On the Lam for Jesus

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And of course we should all know that Christians ought not to be scofflaws. We are to be among the best citizens a magistrate ever had — we should be diligent and hard-working, dutiful and responsible, so that we might put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. We should bake the best cakes in Colorado, but not for the homo-fest, sorry.

But wait . . . doesn’t the Bible say that we must do whatever they say we must do — cakes, flowers, incense to Caesar, the works? Well, no (Acts 5:29).

“Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king” (1 Pet. 2:13–17).

So let’s take a look at some of the actions of the man who wrote those words — and not in order to charge him with hypocrisy.

“And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands. And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me. And he went out, and followed him; and wist not that it was true which was done by the angel; but thought he saw a vision. When they were past the first and the second ward, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city; which opened to them of his own accord: and they went out, and passed on through one street; and forthwith the angel departed from him” (Acts 12:7–10).

Peter then went over to John Mark’s house, left a message, and disappeared from the book of Acts a wanted man, on the lam, with his picture in all the post offices.

This was what we might call a jailbreak, and it was not just a bit of innocent fun. The guards involved were executed for negligence they had not been guilty of (Acts 12:19), and yet, despite the seriousness of the issues, Peter did not consult with a bunch of modern Christians, who would have urgently advised that he turn himself in — citing, as they did so, with tears in their eyes, 1 Peter 2:13-17.

An idea worth developing . . .
An idea worth developing . . .

What we desperately need in these times of amoral chaos is recognize that the obedience of the Christian man will frequently be taken by tyrants as something other than the righteous obedience before God that it actually is. What did Jehoiada do? He honored the king. What did Athaliah call it? She called it treason (2 Kings 11:14). While we are not surprised that she would call it that, we are surprised that lots of modern Christian political theory listens to her.

I am reminded of that great line in Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood. “Sir, you speak treason!” “Fluently.”

So now let’s take a quick look at the man who wrote Romans 13.

“In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me: And through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands” (2 Cor. 11:32–33).

This is what we would call, in modern parlance, evading arrest, and, depending on how close the window was to the nearest gate, running a road block. The apostle Paul failed to show them his papers. He neglected to have those papers stamped. He didn’t pay the fee. And he did all this in full harmony with what he wrote for us to observe in that famed passage, “Romans 13.”

Who honored the royal dignity of King Saul more than David? And who was more uncooperative with Saul’s tyrannical designs than David? Had Romans 13 been written then, would we say that David honored it?

“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour” (Rom. 13:1–7).

There are many things that need to be unpacked from this passage, but let me start with just two of them. That will do for starters.

First, the magistrate here is assumed to be operating to enforce a moral order that is not inverted. You see the same assumption in the passage from 1 Peter — “as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.” These rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil (v. 3). Doing good wins their praise (v. 3). The magistrate is a minister of God for good (v. 4). He is an agent of wrath for those who do evil (v. 4). What they command lines up with the believer’s conscience (v. 5). We pay tribute because they work at doing good constantly (v. 6).

Second, the magistrate is called the servant of God three times in this passage. He is the minister (diakonos) of God (v. 4), and again, the diakonos of God (v. 4). The word diakonos is the word for deacon, servant. A few verses later, another word for servant is used (leitourgos).

Now, where do we go in Scripture to find out how to respond to rulers who punish the good and reward the evil, and who insist as a matter of dogma that there is no authority above them, that they are secular, the servants of no God? Anyone who believes that Romans 13 offers a blank check to tyrants is someone who simply has not read it carefully, and is not comparing Scripture with Scripture (Is. 5:20; Ps. 11:3).

There is a vast difference between the dutiful Christian citizen and the craven Christian who cites passages out of context in order to justify a continuation of his cowardice. There is no biblical way to be a friend of true authority without being, simultaneously, and for the same reasons, a deadly foe of tyranny. Never forget that Peter and Paul, the men who wrote the passages above, were both executed by authorities who abandoned the station assigned to them in Scripture.

When we come to understand their words as they understood them, we will be a lot closer to seeing how something like that could have happened. It was not all a big misunderstanding.

It turns out that it really is true — resistance to tyrants actually is submission to God.

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Lara Butler
Lara Butler
7 years ago

I love this. Thanks for the detailed perusal. Also, hoping you get to a full discussion of your idea that “Christian history matters.”

A Wheelr
7 years ago

You have definitely gotten to the root with this post. Essentially, it boils down to being fully steeped in the Word, being fully trained to use it as your sword in every battle so that you may know whether it is time to answer a fool according to his folly or to not answer a fool according to his folly (Proverbs 26). You can’t just make it up as you go along. You must be prepared beforehand to know which is the right action. Glorifying God requires much weightier decisions than whether to wear the black sword sheath or the… Read more »

rcjr
7 years ago

Thank you and well done. Here’s the difficulty however. The higher the level of obedience to God’s law we expect from the state before we believe Romans 13 applies, the less frequently it applies. It becomes, in the words of one wise man, a big sign in the middle of Kansas warning, “Danger- cliffs ahead.” Paul is writing to believers in the city of Rome under a wicked tyrant to say, “Hey, listen, in another three hundred years or so you will have a decent government. When that happens, be sure to stay in line.”

rls
rls
7 years ago

These are the same arguments that liberal Christian groups use to advocate for illegal immigrants. Are they right or wrong and why?

Matt Petersen
Matt Petersen
7 years ago

“We should bake the best cakes in Colorado.”

No need to travel so far Pr. Wilson, you can get the same ingredients in Pullman now. :-P

katecho
katecho
7 years ago

Doug Wilson wrote: “resistance to tyrants actually is submission to God” I agree with Doug’s conclusion. My concern is that Americans, in particular, are vulnerable to a sudden fit of angry road rage, or else to the Hollywood image of the superhero, the lone underdog who takes on the entire cosmos in glorious battle (live on CNN and FOX). We don’t realize how truly weak we are, as individuals, against The System when it comes to physical resistance. We have delusions of grandeur, and we don’t really care to submit to organization and hierarchies in order to become more effective.… Read more »

rcjr
7 years ago

I must be missing something. This-First, the magistrate here is assumed to be operating to enforce a moral order that is not inverted. You see the same assumption in the passage from 1 Peter — “as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.” These rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil (v. 3). Doing good wins their praise (v. 3). The magistrate is a minister of God for good (v. 4). He is an agent of wrath for those who do evil… Read more »

bethyada
7 years ago

Excellent stuff. jcjr, I think one needs to obey the state in its righteous acts, and to obey and honour in that we do not disobey God and ourselves engage in evil. Further, while we are to endure mistreatment—as Peter says elsewhere—we do not need to set ourselves up for it. It is not so much that we obey godly rulers (though we do) and disobey tyrants as tyrants, we disobey tyrants acting tyranically. David is the quintessential example: obedient to Saul when he could be, always honouring in his speech and actions, and never handing himself over to Saul’s… Read more »

DrewJ
7 years ago

Other than killing Jesus (a man who did not exactly put on a very vigorous defense), the Bible does not show the Romans committing any serious crimes. If anything, the book of Acts mostly shows the Romans protecting Paul from the Jews. They were the good guys.

Luke
Luke
7 years ago

Let me be clear before making any comment that I largely, or perhaps even entirely, agree with this post. I am just trying to flesh out a clear application, which of course begins at a clear and contextual interpretation. I am not in any way hoping to defend the common surface level intrpretations of these passages. That said, I had some questions, of which I will post only one so not to ask you to write a book for me. So my question is: In your view, how specifically did Paul’s words (Rom. 13) apply to the church of Rome… Read more »

katecho
katecho
7 years ago

Douglas Wilson wrote: “RC, I believe that when Romans was written, it did fit this description. Paul saw trouble coming, but it was not on them yet.” Another piece of the history is that the Jews already had a string of failed uprisings against Rome (with more to follow). Perhaps Paul was trying to steer Christians in a different direction while the Church was in tiny seed form. It may have been tempting for early Christians to join Jewish revolts, but they would have looked like Hamas looks today by comparison. Along the lines of my previous comment about individualistic… Read more »

Andrew Lohr
7 years ago

I think the Holy Ghost was having Paul and Peter set forth (some of) God’s standard for a government, and most governments both partly conform to this and partly fall short of it. The worst of governments do punish some evildoers. Nero’s first few years may have been pretty good, but I don’t know that they fully satisfy Romans 13; yet they may have been recognizable in terms of it. Christian governments can easily go astray; I don’t know that the prospect of Constantine, or even Cromwell, would have called forth Romans 13. I see a standard, partly ideal, partly… Read more »

timothy
timothy
7 years ago

Welcome to Rome 2.0

timothy
timothy
7 years ago

I see a lot of “what did the Holy Ghost do” and “What happened” as if that was the end all of our Salvation and our role in His story; Its like God dropped in for a visit 2K years ago and that was it.

I see very little of “what is God doing” and “what is happening” in our walk as Christians. He is doing quite a lot–paving the way with love.

christian
christian
7 years ago

Thank you and I agree with the principle of resisting tyranny to the point of going on the lam and other acts of disobedience. Taking up arms, however, would be highly questionable to me. David did not strike Saul and Paul and Peter apparently did not go down fighting with sword in hand on the battlefield. Please shed some light on how far is too far to resist a tyrant. Thank you,

John C
John C
7 years ago

One thing we have to constantly keep on the lookout for is the “Harlot Church” – the one who is all to happy to keep the People in line so the Rulers can Rule unfettered by bothersome bits like Morals, Rights, and God….. There are various flavors of how this works out – but she ALWAYS has the same Goal…. Keep the People in line so the Rulers can Rule unfettered….. So… This is when we have to be mindful of Jesus’ admonition to “Give unto Caesar Caesar’s things and give unto God God’s things”….. That there will be times… Read more »

katecho
katecho
7 years ago

John C raises some interesting thoughts: “Would we happily dump Peter and Paul when they end up in Jail…. Would you ACCEPT a modern day Prison Epistle? What would your church do if your Pastor became a FELON?” I’ve mentioned that I believe we need to be organized and that we shouldn’t turn to “every man for himself” when a tyrant starts abusing power openly. I’ve said that we need to have representation and act as a body when the time is right. I think that this timing could be signaled by shepherds in the Church (as was significantly the… Read more »

David Smith
David Smith
7 years ago

Thanks, Pastor, for this! Like some others here, however, I’m concerned about the point where we may (or may not!) be justified in armed resistance. Vigorous resistance now – when things are still relatively calm – could prevent the necessity of taking up arms later; instead, I’m afraid many of us will submit until we’re forced back into the arenas with the lions! While I ask God to help me to do what I must, I’m not eager to volunteer for martyrdom if it isn’t necessary! I don’t want to inappropriately elevate our founders to positions of deification, but if… Read more »

Dejeu
Dejeu
7 years ago

You shall know them by their fruit.

John C
John C
7 years ago

While our founding fathers may have been good men… They never made the claim that they were “Doing God’s Will” by fighting the revolution….. Don’t confuse the two issues… As a Church of Believers – we are doing nothing to “Turn the Worm” socially…. Ye ‘Olde Church of Sardis at work… We have a name that is Alive but we are dead…. We can hardly even get the Church out to VOTE much less perform any semblance of Social Action leading to a change in hearts…. You can’t get a Week Night Bible Study going and you want to sponsor… Read more »

JohnM
JohnM
7 years ago

It’s not as if Acts 5:29 is generally contested whenever Romans 13 is cited. In fact in my experience the former is often as not acknowledged whenever the later is brought up and, often as not, by the one bringing it up. What I’m saying here is let’s not pretend we’re the first to make a point that everyone else (and especially those who don’t see the application precisely the way we do) has missed. As Andrew Lohr points out most governments both partly conform to and partly fall short of God’s standard. It’s not as if the choice we’re… Read more »

DrewJ
7 years ago

And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the Lord: and the Lord strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel . . . . And Ehud came unto him; and he was sitting in a summer parlour, which he had for himself alone. And Ehud said, I have a message from God unto thee. And he arose out of his seat. And Ehud put forth his left hand, and took the dagger from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly. Judges 4:12,20,21

Yes. How very submissive we should be.

Eric Stampher
Eric Stampher
7 years ago

And it wasn’t even a Caligula that David superficially disobeyed by eating the altar bread.

The trick is to know the times and the Truth as God sees them. Then ask, or do, as you will and He’ll have your back.

John C
John C
7 years ago

How are David or Ehud germane to the discussion at hand – dealing with the government sponsored moral decline in America…. Last time I checked – God did not part the Atlantic Ocean so that George Washington could lead us out of Europe into the Promised Land….. So.. Unless God promised YOU an inheritance in AMERICA through Faith in Jesus Christ – then “Our fight is not with flesh and blood but with principalities and powers” (Eph 6:12)… That means violent, bloody revolution against the Civil authorities WON’T solve the problem of Moral Decline! God already told you so! Question… Read more »

DrewJ
7 years ago

It may work, but it simply is not the only method that the Bible authorizes for dealing with tyranny.