Balancing Act   4 comments

Every day, Christians are called to be citizens of heaven rather than of earth. We may live in the United States or Russia or South Africa or China, but we are in this world and not of it. The apostle Paul understood that. The gospel didn’t come just for the Jews. Jesus died for everyone who will accept God’s grace by faith. And that brought Paul and his fellow 1st century Christians into conflict with the government authorities. By their very existence as a people, they were in violation of the civil authority of the government.

So why did Paul write what we designate now as Romans 13? Because he knew, better than most, that Christians were going to be murdered, muzzled or mugged by the world around us. Our every day lives will always be in conflict with the societal standards around us. We should probably think something is wrong with our Christian walk if we are NOT in conflict with the world around us because Jesus warned us in John 4 that we will have grief for no other reason than that we believe in Him.

So if we’re already in conflict with the world simply for believing in Jesus, why not also be in conflict with the government that opposes our beliefs? Why would Paul write Romans 13 if we were already in conflict by believing what we believe?

The first human born on this planet killed the second human born on this planet because he perceived his brother’s existence was somehow defrauding him of his “due”. Many centuries later, God used the writer of Hebrews to commend the murdered brother for his faith. This ought to tell us something about ourselves. We are bent, fallen, given to having our feelings hurt by imagined slights and to inflate minor slights into major conflicts.

Paul wrote Romans 13 because he knew this about human nature. He recognized that Christianity would always be in conflict with the world because the world is in conflict with God, but he also recognized that we could spend our energy railing at injustice rather than ministering on God’s behalf. We can become known as the people who resist the government rather than the people who walk in Christ’s way and that can and will diminish the gospel of Jesus Christ. By damaging our own witness through political activity rather than through godly works, we become salt that is good for nothing but to melt ice.

Which brings us to the question …

Should Christians ever be civilly disobedient?

4 responses to “Balancing Act

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  1. The book of Daniel and the book of Acts both stand as incredibly clear examples of Christian civil disobedience when the civil law is in conflict with God’s law.
    In terms of cases where fulfilling civil law is not specifically against God’s will, I would also argue that there is a case to be made for Christian civil disobedience on behalf of the oppressed, when those involved in the disobedience are not in the group benefiting from it. The Biblical case is clear – God cares about those who society oppresses, and the people of God have a responsibility to be the voice for those who have none. Self-sacrificial love is part of Christian life. I absolutely believe that Christians who provided refuge for Jews under the Nazi regime were acting correctly, even though it was an act of civil disobedience. However, I do not believe that the American Revolution was a justified act of disobedience, as it was not an act performed exclusively (or even primarily) on behalf of others.


    • We’re basically in agreement.

      From a civil libertarian point of view, I think the colonists were absolutely justified to rebel against a tyrannical government, but I don’t think Christians were justified to participate except in acts of self-defense or defense of neighbors who were also not participating. There are times when something that is societal good is not a spiritual good and Christians need to recognize that there is a difference and be able to articulate why we cannot participate.


      • It’s interesting that you mention the libertarian point of view; I was a libertarian until I became a Christian. These days there is no political movement in the Australian or, for that matter, American electoral scene that really comes close to my political position (at least, not that I’m aware of). I find libertarianism to be the natural political outcome of individualism (a “big government” individualist is simply an inconsistent individualist), and I find individualism to be, for the most part, irreconcilable with Biblical Christianity. I can definitely understand the appeal of libertarianism though, and I don’t disagree with 100% of its conclusions. I agree with you that, from a non-Christian point of view (libertarian or otherwise) there is no issue whatsoever with the American Revolution.
        Your last sentence intrigues me, and I find myself wondering whether my disagreement is due to an actual disagreement or semantics. I believe that everything a Christian does in their interactions with others should be a step closer to achieving a state of shalom. If we are called to act a particular way Biblically, it is because that will bring us closer to shalom (whether we recognise it or not). Shalom is what is best for society, and therefore maximum societal good is attained by fulfilling God’s commands. However, this will rarely be what society itself recognises as best. So, if we’re using the Biblical definition of “societal good”, “spiritual good” will always optimise “societal good”; if we’re using the societal definition of “societal good”, I can agree with your statement.


      • Liberty is a societal good. The American Revolution ushered in a great era of liberty that allowed Christians to practice our belief in public without being forced to attend the government’s church or recite the government’s creed. Much of the growth in Christianity throughout the 19th century can be attributed to American liberty. It wasn’t caused by it, but it certainly facilitated the growth.

        A full-throated concept of liberty would never have come about if not for the American Revolution. Locke and the gang would have been kept on the shelf unread if the United States had never come to be. Because Britain didn’t fight the war to win, the Americans won and established a government that protected liberty. In doing so, it also protected Christianity and exported both Christianity and the concept of liberty to other countries.

        Christians living in any country where they are not a persecuted minority should be grateful for the American Revolution’s success because we are the beneficiaries of that success.

        Because liberty is a societal good, however, does not mean it is a spiritual good. Liberty has enhanced our ability to share the Gospel, but Christians have to be careful not to equate the two.

        As for individualism, Christianity is an individual experience conducted in groups. I stood before God alone when I repented of my sin … and when I accepted Christ’s forgiveness. My children were responsible for becoming Christians on their own. They couldn’t claim that they are Christians because I am a Christian. I belong to a congregation of believers, but if my church votes to allow sin to walk in the door unchallenged, I am individually responsible to stand against that sin or to leave the church and find another. The Bema Seat is designed for one person to sit on at a time, to be judged according to our works. The Great White Throne judgment will have a crowd, but no Christians will be there. Conversely, we are not to forsake gathering together because our congregations act as accountability partners for our walks. That’s a wonderful thing, so long as we are prepared to step out alone when that congregation decides to unquestioningly walk off a spiritual cliff as a group.


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