Civil Unrest and Romans 13
As you gather facts on disruptive civic events, one’s opinion is formed, probably with a bit of informed prejudice from the last time these events happened. Yes, I am a firm believer, there is no new thing under the sun (Eccl 1:9). In one disturbing event, people have no response (ie. pastors arrested in another country), while in another event (ie. criminal shot by police in America), people garner attention because of their protest marches, vandalism, etc. The point: we have trouble finding a balance in our relationship with civil authorities. The unregenerate call evil “good” and good “evil.”
The apostle Paul wrote to the church at Rome on these matters, “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. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 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 (Rom 13:1–3).”
Paul reminds us that bad behavior provokes civil authorities to action. Civil authority is from God. Therefore, if we are fighting against civil authorities, we are fighting against God. There are consequences for fighting against God.
Notorious politicians chime into the conversation and suggest white parents need to step into the shoes of black parents, who have to warn their children to fear the police. Paul has already asked these politicians and us, “Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good…”
One supposes the alternative would be to be above the law, a position which some rich and powerful people seem to occupy. Therefore, we might reply to the rich elite, “Maybe you should come down from your privilege and subject yourself to the civil authorities and rule of law before preaching to parents who have taught their children to respect the law and law enforcement officers.” We must not be hypocrites in these matters.
What is the motivation of civil government? Again, one supposes it is a well-ordered society. Russia seems in control, but notorious are totalitarian governments in the suppression of freedoms for their people. Too much freedom seems to unleash the spirit of civil disobedience, and too much government control suppresses the productivity of the people. Japan has almost no violent crime. The people comply with the government, but there is immense peer pressure to conform to social norms. China, by contrast, removes the smallest of agitators from public life.
What is difficult to understand is how all forms of government could be from God. Maybe we have entered God’s school of administration by studying various forms of government. What we know of heaven is the perfect arrangement between the Government and the people (Rev 21–22). In one sense, every government is an attempt to emulate the perfection of heaven. Our failures, either in anarchy or totalitarianism, prove we are not in heaven. Progress would be for governments to be closer in alignment to what God has revealed in His law. Utopians want nothing to do with God, however.
The law of God is for the benefit of the people. Law means rules to abide by, but these are not burdensome. Compliance brings blessing. In contrast, sin is lawlessness (1 Jn 3:4). It upsets the peace. It invites a curse. The nation of Israel taught us how difficult it is to comply (1 Cor 10). If they could not do it, then the rest of the secular nations are not going to score higher marks in this regard. Where can we run to for refuge from anarchy and totalitarianism? Where can we go where people are compelled to keep the law for blessing?
Jesus Christ is the law giver (Is 33:22). He is also the law keeper (Mt 5:17). He is the redeemer of a sinful people (Job 19:25; Ps 19:14; 78:35). He has paid the penalty for our disobedience toward God. With our debt of sin removed by His precious blood (Col 2:14; 1 Pet 1:18–19), we have peace with God, through Him (Eph 2:15–16).
Christians fear God because we know His power and wrath are meted out with perfect justice (Rom 1:18; 3:26). We only have to look at Jesus on the cross to know how serious God takes our sin and disobedience. He suffered in our place of punishment. He bore our sins in His body on the cross (1 Pet 2:24).
In compliance to the law of God, Jesus also fulfilled it (Mt 5:17). God is satisfied with Jesus’ obedience unto death (Acts 17:31). Jesus returned into the presence of His Father in heaven. Being in the presence of the Holy God is heaven. Sinners are not permitted into His presence. They would ruin the state of holiness. Sinners are rebels. They are disobedient to their parents, their communities, and their nations. They prove their disobedience to God by refusing to be good citizens at any level.
The answer to civil disobedience is Jesus Christ. He identifies with the meek and lowly. He suffered at the hands of civil authorities. Like a lamb being led to slaughter, He did not protest. His march came with a cross to endure. His secret? He trusted in the providence of God His Father. He recognized this: the course prepared for Him was by God’s design and for His glory. To follow in the footsteps of Jesus means obedience to God, even when suffering under the maladies of human government.
Jesus Christ promises the liberation of rule keepers. When people submit to the Holy Spirit, He helps them in their obedience of faith (Ezek 36:27). We can trust in God’s righteous retribution for criminals, whether they happen to be the government or the anarchists. He gives us hope and a future (Prv 23:18; 24:14; Jer 29:11). He Himself is our peace (Eph 2:14). We will have no civility without Him, and we will have no rest apart from Him.
Let us encourage our neighbors to seek out the law of God for understanding. Let us encourage our neighbors to recognize the depravity of humanity and need for civil order (Gen 6:5; Jer 17:9; Rom 3:10–12; Eph 2:1–3). Let us encourage our neighbors to trust in the only arrangement where the people and the government are at peace. That place is in right relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us encourage everyone to seek refuge in Him, alone. There, in His shelter, we will be together in unity, and He will be with us…all of us who matter to Him, by His grace and for His glory.
May 16, 2021