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Submission to Civil Authority, Part 1

Grace To You / John MacArthur
The Truth Network Radio
June 17, 2024 4:00 am

Submission to Civil Authority, Part 1

Grace To You / John MacArthur

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June 17, 2024 4:00 am

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Welcome to Grace To You with John MacArthur.

I'm your host, Phil Johnson. If you're a Christian, your highest allegiance isn't to a nation here on earth. As Philippians 3 says, your citizenship is in heaven. Yet scripture does call you to obey the government you live under.

The question is, what do you do when that government runs afoul of biblical principles? What does God expect from you then? What does his word call you to do?

John MacArthur answers that today. The lesson you're about to hear is from his series on how you, if you're a follower of Christ, should respond to the unbelieving world around you. It's titled, Singing the Lord's Song in a Strange Land. And to begin now, here's John. Let me encourage you to open your Bible, if you will, right now to 1 Peter chapter 2. 1 Peter chapter 2. And I want us to look together at verses 13 through 17.

1 Peter 2, 13 through 17. Peter writes, submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil but use it as bond slaves of God.

Honor all men, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. Now this great text of Scripture basically has at its heart the statement in verse 15 that it is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. The point of the whole section of exhortation is that we as Christians are to live in such a way that by our exemplary lives we stop the mouths of those who criticize our faith. We are to live a life that is above criticism, a life that is above reproach, a life that is above shame. There is really no greater way for people to see the transforming power of the Gospel than to see the life of a transformed person.

It then is the greatest apologetic. It is the foundation of all of our witness. The powerful witness comes when a person gives someone the Gospel who has already laid a foundation of having shown that person a transformed life. Peter here then is saying that it's essential that you live your lives in such a way that your testimony becomes believable, that the transforming power of Christ is made evident not only by what you say but by what you are. Now as we endeavor to live our lives in the world, there are three perspectives that Peter gives us here.

He says you must view your life in three ways. Number one, you must see yourself as an alien to this society. In verses 11 and 12 he noted that we are aliens and strangers and we have to see ourselves in that way. Then in verses 13 to 17 he says even though you are aliens, you are still citizens.

Even though you live in another dimension, you still are here in this world and you must conduct yourselves in a proper way as citizens. Thirdly, in verses 18 to 20 he discusses the matter that we are servants. So Peter sees the Christian as an alien, as a citizen, and as a servant. And each of those perspectives relates to how the watching world views us. As the world sees us, they must see us as aliens. As they see us, they must see us as citizens and they must recognize us as servants. The bottom line is that the way you live will determine whether you lead someone to Christ or whether you fuel the fires of criticism.

This is obvious I think to everybody, everybody. The Christian culture in America is suffering greatly right now because of the tremendous rebuke that has occurred to Christianity because so many leaders in Christianity have demonstrated that their lives are not above reproach and they have literally fueled the fires of criticism. They have opened the mouths of the critics rather than silencing them. They have failed to live an alien life and consequently they have harmed greatly the testimony of Christianity. I also believe that not only are there people who obviously are not living supernatural lives and who have said to the world Christ transforms but lived a very non-transformed life and thus undercut their testimony. But there also are in Christianity today people who are living in the world in such a way that even their function as citizens is causing a reproach to fall in the name of Christ.

You can lose the credibility of your testimony by failing to live a supernatural life which is alien to this world which demonstrates the power of Christ and I believe you can lose the foundation of your testimony by a failure to live as a citizen should live under the rule of Christ. So it's very important that we discuss not only that alien idea which we have already discussed but that we also look to this matter of being citizens. The two go together and you can make the connection rather readily in your own mind but they go together something along these lines. We are aliens in the world. That is, we live at a different level. We live a heavenly kind of life. We live the life of God. We live on a supernatural plane.

You know that. We are unearthly, if you will. We are heavenly. We are to be disentangled with the world system. In fact, we are to set our affections on things above and not on things on the earth. We submit to a greater authority than any earthly authority in the sense that we move under the power of the living God as expressed in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Now, the inherent danger in that is obvious. If we get too carried away with our alien identity, we can become utterly indifferent to the world in which we have to live. And so our alienation from the system is balanced by the demand of proper citizenship. Yes, we live a supernatural life. Yes, we live a discipline that is inward and private, energized by the Holy Spirit. Yes, we conduct ourselves with a deportment that is outward and public and also energized by the Holy Spirit so that we are different than the world around us. Our alienation is demonstrated by the fact that we abstain from fleshly lusts according to verse 11 and according to verse 12 in that we do good deeds. So the character of our lives shows our alienation. We are different than the world.

We are in the world, not of the world. But the result of that could be an indifference to the society around us, an utter disregard for the authority around us. And so Peter is quick to add immediately in verse 13, submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution. The fact that you are citizens of heaven, that you live at a different level, that you live on a higher plane, that you answer to a higher authority does not mean that you can treat with indifference the institutions that are here on earth.

We who feel we are above the system need to learn how to live within the system. So that leads Peter into the discussion of verses 13 to 17 and the matter how we are to conduct ourselves as citizens. Now as we think about this, I want you to note again that it is obvious in the background to this epistle that the people to whom Peter writes are being greatly criticized.

It is hard enough when you know your life is an unearthly life and you live in the heavenlies and you answer to a higher authority than any earthly one, it is hard enough to be a good citizen. But that is compounded when the society in which you live is totally hostile to you. In fact, when it is even militantly persecuting you, which no doubt was the case to those to whom Peter wrote. In fact, it was a rather common thing to call them evildoers as they are so identified in verse 12, they are slandered as evildoers.

That's a term of derision. Apparently, it was used of Christians categorically. Instead of calling them Christians, they called them evildoers. Over the first couple of centuries of the church's life, it was pretty common for them to be living not only in an earthly society but in a very hostile society that was militantly anti-Christian. I have read, as you have, back in some of the records of early church history, some of the attacks and some of the accusations against the church that are representative of how they were treated. First of all, there was a basic anti-Semitism in the ancient world. They resented Jews. They hated Jews and Christians were viewed as simply a sect of the Jews and so they received a rather anti-Semitic sort of hostility. There was a sort of repulsive view of the Jews and the Christians among them.

Apion writes, in the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes, the Jews every year offered up a fattened Gentile as a sacrifice on a fixed day in a certain feast, ate his entrails and swore eternal hostility to the Gentiles, end quote. Nothing could be further from the truth, but that was simply one of the slanders that was against the Christians and against the Jews. They were also accused of insurrection. They were accused of rebelling against Rome and all human authority. Literally, that was the base reason why the Romans engaged themselves in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ Himself because it was brought to them the fact that He provided a tremendous threat against Rome, which of course was not true. And over the first two centuries of the church's life, those accusations of hostility against earthly governments continued to mount even though they were not true. The early church was also accused of atheism and there was a great hostility against them for that. It's hard to imagine, isn't it, that the church could be accused of atheism? But it was true because anyone who refused to worship the many gods of the pagan nations, including Caesar in the Roman Empire, was an atheist.

So if you didn't worship Caesar, no matter who else you worshiped, you were considered atheistic. The early church was also accused of cannibalism. They were supposed to be having feasts. In fact, the pagan writer wrote of Theestian feasts.

Theestes was a man, by the way, who organized banquets where the delicacy was human flesh. And so when they accused them of Theestian feasts, they were accusing the Christian church of engaging in cannibalism. And they based it on the words of Jesus, except you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no part in me.

And the words of the Apostle Paul, who again said that when you commune with the cup and the bread, you are communing with the body and blood of Christ. They also accused the Christians of killing and eating children at their feasts. Furthermore, they accused them of immorality and even of incest. They were accused of Oedipaean intercourse. We all know about Oedipus. Oedipus was adopted as a child, grew up. You remember the story of Oedipus.

He grew up, saw a delightful lady, married her and found out eventually that he'd married his mother. Freud gave them both a lot of publicity as he propagated his theories of sexual development with particular reference to incestuous tendencies. But long before Freud, people were having trouble in this area and the pagans were accusing the Christians of incestuous behavior. The Christians called the women sisters and the men of the church had very close relationship with these sisters so the pagans in their ignorance put two and two together and came up with six. They also accused the early church of damaging trade. They accused the early church of wrecking homes.

They said that the sword that fell between man and wife when one came to follow Jesus Christ devastated the home. They accused them of fostering slave rebellion because when a slave came to the knowledge of Jesus Christ, he had a new life, he had a new dignity in Christ and they thought that hostile to keeping slaves in their place. They accused them of hating men because they were opposed to the systems of the world. They accused them again of disloyalty to ruling powers and to Caesar because they would worship only Jesus Christ and would never bow the allegiance to any other being. The church in the early years was not only in the world but in the hostility of a very hateful world and to Peter there was only one way to deny the charges. The only way to deny the charges was to live a godly life, to live a virtuous life which basically shut the mouths of the critics by taking away any legitimate accusation. They wanted to live a life that was so rich in spiritual quality that there was nothing that they could use to slander Christians. May I suggest to you that the world is still hostile against Christianity. Men still hate God. They still reject Jesus Christ.

Maybe the form of it has changed a little bit. They may be a little bit more tolerant of the religious system of Christianity but they are no more tolerant of the truth of righteousness than they've ever been. And the challenge to the Christian is still to be alien and yet citizen, to be different. That is to say we live a life that is above and out of the world and yet live in the world.

And that challenge is great. We are to live in such a way that in spite of all of the false accusations and all of the hatred and all of the hostility, we might still turn the hearts of people to Christ by the evident transformation of our lives. So what Peter really has in mind here, if I may remind you of what I said last time, is a two-fold reason for this. And basically the underlying thing is he wants to silence the critics and bring them to faith in Christ. It's evangelistic.

It is an evangelistic purpose. Now let's look at the text. First of all, I want you to notice the command in verse 13, the command. Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution.

Let's just take the first part. Submit yourselves. That's the command.

A simple command. Submit yourselves. Now why does he have to say that? As I said a moment ago, because the natural thing when we think of ourselves as above the world as heavenly citizens and when we are attacked by irresponsible, ignorant, unfounded, evil accusers, the natural result is to rise up in self-defense and maybe even to retaliate, maybe even to think that I have no part in this world and this world has no part with me. I will ignore with indifference all of its systems. But God does not want such behavior from us. He doesn't want us to think that we can act in any way that we want because we're not answerable to human institutions. In fact, he wants us to demonstrate self-restraint, to demonstrate virtue, to demonstrate a concern about community, to seek peace in the community, to do all we can to prevent trouble, to live in such a way in peace and good will that we deprive our enemies of the grounds for all their false accusations. The Christian way to muzzle the critics is to obey all the laws and respect all the authorities.

The command is simple. Submit yourselves from the Greek verb hupitasso. It literally is a military term meaning to arrange in military fashion under the commander. It's talking about being subject. The best translation would be put yourselves in an attitude of submission. Put yourselves in an attitude of submission. By the way, that is distinctively Christian because attitudes of submission and humility in ancient times were looked upon as those things which characterized cowards and weaklings. And no man of strength would ever think of submitting himself or being humble. So God's people were to live in a humble, submissive way in the midst of a hostile, godless, Christless, sinful, wicked, accusing, slandering society. Let me take you to the Old Testament for just a moment to kind of support the principle that we noted as the command, submit yourselves. In Proverbs chapter 24 and verse 21 it says this, My son, fear the Lord and the King.

That's interesting. Fear the Lord and the King. And listen to this. Do not associate with those who are given to change. For their calamity will rise suddenly and who knows the ruin that comes from both of them.

Do not associate with those who are given to change, the rebels, the insurrectionists. Look at Jeremiah chapter 29, beginning in verse 4 of Jeremiah 29. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.

This is most interesting. This is a message to the Jews in Babylonian captivity. They are in a pagan land. They are under a pagan ruler. They are under Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. He is a pagan to the core.

He is so pagan as you well know that he rises up to, as it were, shake his fist in the face of Almighty God. The people who were taken into captivity were really to be brainwashed by the Babylonian culture and the Babylonian system. But look what God says.

Thus says the Lord God, the God of Israel, Lord of hosts, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. Build houses and live in them. Plant gardens. Eat their produce. Take wives. Become the fathers of sons and daughters. Take wives for your sons. Give your daughters to husbands that they may bear sons and daughters and multiply there and do not decrease.

What does he say? Live your life. Live your life. Get a house. Live in it. Plant a garden. Eat the fruit. Marry your children to one another.

Carry on with life. Verse 7, now remember they are in a hostile pagan society. And seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile. And the next statement is most interesting and it assumes that there are problems and it says and pray to the Lord on its behalf.

Does it irritate you the decisions that are made in this city by the authorities of this city? You are in exile here. What should we do? Get a house. Live in it. Plant a garden. Eat the produce.

Marry your children to each other. Seek the welfare of the city. Anything you can do to seek the welfare of the city and pray to the Lord on its behalf for in its welfare you will have welfare. Or better translated, in its peace you will have peace. Seek the peace of the city for in its peace you will know peace.

Become the agent of disruption and you will know disruption. That's the implication. Boy, that's a very direct statement. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, do not let your prophets who are in your midst and your diviners deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams which they dream for they prophesy falsely to you in my name.

I have not sent them declares the Lord. For thus says the Lord, when 70 years have been completed for Babylon I will visit you and fulfill my good word to you to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans that I have for you declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart and I will be found by you declares the Lord and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you declares the Lord. I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile. This is a marvelous principle and a marvelous analogy. The principle is this, you're in a foreign land, do everything you can to seek the welfare of that land for your own benefit realizing that God has a plan for you that is far beyond the land in which you presently live.

Understood? You are citizens of another place and as long as you have to be here, live here, buy a house or build a house, plant a garden, eat the fruit, marry your children off and do everything you can to seek for the welfare of your city and pray for the city. And know this, that God has a better place for you, a better place.

There have been many protests, many acts of civil disobedience, many violations of the law, many revolutions, many insurrections and many subversive attempts to overthrow governments. Are you ready for this in the name of Christianity? That's tragic. We were never commanded to do that. The command is simple, submit yourselves. Submit yourselves. Go with me for a moment to Romans chapter 13.

Romans chapter 13 verse 1. Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. You see any exceptions there? You say, well that means accept our government. No it doesn't. Well that means accept me.

No it doesn't. Every person in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God and those which exist are established by God. Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.

That is very straightforward. Paul said the same thing that Peter did. Yeah, you say Paul didn't live in a world like ours.

Yes he did. He lived in a world dominated by slavery, credible abuse. He lived in a world dominated by the abuse of women. He lived in a world where there was the murder of children.

We have records of the fact that particularly female children were drowned because the parents turned their thumbs down and said I don't want the child. They lived in a world where sexual sin was rampant and homosexuality was so rampant that many of the Caesars themselves were homosexuals. They lived in a wretched, rotten, vile, ungodly, wicked society just like we do. And yet they were told to be subject to the authorities, to be subject to the powers that be because they were ordained by God. And Jesus himself said in Matthew 22, 21, render to Caesar what? The things that are Caesar's.

The command is very simple. Submit yourselves. Submit yourselves. Put it in the words of the Lord to Jeremiah, seek the welfare of your city.

Seek peace in your city for that shall bring you peace. That's Grace to You with John MacArthur, Chancellor of the Masters University and Seminary. His current study is titled Singing the Lord's Song in a Strange Land. Now back to what John said about the Christian's citizenship. How believers are part of society and yet also aliens of sort. And you know, getting that balance right can be a real challenge.

Now John, the line seems awfully blurry in today's evangelical church. Where should we stand on cultural and social issues? And when do we speak up? And how do we speak up? The answers aren't always easy.

Well one thing is for sure. If you don't know the answer, you can't give it. So knowing the right answer is absolutely critical. Believers need to speak up. The church needs to speak up on issues that scripture deals with. Where the Word of God speaks, where God has weighed in on things that are part of human life and those tend to be moral and spiritual realities, the church must speak. And it's not a matter of everybody who's a Christian having, you know, the opportunity to give various opinions. We all need to understand that God doesn't have opinions. God states the truth. So we have to start with the truth. And I want to tell you about a really wonderful book that will put you in touch with the truth. The book is titled Right Thinking in a World Gone Wrong. Some of the staff at our church, Grace Community Church, put together the key things that the church needed to address, like political activism, the cult of celebrity, homosexual marriage, euthanasia, suicide, immigration, environmentalism, entertainment, escapism, abortion, birth control, surrogacy, disasters, epidemics, and even God and the problem of evil.

And those are biggies, aren't they? And we began to think those through, dig into the Word of God. This book is the compilation of what the Bible teaches on those key issues. You would call this a Christian worldview book. The design of the book is to help you think right in a world gone wrong, to bring clarity in the midst of confusion. There's also a topical reference guide to Bible verses that address these concerns. It's a 260-page book.

You won't be able to put it down reasonably priced from grace to you. That's right. Thanks, John. And friend, this book is a great tool for refining your biblical worldview. It's helpful for students, parents, church leaders, really for any believer. Right Thinking in a World Gone Wrong is available now. Order your copy today. You can call us at 855-GRACE or you can order from our website, Right Thinking in a World Gone Wrong costs $11.25 and shipping is free. Order a copy for yourself or a few to give away when you call 855-GRACE or when you visit

Right Thinking in a World Gone Wrong is one of dozens of books available from Grace to You, books on the debate between creation and evolution, the nature of the gospel, the return of Christ, and much more. To see the complete selection, go to Let me also tell you about the MacArthur Study Bible. That's our flagship resource. You get the full text of Scripture, 25,000 explanatory footnotes, and more helps that will assist you in understanding what each passage means by what it says. Order by calling 800-55-GRACE or go to Now for John MacArthur, I'm Phil Johnson. Be back tomorrow to consider this question. As a citizen of your nation, what does God expect you to do when your government doesn't follow God's standards? It's another 30 minutes of unleashing God's truth one verse at a time on Grace to You.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-06-17 05:36:37 / 2024-06-17 05:46:57 / 10

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