Summary: Obey the authorities

Romans 13:1-7

John Shearhart

January 23, 2011

We’re working our way through Romans, and we’ve seen the greatness of God’s grace—He’s given us every blessing under heaven, and it’s a logical response for us to offer ourselves as living sacrifices to Him. But what does it mean to offer yourself as a living sacrifice?

Last week we saw that we have a genuine love for the body and we live at peace with all men. We don’t backbite and devour and squabble—instead we forgive and give up our rights. We have a genuine love for others from the overflow of love poured into our hearts by God.

So, in a couple words, you might say that offering yourself as a living sacrifice shows itself in “love” and “peace.”

But there’s another characteristic of what it means to offer ourselves to Him, and I think in a word it would be “obedience.”

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers.

Now remember, the basis for this command is God’s immeasurable grace. Since He’s given us so much it’s only logical that we’ll offer ourselves up to Him—this means that we obey the laws of the higher powers…

For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.

Government isn’t a man-made device. If you read much history you’ll find a lot of contention over this point. At the time our founding fathers were framing the constitution, there were plenty of people who believed that man created government for himself, and there were many others who believed that God created government for man. The Scriptures tell us that God has ordained (He has determined) the higher powers.

2Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God:

If you resist or rebel against the authorities, then you’re actually resisting God. Since God has put the authority in place, since He ordained it, then to reject them is to reject Him.

and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.

This isn’t talking about eternal damnation from God as much as it means damnation from the authorities. When we break the law we have to worry about facing the punishment:

3For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil.

This verse shows us that Paul isn’t talking about the Nazi government; cruel tyrants aren’t in view here. What we do see is that the rulers set up laws, and those who do good works aren’t afraid of them. But to those who do evil, the rulers are a terror.

Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power?

Do you want to be unafraid of the authority?

do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:

In other words, do what you know is right and there’s no reason to be afraid. When I see a policeman walking down the street with his gun on his hip I’m not worried because I know he’s not looking for me. But if I were wanted for crime, I’d be afraid.

The law-abiding citizens receive praise, but the rebels and criminals find wrath. So believers shouldn’t resist the laws or the authorities…

4For he is the minister of God to thee for good.

Authorities are ordained by God for our good. Why do we have seatbelt laws and speed limits? Why do we have to tag our deer? Why is there a limit on fish? These things are for our good, and they come from an authority ordained by God.

Do the authorities sometimes abuse their power? Sure! But that’s no excuse for us to disobey:

But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid;

Disobedience is called evil, and we’re told to be afraid for doing it. Why?

for he beareth not the sword in vain:

There’s a reason police officers carry guns—it’s not just self-protection; it helps enforce the law on those who would break it.

for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.

In other words, the authorities are commissioned by God to keep law and order.

5Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.

“Therefore,” since God has put authorities in their place to promote good and punish evil, we must obey—it’s the logical thing to do as living sacrifices.

But notice that we don’t obey just to keep from being in trouble; Jesus might say, “Do not even the Gentiles do that?” We don’t want wrath, but even more than that we want a clean conscience.

It’s not enough knowing that the police are happy with me; I want to know that God is happy with me! Remember back through this book—the Jews were rebuked because though they taught the Law, they didn’t keep it themselves (2:21). Paul asks, “How can we who died to sin live in it any longer” (6:2)?

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