Kings are not the final authority
The captain of a U.S. Naval ship had just received an urgent message. He read the message quickly. It read, “Turn your ship 10 degrees starboard”. After reading the message, the captain was outraged by the lack of respect for his authority. Immediately, he ordered one of his men to reply, “You turn your ship 10 degrees starboard”. After a few minutes of anticipation, another message came to the captain. It read, “Turn your ship 10 degrees starboard”. This message made the captain furious. He grabbed his subordinate by the arms and barked out orders to reply, “I am the captain of a U.S. Naval vessel, you turn your ship 10 degrees starboard”. The captain sat down and waited for a response. A short time later the captain received another message, which read, “I am aboard a lighthouse, you turn your ship ten degrees starboard”.
A great misunderstanding regarding authority in our nation is the idea that believers must be in submission to governing authorities no matter what. There are several verses in the Bible that discuss governing authorities. One of the more common verses in this regard states, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” Romans 13:1 Does that mean that believers should do whatever government requires? As believers, should we not submit to God if government requires us to do or say something that contradicts God’s commands?
God’s authoritative structure begins and ends with him, which means that every citizen is responsible first to God for his or her actions. Kings only have the authority that God allows them to have (John 19:11). Kings are limited in their authority in the sense that citizens are responsible to God’s authority first. Citizens are to submit to governing authorities second to God. “But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.” Acts 5:29
Submission to government has limits
The relationship between citizens and governing authorities is similar to the relationship of a husband and wife within marriage. A wife is called to be submissive to her husband, but a wife is not called to do something that contradicts God’s word in submission to her husband. Does God require a wife to submit to her husband’s demands for her to have an abortion? Of course not, but the same principle applies to a citizen’s relationship with governing authorities.
A citizen is to be submissive to governing authorities only to the point that they are not forced to sin or disobey God. God does not require citizens to submit to evil demands of governing authorities. “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” James 4:7
Consider the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego in the book of Daniel. They refused to serve other gods or worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar made. “There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the administration of the province of Babylon, namely Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. These men, O king, have disregarded you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up.” Daniel 3:12 Even when Nebuchadnezzar personally told them to bow to the golden image or face death, they declined. They replied, “…let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” Daniel 3:18
God is our King
What do Moses, Paul and Jesus all have in common? When faced with the choice of being obedient to government or God, they all chose obedience to God. Moses was obedient to God in defiance of Pharaoh. Paul went to prison for preaching the gospel and was eventually martyred for his obedience to God. Jesus was brutally tortured and crucified for breaking the law, because he was obedient to his Father and peacefully defiant to the religious and political leaders of his time.
While there are limits to our submission to government, we should not use that as an excuse to break laws that do not compromise our faith. We are to obey laws as long as we are not disobeying God by doing so.
God is the King of kings. Obey him above all. The Lord called us to submit to him and not to evil or wicked demands of men. “Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.” Proverbs 25:26
What historical examples can you think of in which government has required citizens to disobey God?
Freedom is a little bit like a roller coaster ride
Do you remember the last time you rode on a roller coaster? If so, do you remember how it felt? Were you nervous and excited all at the same time? A roller coaster can give you a similar sensation to free falling, while being securely strapped to a seat. As long as the roller coaster is well maintained and the proper safety measures are in place, you are free to enjoy the ride. However, if the roller coaster is not maintained and safety measures aren’t kept than the ride could become potentially dangerous.
Sometimes freedom can feel like a roller coaster ride. God didn’t create us to be robots who don’t ever experience the liberty that he offers us through a relationship with Jesus. He created us to be free and to enjoy the ride of life. “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1
Balancing liberty with responsibility
Responsibility is like our seat belt and harness. It protects us from making poor choices. As believers, God has given us responsibility. While we are free, our choices have consequences. Some of our choices can affect ourselves and others more than we might think. We should frequently consider our own balance of freedom and responsibility. For we are responsible for our actions or our apathy. “But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load.” Galatians 6:4-5
We are responsible for living our lives for God’s glory. We are responsible for everything that God has given to us. In order to be obedient to God, we need to be aware of how freedom and responsibility coexist. As God’s creation you have freedom in him and obedience to him is your responsibility. “Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.” 1 Peter 2:16
Living as a free and responsible Christian
God gave us the freedom to choose his way or choose poorly. I encourage you to live in freedom and choose his way. “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Galatians 5:13 It is a personal choice to act responsibly and doing so allows us to experience an ultimate sense of freedom.
Sometimes I can neglect my responsibility as a Christian, but I can also neglect my responsibility as an adult. “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” 1 Corinthians 13:11 If I don’t stand up for what is right, then who will. It is my responsibility to do good. It is my responsibility to fight for the truth.
The truth is that we lose some of our freedom when we stop acting responsibly. It’s like the roller coaster ride. We have the freedom to ride the roller coaster, but if we don’t choose to use the provided safety precautions we could lose our freedom. We are responsible for our freedom and we are free to be responsible. How can you live out a free and responsible walk with Jesus?
God’s nature testifies to his love for freedom
Like just about every other man that has ever seen the movie, I thought Braveheart was one of the best movies ever. I liked the acting and the plot. I thought the battle scenes were well done and I thought that the story line was compelling. Although none of that compared to the moments of the movie when William Wallace (played by Mel Gibson) shouted for “freedom” in the face of tyranny. I often wonder why I feel that way when I hear the word freedom? Why do I feel closer to the Lord when I see or hear about someone sacrificing for freedom? I wonder if God put that vigor for freedom in our hearts. I wonder if freedom is in our DNA.
In an effort to better understand God’s heart toward freedom, we should first consider God’s creation of mankind. When God created Adam and Eve, he created them physically free. They were free to choose what they did and said. They were free to choose what they ate. God’s creation of mankind clearly demonstrates that it is within his nature to give mankind physical freedom.
Adam and Eve were told not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, but notice that the Lord did not put them in chains to keep them from eating the forbidden fruit. They still had freedom to choose even though it was the one thing God told them not to do. Of course, it ended up being a very poor choice, but it proved that God created us free.
God’s word demonstrates how he cares about freedom
The Lord gave Moses a clear picture of how he viewed the Israelite’s affliction under Pharaoh in Egypt. This picture reveals the Lord’s heart towards slavery in several ways.
- He sees affliction and listens to the cries of the oppressed
- He is aware of suffering among the oppressed
- He intends to deliver the oppressed and bring them to a good land
- He can use anyone he wants to free those who are in slavery
“The Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. So I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite. Now, behold, the cry of the sons of Israel has come to Me; furthermore, I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians are oppressing them.” Exodus 3:7-9
God wants you to have freedom
In the beginning, God gave mankind physical freedom. God cares about your physical freedom and that is evident by his nature and his word. It was only the influence of sin on mankind that caused the institution of slavery. It is extremely important to note the distinction that while God may allow slavery to occur, he does not endorse it. He endorses freedom.
God gave us spiritual freedom in him and that can never be taken away. “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners…” Isaiah 61:1 Physical freedom can be taken away by sinful acts of mankind. However, that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t want you to have physical freedom.
Freedom is a gift from God and that gift should not be taken for granted. If God cares about freedom, so should we. God created you for a great purpose and he wants you to thrive. He wants you to have freedom to worship him with all you have. “In almost everything that touches our everyday life on earth, God is pleased when we’re pleased. He wills that we be as free as birds to soar and sing our maker’s praise without anxiety.” A.W. Tozer
Faith in Christ saves us
Faith can be a complicated subject. People put their faith in different things, people, or God’s. Faith is often viewed only as a belief in the unknown or something greater than ourselves. To a certain extent that is true, but there is much more involved with having faith in God. Having genuine faith in the God of the bible is an often misunderstood concept. Genuine faith involves having a very real relationship with Jesus.
Believing in God is an element of faith, but there is so much more to faith. God’s word has a lot to say about faith. For example, Hebrews 11:1 (NASB) declares, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith shows us what we may not be able to experience with our five senses.
Works demonstrate our salvation
It is our behavior that demonstrates our faith. As the saying goes, “take a step of faith”. As Joni Erickson Tada put it, “Faith isn’t the ability to believe long and far into the misty future. It’s simply taking God at His Word and taking the next step.”
Make no mistake about it. We are saved by faith and not by our works. Although genuine faith will produce good works in our lives. God has good works for us to fulfill. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10
God puts a light in our hearts through faith and the light is shone through good works that God does through us. “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:16
Faith and works go together
There are generally two prevailing thoughts among Christians when it comes to faith and works. Either we are saved by faith or we are saved by works. The truth is that God saves us by faith, but if we are truly saved then God’s works will be present in our lives. The Lord gave us works to do and the faith to accomplish them for his purposes.
Faith and works are inseparable. “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.” James 2:14-17 (NASB)
Faith is a two way street. It requires both belief and action. Jesus lived a life full of faith and works. Faith is not an excuse to not do anything and doing truly great works cannot be accomplished without faith in Jesus.
God gave us free will to choose and we are free to govern our own lives. At the same time he is in complete control of the outcome. So have faith in him and do the good works that he prepared for you. As John Quincy Adams said, “Duty is ours; results are God’s.” Live out your faith in God through good works and let him produce the results. How do you live out faith and works in your everyday life?