Redeemed Natures: Chapter Five – On Christians & Government: Romans 12 & 13 (Part 1 of 2)

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Chapter Five

On Christians & Government: Romans 12 & 13 (Part 1 of 2)

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”  – Romans 12:21 (ESV)

There exists an apparent contradiction in viewing Romans 12 and 13 as a Christian; for we see that the very things that Paul instructs the Christian to not do, he states that the government has the authority to do.  A good amount of Christians today look at these chapters as independent and uncorrelated with one another, at least in practice, and most would pick the chapter that seems more akin to their own personal position on the subject of government and war, and nearly ignore the other.  The political pacifists will harp on Romans 12, and the Christian Political Right will harp on Romans 13; we are naturally drawn to what fits most comfortably with our own views.  However, to view these passages as independent of one another is a hermeneutical(interpretive) error; those who seek to come to the scriptures honestly must look at and wrestle with them both; not as two separate ideas, but as one idea related to various peoples.  The purpose of this chapter of my writings is to communicate the stance that I take, which is best defined as Christian non-resistance, by going through Romans 12 and 13, and honestly wrestling with each chapter.

As mentioned before, most people side with the chapter that is most akin to their current position. This is not to say that there are no exceptions to people choosing one chapter or the other, for there are Christians who are pacifists in their personal lives who believe that Christians should never kill, regardless of whether they are a mere citizen or a government official, but they may also state that the secular government does have the authority to issue justice in the form of violence and even death.  There are also those who believe that Christians in the government are permitted to kill when the government is issuing justice, but who feel that the Christian civilian should act the same as the Christian pacifist civilians and not take violence into their own hands.  This group would push for Christian involvement in politics because they feel that they need to maintain the law of God through their nation’s politics.  Wayne Grudem in “Politics according to the Bible” states:

“Good government and good laws can prevent much evil behavior, and they can teach people what society approves, but they cannot by themselves produce good people”(pg.54).

Grudem states this in order to convey that although pushing for God’s law within politics can prove to be beneficial, people are still sinners who need a Holy God.  Both of the positions described are honestly seeking what they believe the Lord desires, and they each wrestle with the question of how Christians respond to government and injustice.

As stated many times in this book already, the position I hold is one that states that the Christian is not to commit violence under any circumstance unless directly commanded, blessed, or instructed by God to do so (Something that seems highly unlikely).  Therefore, in presenting my view, the reader has to understand that I believe that in order to understand Romans 13, it must be viewed in light of Romans 12.  Any good book written on biblical interpretation (hermeneutics) should inform you that the surrounding text of a verse, passage, or chapter is useful to understanding the meaning behind the portion of scripture you are studying.  

On Romans 12

The context of Romans 12 is that it was written after the Apostle Paul explained the mystery of the Gospel (Romans 9,10,11), which is that Gentiles were grafted into God’s plan and household, and this is why Paul writes the following transition:

Romans 12:1-2

“1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

The “therefore” is there as a bridge between Paul’s previous point about the mystery of the Gospel, and his point in chapters 12 and 13, which is broadly summarized as instructions to the Christian on how they ought to live.  Paul writes that we are to present ourselves as living sacrifices that are willing to lay down our lives metaphorically and physically for our devotion to Jesus Christ and His work.  He then goes on to verse two which states that we are to be transformed in our mind and lives because of our belief and adherence to God, which would then strengthen our ability to discern what is, and is not, the will of God with careful study, counsel, and prayer.

As English speakers, readers, and writers, we have the Bible in many different versions and translations to read from.  These Bibles are the God’s words to humankind, and are worthy of our study, and our application of its words to our lives.  Through the Bible, we can begin to discern what would be, and would not be, the Will of God. However, we must remember, in as much possible, to seek to put our political, religious, and personal opinions aside, and seek to understand what the text says; a troublesome concept for us all.  

Coming back to Romans 12, after writing about unity in the church in verses 3-8, Paul moves on by stating something that is quite reflective of Christ’s life and ministry on earth, and is quite challenging for most of us if we truly look at the passages that follow.  

Romans 12:9-13

“9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

This first passage is in reference to how Christians should treat one another, as well as how they should view faith; by being “fervent in spirit”, serving the Lord, rejoicing, patient through trials, constant prayer, and to not be “slothful in zeal”. Paul is telling his audience here that God desires more from His people than simply going to church, and having belief; God desires for us to act out our faith by adhering to His Son’s example, and following the other guiding words of Scriptures, and the Holy Spirit.  Paul states that we are to contribute to the needs of the saints, and to show hospitality; how often does the church ask of the needs of its congregation’s members, be it financial, housework, or other things?  We must love our brethren better.

Romans 12:14-21

“14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

In this passage, Paul is writing about how the Christian should act toward those who persecute them, as well as all people in general.  In verse 14, Paul writes that we are to bless those who persecute us, and not curse them.  He continues this thought in verse 17 by stating that we should not repay evil for evil; that we are supposed to do the honorable thing [to “overcome evil with good” – v.21].  It is important to note that the statement “repay no one evil for evil” is a quote from the Old Testament in Proverbs 20:22.  This is important because it shows that the message of the believer’s command regarding vengeance is the same in the Old Testament, as it is in the New Testament.  For as we discovered in the chapter on the Old Testament, Humankind is always subject to God, and violence was only permitted with God’s command and blessing.  The Zondervan NASB Study Bible in its notes on Romans 12:17 state the following about the high moral call to the Christian:

“Christian conduct should never betray the high moral standards of the gospel, or it will provoke the disdain of unbelievers and bring the gospel into disrepute (See 2 Cor 8:21; 1 Tim 3:7)”.

Many people that you come across who have negative views towards Christianity, usually have the same frustration:  Hypocracy.  They are tired of Christians saying one thing, and doing another.  They are tired of Christians who claim to follow Christ being the voice of hate in our culture.  It is in this observation that the relevance of the above quote comes into play; when Christians betray their high moral standards, unbelievers disdain them, and the message of the Gospel is injured.

To further this idea of a high moral standard, and repaying no one evil for evil, Romans 12:18 states that as much as it depends on us, we are to live peaceably with ALL.  Keep in mind, Paul was writing to Christians in Rome who were being persecuted when he wrote them this message.  But what is most alarming about this passage is found in verses 19-21, which state in verse 19 that we are never to avenge (which is a synonym for taking revenge for) ourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is his to pay, for He is Just.  In addition, C.E.B. Cranfield in his Romans: A Shorter Commentary writes on the topic of the Lord’s Vengeance in verse 19 by stating the following in why the Christian ought to allow for God to have vengeance, and not take matters into their own hands:

“If one is to continue to live by grace, then one cannot do other than make way for this wrath – to do otherwise would be to cease to live by grace.  To give place to the wrath is to leave vengeance to God in the knowledge that He is the God who smites in order to heal”(pg. 316).

Cranfield reminds us that God is perfect and just, and if we were to live as if we understood that, we would live by grace by not taking God’s place in avenging people that are just as vile as we are if we were without the salvation of Christ.  Cranfield also reminds us that God desires for all to be saved, and God’s wrath may be a way to reveal himself to them for God smites “in order to heal”.

Moving on to verse 20, Paul instructs us to even feed, and give water to our enemy (basically looking out for their best interest) to “heap burning coals on his head”.  The burning coals on his head part of this verse seems completely out of place here because many people’s first thought is: We should be nice to them so that they get angry at us, so that they are punished, etc..  However, Matthew Henry gives the following interpretations for this part of the verse:

Thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head; that is, “Thou shalt either,”

  1. “Melt him into repentance and friendship, and mollify his spirit towards thee” (alluding to those who melt metals; they not only put fire under them, but heap fire upon them; thus Saul was melted and conquered with the kindness of David, Sa1 24:16; Sa1 26:21) – “thou wilt win a friend by it, and if thy kindness have not that effect then,”

  2. “It will aggravate his condemnation, and make his malice against thee the more inexcusable. Thou wilt hereby hasten upon him the tokens of God’s wrath and vengeance.

The two reasons that Matthew Henry gives is that being kind will either conquer your enemy’s hatred to spur them to love you, or it will continue to show the corruption in their heart, and they will therefore have to answer to their maker one day.  The role of the Christian is not to take vengeance, but to love others, leaving vengeance up to God, and seeking His Will each day.

Verse 21 summarizes these points by stating, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”.  By instructing us to not be overcome by evil, Paul is meaning that we should not be passive in our dealing with evil against us (we are to pray, look out for our enemies best interest; showing them undeserved Grace), but we should not add to the evil being done by committing evil ourselves.  Again, Christians are called to rise above our natural instincts in the pursuit of following Jesus.

Based on this study of Romans 12, a Christian is not permitted to “play God” and carry out violence without His blessing.  I add “without His blessing” because that is the only way that violence was permitted in the Old Testament.  I will say, however, that there is no instance in the New Testament where followers of Christ were ever told to carry out violence.  Instead, God, and His heavenly armies, are the only ones who did, or were foretold to carry out judgement.

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*Works Referenced in this post will be within the Works Referenced section in Part 2*

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The Sermon On The Mount: Part Two – Matthew 5:17-48

**This post will is the second post of an exciting series on the Sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7, as translated in the English Standard Version of the Bible.  You can read the passage online by Clicking Here so that you can gain the most value and context for these posts.  Please subscribe to this blog to receive updates on new posts! And if you have not already, read the first post in this series my Clicking Here!**

Welcome to Lambtheology.com!  I am excited to write again after not posting in several days!  Please join me in this second post in my series on The Sermon On The Mount, focusing on Matthew 5:17-48!

Recap – We left off of the first note on an idea that those who claim Christ as Savior are expected to Strive after him, and to be different from, and enrich the world.  We now continue in Matthew 5 to the end of the chapter; looking at some of the wild and challenging teachings of Jesus.  While going forward, please keep in mind the surrounding context of these three chapters in Matthew, which was stated in the first post.

Matthew 5:17-20 – The Law

In Matthew 5:17, Jesus sates that He did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. When a lot of us come to this passage,  we either skim over it because we do not know what to think, or we get conflicted over whether or not we should have had those pieces of crispy bacon for breakfast.  In other words, is Jesus saying that all of the Old Testament laws apply still for today?  I would wager that if we take this interpretation we will miss the entire meaning of this passage, which is that some of the Old Testament laws are lasting, but some of the jewish religious leaders of the day had the wrong interpretations of those laws because they did not have the full revelation of Jesus.

Christ came to explain God’s law in a way that could not be done before, to fulfill some of the law which is unneeded for to day, and to do away with faulty and harmful interpretations that put unnecessary constraints on those seeking to follow the Lord.

Matthew 5:21-30 – Anger & Lust

Based on what was said in verses 17-20, we come to Matthew 5:21-30, which would have been a profoundly complex and challenging message to the original audience, and has continued to be so throughout all of time.  In this passage, Christ takes what is known to be wrong, actions of anger ,and adultery, and he calls those who seek to follow God to not only refuse to actions of anger, or commit adultery, but to seek to sensor your thoughts because even they can condemn you of doing the actual act!

Anger – The first issue addressed in this passage is anger.  The text says that if you have anger in your heart for someone, than that is the same as committing an action of anger – murder, fighting, etc..  To be angry at someone means that you do not wish good to come upon them; in essence you want their quality of life, or perhaps even their literal one, to be diminished or stopped.

Jesus tells these people, and us today, that having anger towards someone, or insulting them, is worthy of the same punishment as killing them: separation from God. This is an extremely high calling for the Christian, and one that reminds us to keep our anger in check because Anger should never be a defining adjective of a Christian.

Lust – One of my favorite stories from the last youth group I led was when a 15 year old boy comes up to me after a lesson which included the passage on lust, and he asked me, “Jon, Jesus didn’t REALLY mean what he said for 15 year old boys, right?  We do that all the time!”.  After laughing a bit at his honestly, I simply said something like, “The thing is, Jesus didn’t tell this to a people that Didn’t deal with this issue – Its meant for all of us.”  All of us deal with lust, but the difference comes in how we respond to the temptation of lust.  When a lustful thought comes in our mind, do we try to do away with it right away, or do we let it sit there a while for us to mull over?  It is not something thats easy to do, but over time and intentional effort, lustful thoughts can become less frequent or fade.

When we think lustfully about someone, whether we are a man, or a woman, we disrespect their own worth as human beings – as being made in the image of God. So when we talk about lust, we have to remember to look inwardly first.  Lusting after anyone who is not our spouse, in action or thought, is not surrendering your life to following Jesus, and to Love others.

Matthew 5:31-32 – Divorce

The topic of divorce is touchy.  We all know someone, maybe it is ourselves, who has been affected by divorce.  This is one of those topics that Jesus speaks on in the Sermon on the Mount that some want to leave out because a stance like the one of Christ’s is hard for a lot of us to take.  I believe in and work for my own marriage, and I pass no judgement on those who have had a different story than my own.  With that being said, let us get back to the text at hand.

Christ begins this short teaching in verse 31 by restating a known writing of Moses which allowed for a certificate of divorce (reference), and then going seemingly against that teaching to take it further in saying that anyone who divorces their spouse, except for reasons of sexual immorality, will then make that person an adulterous.  Why would this be?  Because marriage was meant to be till death, and just because the legality of a marriage is gone does not mean that the substance of that marriage before God is gone. When the vows are exchanged, and the blessing of God is uttered, that marriage is a consecrated covenant between two people and God.

Matthew 5:33-37 – Oaths

In this passage, Christ tells the audience to not take any oaths, which was based on an Old Testament teaching that followers of God should not swear falsely.  Again, Jesus took it one step further.  He does not want His followers to swear by anything in heaven, or on earth because we would be swearing by things that are not ours, but are God’s: “But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God,  or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King”(vv.34-35).  We are not even permitted to swear by our own body – for we do not have true ruling over our own bodies like God does.  Instead of swearing Oaths, Christ tells us to simply let our words be all the proof and backing that we need; for our words to be words of integrity that they would not need oaths to be spoken. 

Matthew 5:38-48 – Non-Retaliation & Enemy Love

It is in this passage that most of the argument revolve around in regards to the Sermon on the Mount.  Humans do not want to be told to do something that is drastically opposed to our nature; humans do not want to be told to “turn the other cheek” or to have any sort of love for any sort of enemy.

Christ tells his audience that when someone would slap you on the cheek, to turn the other one to the attacker also.  Some cheapen the application of this passage down to simply mean that in light confrontations, be the better person, and don’t fight back.  But in taking that interpretation, the entire surrounding context of first century Israel is thrown out of the window because the main agitators of the day would not have been comparable to your angry neighbor, but were Roman soldiers who ruled by the Iron fist of caesar.  Followers of God are not to violently retaliate, even in the extreme instance of an oppressive military force.

Moving on to Christ speaking of loving your enemy, lets remember who the “enemy” was to first century Israel, and let us not reduce “enemy” to only be applied to the town gossip, or town drunk. Christ, again, takes an old teaching of loving your neighbor and hating your enemy, and takes it a step further by saying that a follower of God is to try to love their enemies, and to pray for those who persecuted them.  “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have”(v.46).

The question then comes down to how we view this passage and apply it to our lives.  We should not stand by interpretations that cheapen the contextual meaning of this passage by only trying to apply the word “enemy” to individuals in our communities and schools who pose no physical threat; the word “enemy” may apply to such individuals, but it is more aptly applied to physical and violent enemies.   What do we, as 21st century people, do with this teaching?  Can we reconcile the natural human urge to violently retaliate and to hate our enemies, with the words of Jesus?

I’ll leave you with that.  I am sure the topic will come up again in the existence of this blog.

Conclusion

Christ called the jewish people then to more than what they had previously thought was required of them, and he does the same for us.  It is not enough to merely say a prayer and go on with life; Christ calls us to FOLLOW after Him and His teachings and Actions REGARDLESS of how against those instructions are to our natural inclinations.

Are we willing to follow?

Holy God, we come before you to confess the errors in our ways of esteeming ourselves above you. We confess that we are not perfect; we need your love, and we need your continual redemption of our lives, and our minds.  Transform our hearts to reflect the desires of you to Love you with all we have, and to love others as much, or more, than we love ourselves. We pray these things in teh name of Jesus Christ, Amen.  

Fighting to Follow: A Transformative Gospel

The Gospel is commonly presented in first convincing an individual that they are guilty of wrongdoing against a Holy God, and goes on to share the solution to that, which is Jesus; his divinity, death, and resurrection.  The listener is then encouraged to repent of their wrongdoing, and to affirm a belief in God, including Jesus as Savior.  After such, a prayer may be had, and if the presenter of this Gospel is a local person in the community, they may invite them to their Church.

But I feel as though key information in that Good news is missing. And perhaps it is missing not just in the presentation of the Gospel to new believers, but also the presentation of the Gospel to established believers.

It is a common thought that “this world is not our home”, “this is not where we belong”, etc.. But is this true? For if it were to be true, it would imply that we are simply wasting our time here…we have no true purpose other than to attempt to tell others about this great place where we truly belong. If this was the train of thought, it would drastically impact the way that we care about our world, its people, and how there is no true hope in this world.

However, I believe that we are here for a purpose, and that we are right where we are meant to be.  The Gospel is transformative in its full application – in a spiritual sense, as well as a physical sense.  For if we understood the Gospel as Christ offering salvation to an unworthy people, and then calling us to follow after him and his teachings, then our very families, churches, communities, towns, and even some nations could be transformed by the work of the hands and feet of Jesus; not in a political sense, but in the way people care for one another.  Racism, prejudice, poverty, and violence could all lessen or cease because the followers of Jesus would refuse to tolerate them, and they would DO something to address the needs around them.  This love that would emanate from these followers of Jesus would not be able to be unseen, and many would flock to this kind of collected and united mission, and thereby being exposed to the truth; that Jesus Saves and Transforms us into His likeness.

The question is, are we, on an individual level, willing to fight our natural human inclinations of selfishness in order to follow after a King who calls us to deny ourselves, and live for Him – even to the point of death.  Are we, as individuals, willing to love when we desire to hate, to give when we only want to receive, to speak when we wish to be silent, to be silent when we shouldn’t speak? Are our churches willing to evangelize, not just in word, but in action? To feed the poor, clothe the naked, and care for our local communities?  For if we are willing to send our missionaries to other nations (a much needed thing), why is that same passion for the lost and broken seemingly lacking when it comes to our immediate local communities?

To follow Jesus means to fight against our own desires that go against His.  Are we willing to let the Gospel transform us?

Lamb Theology: An Introduction

Hello, my name is Jon Bauman, and Welcome to my blog: Lamb Theology.

The mission and purpose of lambtheology.com is to present theological thoughts dealing with classic doctrines, new ideas, Christian living, and other various topics all through the lens and revelation of Christ – The Lamb of God; taking seriously His teachings, actions, and commandments and applying them at large, and in our everyday life.

Please subscribe, comment, and join me on this journey of faith and thought.

**The views expressed in this personal blog may not necessarily reflect the views of the church I am a part of, or the denomination in which it is in**