In our study of Romans chapter thirteen, we will look at the question: Should a Christian protest against the government? and if so, then, How? In chapter 12, we looked at the fact that we are to be set apart if we are in Christ. Here, we will see that this includes our staying above the politics of our day and trusting in God.
"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." NIV translation
The word "submit" here speaks of the fact that we are to respond as Jesus would to the authorities that are over us and that means we are to do so in love. Paul tells us that it is God who is in control and reminds us of this necessity by stating it twice. (Remember that the number two is associated with the number of legal witnesses required in the Bible.) Many ask the question: If God is in control, then, why do we have leaders all over the world who go against the word of God? The number thirteen, in the Bible, is associated with rebellion and depravity. Specifically, the governments of men in rebellion against God. We have to know in our hearts that God is big enough and able enough to take care of any rebellion that is offered against Him. The simple fact of the matter is that God sees the bigger picture and He puts people (even "evil" people) in positions to accomplish His will.
"Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves." NIV translation
Here, we see that, when Christians rebel against the government, they are really disobeying God and so will be held accountable for their actions. That leads us to the question: Should Christians take part in government protests and, if so, how? The simple fact of the matter is that we, as Christians, have the right and authority to speak to God concerning everything. That includes the authorities and their actions on this earth. Rather than carry a sign and shout slogans, a Christian is more effective in talking to the Father through prayer. If we do not like the things that are being done, we can ask the Father to change the hearts of those in power or to give us the patience to endure and the ability to submit to His will for this world.
"For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer." NIV translation
If we remember that God is in control and we do what is right in His sight, then, we do not have to fear authority or anything else. If we disobey the authority that has been established by God, then, we can expect punishment from those authorities. Christians should be the model citizens as we seek to honor God by honoring those He has put in charge.
"Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience." NIV translation
Paul gives us two reasons for obeying the leaders that are in positions of authority over us. The first reason is that, if we break the laws, then, we can expect to be punished by fines, jail time, or whatever else they impose. The second reason for our obedience is so that we have a clear conscience. We do not have to look over our shoulder to wonder whether our disobedience will be discovered or not. We also have a clear conscious towards God in knowing that we are doing as He asks. A Christian should be a model citizen of any country because of our love for God.
"This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor." NIV translation
Do you know of Christians who cheat on their taxes? Even Jesus paid the taxes that were required and we should as well. A Christian should be the most honest citizen and businessman that there is because of our love for God. Instead of looking for loopholes and trying to beat the tax system, we should remember that God has placed them in their positions and, like any worker, they deserve their wages.
"Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, 'Do not commit adultery,' 'Do not murder,' 'Do not steal,' 'Do not covet,' and whatever other commandment there may, are all summed up in this one rule: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." NIV translation
Why would the apostle of grace (Paul) be talking so much about the law? He is simply telling us that, if we love people the way that Jesus does, we will not do the things that the law prohibits. This leads us to the question: What is love? Most Christians, when asked this question, will quote John 3:16 but that is not the definition of our love as that verse speaks of God's love for us. The answer to the question is found in 1 John 3:16 where we see that, for us, love is a sacrifice as we put the wants and needs of others above our own. This is only possible through the power of God as the Holy Spirit dwells in us and that is why Paul would be bringing up the law. He used the law to demonstrate the need for God's gift of salvation (grace).
"And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light." NIV translation
Why are we called to demonstrate this love towards others (even strangers)? Paul tells us to understand the present time and goes on to say that the day of Jesus' return is closer now than it has ever been. When asked by the disciples, Jesus told them that one of the signs of His return and the end of the age was that "the love of most will grow cold". As we see in Acts 2, the early church was wide awake (full of action) as they devoted themselves to fellowship around the things of Christ. Are we at the point that Jesus described (love of most growing cold)? If we look around the world today, an honest assessment would be that we are much closer that it was in the days of Paul's ministry. If we are not quite there yet, we can be sure that it is very close. Paul tells us that it is time to wake up and get to work because the time is short. Although many people work the night shift in our modern society, in the time of Paul, work was done during the day because that is when you had the light to do your task. When we get up in the morning, most of us get dressed for work. In order to do that, you must take off the night clothes and that is what he is talking about with the "deeds of darkness". The "deeds of darkness" (sleep) is for ourselves but this waking is a shift in focus from our own needs to the needs of those around us and especially their need for a Savior. This change of attitude and focus can only come through the light of Jesus Christ in our lives (our "armor of light").
"Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature." NIV translation
Because of our love for Jesus, we do not want to live for our own desires anymore but for the purpose of Christ. When we clothe ourselves in Him through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can overcome those desires and glorify God.