CLOTHED WITH JESUS Romans 13
“Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Rom. 13:14).The Christian lives as Jesus did, in self-chosen submission and love.
Christians are to submit to governing authorities (13:1–7). We are always to display love (vv. 8–10) and holiness (vv. 11–14).
Understanding the Text
“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities” Rom. 13:1. For some, “submission” calls up the image of someone being dragged off in chains and forced to slave in some dark, underground mine. Not for the Christian. For us “submission” is a choice we make freely, gladly. We live as good citizens of our nation, because we are citizens of Jesus’ kingdom, and represent Him here on earth. “There is no authority except that which God has established” Rom. 13:1–2. It’s not that God puts His stamp of approval on every government, whether it is just or unjust, democratic or tyrannical, capitalist or Communist. Paul’s point was that God established the principle of human government, and thus existing governments derive their authority from Him. In honoring our government, whether good or bad, we honor God. “He is God’s servant to do you good” Rom. 13:3–4. Why did God ordain human government? Because government restrains sin, and serves as an “agent of wrath to bring punishment on wrongdoers.” Life is safer for the individual under even bad government than under no government at all. It’s not that governments consciously see themselves as God’s agents. Not at all. It is simply that to survive, any government must provide its citizens with some, measure of tranquility. Citizens must be able to work, to produce the food and goods that government can tax. Laws that protect life and property must be enacted. It is in government’s self-interest to see that citizens are prosperous and multiply, for a strong citizenry guarantees the survival of the state. How wise God is. In creating human government, as flawed as governments may be, God ordained a system that can only survive by serving God’s own gracious purpose of doing good. “Because of conscience” Rom. 13:5–7. We Christians freely choose to keep our country’s laws, to pay the taxes government is due, and to show respect to our nation’s leaders and institutions. In this we’re not motivated by fear of punishment. Instead it’s a matter of conscience for us. We do these things because it’s right to do them. In supporting our government, we support something which God has instituted for the good of all, even when we support government by disobeying unjust laws (see DEVOTIONAL). “The continuing debt to love one another” Rom. 13:8. The Christian is obligated to support his government. And we have one further obligation. We are to love our fellowmen. Whether Christians or not, we are to love. In explaining this, Paul said something that should open the eyes of those who see their primary obligation as keeping God’s Law. The Law, said Paul, has always been a matter of love! Those commandments that define how we are to treat each other outline the way that real love finds expression in personal relationships. If you really love someone, you won’t covet their possessions. If you love, you won’t commit adultery, or murder, or steal. So in effect, “Love is the fulfillment of the Law.” Concentrate on loving. And you won’t need to constantly refer back to the Law. True love will move you to do spontaneously what the Law requires. “Love is the fulfillment of the Law” Rom. 13:10. Let’s not make the mistake that “situation ethics” makes. That approach to ethics suggests a person compute the consequences of his or her acts, and then do the “loving thing.” That is, the thing that he believes will turn out best for the other person. In essence this approach to moral choice says, “Love instead of the Law.” But Scripture says that “love is the fulfillment of the Law,” and this is a very different thing indeed. The Bible teaches that God’s commandments are loving. Thus the loving thing to do is always to act in harmony with God’s revealed will. Law is something like the landing system used in commercial and military airplanes. As a plane approaches the runway, a repeating beep tells the pilot he is on course. If he drifts off course to either side, the pitch and frequency of the beep changes, warning him to make a correction before it’s too late. This is how Law serves the Christian. Law never produces right action: love does that. But as we act in love, we need to glance frequently at what the Law says. If our loving acts do not fulfill the Law, we know we’re off course, and need correction. There is such a thing as “dumb love”—really caring and wanting to help, but doing something that harms instead of heals. What we need is “intelligent love.” Really caring and wanting to help, and being guided by Scripture to actions which are right and good. “Let us put aside the deeds of darkness” Rom. 13:11–13. For us, as J.B. Phillips translates verse 11, “The present time is of the utmost importance.” Yes, we look forward to the soon coming of Jesus. But until then, we are on a mission for our Lord. That mission requires us to “put on the armor of light” and live decent, holy lives here and now. What an image that “armor of light” is. It’s as if Paul envisions an army approaching as the sun rises and the darkness begins to fade. There, on the ridge across from us, the sun touches the armor the soldiers wear, and they glisten with a thousand points of light. That’s how the Christian is to appear to all in this world. We are the vanguard of Christ’s coming invasion of man’s sin darkened world. We are to live such holy lives that His beauty will glisten in the darkness. By your complete commitment to God’s moral vision for mankind, you put on, and proudly wear, God’s armor of light. “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ” Rom. 13:14. We watched the remake of Ivanhoe on the Disney channel last night. That was unusual. We don’t usually stay up that late, because Sue and I get up at 5 A.M., she to go to her teaching, and me to my computer. But it was a fun movie, and very well done. In one sequence a Saxon noble’s court jester entered the castle where the noble was being held prisoner. The jester wore a friar’s brown robe. Inside, he exchanged it with the noble he served. When the “friar” left, it was the noble in disguise. No one even noticed the difference. That’s what Paul was telling us here when he said, “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.” We’re to slip into Jesus, and wear Him everywhere we go. We’re to look like Him. Walk like Him. Talk like Him. Act like Him. In fact, we’re to be Jesus to others. What a challenge. To wear Jesus so well that no one will notice the difference. To be in Him. And to let Him be fully in me.
Civil Disobedience(Rom. 13)
How can we obey God’s command to submit to human government, if a government asks us to violate a divine law? That has happened more than once. It even happened at the beginning of the Church Age. Remember how the Sanhedrin commanded Peter and John not to preach Jesus? They disobeyed, saying, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.” In the case of direct conflict, the Christian must of course obey God. But we can still submit to government’s powers even when we disobey! You see, there are two ways that a person can uphold law and order. One way is to obey the law. The other is to accept the punishment the law requires. Each course of action upholds the law. Those who in the ’60s chose civil disobedience to protest discrimination against blacks were often jailed. Going quietly to jail, as Martin Luther King, Jr. did, upheld the principle of law, even as laws were broken. But there were those in the late ’60s who ran to Canada to escape the draft. They protested what they thought was an unjust war. But rather than uphold law and order by accepting punishment, their flight was a refusal to submit to the law of man and of God. In the ’90s there are other issues that may well demand Christians of conscience to break the laws of our land. But any who do must also submit willingly to any punishment the law decrees. If they do, they will honor their cause and show that Christian respect for the government that God commands.
We can obey God by breaking the law only if we are willing to accept the punishment law decrees.
“A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone.”—Martin Luther