Friday, December 4, 2009

Freedom via Slavery

Daily Bible Reading: Romans 13-16
Romans 13:1-7 (emphasis added)

Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.
This is certainly not a passage often preached among American Christians and, if preached, not often observed. On the contrary, we often feel obliged to go head to head with national officials and governing bodies on both the legal and social playing field. We may even cling to the constitution as the 67th book of the bible, confusing our rights under its protection as important as the exhortations of Jesus Christ or the teachings of the apostles.

In order to protect our inalienable right to religious freedom, we now have Christian lawyers and legal assistance agencies such as The American Center for Law and Justice which exists to "to educate, promulgate, conciliate, and where necessary, litigate, to ensure that those rights are protected under the law." This is all very admirable if we understand that such organizations serve the Constitution and are not a ministry of the Church.

Let me restate so that there is no confusion, the Church has no mandate, no blessing, and no power from God, that I have found in His word, to protect itself from oppression, persecution, or the infringement of the rights protected by the Constitution.

On the contrary, Jesus Christ promised His followers that they would, indeed, be persecuted.
And you will be hated by all for My name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved. Mt 10: 22

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Mt 5:10

Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. John 15:20
These conversations would have been the ideal time for Jesus to explain to His disciples how to fight for their right to preach His name or even their right to exist peaceably. He did no such thing. Matthew 5 instead goes on to tell the disciples they are the "salt of the earth" and the "light of the world" and exhort them to continue to reveal to the world the truth and hope of the gospel. Matthew 10:23 says that if we are persecuted for the message that we preach then we are to leave the city!

John 16 and 17 go on to promise the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, that Christ sent to the disciples after His death. Jesus explains that when they are persecuted and threatened for their beliefs, they need not fear because He will intercede on their behalf. He goes on to assert His authority as the Son of God and to lay out His plan for convicting the world through the Spirit. The disciples are only told that they are to be His witnesses. This is our first and really our only commission, we are to witness for Christ.

Please do not think that I despise the blessing of religious freedom from God via the founders of the Unites States and the authors of the Constitution. I only hope that we understand that our identity as Christians and our identity as Americans (as commonly expressed secularly) are distinct and often not compatible. This is not to say that freedom is not a commendable and biblical ideal. God Himself is a god of forgiveness, renewal, and liberty. These words are the words of the promised Messiah in Isaiah 61,
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, Because the LORD has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound...
Christ comes to proclaim liberty but by His standard and according to His terms. He does not simply want us to be able to "do what we want," he wants us to be free from slavery to sin and even death? Which government can offer that!? In light of Christ's self proclaimed power and authority, anything we do to protect or liberate ourselves is not only superfluous but also stinks of doubting His profession in these passages.

This ought not be a condemnation, however, we ought to be rejoicing in the freedom Jesus extends to us through these promises!

To return to the particular passage at hand, Romans 13:7 goes beyond simple non-resistance, though that is a feat in its own right, to direct us to render to these "authorities" their due, namely taxes, customs, fear, and honor. Jesus makes a similar statement in Matthew 22.

We complain about not being able to pray in school or put up a Christmas tree in government buildings but we would do well to recognize that this passage was written around AD 53, which was less than a decade before Nero rose to power and initiated the first great persecution of the Christians. The hostile atmosphere toward the Jews had already been established culturally and remember that persecution of Christians arose both from those who persecuted the Jews and the Jewish people themselves!

This is not simply to remind us how very privilege we are as American Christians, but to understand that even under such hostile and blatantly immoral activity from reigning authorities, Christians were (and still are) instructed to live peaceably, pray for their leaders (2 Timothy 2) and willingly pay taxes to them. Of all of these things, we can agree that we generally find the third the most difficult.

But with such a yielding of personal will to God's authority, with a humble obedience to His will what rewards we reap! We are free from self preservation because if we stand or fall it is by Christ's power. We present our bodies as slaves to righteousness, casting off personal freedoms of our flesh and claim the promise of God in Romans 6:22.

Now, having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.

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