The Role of a Christian as a Citizen
1. This is one day when I don’t have to convince anyone that our subject is relevant.
a. We all know we’re in the season of politics and polls, candidates and campaigns, debates and discussions, appeals and attacks, rallies and robo-calls, and–pretty soon–of the elected and the rejected.
b. We’ve been experiencing about 4 billion dollars worth of wall-to-wall advocacy ads, in all forms of media, paid for by all kinds of interests, in behalf of or in opposition to various parties or propositions or persons.
c. The issues are now part of our language: expanded government or limited; spending or tax cuts; deficits or entitlements; bailouts or takeovers; stimulus or unemployment; health care bill or redo; bring them home or finish the war; emigration reform or border security; federal authority or state sovereignty; climate change legislation or low cost energy; earnings taxes or popular votes; transfer fees or property taxes; and even what is a puppy mill and what is responsible animal husbandry!
2. What a perfect time for us to look into the scriptures for light on the role of a Christian as a citizen!
a. Our hesitance to address (or even discuss) any intersection between politics and religion has left us unable to articulate what our faith means with regard to our civic responsibility.
b. We do not, of course, expect to settle every question associated with this important theme, but we do intend to get enough of an overview of the New Testament teaching on it to be able to assume our place as Christian citizens.
c. What we will discover is that the letters of the New Testament call believers in Christ to imitate his response to civil authorities, and that this fact carries with it some profound implications for each one of us.
1. Our Lord’s own attitude toward the state may be observed in these familiar scenes from the Gospel records.
a. Matthew 5:41 – “...go with him two...”
i. This famous saying is part of the Lord’s instruction not to resist evil done to you on a personal level, but what it requires is far from passive victim-hood in a dark world.
ii. At that time, the Roman occupiers could press those who were not Roman citizens to carry equipment for a mile (remember Matt. 27:32).
iii. Submission to that kind of law may easily have been regarded as disgustingly oppressive and helplessly humiliating.
iv. Jesus taught, however, that it was to be obeyed victoriously: out of personal dignity, individuals were to remain in control of their own character and disposition by fulfilling the demand of the law and going, of their own will, another mile!
v. The state may have authority, but persons ware to maintain un unconquerable dignity and a large-hearted sense of personal honor by doing what they do because of their Father (v. 45).
b. Mark 12:17 – “...to Caesar...and to God...”
i. Even then, the intersection between faith and politics was the enemy’s perfect trap (v. 13): if he advised paying the tax, he would offend the people who thought that would be an admission of the Roman right to rule; if he resisted it he could be taken for a rebel.
ii. But the Lord said, “Show me the coin for the tax” (Matt. 22:18). That’s what the denarius was: a vehicle for payment to the one who issued it.
iii. On one side was the image of the Emperor Tiberius and the inscription around the perimeter in Latin: “Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus.” On the other side was a representation of the Roman goddess of peace, Pax.
iv. Jesus said the coin was to be rendered to the one whose image it bore, but he didn’t stop there. He added a more important obligation: people should give to God what bears his image and likeness–themselves!
v. By distinguishing between Caesar and God in this way, Jesus both protested against the idolatrous claims made on the coin and taught that there are obligations to the state that do not infringe on our obligations to God.
c. John 18:36,37 – “...my kingdom is not from the world...”
i. The governor had asked Jesus whether he was the king of the Jews (v.33)–was he trying to make himself a rival to the emperor?
ii. Our Lord answered that his kingdom is not of the world (he said it twice). His kingdom does not have national boundaries, nor depend on national laws, nor exist through police or military power.
iii. The kingdom of the Lord is based on the truth to which he has born witness, and it consists of people who submit their lives to his claims.
iv. Just as its strength and success is not derived from national identity or state sanction, its purpose is not focused on power over these institutions.
v. Jesus was in the world and he met his obligations to it, but he had purposes that were not defined or limited by worldly authority.
d. John 19:10,11 – “...no authority...unless it had been given you...”
i. The Lord was not answering Pilate, not because he refused to recognize the governor, but because he had already answered.
ii. Pilate was either offended or puzzled, so he brought up his own authority: he claimed that life and death were in his power.
iii. But Jesus refused to grant that Pilate was the highest authority: he said any authority the governor had was given him by a higher one–God!
iv. This response recognized the state’s power, but in its proper perspective: all earthly authority derives ultimately from God.
v. One writer observed, “Although Pilate possessed the imperial authority, this did not reach to ultimate destinies. Our Lord is conscious that the whole work of redemption does not rest on the despotic action of the Roman governor.” (New Bible Commentary, 964)
2. When the letters of the New Testament speak to the Lord’s people with regard to civil authorities, the instructions look very much like what he did.
a. 1 Peter 2:13,14 – “Be subject for the Lord’s sake...”
i. Or, as Paul put it, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.”
ii. This is an individual submitting to the higher powers because of his own loyalty to a higher authority.
iii. And this is a person doing so of his own willingness, as an expression of his own dignity as a human being.
b. 1 Peter 2:16,17 – “...Fear God. Honor the king.”
i. As the Lord did, those who live as servants of God are to freely render unto Caesar what is due him.
ii. That principle, though, is given a wider application here: all persons are to be honored. Brothers are to be loved. God is to be reverenced. The ruler is to be respected.
iii. This is intentional personal action; it requires thought, involvement, and responsible action.
c. 1 Peter 2:15 – “For this is the will of God...”
i. Here the action of a Christian toward the state is given a purpose that is “not of this world.”
ii. He is to actively do good within the state, not because of personal advantage or party interest or the pressure of force, but because it is God’s will.
iii. The mission part of this is that such behavior can silence criticism and open heart to the kingdom of the Lord.
d. Romans 13:1,2 – “For there is no authority except from God...”
i. A Christian’s obligation to the state is met because of faith in God and reverence for his judgment.
ii. For those same reasons it cannot be blind obedience, as if the individual is excused from any responsibility himself (cf. Acts 4:19; 5:29).
iii. Where the will of God or the conscience of the believer is at stake, neither our Lord nor we as his disciples can go.
3. What are the implications for us?
a. Our role as citizens is to actually be ourselves in community life: the whole, redeemed persons the Lord has made us to be.
i. This is not something we can not do: it is not possible for us to separate out our true identity in the Lord from our public actions or our political choices.
ii. Titus 3:1-2
iii. The self we are to be in community life has to fit the gospel of grace; it has to reflect our understanding of ourselves as persons who were ruined but have been rescued by the goodness and kindness of God.
b. We are to seek the best interest of the civil institutions within which we live in view of the gospel by which we have been redeemed.
i. 1 Timothy 2:1-4
ii. This is the one thing we are called to do for our country in the church: pray for those who are in high positions.
iii. Note carefully that the point is that the government might provide all human needs, but that good order might exist so that we can live right and so that people can be saved and come to know the truth.
c. God may work through us to impact the life of the state as we, guided by the convictions we have come to have in Christ, exercise the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship.
i. Some have argued that since God sets up whom he will over the kingdoms of men, for us to be involved politically would be immoral.
ii. Remember, though, that our God works though persons. He does it in providing food, and in healing bodies, and in saving souls, and he may do so in governing a nation.
iii. Because of his providence, there is such a thing as the “Esther 4:14 principle.”
iv. The world has been changed by a Christian exercising his right of citizenship (Acts 22:22-29; 25:9-11; 27:24; 28:20-31).
v. Perhaps it still can be!
d. All the while we are to conduct ourselves with the realization that the church of the Lord is his kingdom in this world.
i. Someone pointed out that God did not do away with his chosen national kingdom merely to try to get us to set up another one whose national laws correspond to the gospel.
ii. 1 Peter 2:9,10
iii. This role may include voting, but it can never be fulfilled just by doing so.
Conclusion: 1 Peter 1:25, 22-23, 18-19