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Civil Obedience

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
October 22, 2020 12:01 am

Civil Obedience

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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October 22, 2020 12:01 am

The deciding ballot in every election is cast by God Himself. Today, R.C. Sproul articulates the relationship between the authority of God and the authority of human government, helping Christians understand their responsibilities before both.

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In a matter of days, Americans will have the great privilege of going to the polls, and no matter who you vote for, one thing remains true. Remember that the one who cast the deciding ballot in his election was Almighty God. Now, people might hear me saying that therefore God sanctions and endorses and approves of everything that the president does. No, I don't mean that at all. Or that God turns the authority over to the president and say, go ahead and rule these people however you want.

No. Again, that president is as responsible to the law of God as I am and as you are. Welcome to Renewing Your Mind.

I'm Lee Webb. The Bible is not silent when it comes to matters of church and state. That's why Dr. R.C. Sproul believed it was important to examine what Scripture tells us about the proper role of government in our lives and our responsibility as dual citizens, if you will, citizens of a particular country and citizens of God's kingdom. There are times when we are to obey God rather than the state, and R.C. will address that tomorrow, but his focus today is on the biblical obligation you and I have to be obedient to civil authority. Today we're going to continue our study of this whole question of how the church and the individual Christian relate to the secular state and to the government of the land in which we find ourselves trying to live out the Christian life. In our first message, we looked at the reason for government in the first place and the historical beginnings of it and its institution, and I'd like to emphasize and reinforce some of the things that we saw in the first lecture by now looking at the New Testament explanation of the origin and the function of government under God, because this issue is treated rather clearly by the Apostle Paul in the thirteenth chapter of his epistle to the Romans. So let's look at chapter 13 of Romans, which is historically seen as the definitive biblical passage, the locus classicus, for the biblical understanding of the nature and task of earthly government. So Romans 13 begins with these words, Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities.

For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. All right, Paul begins this study of the government with a mandate, an admonition, an apostolic command where he says, Let every soul, let every person be subject or in submission to the governing authorities. So he begins with this overarching mandate set down to the first century Christians for civil obedience.

Now, before I go any further, let me say that this is not an isolated instance in the New Testament. But Paul is simply reiterating here what he teaches elsewhere, what is also taught by Peter in his epistles and by our Lord Himself, that there is a fundamental obligation of the Christian person to be a model of civil obedience, to not be an unruly citizen, disrespectful of the governing authorities, being a scofflaw in one's behavior. But we as the people of God are called upon to bend over backwards, to be as obedient as we possibly can in good conscience to the powers that be. Now, notice that Paul is writing this to people who are under the oppression of the Roman government. He's telling people to be submissive and be subject to a government that later on is going to execute the Apostle Paul. And he is not doing this in a blind sense that precludes any possibility of civil disobedience. That will be a separate discussion that we will have in this series where we will look at the question of under what circumstances, in what cases, and what things have to be present before it is justifiable or even necessary for a Christian to disobey the government, because there are exceptions in the New Testament itself to the basic mandate of civil obedience. But right now I want us to see that Paul is setting the stage here for explaining why the Christian is supposed to be particularly scrupulous and sensitive to civil obedience. And so he begins to set forth his case, let every soul be subject to the governing authorities.

Why? Because there is no authority except from God. Now Peter puts it another way, telling us to submit ourselves to the earthly authorities for Christ's sake.

Now what does that mean? That means that if God sets an authority between Himself and me, and God has appointed this person to be in authority over me, and I show no respect to that person who is in authority over me, my disrespect carries beyond that person or that structure to the one who has installed Him as the authority over me. And what we see here is that in the biblical concept of authority, there is a hierarchical structure. And at the top of the hierarchy is God Himself.

And the passage that we get here is consistent with biblical Christianity. All authority rests ultimately in God. And there is no authority invested in any institution or in any person except through the delegation of that authority from God. In other words, only God has inherent or intrinsic authority.

Any authority that I have in my classroom, in my business, in my family, whatever, is a derived, appointed, appointed, delegated authority that is not intrinsic but extrinsic. It has been given by the One who has inherent authority, and only God has that. And then we remember that in this hierarchy that God the Father gives all authority on heaven and earth to whom? To Christ His Son. Remember Jesus says, I speak nothing from My own authority, but only that which the Father has revealed unto Me, and the Father has given Me all authority on heaven and on earth. God has enthroned Christ as the King of kings. That's what we celebrate when we celebrate the ascension, that Christ has been raised to the right hand of God. And the right hand of God is not simply to the position of law enforcement, but it is the position of government. It is as if Christ is the Prime Minister of the universe, or as the New Testament calls it, the King of kings, the Lord of lords.

What does that mean? That all the kings that may be found in this world have a king that reigns over them. That all of the earthly lords have a superior lord to whom they are accountable. And the one whom God has appointed as the King of the kings and as the Lord of the lords is His only begotten Son. Now we know that there are vast multitudes of people in this world who don't recognize Christ as their King, who don't believe in Him as their King.

And they say, where is this King? I don't see any reigning King, because that kingdom is invisible, but at the heart of the task of the church is a political task in this sense, a task of cosmic political proportions. Because the mandate that Christ gave to His disciples was what? You shall be my witnesses, Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, the uttermost parts of the earth.

Witnesses of what? The immediate context in which Jesus gave that mandate to His disciples was a discussion about the kingdom. Jesus was going away, going to heaven. He said His kingdom was not of this world, it was not visible yet. But He says, in my absence, you are to bear witness to the transcendent, supernatural truth of His ascension. That's why our first loyalty as Christians must be to our heavenly King. We are called to respect, to honor, to pray for, to be in subjection to our earthly authorities. But the minute we exalt the earthly authority over the authority of Christ, we have betrayed Him, and we have committed treason against the King of Kings, because His authority is higher than the authority of the President of the United States or of the Congress of the United States or of the King of Spain or wherever. And so we see in this hierarchy, God is the supreme authority, delegates authority for the rule of this world to His Son, Christ. And then under Christ, you have kings, you have parents, you have masters, you have dogcatchers, you have schoolteachers, anybody who's in any situation or level of authority exercises that authority as having been delegated from the King of Kings. And so if I am without just cause, disobedient to my civil magistrate, to the police department, to my employer, to my schoolteacher, to my parents, and have no just cause for that refusal to be in submission or subjection, I am by that token disobeying Christ. That's what Peter means when he says we obey the magistrate for Christ's sake, not because our obedience to the magistrate is going to be any help to Christ in the sense that he doesn't need our help, but the sense that we bear witness to the ultimate seat of cosmic authority when we are in subjection.

Now, the opposite of this is to participate in unlawful disobedience without just cause. There is in this world that is fallen what I call a complex of evil, a context of evil. And this complex or context of evil of which I'm speaking is defined in biblical terms as lawlessness, lawlessness. And the lowest form of human corruption is seen in a spirit of lawlessness.

The archenemy of the Christian faith is defined or described by the moniker, the man of lawlessness. It was lawlessness that plunged the world into ruin in the first place because the first sin, which I have said repeatedly, was an act of cosmic treason. When Adam and Eve disobeyed the supreme governor of the universe, the Lord of their souls, they entered into a complex of lawlessness, saying in effect by their act of disobedience to God, God, we will not have you rule over us.

We will not subject ourselves to your law. That's what sin is. And that's why I say in the final analysis, sin is a political matter, not in the sense of day-to-day politics of elections and all that, but in the sense of being related to government because the ultimate governor of our lives is God.

And every time I and every time I sin, I participate in the evil that holds this whole world under its power. So that the point that Paul is making and that Peter is making is that your individual decisions of obedience to a particular magistrate, the dog catcher, whoever it is, is never, ever a simple, isolated act. Each act of obedience or disobedience that we give in this world is connected to the upper level, to the transcendent source of all authority.

So that's how Paul begins his case here. Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities, to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God. And the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Now notice he does not say that the powers that be or that the authorities that are presently in place are godly authorities. He says they're appointed by God. God raises governments up. God brings them down. And the Old Testament is filled with references to that, where when people are rebellious against God, God will punish the people by giving them what? Corrupt rulers and cause them to struggle in oppression and pain under those corrupt rulers that God Himself has placed there. Hitler could not have ruled for five minutes without the providence of God. Now that doesn't mean that Hitler was good or that people shouldn't have been extremely vocal in their opposition to it, because now we're talking about the hidden providence of God, and we're supposed to work according to the revealed law of God and not try to read his mind. But the point is, if you don't like the current president of the United States, remember that the one who cast the deciding ballot in his election was Almighty God.

Now that could easily be taken. If you're not listening carefully, people might hear me saying that therefore God sanctions and endorses and approves of everything that the president does. No. I don't mean that at all. Or that God turns the authority over to the president to say, go ahead and rule these people however you want.

No. Again, that president is as responsible to the law of God as I am and as you are. Every king is subject to the laws of God and will be judged accordingly.

And so that president may be totally ungodly, and God has put him there for a reason, a mystery of which we don't know at the present time. But we do know by reading the Old Testament that He will raise up people, He will bring them down. It was God who sent Israel into captivity because of their rebellion. And you remember Habakkuk going into his watchtower, being so disturbed by this. How can you, God, how can you allow these wicked people to be wicked people, the Babylonians, who are so godless to rule over your own people?

How can you do that? And what was God's answer? Hey, I use them as an instrument to chasten my own people, to get my people to come back to me. And I'm using the more wicked nation to punish the less wicked nation for their sanctification. Don't worry about the Babylonians, Habakkuk.

I'll take care of them. They are going to be judged. But right now, they're an instrument in my hand to chasten my own people. That's why it always scares me when I hear Christians say, in any particular international conflict, God is on our side. He may not be. You know, the question is not, is He on our side, but are we on His side? Are we obedient to His reign and to His rule? And so, again, the apostle says that the authorities that exist, the ones that are there, not just the good ones, but who's ever in power, are appointed by God. Therefore, whoever resists the authority, resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.

Now, we're going to talk more about resistance to evil government, and in what sense Paul, speaking of resistance here, he's obviously talking, as we will see, about unlawful resistance against the powers that be. You might see that beautifully portrayed in the incidents in the Old Testament where God had called David to be His king, while Saul was still in power. And Saul, in his madness, was chasing David all over the desert in order to trap him, that he might kill him. And you remember the time he goes to sleep in the cave, and David is there and sneaks up on Saul while he's asleep, and David plants his sword or his spear right next to the sleeping, slumbering Saul and then leaves, leaves his calling card. Saul wakes up and says, whoops, David could have killed me while I was asleep, but he didn't. Now, Saul would not have hesitated to kill David.

That's what Saul was about. He had thrown his spear at him. He wanted to kill him. Why didn't David just execute this godless king? He refused to lift his hand against God's anointed. He said, as evil as Saul is, he's the king. So, again, that raises questions, enormous questions about it. Is it ever lawful for people to rebel against the appointed government?

And that's not an easy question to answer, but we will look at it later on in this study. You know, one of the hardest things we have is people, never mind as Christians. Is to obey authority. We bristle. Anytime we hear somebody say, you must do this.

You ought to do that. And we want to say, don't tell me what to do. I want to do what I want to do and so on. We don't want to be bossed around by the policeman, by our boss at our job, by the teacher in the classroom. We want people to empower us, to entitle us, you know, to make suggestions to us rather than give us mandates. That's our nature. Our nature is people.

And again, when we look at these things, we have to look at them through a certain grid. I often talk about a Christian life and worldview. What's the difference between a Christian life and worldview and a pagan life and worldview?

Well, here's one example of that. How we observe and how we understand this whole business of our responsibility toward authority. Unless I were a Christian, I certainly wouldn't look at it the way I've been talking today.

But being a Christian makes all the difference in the world in how we must hesitate before we willy-nilly live in disobedience to those whom God has put in authority over us. I can remember when I was in seminary struggling with this. I had professors in the classroom who radically denied the truths of Christianity, denied the atonement, denied the deity of Christ, had no more proper basis for being professors in theological seminaries than fly.

They had perjured themselves at their ordination. I held them in absolute contempt spiritually. But I believe it was my absolute duty in that classroom to treat them with respect, because as derelict as they were, they were in the position of authority, and I wasn't. They were the teacher. I was the student.

That didn't mean I was supposed to believe everything they taught or slavishly accept their teaching, but respect was the respect I was commanded to give. That's Dr. R.C. Sproul with a message from his series, Church and State, and this is Renewing Your Mind. I'm Lee Webb. With me today is the president and CEO of Ligonier Ministries, Chris Larson. And Chris, in this series, R.C. explains how we are to relate to the God-ordained authority of the government, and he provides advice for those under godly and ungodly rulers.

But R.C. never waded into the latest political controversies. Would you give our listeners an idea of why he felt strongly about that? Well, Lee, in one sense, I agree that he didn't address specific matters in his teaching, but I would say that all of his teaching was immensely practical, because theology, done properly, is always going to be practical. In other words, Christians are going to be able to take what the Bible teaches about who God is, who they are, how they are to live in this world, and then apply that to their lives so that it makes real impact in terms of the decisions that they are making, whether that's valuing human life in all of its stages and ages, or personal property, or even the ability for Christians to worship God freely.

We can understand what the Bible teaches and then apply that to specific situations as they're coming up. I remember sitting in St. Andrew's Chapel just a few years ago. I guess this was a few presidential elections ago, and even then, R.C.

did not endorse any candidate from the pulpit. And he was talking about believers and how we are to understand the kingdom of God. And he said in his closing remarks in that sermon, various views have emerged in church history regarding the concept of the kingdom of God. Some believe the kingdom of God is totally future, that it doesn't exist at all now, not even in part until the return of Jesus at the end of the age. Others say the kingdom of God already has been completely realized. There's nothing left to take place.

I say, a pox on both your houses. Jesus made it clear that his coming into this world sparked a time of crisis. He said, if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. That's from Luke 11, verse 20. Jesus continued, behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you. That's in Luke 17, verse 21.

R.C. continues and says, we have a king who has already been crowned. So the kingdom of God has been inaugurated, though it won't be fully consummated until he returns at the end of the age when every knee will bow before him. His kingdom already exists. He's the king right now. And then just listen to the way R.C.

closes. As we look at the newspapers every day and watch our televisions, we see and hear all sorts of concern about the presidential election in these United States. We are electing a president, a vice president, senators and congressmen. In approximate sense, it's very important who sits in the White House. But ultimately, the most important matter is not who sits in the White House, but who sits over the White House.

The one who sits over the White House is the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords and our Savior. That's wonderful, Chris. Thank you for joining us today. And we do look forward to tomorrow's edition of Renewing Your Mind when R.C. continues this series on church and state. And he will examine those times when we're called to disobey the government. We hope you'll join us Friday for Renewing Your Mind. Thank you.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-02-02 15:54:30 / 2024-02-02 16:03:04 / 9

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