On the fourth of July, many Americans celebrated our heritage of freedom. With fireworks and grills, parades and speeches, concerts and parties, we’ve enjoyed some of the good that comes from living as free people. But life is more than celebration. I Peter 2:9-16 describe a greater meaning for “free” than political freedom or citizenship rights. The glorious freedom available in Christ delivers us “out of darkness into His wonderful light.” We live in America, but we must be “a people belonging to God.” Christian citizenship is like a coin – two sides – individuals and government. God desires Christian citizens and responsible government. How do we live as a free person? What is required of a Christian citizen?
A Christian citizen submits to authorities. “Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake.... For this is the will of God” (I Peter 2:13-15). This is a command to recognize the authority needed for peace and order. Romans 13:1-7 tells us government authority is part of God’s plan. To resist is to resist God and brings judgment. We are to submit for conscience sake. Jesus and the apostles submitted to the dictatorial authority of the Roman Empire. Yet they also committed allegiance to the highest authority: “We must obey God rather than man.”
A Christian citizen gives what is due. “Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due….” (Romans 13:7). A Christian citizen uses the freedom of citizenship. When Paul was arrested he declared his Roman citizenship. “I am a Roman citizen. Are you to whip a citizen? I appeal to the Emperor” (1 Peter 2:16). We have freedoms – of worship, speech, to vote. We must use them! Failure to practice our freedoms is an unspoken assent to anarchy. We must not use freedom as a “cover-up for evil” (1 Peter 2:16). I’m free to drive a car, but not free to speed or run you down.
God desires responsible government. The authorities are God’s servants, responsible to Him because their authority derives from Him. Government is responsible to encourage the right and realize responsibility to the people.
We must beware of exalting government above our Lord God and His will for our lives. The “Psalm to the Welfare State” describes the result: The government is my Shepherd Therefore I need not work. It alloweth me to lay down on a good job. It leadeth me beside still factories, and it destroys all my initiative. It leadeth me into the path of a parasite for politics sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of laziness and deficit-spending, I will fear no evil, for the government is with me. It prepareth an economic Utopia for me, by appropriating the earnings of my grandchildren. It filleth my head with false security; my insufficiency runs over. Surely the Government should care for me all the days of Life here on earth! And I shall dwell in a fool’s paradise forever.
All systems of government, when in the hands of mankind do not meet the total needs we have. God will not bless any nation if in our plunge for greatness we ignore Him. There is no blessing when we accept a civic religion, a form of godliness but deny the power thereof. Too often the preacher is put on the platform of society but his plea for righteousness from the pulpit is ignored.
Solzhenitsyn wrote, “The timid civilized world has found nothing with which to oppose the onslaught of barbarity, other than concessions and smiles … given themselves up to the thirst after prosperity and retreat … just so as not to step over the threshold of hardship. They think tomorrow it will be all right. But it will never be all right … the price of cowardice will always be evil.” The Lord God whom we know in Jesus Christ enables us to live as free people – responsible to Him and doing what is right.