This article is part of a series of posts regarding how Christians should view and engage the great institution known as government. If you are just now jumping into the series, then welcome to the ride! I would recommend you start here at the first post and follow up at the second post.
The Responsibilities of Citizenship
Well, since we have inquired as to the role of government and its God-ordained function, we must now seek to learn the proper responsibility of a citizen. For a child to comprehend the role of their parent is indeed insightful, but until they also see their own responsibility to their father and mother, both their thinking and actions will be incomplete. So too, if we are going to function as good citizens, we must not only ask about the role of the government but also about our responsibilities toward the government. We clearly have a duty in this realm, and if we are to be obedient before God we must both see and act upon this responsibility with clarity and excellence. Otherwise, we shall find ourselves like the disobedient son who knows all too well about the authority of his parent, but all too little about his own obligation towards it!
In the Scripture we find much about our relationship to the governing authorities. One such passage is 1 Peter 2:13-14 which says:
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. -1 Peter 2:13-14
This passage shows the crystal clarity of the teaching from Scripture regarding submission. Provided the government is not requiring anything unbiblical or unlawful, we are to have a posture of submission. The Christian is not to be a reckless individual inciting riots and fights to ignite anarchy. No, the duty of every citizen is to cheerfully submit to the authority God has placed over them. The government has been instituted by God who also controls the hearts of every king (Proverbs 21:1). Consequently, every rule instituted by government is to be obeyed, in so far as it does not contradict Scripture and it is not actually illegal by the government’s own laws.
A Good Conscience and Submission
Sometimes those in authority over us don’t always do what is good and quite frequently Christians are their primary targets when this is the case. Such was the days of early church history where believers were lit on fire at the pleasure of the wicked tyrant Nero. Peter works this out in 1 Peter 3:13-17 and proclaims that we are to do what is good and if we suffer it is to be for righteousness sake and not for evil. In other words, if a dictator seizes you and then places you into prison let it be for your obedience to God and not because you punched your neighbor in frivolous contempt. If a wicked government is going to put a Christian in jail, then it should be because they were doing what was good and righteous before the eyes of God.
Living in this way allows us to have a good conscience before others when they slander and falsely accuse us of evil (1 Peter 3:16). So, the submission of our lives to governmental authority is closely linked yet again to doing that which is good. If we are to have a clear conscience, then we must act morally. If we are to act morally, then we must come to God’s Word and obey it. So long as you live in obedience to Scripture and rightly apply it, then you should have a clear conscience before the government. If they throw you in jail, then you are not at fault as far as you have lived in obedience to the commands of God in His Word.
Promoting That Which is Good
When discussing any realm of life Christians are called both to do and encourage that which is good before the eyes of God. Believers are called to “not grow weary of doing good (Galatians 6:9)” and of course we are to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:31). Taking these principles it is easy to see that Christians should stand for good things as defined by God’s Word in every realm for the benefit of others. We are against abortion because it is murder and therefore evil in the sight of God. We are for justices and politicians being installed who will uphold what is right in the eyes of God and act lawfully. Our Christian faith and biblical theology is of necessity going to play out in the realm of politics by promoting what is good.
Now, we must be careful at this point to say that the exact way Christians are involved in politics is going to vary. Not everyone has the gifting nor calling to be a William Wilberforce in the political land. However, we do have a responsibility to do what is good before the eyes of God just as in every realm of life. Like the second baseman on the team plays a different part than the outfielder, so also different Christians will have unique roles in this realm. What can be said is that just as every player on the baseball team seeks the same goal, namely to win, we also seek the same goal which in this sphere is to see government operating biblically and God’s standards being upheld. Therefore, we must use our unique abilities and opportunities given by God, so that we can support that which is good. For some, that will mean they should consider running for political office. For others, they should seek not only to vote but also to support a solid candidate and help them gain office for the enhancement of the public. The point is all of us should actively seek ways to use our gifts in this realm as Christian citizens seeking to promote good in the land.
The Summation of The Matter
The notion of civil disobedience will be outworked more comprehensively in the next post. However, the duty of man toward government is to submit, to do that which is good, and to disobey when it is necessary. The question becomes how do we begin to do what is good? I urge you to think about how to do good in your current governmental context. Clearly, obeying the lawful rules is one way you can do that which is good. Disobeying unlawful ones is another way you do good. But, perhaps you could also reach out to a local delegate and encourage them. Maybe take them to lunch and speak wise counsel into their life and pray for them. Prayer is a vital duty of the citizen towards those in authority (1 Timothy 2:2). Depending on the country you are in the exact ways you do good will vary. In one country doing good might mean you seek to remove tyranny from the land. For another individual in a different country, it might mean your responsibility is to call your old friend who is now in political office and counsel him on a subject. Whatever the case, let us seek to do good and to bring the Word of God to bear on these matters!