This week we are examining a key passage of scripture in Romans that frankly is a bit uncomfortable. So, while I encourage you to listen or download the message on Sunday, there are some questions we can answer this week and next that we can’t cover on a Sunday morning.
How far can a Christian go in expressing opposition to an unjust government? On one level, the answer is clear. You can go as far as the law allows you to go. You can picket, you can collect petitions, you can write letters to the editor, you can call a talk-show and sound off, you can write to your heart’s content on your own website, you can make a video and post it on YouTube, you can vote and encourage others to vote with you, you can visit your congresswoman or your senator, you can sit in the coffee shop and argue with your friends.
You can take out an ad in the paper if you like. You can join with others to work for change. You can run for office. Submission doesn’t require you to keep your mouth shut about injustice and corruption.
However, the issue of the heart is very important. It’s better to keep quiet than to speak out in burning anger. If you believe that God can work his will even through a corrupt leader, that will temper your comments, cool your emotions, and keep you from doing or saying something you may regret later.
What should Christians do if the government orders them to do something that conflicts with their faith?
Peter and John gave us the answer in Acts 5:29 when they said, “We must obey God rather than man.” The highest authority is God himself. Like the Hebrew children who refused to bow down before the golden image of King Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 3), we must take our stand for our faith. And then we must be willing to suffer the consequences.
Pastor Kent Hughes outlines: “A Christian must disobey his government when it asks him to 1) violate a commandment of God, 2) commit an immoral or unethical act, or 3) go against his Christian conscience (a conscience which is informed by Scripture and is in submission to the Spirit of God).” (Romans, p. 242)
John Stott also summarizes the issue in this succinct statement: “The principle is clear: We are to submit right up to the point where obedience to the state would entail disobedience to God. But if the state commands what God forbids, or forbids what God commands, then our plain Christian duty is to resist, not to submit, to disobey the state in order to obey God.” (Romans, p. 342)
Again, the attitude of the heart is so important. If you read Daniel 3, you discover that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego spoke respectfully to the king even though they disobeyed his direct orders. In other words, they disobeyed with a submissive heart. That’s why God blessed them despite their disobedience.
Next week, we will look at civil disobedience and what it means to be a “good Christian citizen.” But the mandate of a Christian always remains first to acknowledge God is always in control and as scriptures tell us, even down to the details of which leaders he allows to have control.