

My objective, rather than attempt to answer every possible question, I want us to explore the teaching of this passage and then leave you to fill in the blanks on the questions that might be raised.  So first,

  1. Where Human Government Comes From

In Rom. 13, Paul begins by addressing this question.  And his answer is clear:  Human government comes from God.  First,

  1. It was established by God

In v. 1, we find “authority” – the Greek word means “right/ privilege.”  An authority is anyone who has the right to do a certain thing.

If your job gives you the right to make certain decisions, then when you are on the job, you are an “authority.”  Or, an authority is anyone who has the right to make decisions that directly affect someone else’s life.  We all live in two relationships at the same time.  We all have areas where we are “in authority” and areas we are “under authority” at the same time.

In Rom. 13, Paul is thinking about human government – rulers, kings, emperors, presidents and dictators.  I don’t believe Paul had any one particular form of human government in mind – such as democracy, aristocracy, monarchy, socialism, communism or dictatorship.  He’s speaking in broad terms about all human government in the world.  The institution of government comes from the hand of God.

Paul wrote these words when the wicked Nero, was emperor of Rome.  Historians tells us that Nero hated Christians, had them rounded up, dipped in tallow, tied to stakes and burned like candles in his garden.  He was the one who ordered Rome to be set on fire and then blamed the Christians, setting off a wave of persecution.

We tend to think we live in a time in history that is the worst ever for violence, but ancient Rome was a wicked and pagan society.  Abortion flourished, homosexuality was accepted as normal, and the masses worshipped Caesar as Lord.  Sorcery and black magic were prevalent.  We have never had a North American government that would come close to ancient Rome.  And yet, Paul said all authority comes from God.

Then he gave a clear command – “Be subject to the governing authorities.”  There is no exemption clause, just the word “submit.”  It’s a word used over fifty times in the NT.  It means to voluntarily follow the direction of those in authority over you.

Submission is not the same as obedience, but the two are related.  Obedience relates to outward performance while submission touches the attitude of the heart toward those who are over you.  This is important because you may not always be able to obey those who are over you, but you can always have a heart attitude of submission.

A simple definition:  Submission means believing that God is able to accomplish His will in my life through those He has placed in authority over me.  This definition focuses the attention on God, not on the person over you.

What do you do when you have to contend with an unsaved husband, mean-spirited parents, cranky bosses/business associates, and people that just don’t like us and yet are over us?  What do you then?  You have a few options – You can rebel, fight back, suffer in silence, complain to whoever will listen, get angry, appeal to a higher authority, or, take action to change your situation.

We must always keep in mind that, the most important thing is the attitude of your heart.  You submit to the one in authority in the sense that you believe that God has put that person in your life for a purpose and that God’s will is somehow going to be done in you through that person even if you don’t see how that could be possible.

God takes responsibility for raising up one leader and pulling down another.  Ps. 75:6-7 read – “For no one on earth…should raise a defiant fist.  It is God alone who judges; he decides who will rise and who will fall.”  Our God is the Unseen Hand at work in the nations of the world.

We may not like the thought, but the same God who put President Trump and former Prime Minister Stephen Harper in their respective places of leadership, this same God also placed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over us – in 2015 and again in 2019.

Sometimes in our zeal for certain moral issues, we may leave the impression that God is a Conservative or a Liberal, but He’s neither.  Our God is in an authoritative spot that is ultimately Independent.  Government come from Him.  Secondly,

  1. Rebellion Brings Punishment – v.2

“…whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed…will incur judgment.”  Paul’s conclusion: To rebel against authority is to bring judgment on yourself.

It could mean judgment by God, but certainly means judgment by the authority.  If you doubt this, just imagine mouthing off the next time you are pulled over by the police.  If you argue too much, you may find yourself getting a free ride in the back of a police car.  There are consequences for rebelling against authorities.  Next main point…

  1. What Government is Supposed to do

What is the “ministry” of government?  Twice in v. 4 Paul states that rulers are “servants” of God.

Human authorities are supposed to serve the purpose of God on earth. The RCMP officer who travels our highways is God’s servant.  The CRA auditor is God’s servant.  So, is Justin Trudeau, Vladimir Putin and Boris Johnson.  The same is true for every human leader, whether they know it or not.

This, by the way, is the basis for treating our leaders with respect. Christians ought to lead the way in showing honor to human authorities because we understand they are appointed by God. This touches all of us at a personal level when we see leaders making decisions that seem to be clearly evil. There are times when as a Christian, I must speak out in favor of what is right and against what is wrong.  But no matter how stirred up I may be, even when I think life and death issues are at stake, when I am speaking to those in authority or when I am speaking about those in authority, I must treat them with respect–without regard to how I feel about their decisions–because they are God’s servants.  Whom God has appointed, I must not treat with disrespect.

As a side note, as Christians, we desperately need to be discerning and cautious as to what we post on FaceBook, in anger.  Once that message flies off into cyberspace, with your name on it, it takes on a life of its own.  It can be copied and forwarded in seconds.

  • Be careful what you say when you are angry.
  • Be careful what you write when you are upset.
  • Be careful what you impulsively post when you feel mistreated.

Take a deep breath.  Think about it.  Pray about it and for that person in authority.  Then, if you are still angry, walk away, and when your emotions have settled, if you still feel a need to respond, carefully do so.

According to Rom. 13, human authorities are supposed to do 2 things:

  1. Punish the Wicked – v. 3

“For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you.”

This is why we have RCMP and other police officers.  These authorities are there as servants of God.  They work at security checkpoints, in airports, at the borders, man the cameras, laying their lives on the line every day to capture and punish evildoers.  Without their presence, lawbreakers would have a field day and criminals would go scot-free.  The 2nd thing authorities do:

  1. Reward the Righteous – v. 4

“The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good.”

Don’t be afraid of those who are over you.  Do the right thing and you will have nothing to fear.  The Principle:  Troublemakers get in trouble while those who play by the rules don’t.  However, in a fallen world, things sometimes get turned upside down, but it’s still better to be a law-abiding citizen.  Criminals do get caught eventually, full prisons are proof of that.

Several translations use the word “sword” in v. 4 – it represents the power that the authority has to punish wrongdoers.  This reference to the sword provides the Christian basis for service in the military and going to war, as well as the theological justification for capital punishment.  God says that the government authority has the right to take life–not on a whim or unjustly, but when it is clearly justified.

I like the wording in the Message: “…if you’re breaking the rules right and left, watch out. The police aren’t there just to be admired in their uniforms. God also has an interest in keeping order, and he uses them to do it.”  The 3rd main point…

III. The Christian Duty to Support the Government – 2-fold explanation:

  1. Why we support the government – v. 5

So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience.”

We support human government first because of fear of punishment if we don’t.  That’s why you slow down when you see a police car.  Lawbreakers will be brought to justice.

And second, we support government “to keep a clear conscience”– that is, because we know that God stands behind every human government working out His will for the human race.

That means that anarchy is never an option for the Christian.  We may disagree with those in authority over us, we may vote against a certain person and his/her values and we could even picket or write letters; but we must never join the ranks of the anarchists who say, “Down with all government.”  That is a thoroughly pagan point of view.  Even bad government is better than no government at all.

Christians ought to be known as law-abiding citizens.  Shooting abortionists will not save the unborn.  If we believe and act on what Paul said, we will be better Christians and ultimately better citizens of Canada.  We may disagree – even strongly and passionately – but we won’t resort to violence.  Secondly…

  1. How we support the government – v. 6-7

“That’s also why you pay taxes—so that an orderly way of life can be maintained.  Fulfill your obligations as a citizen. Pay your taxes, pay your bills, respect your leaders.”

Paul calls human rulers “ministers of God.”  As such, they deserve four things from us:  Taxes, revenue, respect, and honor.  Most Canadians think we are heavily taxed (and we are), but consider the first century.

Rome had an income tax, a head tax, a poll tax, a road tax, a wagon tax, a crop tax, an import tax, an export tax, a harbor tax, and a bridge tax–and more.  The Caesars liked to live in style and maintaining a huge empire is expensive, so they taxed their people in order to pay for it all.

Paying taxes is a Christian duty.  Tax evasion is not only a crime; it’s also a sin.  Yes, it’s hard to be cheerful about sending that much money to Ottawa, but at least we can have the satisfaction of knowing that when we pay our taxes, we’re doing what Jesus and Paul told us to do.

  1. Four Crucial Questions – Let me wrap up this message by looking at some very practical questions raised by this passage.
  2. How far can a Christian go in opposing an unjust government?

Simple answer:  You can go as far as the law allows you to go.  You can picket, gather petitions, write letters to the editor, vote and encourage others to vote, write your MP or MLA, take out an ad in the paper, join organizations working for change and even run for office yourself.  Submission to authority doesn’t require you to be silent about injustice and corruption.

But, the issue of the heart is very important.  It’s better to keep quiet than to speak out in burning anger.  Believing that God can work His will even through a corrupt leader, tempers your comments, cools your emotions, and keeps you from doing or saying something you may regret later.

  1. What should Christians do if the government orders them to do something that conflicts with their faith?

Peter and John gave us the answer in Acts 5:29 when they said, “We must obey God rather than man.”  The highest authority is God himself.  Like the Hebrew boys who refused to bow down before the golden image of King Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 3), we must take our stand for our faith.  And then, we must be willing to suffer the consequences.

Pastor Kent Hughes:  A Christian must disobey his government when it asks him to 1) violate a commandment of God, 2) commit an immoral or unethical act, or 3) go against his Christian conscience (a conscience which is informed by Scripture and is in submission to the Spirit of God).

John Stott:  The principle is clear: We are to submit right up to the point where obedience to the state would entail disobedience to God. But if the state commands what God forbids, or forbids what God commands, then our plain Christian duty is to resist, not to submit, to disobey the state in order to obey God.

The attitude of the heart is so important.  In Daniel 3, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego spoke respectfully to the king even though they disobeyed his direct orders.  They disobeyed with a submissive heart.

  1. What about civil disobedience?

This covers a wide range of activities, but it usually refers to breaking a law in order to protest injustice.  OT example:  The Hebrew midwives refused to kill the babies (Ex. 1).

John Stott wrote:  “Whenever laws are enacted which contradict God’s law, civil disobedience becomes a Christian duty.”  The problem lies in discerning whether a given law clearly and absolutely “contradicts” God’s law.  If our government would enforce a 2-child rule and abort all babies after that, we should definitely resist.  But, what about a law that restricts protestors from protesting near an abortion clinic?  Is civil disobedience a “Christian duty” in that case?  The answer is not that easy.

One person’s Christian conscience may lead him in one direction while another person may choose to do something else or not to participate at all.  If you choose civil disobedience, it seems to me that it must be over an issue of clear biblical teaching, it must be done publicly so that others can draw the right conclusion, it ought to be done in concert with other believers, it must be accompanied by prayer and repentance, and, if you do break a law as a form of protest, you should expect that you may be punished for your actions.

Again, the attitude of the heart is crucial. You may not always be able to obey, but you can always have a submissive spirit because you believe in God.

  1. What does it mean to be a good Christian and a good citizen?

Very simply, it means that we have dual citizenship–on earth and in heaven.  As citizens, God calls us to submit ourselves to those who are in authority over us, to obey the laws, to do what is right, to pay our taxes, and to show honor and respect to everyone who is over us.  As Christians, God calls us to take our rightful place as the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

But, there is a sense in which all of us are called to be godly rebels – because we have dual citizenship.  The conflict is inevitable because the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man are at war. Many times our Christian faith will force us to stand against the status quo and take positions that are unpopular and politically incorrect.  We are rapidly moving into a time in history when we will regular face these things as our culture becomes more and more secular.

As a Christian, I see much around me that deeply disturbs me.  As a Canadian, I pray for leaders that will obey Micah 6:8 – act justly, love mercy and walk humbly before Almighty God.  At present, that prayer has not yet been answered.

Richard Neuhaus was on his way to a speaking engagement in Pennsylvania. When he arrived at the airport, his host spent over an hour detailing everything that was wrong with America – society, culture, families, and schools.  When he had finished his dreary list of problems, Pastor Neuhaus replied, “These may be bad times, but they are the only times we are given. And we must remember that despair is a mortal sin.”

Despair is never an option for the Christian.  We must reaffirm our belief that our God reigns over all the nations of the earth.  He is the Lord God Almighty.  To him all the nations are but a drop in the bucket.  The One enthroned in the heavens laughs at those who rage against him.  No matter who controls the government of Canada, God is still on the throne!

God is in control.  He knows what He is doing, and His way will ultimately be realized.

Let’s pray…

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