Todd is pastor of Berean Baptist Church in Ammon, Idaho. He grew up in Idaho Falls, Idaho.
Romans 13 is the shortest chapter in the book, but don’t let that lessen its impact and relevance for today. Whereas the opening message of Romans brought justification to Martin Luther and later in church history to John Wesley upon hearing Luther’s preface, the message of Romans 13 changed the course of Augustine’s life.
The chapter could primarily be broken up into three sections: commandments in relation to your government, commandments in relation to your neighbor, and commandments in relation to Christ. I think that one’s obedience in these three areas is directly connected to how much one is willing to grow in gospel grace, for it is only the gospel that enables one to live out any of this stuff.
The Christian’s Relationship to Secular Government (vv. 1-7)
First of all, I don’t quite understand some of Joseph Smith insertions in the text. He is thinking of the church: and punishment instead of damnation, a rod instead of the sword, and consecrations instead of tribute. What did he think about the U.S. President during the time of these translational notes?
Paul is talking about civil authorities in this opening paragraph. And Richard Holzapfel and Thomas Wayment in their book, Making Sense of the New Testament, make a fair observation, “[Paul’s] comments on government . . . should be interpreted in light of the fact that the rulers he was speaking of were not democratic leaders but foreign oligarchs with their own interests and agendas” (p. 338). Just imagine the political leaders in Paul’s day. Wow. I am glad to live in America.
But can we apply this passage to President Barak Obama? Certainly. Paul was not a political revolutionary. And in light of this passage, Christians would be in disobedience for dodging the paying of taxes. And we ought to seriously take note that our city, county, state, and national servants are God’s deacons (v. 4). Christians display the glorious Christian gospel and trust in God by their submission to government. Christians can be accused of a lot of things. But they shouldn’t be accused of being political rebels or rabble-raisers.
The Christian’s Relationship to His Neighbor (vv. 8-10)
Paul and James join hand in hand with one another. Paul writes, “For the commandments . . . are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” . . . and “love is the fulfilling of the law.” James writes in James 2, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well.”
But how do we do this? And who really is the consistently good Samaritan? We don’t have the strength within ourselves to love our neighbors as we should, let alone an enemy. We need something or more specifically Someone – the one who perfectly loves neighbors and enemies – to live and love through us.
It is interesting how Eric Shusten and Charles Sale seek application from this text. In their book, The Biblical Roots of Mormonism (2010), they write, “While the Bible is clear about the sin of homosexual sex, it is equally clear about love (Matthew 22:39). Love the sinner, not the sin (Romans 13:9-10)” (p. 238).
The Christian’s Relationship to Christ (vv. 11-14)
A Christian does not get saved by grace and then try to live the Christian life by his or her effort. It is all grace. There must be a daily putting on of the Lord Jesus Christ by grace through faith. Yes, Paul exhorts us in regards to our responsibility. We must cast off by faith, our sinful tendencies. We must put on by faith, the gospel armor. Simply put, we must put on Christ.
So, we cast off. We put on. And we walk forward in the daily spiritual battle. And we can do it all through only one – the Lord Jesus Christ. Going beyond earthly politics, this King is our ultimate freedom fighter. He set Augustine free.
Let me conclude with a snippet from Augustine’s testimony. I finished reading his Confessions last month.
“I sent up these sorrowful cries: “How long, how long? Tomorrow and tomorrow? Why not now? Why not this very hour make an end to my uncleanness?”
“I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when suddenly I heard the voice of a boy or a girl—I know not which—coming from the neighboring house, chanting over and over again, “Pick up, read; pick up, read” [Tolle, lege; tolle, lege]. Immediately I ceased weeping and began most earnestly to think whether it was usual for children in some kind of game to sing such a song, but I could not remember ever having heard the like. So, damming the torrent of my tears, I got to my feet, for I could only think that this was a divine command to open the book and read the first passage I should light upon. For I had heard how Anthony, accidently coming into church while the gospel was being read, received the admonition as if what was read had been addressed to him: “Go and sell what you have and give it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me.” By such an oracle he was immediately converted to you. So I quickly returned to the bench where Alypius was sitting, for there I had put down the apostle’s book when I had left. I snatched it up, opened it, and in silence read the paragraph on which my eyes first fell: “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.” I wanted to read no further, nor did I need to. For instantly, as the sentence ended, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty and all the gloom of doubt vanished away.”