Worthy – a reblog from Join the Movement blog

CCF%2520Logo%2520%25282%2529During Tim’s talk last Thursday, one of his main points was that Jesus doesn’t give up on anyone, and he used Paul as a great example of this truth.  As he made this very important point, he talked about how Satan tries to make us think less of ourselves, how Satan tries to convince us that we have been given up on – by people, Jesus, ourselves, whoever.  Tim summed this idea up by saying, “Satan plants seeds of unworthiness”    This is so, so true.  Satan absolutely loves making us think that we are unworthy of so many things and in so many ways.

I think a man named Aeneas who we meet near the end of Acts 9 understood what it was like to feel unworthy.  We are told that Aeneas had been “bedridden for eight years” because he was paralyzed.  This is a man who had to question his worth.  He had not been paralyzed his entire life, so I would think knowing what his life was like before the paralysis made it that much more difficult for him to handle being bedridden.  Add to that the common belief in his day that physical ailments were a punishment from God, and we have a powerful combination of factors that contributed to this man questioning his worth.

Then he meets Peter.  We read about their brief encounter in Acts 9:34, “And Peter said to him, ‘Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.’ And immediately he rose.”  For the first time in 8 years (for perspective, think about where you were 8 years ago), Aeneas stood up and walked.

This is a big deal.  Obviously, the man is physically healed and that’s important.  But there is so much more going on.  First of all, Peter called Aeneas by name.  Don’t miss that.  He called him by name.  Chances are that Aeneas didn’t hear his name called very often, and that is dehumanizing.  He no doubt questioned his worth as a person.  Peter gives that back to him simply by calling him by name.  (This is a huge point.  Advocates for people who are journeying through homelessness frequently talk about the importance of asking someone’s name when you give them some money or food.  That way they’re not a cause; they’re a person.  Remember Joe?)

Satan had been planting seeds of unworthiness in Aeneas’ life for at least 8 years, but in one moment Jesus through Peter weeded out anything that had grown from those seeds.  He helped Aeneas see his worth.

So often our worth is tied up in our identity.  This is so dangerous.  If your identity is being a good student and you have a rough semester, then you begin to question your worth.  If your identity is being wealthy and you lose your money, then you question your worth.  So to keep this from happening to keep from questioning our worth, you have to find your identity in something that won’t leave you.

That’s Jesus, and Jesus alone.  He’s not going anywhere.  He loves you no matter who you are and what you’ve done.  Find your identity in being someone that Jesus loves and you will never have to question your worth.

Respect My Authority, part 3 of 3

Wherefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. (Romans 13:5-7)

Christians are obligated to be in subjection to civil government regardless of how happy we are with the government itself. The most obvious motivation for our subjection is fear of the consequences of rebelling against the authority but that motivation is a shallow one. Think of it this way. A Christian who remains sexually pure based solely on the fear of contracting AIDS has obeyed the letter of the law while missing the main point. A higher reason for subjection is found in verse 5: a clear conscience.

The fear of punishment is an external motivation that promotes submission. The motivation Paul calls for here is internal—that of a desire to maintain a pure and undefiled conscience. The standard which the law sets is the minimal standard for all men. The standard set by our own conscience is personal, individual, and hopefully higher than the minimum set by human government.

What is the conscience? It is an internal standard, defining right and wrong. It is not present only in Christians. All men have a conscience (Romans 2:15). The conscience of one may be stronger than that of another (1 Corinthians 8:7, 10, 12). Some consciences have become hardened and insensitive due to sin (1 Timothy 4:2), while the consciences of others are sensitized by obedience (Hebrews 5:14). We must never defile our conscience by doing what it considers evil, nor should we offend others by practicing what their consciences condemn as evil (1 Corinthians 8).

Our conscience is not an infallible guide to good and evil. While we must never do what our conscience condemns, we dare not assume that everything our conscience permits is good, since our conscience can become hardened and insensitive (1 Timothy 4:2).

Conscience was a very important manner to Paul. He sought to serve God with an undefiled conscience (Acts 23:1; 24:16; 2 Timothy 1:3), which he urged others to do as well (1 Timothy 1:19; 3:9). A clear conscience is a prerequisite for love and service to others: But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith (1 Timothy 1:5).

Whenever we violate our conscience we hinder our fellowship with God and our service to Him and to others. A violated, guilty, conscience makes us less sensitive to sin and more vulnerable to error (Hebrews 5:12; 2 Timothy 3:6). A guilty conscience makes us tend toward a legalistic, external obedience, based upon appearances rather than on reality (Luke 16:15).

What does our conscience have to do with submission to human government? Mere outward compliance with the requirements of government is simply not enough. This we can expect from unbelievers, if for no other reason than the fear of punishment. But God desires a fuller, deeper, obedience from the heart. This requires conscientious subjection—submitting done out of obedience to God. Such an attitude of submission enables us to retain the right attitude and actions toward government even when we must disobey specific laws in order to obey God.

An internal attitude of submission stimulates us to obey government even when our disobedience cannot be seen or punished. The actions of verses 6 and 7  are the outflow of an undefiled conscience and a spirit of submission. Paul does not tell us here to “obey the laws of the land,” but rather to honor those in authority and to pay taxes. Why is this specific form of obedience named? I believe it is because this is an example of something easy to avoid doing with little fear of being caught and punished.

We can be rude and disrespectful to officials and get away with it. We can even more effectively pretend to be respectful and never have our insincerity detected. We can quite easily report our income in such a way as to avoid income taxes. More often than not, if we are devious, we will not be caught.

But Paul has already told us that government has God’s authority and ministers for Him. Thus, when we fail to “pay our dues,”  whatever these might be, we disobey God. Even if the civil authorities never catch us, our conscience before God will be defiled. Our fellowship with Him will be hindered. Our service to others will be adversely affected. We are called to live by the higher standard: not only compliance to the government, but cooperation in a spirit of submission. Living by this higher standard keeps our conscience clear, our testimony untainted, and our service unhindered by sin and guilt. Living in subordination to civil authority is beneficial to our walk with God and our service to others.

The things which God requires us to give government officials are those things which facilitate the ministry of public officials: honor and money. Both are necessary for public officials to carry out their tasks.
Our subordination to those in authority not only means that we should do what we are required, but that we should provide all that is necessary so that our superiors can do their jobs. Our submission means that we serve and support them.

Romans 13:1-7  is not the only text in the Bible on the matter of “conscientious subjection.” Paul writes generally of this obligation to (Titus 3:1). Peter speaks of submission to human government in the context of suffering (1 Peter 2:13-14). But when Paul speaks of submission to government in this passage, he does so in the context of service.

This passage is part of a larger section with this theme in Romans 12:1–13:7. Paul opens the section in 12:1-2  with a challenge to present our bodies to God as living sacrifices, which is our reasonable service of worship. Paul then moves on to our sacrificial service in terms of the church, the body of Christ, and of the exercise of our spiritual gifts (12:3-8). Then in verses 9-21  Paul writes of our service in the context of love, whether we are serving our fellow-believers or our enemy. This is the context in which subordination to civil government is discussed in Romans 13:1-7.

Paul teaches on the importance of subordination in this whole section. We must subordinate our lives to God, presenting our bodies as living sacrifices to Him. We must subordinate our interests to the interests of others if we are to walk in love. We must also subordinate our lives to those in authority over us as civil servants.

Paul seems to me to state a principle: SUBORDINATION IS A PREREQUISITE TO SERVICE AND A MINDSET WITHOUT WHICH SERVICE IS EITHER IMPOSSIBLE OR UNFRUITFUL.

True service is only rendered if self-interest is set aside and replaced by a spirit of subordination. We cannot seek our own interests as a priority and serve others as a priority at the same time. It simply does not and cannot work. Subordination is prerequisite to service. This is precisely the point Paul makes concerning our Lord’s attitudes and actions in Philippians 2:5-8: Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Subordination is the key to loving God and others. It goes against the grain. It is not the spirit of our age. But it is what God requires and what the Spirit enables when we walk in Him.

As I said in an earlier post, I see Christians rapidly moving in the direction of opposing government more than submitting to it. We have lost our respect for those in authority and have come to disdain, en masse, those in public office. We have come to view government as God’s opponent rather than as God’s ordained instrument. No doubt there is reason for disobedience to certain laws, but there is no excuse for our spirit of insubordination and for an obedience which is more compliant than it is cooperative and supportive.

It seems to me that the church of today is much more intent upon producing Christian leaders than it is in producing Christian followers. While the disciples of Jesus had their heads filled with thoughts of position, power, and prestige, Jesus constantly talked to them about subordination and service. While we think much about leaders, Jesus talked most about being followers, disciples. Ironically, the way to become good leaders is by learning to become good followers.

Evangelical Christianity is probably more purposeful and aggressive in seeking to influence government and legislation than ever before. And yet I fear that we are less effective than in previous times. How can this be? On the one hand, we seem to be relying on the “arm of the flesh,”
on human mechanisms and motivations, rather than on those which are spiritual. We seem to think that we need large numbers to attract the attention of government officials, and that we will not be able to change men’s minds or voting habits unless we hold over their heads the threat of losing the next election.

Down through history, Believers have had a profound impact on kings and government officials—even though they served God and even though they were in the minority. John the Baptist was a man who stood for what was right and who did not shrink back from pointing out Herod’s sin. And yet, Herod found himself strangely drawn to John and his teaching. He listened intently to him. He would not have put him to death except for his drunkenness, his foolish offer, and his foolish pride (Mark 6:14-29).

Jesus had the attention of the governmental leaders of His day. They were eager to see Him face to face. It was only reluctantly that they played a part in His death. Paul too had a spiritual impact on some of the political leaders of his day. Even today, men like Billy Graham are sought out by presidents and powerful political figures. Why? Because even when they disagree with the powers that be they are subject to God, to His Word, and therefore to the government under which He has placed them.

We do not need to muster more votes or more political clout. We need more “moral clout,” gained by simple obedience to God, to His Word, and to the institutions He has ordained.

To honor God we present ourselves to Him as living sacrifices, we subordinate ourselves to others and to the government He has ordained.

Respect My Authority, part 2

In my last post I laid out my understanding of Paul’s precept of the Christian’s relationship to civil authority: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.” (Romans 13:1a) Today I want to explore the reasons behind that precept.
      “For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God”. (Romans 13:1b)
Paul’s precept that Christians are to be subject to civil authority is based upon a fundamental premise: God is sovereign. As sovereign He possesses ultimate authority and all human authority is delegated by God.
There is no authority independent of God.
How do we know that a given government is ordained of God and that He has given it authority? By its existence: Paul says, those which exist are established by God.” A government’s existence is proof that it is ordained of God and that it possesses divinely delegated authority. God is sovereign. He is in control of all things. He causes all things to “work together for good” (8:28). 

Paul writes while under the government of Rome. As a Jew he is well aware that God raised up a disobedient Pharaoh in Egypt and the empires of Assyria and Babylon as His servants to discipline His people. So, like it or not, according to Paul – every government, whether democratic or autocratic, heathen or God-fearing – every government that has the power to rule over its people has been granted that power and authority by God. 

Submission to government then is an expression of our submission to God. God has instituted human government to exercise divinely delegated authority over menkind. Christians should be subject to human governments for this theological reason alone. But Paul adds two practical reasons for our submission and obedience in verses 2-7.
These provide additional motivation for our obedience to this command which goes against the grain of human nature.

“Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 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; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil.” (13:2-4)

In Rom 13:1b, Paul asserts that human government is divinely commissioned. Based on that assertion he next emphasizes that our response to civil authority has divine consequence. His logic is that resistance to governmental authority is also resistance to God Himself. Therefore such resistance eventually brings divine judgment.
Next Paul moves on in verses 3 and 4
to warn that disregard for government’s authority also has present ramifications. In verse 4 he refers to civil authority as a minister of God.” Government, then is a servant of God tasked with dealing appropriately with those who do good and those who do evil. In short, God’s purpose for human government is to reward those who do good and to punish those who do evil.

Since as Christians we are to abstain from evil and pursue what is good (“Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.” Rom. 13:9) the role of civil authority is both consistent with and complimentary to the Christian lifestyle. Government should praise those who do good and punish those who do evil. Therefore God’s purposes for us and for government are in harmony. Government is here to help us do what God has called us to do and what we should desire to do. Ordinarily, anyone seeking to do good need not fear government. Anyone who is serving God need not worry about government opposition. Christians should be the best citizens, for our calling is consistent with government’s commission. But we should fear government if we choose to do evil. Only the law-breaker looks over his shoulder, wondering where the police are. In order to live our lives without fear of punishment, we need only to do what God has required of us, and what government requires as well.
One of the major benefits of civil government’s God-given role is that it frees us from returning evil for evilby retaliating against those who persecute or mistreat us. God has taken the task of administering justice or of avenging wrong-doings off our backs and placed it on the back of governmental authorities. It is the role of government to deal with the evil deeds of men against us. Government bears the swordfor such purposes. And if government fails in this task, we trust in God to make things right in that day when He judges with perfect judgment.

The failure of government does not give us the right to take the law into our own hands.

Next post: on to Rom. 13:5-7 for part 3 of this series.


“Respect my authority”

Whether a college, a corporation, or a community they all have their own “culture”. That is the written and unwritten “laws” that govern behavior within the group. There is always an authority to respond to. In every group that I have been part of there are those who respect authority and those that don’t. There are those that comply and those that defy. There are those that cooperate and those that comply without cooperating. Do we as Christians have any Biblical mandate about our response to authority?

Before I answer that question let me share an observation as an old man with lots of experience with Christians in different settings. Over the years I have found Christians are little different than non-Christians in their attitudes and responses toward authority. Compliance is given, but cooperation is not. For example I am just as likely to find a radar detector in the car of a Christian, as in the car of an unbeliever. Christians comply with the law. We slow down as we pass the police car with its radar speed detection equipment. We drive carefully and lawfully when the patrol car is following us. But as soon as we are sure it is safe, we drive normally—and illegally. (I am guilty as charged!)

Now back to my question about a Biblical mandate about Christians and civil authority. The Apostle Paul lived and died as a Roman citizen. In his letter to the church in the most powerful city in the world Paul, in Romans 13:1-7, deals directly with the Christian’s obligation to civil government.
There are a number of reasons Christians and civil government often are at odds with one another, and it is relatively easy for Christians to twist these into excuses for disrespect and disobedience to authorities. Let’s look at this dynamic in the time of Paul’s writing.

The first factor is simple but far reaching, civil government is secular and the church is spiritual. According to the Apostle Peter Christians are aliens and strangers, just passing through this world. Paul writes in Phil. 3:20  that Christian citizenship is in heaven. This difference misunderstood led the state to view the church as hostile to its authority. The church acknowledged that Jesus is Lord because their highest authority is God. The Roman government of Paul’s day acknowledged that “Caesar is Lord”. The church refused to acknowledge this and so the Romans considered Christians as atheists. It was a small leap for the government to see this atheistic institution as treasonous. The practical application of “Jesus is Lord” is that Christians are required to obey God, rather than men“. With each conflict the government’s suspicions of the church were confirmed. The result of the secular/spiritual conflict was that government officials, either unconsciously or willingly, used their authority to actively oppose the church and to persecute Christians.

In this political climate with civil government viewing the church with suspicion, and even fear, Christians were tempted to see government as their opponent, and as an enemy of God and the gospel of Jesus. Therefore civil disobedience might easily become common practice rather than a necessary exception. Submission to governmental authority was a vital topic in a day and time when the church and civil government were on a collision course. So what? What does that matter today?

I believe the church is on a very similar course today. In the earlier days of our nation, our government was founded on certain Christian assumptions and convictions. If our early government founders and officials were not Christians, at least their beliefs and values were compatible with Christian doctrines and practices. Our culture and our government today are post-Christian.

I am amazed when I hear Christians talking as if their views and values are still held by a majority of Americans. These are those that still mistakenly believe that if we could just mobilize the moral majority and encourage them to speak out—especially by voting – it would turn things around. I believe this view is, for the most part, unrealistic and untrue. I believe that Christian moral values are largely an unpopular minority view. Consequently, I expect that government will increasingly regulate, hinder, and even oppose Christian objectives whenever they conflict with the government’s objectives. Not surprisingly in this political climate some Christians are becoming increasingly disdainful of the laws of our land. Some even teach that if we disagree with a particular law, we are both obliged to disobey it, and justified to disobey other laws in protest.

Now if a good time for us to read Paul’s words in Romans 13:1 “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities”.
What? No, God’s Apostle by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit would not tell persecuted Christians to be in subjection to the pagan, Christian hating Roman government would he? Yes he would and he did. This principle was not only vital for the first century church, but it is just as vital for the 21st century church. Let’s unpack what Paul says God requires of the church in our relationship to civil government: “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities”.

First notice that this is a clear, categorical commandment addressed to all mankind, without exception. Every person  includes both believers and unbelievers. Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. Subjection includes obedience, but implies much more. Subjection means recognizing an authority over us to which we are obliged to not only obey but to respect.

The governing authorities  are quite simply those authorities which govern us politically. This is pretty straight forward and under normal conditions in any country, it is the government which is in place.

Are there exceptions to the rule or precept Paul has laid down here? Certainly there are Biblical examples of those who chose to “obey God, rather than men” (Daniel 3, 6; Acts 4:19-20; 5:27-32).
I believe that while the Christian may not, in good conscience before God, be able to obey the government in every instance, the Christian is never free to set aside true submission to the government. In other words, even when we cannot obey civil authority, we can always demonstrate a submissive spirit. According to Paul’s precept a submissive spirit should never be set aside when it comes to those in authority over us.

For example, in Acts 5 the Sanhedrin demand that the apostles (Peter and John) stop preaching in the name of Jesus. This they cannot do without disobeying God. Though they could not and would not stop preaching in the name of Jesus, they did not challenge the authority of this body. Their answer was evidence of their submissive spirit and intent: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).  Submission usually is demonstrated by obedience, but even when we must disobey, it is to be done with a submissive spirit.

To summarize: Submission to the authority of legitimate civil government is required by God, at all times and in all cases. Submission usually, but not always, results in obedience. But even when disobedient because of a conflict between God’s command and government’s laws, we are still to have a submissive spirit toward civil authorities. Submission means giving honor to who honor is due.

In my next post we’ll look at Paul’s reasons for our submission to human government. For now ask yourself if you have a respectful, submissive spirit to our government. Do you want to obey God or men? Man’s way is rebellion and disrespect of authority. God’s way is “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities”.