Imagine what it must have been like to hear those words. “You’re free!” No, I don’t speak here of a recent parolee experiencing life outside of prison walls after many years. Although the picture appropriately applies a similar feeling I’m sure. Instead, I speak of a group of believers in Rome who happen to be reading a letter from none other than the Apostle Paul himself. Did you hear him? He said, “You’re free!”
Free from what you ask? The condemnation of the law. His message was crystal clear, “Because you are now in Christ, you are no longer under the law. You’re free!”
I can only try to envision what rumbled through their minds. “Free from the law? Heavens to Betsy! What will Nero think of that (a little lee-way here, his name sounded really cool in making the point)?”
With the good news of Christ must also come the bad news… we’re all law-breakers! And God can’t tolerate law-breakers! When Jesus fulfilled the law, He rescued us from its condemning sentence. Did I mention “you’re free?”
Of course, taken at face value, this could present a whole bunch of problems in a Gentile city where they never knew they were under the Law of Moses in the first place. However, they did know of Rome’s laws.
It shouldn’t surprise us then that Paul had to regroup a little with these people and give them some practical thoughts on how to be good Christians in Rome when their real citizenry was now in the Kingdom of God. He did this by telling them, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities.” Why? Because all authority that exists is appointed by God (Romans 13:1). To resist this authority is to resist God Himself (vs.2).
It sounds pretty cut and dried. Doesn’t it? Well, save for the fact that Paul isn’t finished. If these two verses were all we had, we might find ourselves labeled as “the people of the Way, over whom the government can have its way.”
Paul then (beginning in verse 3) defines the governing authorities he speaks of. He states, “Rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do what is right and you’ll be praised for it. The very purpose of these authorities is to watch over good citizens and punish the bad ones.”
So how did the governing authorities reward Paul for his stellar citizenship? For preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, he was beaten, imprisoned, and killed. So were many of these he wrote his words to.
Paul told them to be good citizens and they would receive praise from those who ruled over them. For most, this never happened. They were persecuted instead.
Was Paul wrong? Put another way, did Paul write these words to his fellow disciples as a blanket rule to be followed regardless of the governing authorities’ actions, or as a principle to be cherished and adhered to when one’s authority is fulfilling its God-given task rightly?
A couple of thoughts until next time…
There would be no America today had many Christians not resisted their governing authorities in the past (point made by Hank in the last post).
Had Dietrich Bonhoeffer (and others) not used his pulpit as a tool of resistance against Hitler, we can only ponder how much further his reign of terror may have gone.
- Bonhoeffer on theological ethics (fluxofthought.wordpress.com)
- So You Say You Want a Revolution? (mtsweat.com)
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the Ministry of Authority ” bonhoefferblog (nebraskaenergyobserver.wordpress.com)
- How a Harlem church nearly killed Hitler (wnd.com)