GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, WHO ESTABLISHES GOVERNMENTS UPON EARTH TO LEAD PEOPLE TO REPENTANCE
TEXT: Romans 13: 1: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”
Dearly Beloved By Christ:
Churches in America get a tax exemption for two reasons. One, taxation is burdensome and through it the state can curtail or destroy the freedom of religion. And two, churches create terrific citizens who are taught to obey the law, thus saving the state more money than they could ever collect by taxing us! Our lesson for today is a primer in the background for all this and more.
This lesson is a tough one for preachers and for Christians in general. It raises all sorts of “what if’s”. I’ll give you a few examples. “If God ordains or establishes all governments, why are there bad governments? Certainly if God is good, why would He countenance evil governments?” Or how about this one: “Those German generals tried at Nuremburg said they were just obeying orders. So why was that a faulty defense?” Or, what about this: “America was founded on a Revolution against the British crown. Were those patriots breaking God’s Law by rebelling?” Yes, this is a pesky text, isn’t it? It can easily open a huge can or worms that we’d just as soon keep hidden.
Christ tells us that: “My kingdom is not of this world.” His is a spiritual kingdom of grace, or forgiving love, that embraces God’s Word—think commandments here—and follows them in loving submission. It is a spiritual kingdom of the heart, not an earthly kingdom. That’s another reason why we will never have and can never have heaven on earth. Perfection comes only through faith in Christ and is physically achieved only when we leave this world behind.
God has given us His commandments to order our lives here. They serve to prevent chaos and disorder. They are written in our hearts, we call that natural law, and also written more completely in the Bible. He had to do so because sin darkens human hearts and obscures their truth. Nonetheless, the truth of God’s Word is still the truth, and that’s why nations in varying degrees have laws which tend to follow the commandments. Governments are allowed by God and sent by God to use the truth of natural law in order to prevent the chaos of “every man or woman being a law unto themselves.” So, natural law does play a vital role in God’s establishment of what Paul calls the “governing authorities.”
Ah, but now the problems arise. The state is set up and run by sinful people. The dictatorship of Rome under the Emperor was in Paul’s time; and more currently, Nazi Germany, the old communist Soviet Union, and literally every government known to man fits this bill in varying degrees. In America we like to think we are totally free and immune from this kind of tyranny. Of course, that’s not true. Even today the state doesn’t always enforce certain laws and gives special people a break if they are connected. Civil laws are written by men and enforced by men and humans are sinful. Yet God uses them, imperfect though they may be to prevent even worse chaos.
Let’s add another piece of kindling to this fire. Let’s add the spiritual component. The chief point of human existence is to lead people to faith in Christ so that they can be saved. That’s why the Son of God came here: “To seek and save the lost.” To do so, repentance is vital. “God wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of His truth” in Jesus Christ. But because of sin, people need to repent and change their hearts and attitudes about what is right and what is wrong. Since whole societies can and do walk away from God’s truth, God establishes governments to also chastise people so that they may wake up to their own evil and repent. In this vein, even blatantly evil governments are established by God for a good, but tough, purpose. The Rome of Paul’s time fits this bill. So do some of the other ones I’ve mentioned.
But Pastor, we’re told here to submit to the government. We’re told that no government exists without God’s warrant. So, is God saying their evil deeds are o.k. and we should just automatically accept them? No. Instead God wants each of us to weigh governmental actions by our own conscience and also His Word in the Bible. That’s where natural law comes into play. At the Nazi trials after WWII some of those leaders were prosecuted for war crimes. And they were guilty of them. They had a conscience. They had natural law written in their hearts. They should have known genocide was wrong. They knew stealing was wrong. They knew slave labor was wrong. And God ultimately sent the Allies to punish them for their abdication of Godly truth. This is the reason the Soviet Union fell, too. This is the reason ISIS will fall. God sets limits to evil and sends retribution against such governments based on the upholding of natural law, right and wrong.
Obviously, innocent people get caught in the crossfire. Some of you survived Allied bombings. Some of your relatives died. St. Paul himself was later killed by Rome for speaking out for God’s truth. We can all think of countless examples of how innocent people are hurt by the hard edge of the worldly sword. And all this goes to show just how evil this world really is. For even when God uses “good” governments to punish evil ones, those who are “good” often act no better than their enemy! The only exception to this being: Jesus Christ who died on a cross, submitting to the state, in order to save us from this viciousness eternally. Yes, God’s Son died for you. And He gives you His future in heaven through faith. So, ultimately, heaven is our real home and our ultimate escape from worldly tyranny.
Meanwhile, what about today, right now. What should we do and how should we act? In a few moments we’ll pray for our nation and its leaders. That’s step # 1. They need God’s guidance whether they want it or not. Step # 2: We’ll appreciate the fact that our nation has laws to protect us, not just human whims, and we’ll use those laws as much as we can to preserve our freedoms and protect others. Step # 3: We will not take the law into our own hands, but we will stand up for and employ the truth of natural law or the commandments as much as we can, risking all—just like our founding fathers—for the cause of Godly truth. And like them, we must be willing to accept the consequences if things don’t go our way. And finally, we must be constantly vigilant when it comes to freedom. It’s a very fragile thing. It can be lost in an instant. So we must be good citizens and speak the truth in love at all times—even when the majority doesn’t want to hear it.
This is a tough prescription. But when followed, evil will have a tough time triumphing because good men and women born of God’s grace actually did something! Yes, as Christ says elsewhere: “Christians are the salt, the preservative of this earth.” It’s up to you and me to uphold good government in our nation thereby protecting our children and giving our humble glory to God. A blessed 4th of July to you all. Amen