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0246 Christian Citizenship

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Encounter Radio Outline #0246                                                                   

Air date: 11/17/02

Christian Citizenship

Romans 13:1-4

by Dr. Stephen F. Olford



Introduction: Two action words sum up the relationship of believers to rulers: obedience (#0246) and allegiance (#0248), and no one can experience the Christian commitment of Chapter 12 without expressing the civil involvement of Chapter 13. This civil involvement calls for:

I. Obedience to Civil Powers  (vv. 1-4)

When the apostle dictated these words, he was keenly aware of the tension which existed between the Jews and the Romans. He needed to extend the doctrine of Christian relationships (Chapter 12) to the area of civil rulers and neighbors (Chapters 13). In this passage he formulated principles that apply for all time and under all forms of government here upon earth. Here we see that the believer’s relationship to civil powers is one of obedience, and this for a number of basic reasons:

A. The Divine Derivation of Civil Power  (v. 1)

The fact that governmental power may be corrupted does not disprove its divine source. Because of the existence of Satan in the world, people would be attacked and destroyed in every country if the restraints of government were removed. Even the persecution of the worst government would not be so bad as the persecution of the world freed from the restraint of the law.

B. The Divine Constitution of Civil Powers  (v. 1)

Whatever the form of government, whatever the designation of the ruler, whatever the rank of the administrator of the law, authority is to be recognized as of divine origin and right. Therefore, the divine constitution of civil powers calls for resilient obedience on the part of all Christians. This is the capacity to bounce back into shape or position and implies the power of recovery and adaptability. Inherent in our Christian faith and experience is the ability to live under any circumstance without cowardice or compromise.

C. The Divine Recognition of Civil Powers  (v. 2)

This statement presupposes that God recognizes human government. The ruler is called “the minister of God” (v. 4), so resistance to government is tantamount to resistance to God and brings judgement (v. 2). However, there is one exception to the principle of civil obedience, and that is when anything is required that is contrary to the law of God. It must be added, however, that such resistance must be reasonable and non-violent.


D. The Divine Operation of Civil Powers  (vv. 3-4)

Having discussed the divine derivation, constitution, and recognition of civil powers, the apostle now moves to the operation of these civil powers. In a sense, he reaches his climax in these two verses. The whole purpose of human government is now justified.

1. Civil Powers Exist to Punish Wrong  (v. 3)

The highest function of government is the judicial taking of life, and all other functions are implied in this. All legal, civil and military systems of executing judgment and administering equity are based upon the proposition that evil must be punished, if the law is to be upheld. The fact that innocent people or minority groups have been the victims of injustice and even of capital punishment does not alter the divine degree. We do not adjust the Scriptures to fit the times, but rather expound the Scriptures to change the times. God’s truth is absolute in its sanctions and standards and, therefore, totally repudiates the philosophy of situation ethics.


2. Civil Powers Exist to Promote Good  (vv. 3-4)

The test of any good government is the ability to promote progress and prosperity in every area of national life. In this connection we thank God for outstanding leaders, legislators and politicians down through the years who have used their delegated powers for the promotion of national welfare. For this reason alone, it is an unchristian practice to caricature civil authorities in private or in public. We do not always have to agree with our opponents in government, but such differences of opinion must never lead to character assassinations. Our task as believers is to pray for all those in authority (1 Tim. 1:1-3), and we cannot pray and hate at one and the same time.


3. Civil Powers Exist to Preserve the Peace  (v. 4)

The implication here is quite clear. If we do good, there is nothing to fear, for God is the Vindicator of all who live soberly and righteously. In fact, we must be grateful that within the natural order of things God has appointed those whose task it is to preserve peace by executing wrath upon them that do evil. It is basic to our Christian faith to realize that if God puts His children into the hands of men, He also restrains these men by His omnipotent power so that they cannot inflict harm without His permission.

Conclusion: So civil obedience is not a doctrine to fill us with discomfort, but rather a truth to set our hearts and minds at peace. Once again, let us acknowledge that the divine operation of civil powers calls for efficient obedience on the part of all Christians. This leads us to consider God’s call for  . . .

(continued in #0248)




Stephen Olford Center for Biblical Preaching
P.O. Box 757800
Memphis, TN 38175-7800
Phone: (901) 757-7977 or (800) 843-2241 Fax: (901) 757-1372

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