If anyone in biblical history could have advocated for overthrowing their government, it was the apostle Paul. Living during the reign of the Emperor Nero, the church had zero representation in the Roman government, and experienced severe persecution at the order of Nero. Across the empire, the church had no legal protection or governmental support.
Rather than start a revolution or train believers in civil disobedience, Paul wrote a letter to the church with a very different tone. He wrote, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1).
In this simple yet profound verse, we can uncover godly wisdom concerning the proper relationship between church and government.
The Christian is to obey the civil laws of government, regardless of that government’s response to the gospel. Paul did not say, “Only the authorities that support the gospel are instituted by God.” All authority is. The believer is not called to promote or undermine the authority God has instituted. Whether we like our civil authorities or not, we understand that God actually raised them up to fulfill His divine purposes for the world — which we may not see fulfilled in our lifetime!
A moral government or nation is not necessary to have a thriving church. At the time Paul wrote this letter to Rome, pedophilia, adultery and idolatry were commonplace. Bisexuality was so widely encouraged that Emperor Nero himself openly consorted with men and women. It was in this immoral environment that Jesus planted His church. And to this day, the persecuted church all across the world continues to thrive in the midst of moral decay and darkness.
It is not necessary for the church to have freedom in order to be faithful. Have you ever thought about the fact that here in America, where we have religious freedom, the percentage of self-identifying Christians is actually shrinking, while in persecuted places, like China, the gospel is multiplying rapidly? Our Great Commission from Christ is not dependent on the First Amendment. Our mission to make disciples of all nations remains whether we live in a free democracy, a repressive monarchy, or even under the terror of someone like Nero.
We are not commanded to battle or diminish cultural immorality, but to shine as light. If you light a candle in broad daylight, its impact is barely noticeable. But when you light a lamp in the middle of a dark room, that little flame can make a remarkable difference as it lights up an entire room. The same is true with the church. The darker the environment, the brighter and more obvious our light as we shine for the glory of Christ.
Can you imagine Paul suggesting to Roman believers that the solution to changing Roman culture was through boycotts, marches, protests, or legislation? We’re never told to fix the symptoms of a sinful culture – we are told to address the root of sin and our culture’s need for Christ and His gospel.
We have not been called by God to save America; we have been called by God to save Americans. Back in August, we focused Heart to Heart on the end times, unpacking the truths of Revelation. We have the advantage of being able to read the end of the story and we know that the kingdoms and countries of our world will pass away and the Kingdom of Christ will reign eternal.
Yes, when I look at society around me, I am saddened by sinful corruption — the moral decay and the rejection of God throughout our nation. But I am also encouraged to know that we have the true antidote to the problem.
If we want to make real, lasting change in this world, then it’s time for the church to get back to the business of being the church. We are ambassadors of another Kingdom, commissioned and appointed by Christ to the outposts of earth with the same command — to introduce our world to the gospel — which is the power of salvation to everyone who believes.