Romans 13, again

A few months ago I posted on Romans 13, which, to me, looks very much like a redaction to curry favor with the Roman authorities of the day. Be that as it may, I wrote, and still believe, the following:

…we should not give blind obedience to any secular ruler. God, in fact, has also inspired us to not just accept tyranny. A ruler, to retain God’s blessing, must be just (see, for example, 2 Samuel 23:3). This is the context for Romans 13 — not blind obedience to any ruler (can anyone say “Nazis”?), but obedience to authorities who rule justly. In fact, one of the greatest churchmen of the Reformation, William Tyndale, is quoted as saying “Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God!”, and of course he is correct.

Writing this simply, of course, does not mean I think that it is ever a simple thing to assess whether a given ruler is just in the eyes of God. As Christians, the best we can do is focus on the Kingdom of God, prepare for His return, and in the meantime, resist tyranny where we find it, and understand that just governments derive their true authority from Almighty God.

Now comes a different, and, frankly, more Christian approach from John Piper. I did not agree with all of what Mr. Piper writes, especially where he seems to be endorsing blind obedience to your civic leaders,

because if you don’t, your conscience will condemn you for breaking the higher moral law of God.

Did not agree, that is, until I came upon the crux of his argument: faith and humility.

If we approach our duties and rights as citizens in the secular world with the full realization that we are first and last subservient to God (as are our rulers), then we may simply bear the burdens of the unjust ruler. With faith that God will right all in the end, and with the humility to accept that, in John Piper’s words,

Both matter: civil liberties and social justice on the one hand, and personal faith and humility and self-denial, on the other. But in Paul’s mind, faith and humility and self-denial are vastly more important for the Christian than that we be treated well by the government. And the reason is this: Being persecuted unjustly is not the reason anyone goes to hell. But being unbelieving and arrogant and self-indulgent is why most people go to hell. Jesus never promised his people a fair fight. He promised them the opposite: if they treated the master of the house like the devil, how much worse will they treat you. The main issue is not being treated justly in this world by civil authorities. The main issue is trusting Christ, being humble and denying ourselves for the glory of Christ and the good of others.

Despite words to the contrary, I believe the American founders were men of humble faith, trusting in Providence — not the “me first” types that so inhabit today’s halls of government.

Faith and humility. The acid test for how we respond to tyranny. Which I still maintain is our holy obligation under God.

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