Submission or Civil Disobedience

2 Peter 2:13-14 – 13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.

Romans 13:1-4 – 1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.

Acts 5:29 But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than men.”

Over the past year, I have heard more and thought more about a Christian response to government than in any prior time. After all, for the most part, Christians in America have lived with a solid amount of religious freedom and little fear of governmental persecution. But, with videos of arrested pastors in Canada and articles about fines and government strongarming in California so prominent this past year, we have to be sure that we know what we will do if, or perhaps more honestly, when the government again seeks to restrict Christian freedom in the United States.

As we discuss the issue of religious freedom, obedience to government, and civil disobedience, the three passages I listed above are front and center. In general, these passages are simple and simply applied. Christians, when all things are equal, when life is going normally, you are supposed to obey the government. God puts leaders in place. Those leaders have a God-given job to do, and you and I are supposed not to get in the way.

But not all things are equal. Not all governments are willing to do their jobs. And we must ask ourselves what we are to do in those settings.

In 1 Peter 2:13, we are called to submit to the government for the Lord’s sake. But what if the government is trying to prevent us from obeying the Lord’s commands? What if the government is leveling an attack on the Lord’s worship or against human beings, the Lord’s image? Do we submit for the Lord’s sake to an attack on the Lord’s glory? I cannot think so.

In verse 14, the Lord shows us exactly what the governing authorities are tasked to do. God raised up human government for this reason, “to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.” So long as the government is punishing the evil and praising the good, we are to follow their lead. But what do we do when the government punishes the good and praises the evil? In such a case, obedient submission cannot be the only option.

How about in Romans 13, the more often quoted passage? We see there that the very same principles are at work. In verse 3, Paul tells us that rulers are to be a terror to bad conduct, never for good conduct. In verse 3, we see that we should receive the government’s approval for good conduct. And, in verse 4, we see that the government has the authority given it by God to bear the sword, to exercise the greatest of punishments, against only the wrongdoer. But should we assume that we are also to submissively respect and obey a government that punishes the good and applauds the wrongdoer?

When, then, do we apply Acts 5:29? When do we refuse to follow the lead of rulers over us? In Acts 5, the apostles would not listen to any law against preaching Jesus, even though the authorities demanded they stop. Why? At that point, the authorities had demanded that the good not be done and that which opposes the Lord be allowed to stand. At that point, faithful followers of Jesus could not submit. Later in Acts, Paul also would not listen to authorities who tried to release him secretly from prison after publicly jailing him wrongly. In fact, Paul repeatedly defied authorities when those authorities tried to stop him from preaching the word when they did not want him to do so.

Christians, it is our job to think clearly and respond faithfully. We are to obey the government eagerly so long as the government is rewarding the good and punishing the evil. We are to oppose it when the government commands the rewarding of evil and the punishing of the good. When the government attempts to reach into areas where the Lord has not given it authority, we are not required to follow. Thus, when the government tries to tell us how to raise our children or when we may or may not sing, we are obligated to go against the rulers who are overreaching their God-given bounds.

I have no judgment for churches who followed their local regulations over the past year, even when those regulations hindered worship. Many of us were caught off guard. Many of us were not ready to know when to submit or when to respectfully disobey. Besides, many of us were dealing with vastly different sources of information and just did not know what was the most loving thing to do for our people. So, as I say, I am not judging anybody here.

What I am doing, however, is reminding you now, get ready. This is not the first time that the government has attempted to reach into the church, and it will not be the last. As you take off a mask and begin to breathe freely, remember that , for a season, the government told you this was not OK. They said that they were looking out for your safety. And, who knows, maybe they were telling us the truth. I’m not worried about that today. What I am thinking about is the next one.

Sometime soon, Christian, the government will have another thing that they will tell us is for our safety. Perhaps the government will say that you are not safe if you do not support their causes. Perhaps they will say that you are not safe if you do not applaud all they say that safe people applaud. Perhaps they will say that safe people do not say that the Bible is perfect, inerrant, and fully sufficient. Perhaps they will say that it is not safe to sing hymns and preach sermons that say that there is only one way to find salvation. Perhaps they will say that Christians who hold to a biblical view of modern issues are not safe for public health including public mental health. Perhaps they will say that those who do not embrace CRT or who do not bow to the LGBTQ+ agenda are not safe for public health.

Christian, do you have enough love for Jesus, enough steel in your spine, enough trust in the word of God to stand when the government comes to you and says that, for your own good and for the public safety, you have to stop following this or that command of the Lord? I’m not fearmongering. I’m telling you that this has been the pattern of the government throughout all of human history. Do not be surprised. Do not give in. Be ready. Obey when you can. Disobey when you must. But submit to Scripture and honor Jesus above all.

Deacons: How They Serve and Strengthen the Church — A Review

Matt Smethurst. Deacons: How They Serve and Strengthen the Church. Wheaton: Crossway, 2021. 176 pp. $14.99.

Matt Smethurst has given the church a true gift in his work on deacons in the Building Healthy Churches series from 9Marks. The books in this series tend to be short, readable, biblical, and practical. Deacons is no exception.

The role of deacons in any local church is an extremely important though often misunderstood office. God shaped his church perfectly, providing for deacons and elders to serve and shepherd the body. Yet in many cases, what deacons are to do or who deacons are to be is a mystery.

In this valuable resource, the author offers help for anyone involved in the church to aid us in thinking more clearly about God’s plan for deacons. Through these chapters, we learn of mistakes that many of us have experienced as well as the historical background to the office. The author takes his readers through the biblical qualifications for deacons and suggests multiple areas in which they may serve. In a nice closure to this work, Smethurst shows us both what benefits deacons bring to the church as well as the God-honoring beauty of their service. And, in a couple of helpful Appendices, we find a discussion of whether or not the Bible allows for women to serve in the deacon role and a helpful questionnaire that the author uses in his own church for potential deacons.

As an elder in a church with deacons who already serve well, I most certainly believe that this book will be an excellent resource. I believe that it can encourage our deacons and help us to better consider others to potentially serve. I also believe that this work can serve as a helpful source of ideas as we seek to better organize and direct our church’s ministry.

I also believe that this book can be a great tool for pastors and leaders in churches where the idea of the role of the deacon needs to be better understood and defined. Many of the chapters of this book would make excellent small group studies or could be the seed for faithful sermons that would help to teach the body about the gift of godly deacons.

Without reservation, I wholeheartedly recommend this book.

—Note: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self — A Review

Carl R. Trueman. The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution. Wheaton: Crossway, 2020. 432 pp. $20.99.

Some books we read are polemics. Some are mere complaints. But, every once-in-a-while, we come across a book that is genuinely enlightening. Such is Trueman’s The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self.

Carl Trueman, professor of biblical and religious studies at Grove City College, is a Christian and historian. This work is Trueman’s analysis of the factors that have led us to our present cultural moment. As Trueman explains, his goal is to examine how our culture has come to both understand and even embrace the statement, “I am a woman in a man’s body.” This is not an analysis of basic biblical sexual ethics. Instead, this is a historical look at the forces that have come together over the past centuries to change how our society thinks so that a thought which would have been beyond comprehension to one generation is socially understood, accepted, and applauded by another.

Trueman, after looking at some ways of thinking about any cultural moment, traces the history of individualism beginning with the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He then examines the influence of poets from a few centuries ago such as Wordsworth, Shelley, and Blake. We read the thoughts of important historical figures such as Nietzsche, Marx, Darwin, and Freud. Then the author proceeds to more modern social and political influencers to explain how our culture has come to think as it does.

For the Christian thinker, this historical and philosophical timeline is a powerful tool to show us that the present moral and cultural situation is far more than sexual rebellion. Our present moment is tied to a full-fledged rejection of the biblical view of reality. In simple terms, the Bible presents to us reality as a thing external to us, a thing to which we must conform, a thing created and determined by God. But many throughout the centuries have begun to seek to declare that reality is internally formed by the individual and that communities do harm to individuals when forcing them to conform to an external standard. This sort of thinking works itself out in a belief that one’s gender is determined, not by one’s biology, but by one’s perception of oneself. That determination moves forward to expressing that a refusal to accept and applaud a person’s perceived reality will eventually be seen as a hateful attack on the person rather than a simple disagreement about the facts of a situation.

This work is incredibly helpful in explaining our present cultural moment. It is not, however, simple. Trueman is a skilled writer and thinker. He does quite well in presenting complex thoughts. But this book is not easy. Trueman must address the writings of philosophers, poets, and other influencers from the past, thoughts which are not always easy to unpack after a first or even a second reading. Thus, I would not recommend this book to a casual reader. This book would make an outstanding textbook for a college or seminary class. It is excellent for someone who enjoys philosophy. It is a true help to someone wanting to understand why there appears to be no common ground in the thinking of groups which differ on issues of our understanding of sexuality.

While I cannot call this work easy to read, I can say that this work is important. I have read nothing over the past several years that is even close to being as helpful as The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self in explaining how culture presently thinks and the roots that have born this fruit. Trueman is clear, fair, and kind. He does not take cheap shots. Nor does he gloss over important implications of what he sees. Carl Trueman does a true scholar’s work, and he should be commended.

His Commands are not Burdensome

I have a quick challenge for my Christian friends. Are you ready? This one is simple, but I believe it is impactful.

First, I have a question for you: Do you believe the word of God? Stop and consider your doctrine of Scripture. Is the word of God true? Are all the words of God true? Did God say anything in Scripture about himself or his ways which is false? Think it through, as this is where the challenge lies. Do you believe God’s word?

OK, if you believe the word of God, I want to give you a single verse of Scripture. It is not obscure. It is not some sort of odd apologetics challenge. It is not some supposed contradiction. Honestly, it is not even a difficult verse for anybody to understand. I just want you to read this verse and think about whether or not you believe it since you say you believe the word of God. Here goes.

1 John 5:3 – For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.

I told you it was not hard to understand. But, dear me, I think, if you are honest, it might challenge you to revisit your claim to believe the word. I hope that this verse will challenge you to recommit yourself to that claim to believe the word. And, if you do, this will have implications for your life.

First, take note. If you believe the word of God, then you must believe that obedience to the commands of God is quite certainly connected to whether or not you can say you love God. This is no works-based salvation talk. Nor is this some return to Old Testament rituals. The fact is that John, late in the first century, writing to believers in the risen Lord Jesus, tells them that obeying the commands of God, the word of God, is inseparably linked to a genuine claim to love Jesus.

Does that call to tie your understanding of loving Jesus to obedience bother you? Is it off-putting? Do you feel unhappy with that as a way to talk about loving Jesus? Remember, you said you believe the word of God. God’s word says that love and obedience here are linked.

Let me challenge you even further. You say that you believe the word of God. Do you believe the second part of the verse too? Do you genuinely believe that the commands of the Lord are not burdensome? I hope you do.

I think that part of why many in the church today struggle with connecting love of Jesus to obedience to his commands has to do with the fact that many in the church do not believe the second half of the verse. For some reason—perhaps bad preaching, perhaps fleshliness, perhaps fear of persecution in our culture—many folks think of the commands of God as burdensome. Many think that no kind Savior would really ask people to obey the commands we see in the Bible. The commands are just too hard.

Consider what happens if you fail to believe the word here. What happens if you let yourself believe that the commands of God are burdensome? If you let yourself think God’s commands are burdensome, you will not connect obedience to those commands with the love of Christ. No way would you say to yourself that your failure to obey a burdensome command is you not loving Jesus. You will begin to give yourself a pass on the commands you find burdensome.

Think about how many folks hold a Bible in one hand even as they disobey the commands of the Lord. Husbands are nasty to their wives as if the call to love your wife as Christ loves the church is burdensome. Women fight against the biblical pattern for the structure of the family or the church as if God’s ordering is burdensome. Married couples walk away from their marriages without biblical justification, believing that God’s standards for marriage are just too burdensome. Singles ignore God’s commands for sexual purity as if God’s commands are too burdensome. Some battle against the fact that God created us male and female as if the very idea of creation in the image of God and genuine gender is burdensome. Some churches refuse to preach the word fearing the loss of a crowd as if the word that would be preached is burdensome. Many in seats or pews ignore the study of doctrine, preferring self-help and emotionalism over Scripture, as if the study of the Lord and his true ways is burdensome.

On and on I could go. And, let me be fair, where I refuse to obey the commands of God, when I give myself a pass to vent my cranky spirit or shrink back from the call to seek to make disciples, when I want to be lazy when God’s word calls for action, am I not also pretending that God’s word is just too burdensome for me in that moment? I’m not writing from a position of superiority. But I am writing to challenge both you and me.

God is good. God’s word is true. God’s ways are right. God’s commands are perfect, even those our culture hates. God’s commands are not burdensome. Obeying God’s commands is part of loving God. It is time for us to reset our understanding of Scripture by reminding ourselves that to love Jesus includes obedience to the word, and the word we obey is not, regardless of what our flesh would say, burdensome. No, we do not obey in our own strength. We rely on the Spirit of God. WE remain connected with other believers who will hold us accountable. We gather with believers and are fed by the word, strengthened when we sing the truth, nourished and convicted in Lord’s Supper, and refueled to continue in the process of sanctification. We do not do this alone or by our own strength. But we will, if we love Jesus, regularly recommit ourselves to loving him by obeying his commands. And his commands are not burdensome. Believe that word of God.

Gather for More Than Your Good

Hebrews 10:24-25 – 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Why gather? Why gather when some find it risky? Why gather when some would prefer we not? What if I do not feel like gathering or do not feel like I’m getting anything out of gathering?

By this time, I think every Christian will have heard someone speak to the verses highlighted above. In a season where gathering together has been avoided by some and clung to by others, this passage certainly should be on our minds. And what I want to mention in a quick brush of these verses is that your call to gather with other believers is not solely about you. It surely is about you, but not about you alone.

After setting for the church how great is the New Covenant in Christ, the author of Hebrews gives three significant commands to us regarding maintaining our faith and confidence. He tells us to draw near (22), to hold fast (23), and to encourage one another while not neglecting meeting together (24-25). These are all significant elements in clinging to our faith and resting in the grace of Christ in the face of a world that would turn us away from God and toward works-based faiths of one type or another.

When I read this, I am reminded of the deep significance of meeting together with believers. It is an essential element in our faith just as is drawing near and holding fast the faith. If a Christian wishes to maintain stability, he must continue to gather. But we ought not see this as merely personal—I draw near for my good. Certainly, it is true that my drawing near does me good. But we should also see that our continuing to assemble is part of how each of us invests in the lives of others. Continuing to gather together is how we spur one another toward love and good deeds. Seeing one another, smiling at one another, weeping with one another, singing with one another, sitting under the word with one another, praying with one another, rejoicing with one another, receiving Lord’s Supper with one another, all these are essential tools in our strengthening and being strengthened. Your attendance or mine is both for my soul and for the souls of the church as well as an act of obedient worship of our God.

May the Lord strengthen his church as we draw near to him, hold fast the faith, and continue to gather for his glory and our spiritual good.

A Hope We May be Ignoring

I want to help us to think about hope. Life is hard, Pain is real. Suffering is sometimes overwhelming. Frustrations about so many things threaten to steal our joy. We need to cling better to hope. And I believe there is something God has inspired for us to help us have that hope.

2 Corinthians 5:1-5 – 1 For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, 3 if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. 4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

At the end of 2 Corinthians 4, Paul talked about the suffering we endure in this life as compared with the eternal weight of glory awaiting believers. Here he goes further, expressing a genuine longing for that glory. We groan in this life, longing to be clothed in our resurrection bodies, longing to be with our Lord.

I grew up in a small Southern Baptist church singing hymns with a mainly southern gospel flair. When I went to college, I learned about the contemporary worship sounds of that era and began to look down on those old hymns. When I went to seminary and then began to serve in local churches, I began to embrace more classical and high church hymns—think “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” as compared to “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder.” And, for the most part, classic hymns are still strongly my preference to both contemporary praise songs and southern gospel hymnary.

But as the years go by, I’m noticing a lack. I see it in the classic hymns to a degree. I see it even more so in the contemporary stylings of the day. Today, we do not sing enough about the hope of heaven. We sing God’s holiness, and this is good. We sing of loving and desiring to follow the Lord, and that is good. WE sing of the presence of God in our times of suffering, and that is good. But we do not sing enough of the picture that Paul paints here in 2 Corinthians 5, of being in our resurrection bodies in the presence of our Lord.

I’m not suggesting a big return to singing of streets of gold or of family reunions on a golden shore. Honestly, I’m not even trying to make a point about what we sing. That is an illustration of the point that has my attention. Instead, I am recognizing that the modern believer needs more hope of heaven. We need more regular reminders that we have a home that is beyond this life. We have bodies that, even if this world abuses us today, will be eternal, uninjured, glorious bodies that will stand in the presence of our Lord in a way that we have yet to experience. WE will live in the presence of God without sin, without shame, without sorrow. We should find hope in and long for that change to come.

Christian, thank God for the promise of eternal life in Christ. Thank him that eternal life has already begun. Also thank him that there is an even greater future awaiting all who are in Christ. Ask God to help you to, like Paul here, have great hope in being further clothed for eternity. Ask God to help you, as Paul writes in the next verses, to find joy in knowing that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, present in a new way, present leading to a resurrected body and an eternity of peace and joy.

Michael Kruger – Surviving Religion 101 — A Review

Michael J. Kruger. Surviving Religion 101: Letters to a Christian Student on Keeping the Faith in College. Wheaton: Crossway, 2021.

Keeping the faith once you leave the home is a challenge for any young person. It is harder to live in a world full of skeptics, hardships, challenges, and temptations. Students need to know that, while there may be many questions they face, all these questions have been asked before. Students need to grasp that there are thoughtful answers to their toughest questions. Michael Kruger, in Surviving Religion 101, offers students such answers.

Michael Kruger is no stranger to thoughtful argument. Having written on issues as complex as biblical canonicity, Kruger is not afraid of challenges. But unlike a seminary level treatment of complex theological or historical issues, this new work from Kruger is written for a person just headed off to college and it would certainly be accessible even to students a bit younger.

One of this books’ most excellent attributes is its sweet tone throughout. Unlike some apologetics works that aim to demolish enemy arguments, Kruger’s writing is soft and sweet. This is not because Kruger is soft on truth. Rather, Kruger has written each of the book’s chapters as a letter for his own daughter beginning her collegiate career. Kruger writes as a dad to a young lady he loves. He treats her potential questions seriously but never harshly. His arguments are thoughtful and helpful without resorting to sarcastic belittling.

A look at the table of contents will show the reader that Kruger walks through a variety of objections to the faith as well as personal struggles a Christian might face. The author understands that, as a young person walks onto the college campus, she well may be faced with difficult questions raised by people who are much smarter and much more well studied. As any faithful dad would want to do, Kruger reminds his daughter that there are answers available to her if she will take the time to think and to work a bit. He assures his daughter that she does not have to fear being around smart professors who do not believe, being faced with questions about the authenticity or reliability of Scripture, or being faced with the world’s moral objections to the morality of the faith.

As a pastor, I would strongly recommend Surviving Religion 101 to pastors, parents, student ministry leaders, and young people preparing for college. This book could be a great help to believers of any age who are facing the difficult objections that the world throws their way. I’m personally considering using the chapters of this text as a helpful outline for an adult Sunday School class in our congregation. My recommendation is that you buy this book, give it to students, and enjoy the strong argument and sweet tone as you take a stronger hold on your own faith.

*** I received a free eBook version of this book in exchange for an honest review. ***

All Scripture Points to Jesus

I’d like for you to take a look at two verses at the end of the 2 books Luke wrote for us under the inspiration of Almighty God.

Luke 24:27 – And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

Acts 28:23 – When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.

These two events occurred around three decades apart. The first is the Lord Jesus speaking about himself to the disciples who were traveling on the road to Emmaus. The second is Paul speaking to the Jews in Rome.

Do you see the common thread? The Scriptures testify to Jesus. God has promised and proclaimed the glory of Christ in the Old Testament for us to see. Abram found out about salvation by grace through faith alone and heard God’s promise to bless all people groups through Abram’s coming descendant. The law of God shows us God’s holiness, our sinfulness and helplessness, the principle of substitutionary atonement, and the idea of being made clean before God. The history of Israel shows us God’s faithfulness even to a sinful people as he preserves the family line of the promised Savior. The prophets promise a king to come who will rule the world, who will be holy and good, who will do justice, and who will be God with us. The prophets point us toward God’s coming promise of a new nation, a holy nation, made up of people from all nations under the rule of God’s promised King. Isaiah pointed us to a servant who would die to bear our sins and then rise again to eternal reward.

Christian, thank God for his word. Thank God for all of his word, Old Testament and New. Thank God for pointing to and promising Jesus in the Old Testament. Thank God for unveiling the mystery of the gospel in the New. Love the word of God and do not neglect any part of it.

The Church Is More Important Than You Realize

Acts 26:14-15 – 14 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ 15 And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.

As Paul shares his testimony of his salvation, he points to the words of Jesus to him as he was traveling to Damascus. Jesus identified himself as the one Saul was persecuting. Realize that what Saul, later Paul, was doing was attacking and persecuting believers in Christ, the church.

Jesus said that to persecute his church was to persecute him. This must give us confidence and hope. This statement of the Savior reminds us of the importance of the church. Jesus sees an attack on his church as an attack on him.

Consider how this principle should impact how Christians think about the church. The church is more valuable than you realize. The church is more precious to Jesus than you realize. Your brothers and sisters in Christ are more important than you realize. Your participation in the church is more important than you realize.

May we love Jesus well by loving his church well.

Do What is Good–A Simple Thought about Romans 13 and Christian Submission to Government

How does a Christian respond to government? Do we always, unquestioningly do what the government says? How do we know when it is time to respectfully refuse an order? There was a time when it seemed like those questions were merely theoretical, at least for the most part. But in our present situation, questions about how to react when the government and the church appear at odds are very much a part of living in the here and now.

If you know your Bible, you know that Romans 13 is a primary place to look to see how to respond to authorities over you. And a simple reading of that chapter tells us that Christians are supposed to submit to the government. At the same time, we know that there must be limits, nuances to that command. And I think we can see one such limit embedded in the command as God gives it to us.

Romans 13:3 – For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval,

In this section of Scripture, Paul is calling on the church to be submissive to the governmental leaders over them. This command is perfectly in keeping with the pattern of New Testament teaching that believers should pray for their leaders particularly so that the Christian might be free to live a peaceful and quiet life in obedience to the Lord (cf. 1 Timothy 2:1-2). Paul emphasizes the sovereignty of God over all kings and authorities. The Lord places leaders in seats of power, and Christians should be appropriately subject to those in authority.

What does subjection to a leader look like? What does Christian living look like? We see it in verse 3 with the simple call for a Christian to do what is good. That little phrase appropriately lays a boundary for the Christian to know what is righteous and what is ungodly submission to a leader. We submit to our earthly leaders so long as that submission is in keeping with what is good. And what is good is determined by the infallible word of Almighty God.

Thus, as we attempt to live as Christians in a difficult age, we obey our governmental leaders as far as the word of God and goodness will allow. We do what is good. When doing what is good in accord with Scripture is not violated by the expression of governmental authority, we happily follow and do not make waves. WE want, after all, to live peacefully in the land and to honor the Lord. Part of honoring the Lord is to show that we know how to follow one in authority over us.

However, when the commands of a leader call us not to do what is good, when the leader commands us to disobey the word of God, we cannot in biblical conscience obey. We must instead obey God rather than man (cf. Acts 5:29).

As believers, we have to be careful. It is easy for us to assume that every opinion we have about what is right and wrong is something to elevate to a level of civil disobedience. We do not see such a call in the word of God here. The call to obey must include the call to submit to things to which we would prefer not to submit. Otherwise, what is the purpose of using the term submit? Submission is not simply doing what somebody says when we like it. Submission necessarily includes obedience when that obedience is at times difficult.

What then is the standard? The standard is faithful obedience to the word of God. We follow governmental leaders by doing what is good. If doing what is good in accord with Scripture is not in accord with the law of the land or the impulse of the leader, then we must obey God rather than man. Thus, when doing what is good is sharing the gospel when it is banned, we share. When doing what is good is speaking truth about justice, we speak. When doing what is good includes telling only the truth about gender, we tell the truth. When doing what is good includes gathering for worship, we gather. When doing what is good includes protecting human life, even the lives of the unborn, we protect life.

Doing what is good must include following the commands of God. So, if the government commands us not to do that which God commands, we must disobey. Following God also includes not doing what the Lord forbids. Thus, if the government commands us to do that which God forbids, we must disobey. And the word of God lets us know that there are areas of our lives where the government has no right to speak. Thus, when the government seeks to assert authority into areas of life where clearly the Lord asserts another authority—e.g. the ordering of the family, the ordering of the church, the shaping of our beliefs or prayer lives, etc.—we must not allow this usurpation of power.

Christians, may we be faithful enough to the Lord to do what is good. Let us pray that doing good will not oppose our government. Instead, let us pray that our government will, as the word proclaims, punish evil. But let us know that, even as the Romans to whom Paul wrote would have understood, sometimes doing good, sometimes obeying the word, will bring down upon us the wrath of evil people in power. And when that occurs, may we choose to still do good, still be faithful to the Lord, still obey Scripture regardless of the physical and civil consequences.