Dual Citizenship (Romans 13:1-14) – Part I
What is dual citizenship? Dual citizenship means that an individual is a citizen of two countries at the same time. In America, dual citizenship is not something that can be applied for. It occurs automatically for some individuals. For example, if a child is born in the U.S. to foreign parents, the child automatically has U.S. citizenship as well as citizenship of the parents’ home country. Similarly, the Bible calls you to dual citizenship. If you were born in the U.S. you are an American citizen, but when you were born again you became heaven’s citizen. You are responsible to live out both citizenships and Paul argues that both citizenships are essential since you have dual citizenship. In Rom 13:1-14 Paul instructs you in your obligations as an earthly and heavenly citizen.
1. Submit To Government (13:1-7)
God is glorified and His will is fulfilled when you submit to His governing authorities. In 13:1a Paul writes: “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities.” The command begins with the words, “Every person” (pasa psuche lit. “every soul”). This includes believers and unbelievers, rich and poor, great and small, without exception. But Paul’s primary concern is that believers “submit” to governing authorities. The verb “submit” (hupotasso) means “to place oneself under.” After reading this blanket command, some look for exceptions. However, here Paul provides the general rule, not the exceptions. Of course, there are at least three areas in which a Christian should resist authority:
(1) If he or she is asked to violate a command of God.
(2) If he or she is asked to commit an immoral or unethical act.
(3) If he or she is asked to go against his/her conscience. But when a believer resists authority he/she must be willing to accept the consequences (see 13:2). Submission is never easy and frequently there are grave ethical dilemmas.
Fortunately, in 13:1b Paul gives the first reason you must submit to government. He writes, “For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” This is the first of four uses of the word “authority” (exousia), which means “delegated authority.” Paul’s entire argument is based upon a fundamental premise: God is sovereign and He possesses ultimate authority. However, no one has authority independent of God. (Underline the word “no” in 13:1b). He alone delegates human authority to people. This means that every government is to be acknowledged and obeyed by virtue of its existence, not because it meets your preferences. The term that is translated “established” or “ordained” (tetagmenai from tasso) is in the perfect tense, referring to a past action with continuous results. Paul means that all governments (past, present, and future) that exist are ordained by God, whether good or bad.
Now perhaps you are asking the question, “What about Hitler, Stalin, and Hussein? Did God ‘ordain’ these authorities?” The Scriptures teach an interesting paradox: on one hand, Satan is actively involved in the political process (Luke 4:6-7 – where Satan offers Jesus the kingdoms for his submission). The book of Daniel (chapters 10-12) teaches that there are wicked spirits who are assigned to various leaders. Yet at the same time, the Bible clearly teaches that God rules in the affairs of men.
In Psalm 75:6-7 Asaph says: “For not from the east, nor from the west, nor from the desert comes exaltation; but God is the Judge; He puts down one and exalts another.”
Proverbs 21:1 says: “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes.” In other words, God is sovereign over whoever is in authority. Remember, Nero was in power when Paul wrote Rom 13. Nero hated Christians, had them rounded up, dipped in tar, and lit as torches for his parties. He covered Christians in animal skins and threw them to wild dogs. He ordered Rome set on fire and then blamed the Christians, setting off the first wave of official persecution. We’ve largely forgotten how wicked pagan ancient Rome really was. Sorcery and black magic abounded, abortion flourished, homosexuality was accepted as normal, and the masses worshipped Caesar as Lord. No government in America has ever been as pagan as the government of ancient Rome.
Some do not want to go so far as to say that God established or ordained wicked tyrants like Nero. So they say that God ordained the institution of government, not the individual rulers. But that is a weak attempt to dodge a problem that Scripture repeatedly affirms. For example, Jeroboam, who rebelled against Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, subsequently set up false gods and a false worship center so that his people would not go to Jerusalem. Yet his rebellion and kingdom was “a turn of events from the Lord,” to establish His prophecy through Ahijah (1 Kings 12:15).
Nebuchadnezzar’s army destroyed Jerusalem, including the temple, slaughtered many Jewish people, and carried most of the survivors to Babylon. But God calls him His “servant” and says that He gave all of the land he conquered into his hand (Jer. 27:6).
Pilate was a pagan Roman governor who allowed Jesus to be crucified. Note this interesting exchange between Pilate and Jesus (John 19:10-11): “So Pilate said to Him, ‘You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?’ Jesus answered, ‘You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.’”
Even the wicked dragon (Satan) and the beast (Antichrist) do not thwart God’s purpose for the ages. They are under His sovereign authority, even when they persecute the saints (Rev. 13). Daniel’s testimony to both Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar was consistent and clear: “The Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes” (Dan. 4:17, 25, 32; 5:21).
When Paul says (13:2) that those who disobey government authority “will receive condemnation upon themselves,” I understand him primarily to be referring to the judgment that the government brings on law-breakers. In verse 4 he says that the government “bears the sword,” which refers to the authority to punish law-breakers. He also calls it “an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.” These expressions do not refer to God’s eternal wrath, but to His temporal wrath inflicted by the government on evildoers so that it can uphold law and order.
Thus, because the government is God’s minister to inflict punishment on those who do evil, Christians must be in subjection to the government. But this raises the questions, “What about civil disobedience against corrupt governments or bad laws? What about armed rebellion against evil, tyrannical governments?”
Regarding civil disobedience, when the government commands us to do something that is disobedient to God’s Word, we must resist the government and obey God. When the Sanhedrin commanded Peter and John to stop speaking in the name of Jesus, they replied (Acts 4:19-20), “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Later, when the command was repeated, Peter answered (Acts 5:29), “We must obey God rather than men.” Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego refused to bow before Nebuchadnezzar’s idol (Dan. 3). In defiance of the king’s edict, Daniel continued to pray (Dan. 6). What if Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego had grabbed their AR-15 and took it to the house? Would God have blessed the uprising? I can tell you for sure that we would have missed one of the greatest miracles recorded in the Bible. The question I ask you is How Big is Our God?
Should Christians ever take up arms against the government or attempt to assassinate a wicked ruler, such as Hitler? Were the thirteen colonies right to declare independence from Britain? These are difficult questions that must be prayerfully thought through in each situation. Godly believers differ in their conclusions.
In my biblically-based perspective - if the government forced us to abort babies to maintain population control, we should resist. If the government forbad us to gather as believers, we should gather anyway. If the government banned the Bible, we should own and distribute Bibles anyway.
While I would agree that it is wrong to murder an abortionist, which would be overcoming evil by evil (Rom. 12:21), I must admit that it is hard to fault Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was arrested and subsequently hanged because he was part of a plot to assassinate Hitler. Our perspective is that by killing Hitler, this action would have saved the lives of millions of Jews. However, look what God did through the persecution. The Jews were given the land of Israel and this ultimately fulfilled prophecy when the land was returned to its rightful owners. So history always shows that God uses even evil kings for His purposes.
The night is always darkest before the light. So, who is really in charge here?
Regarding revolution against the government, you may agree with Sam Storms, who writes (on EnjoyingGodMinistries.com), “Armed revolution is justified … only if the state has become totally opposed to the purpose for which God ordained it, and if there is no other recourse available to prevent massive evil.” Obviously, this involves a judgment call. Some justify the American Revolution on the principle “that it is morally right for a lower government official to protect the citizens in his care from a higher official who is committing crimes against these citizens” (cited by Wayne Grudem, Politics According to the Bible [Zondervan], p. 89, italics his). This view goes back to Calvin’s Institutes (ibid.).
But in my judgment, I cannot justify the American Revolution on biblical grounds, although I am thankful for our nation and our freedoms. While King George was corrupt and repressive, ultimately men took action into their own hands without allowing God to do it. Did God allow it – yes. But was it justified? That is the question. God allowed it to work according to His purposes. It’s not an easy issue! But the general principle is clear and exceptions to it must be weighed very carefully: Since God has ordained government authority, we must be in subjection to it or we are in rebellion against God Himself.
Let me give you a few examples of God overthrowing the enemies of His people without any help from men.
Hezekiah prayed and 185,000 men fell dead by the angels of God (2 Kings 19, Isaiah 37:36). The men did not lift their swords. Does that mean they never went into combat? Of course not. We are not talking about soldiers instructed to go to war here. We are talking about rebellion against the governing authorities. There are dozens of instances where God tells Israel to fight from Exodus to II Chronicles (at least 61 references to God calling his people to battle against invading armies or wicked nations occupying their land). What I am referencing here is that God can fight our battles without a sword being lifted if we call on Him to do so. Our natural instinct is to fight oppression – we just have to remember that it is God who fights the battles, for our battle is not against flesh and blood but against the principalities and spiritual forces of darkness (Ephesians 6).
How about Israel when vacating Egypt? Those Israelites sure did beat down the armies of Pharaoh. Nope – it was all God – fire from heaven and then giant waves did the job. This was after 10 plagues had devastated the land. The Lord fought for them. “The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still." Exodus 14:14
In Revelation 19, it will be Jesus Christ, who will bring down the enemies of God not His people. Not even the angels are mentioned there – only Jesus – King of kings and Lord of lords.
Let’s look at this story from The War of 1812:
Landing in Benedict, Maryland on August 19, 1814, a British force of roughly 5,000 men marched towards Washington. An American force of roughly 7,000 led by Brigadier General William Winder made a largely ineffective attempt to stop the British at the Battle of Bladensburg, Maryland on August 24. I hesitate to use that word, ineffective, because there was some courageous fighting there on the part of some Americans. But the battle was so poorly planned, the American forces so confused, it turned into an awful rout very quickly. And the road to Washington lay wide open to the British.
Once in Washington, the British burned the White House (after sitting down to eat a large feast that Dolly Madison and her staff had prepared for cabinet members before they were all forced to flee). The War Department, the State Department, the Treasury department and many other government offices were burned. And, of course, the Capitol building, with the original Library of Congress, was destroyed.
The policy was to leave private property alone. However, the conflagration of many public buildings threatened to spread out of control. The city was in jeopardy.
The next day, August 25, as fires still raged, a massive storm hit Washington. The driving rain put out most of the fires threatening the city. Perhaps more important, the invading British were so battered and demoralized, the storm played a large role in the decision to cut short the occupation of Washington.
The storm was so fierce that it tore buildings apart, literally lifting them off their foundations. The winds uprooted trees and knocked men to the ground. A number of houses collapsed, killing the British soldiers taking shelter therein. One British officer reported seeing cannons lifted off the ground and thrown through the air. Redcoats out on the streets of Washington, trying to enforce a curfew, were forced to lie prostrate in the mud.
Based on the first hand accounts, weather historians generally agree that the storm that struck Washington on August 25, 1814 sparked one or more tornadoes. I can’t possibly imagine being one of these soldiers, completely exposed, with no choice but to cling to mother earth in the midst of a tornado.
As the storm began to subside, one of the British officers in command of the invasion emerged from his shelter and said to one of the inhabitants of Washington, “Great God, Madam, is this the kind of storm to which you are accustomed in this infernal country?!”
She responded, “No, sir, this is a special interposition of Providence to drive our enemies from the city.”
There can be no doubt that the tornado that struck Washington that day did more to save the capital than the United States Army ever did. The fires were largely extinguished. And the British limped back to their ships.
So let’s turn back to our Bibles:
Jesus answered [speaking to Pilate], “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.”
By me kings reign…
…he removes kings, and sets up kings…
Then God removed Saul and made David their king…
No one… can exalt themselves. It is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another.
…the Most High has power over human kingdoms. He gives them to whomever he wishes.
~ Daniel 4:17
You see – if God wants to overthrown an army or a king – He will do it for all authority is His. We just think we need to help God out. It doesn’t mean God won’t call us to arms, but we must submit to His authority rather than taking justice into our own hands and leading a revolt without God’s direction. I love the scene in the movie the Matrix where Neo asks Morpheus, “are you saying I can dodge bullets?” – and his answer “no, I am saying that when you are ready, you won’t have to.” I love that line. Why? Because like Stephen, the martyr, or Shadrach in the fire – we will realize the weapons of our warfare are not of this world:
“The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” II Corinthians 10:4
We have those who will be called by God to take arms while there are those who fight on the spiritual battlefield – like Exodus 17 where Joshua is leading the ground troops and Moses and Aaron are up on the hilltop praying. As long as Moses’ arms were lifted high, they were winning. This is the “move mountains scenario” that Jesus speaks about in Matthew 17 and Matthew 21. But let’s get back to what Paul is saying about civil disobedience.
In 13:2 Paul shares the first consequence if you fail to submit to government. He writes, “Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.” Paul is saying that when you resist government you are resisting God! To put it positively, submission to government is an expression of your submission to God. Therefore, whether you think a law is fair or not, you have no right to disobey simply because of your preferences. If you choose to disobey Paul states that you will receive condemnation upon yourself. “Condemnation” (krima) or “judgment” refers to both God’s judgment and government’s judgment. Government penalizes people for their wrongdoings. What government fails to judge properly in this life, God will make right in the final judgment.
In 13:3 Paul gives a second reason why you should generally be submissive to governing authorities. He explains, “For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same.” Rulers uphold the law. Hence, if you are honoring the law, you have nothing to fear under a good government. But when you do evil, you have much to fear. Have you ever experienced the surge of fear that shoots through you when you speed through a speed trap and then look down at your speedometer? It’s a frightening thing. (I know from first-foot experience!) Now if you never speed, you have nothing to worry about, right? Right! But if you drive I-25 like the German autobahn, be worried . . . be very worried! The consequences of judgment or “praise” are true of every scale of crime. Choose your consequences. It’s up to you.
Paul gives a second, surprising consequence if you fail to submit to government. He writes in 13:4: “for it [rulers] is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.” Two times in 13:4, Paul calls rulers a “minister” (diakonos), which is also the word for deacon. So you are to look upon governing authorities as part of God’s staff. They are a part of the team He assembles to work in the world today. The task of this staff is to serve God by dealing appropriately with those who do good and also with those who do evil. In case there is any doubt in your mind, Paul puts the word “God” (theou) in the emphatic slot in both phrases of 13:4. Governing authorities are God’s appointed, so you are commanded to submit to them. You have dual citizenship.
The same respect that David gave to Saul (a wicked king) is the same attitude we must have to all authority (I Sam. 9, 10, 24 and 26). Do not lay hands on or destroy God’s anointed.
Paul is presenting the general purpose and practice of government: to protect those who do right and to punish those who do wrong. Granted, there have been many exceptions throughout history. Corrupt governments punish law-abiding citizens who speak out against the corruption and they reward scoundrels who help keep them in power. John Calvin argues (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], p. 480) that God uses wicked rulers as His scourge to punish the sins of the people. In other words, we get the rulers that we deserve! But when governments function as they are supposed to, they protect law-abiding citizens and punish law-breakers.
To do this, the government must legislate morality. You often hear that we should not legislate morality, but that is absurd. There was an exchange on this in the local newspaper earlier this year with an opinion piece where the author argued that imposing “personal, moralistic beliefs” challenges our freedom by disregarding the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Someone’s response was brilliant – he said, “we impose personal, moralistic beliefs all the time. We have laws against rape, wife-beating, honor killings, stealing, assault, murder, pedophilia, and many other immoral behaviors, and rightly so. We forcefully impose these “moralistic” beliefs on all in our society, even though they go against the personal beliefs of a minority. What is morality if not defined and upheld by law?”
A nation can be punished by the actions of its leaders (2 Sam 24), and a nation can be punished with poor leaders because the hearts of the people are evil (2 Kgs 17:1–23, Isaiah 1, Jeremiah 3). In the same way, a nation can be blessed with good leadership because the people honor God (Prov 8:14–16; 2 Chr 7:14). We can honor the structure of leadership that God has ordained (Exod 18:21; Deut 17:14–20), and we can do this even if we do not agree with all the decisions those in authority are making; that’s just all the more reason to pray for them.
A corrupt government is the fault of a corrupt people. It is a by-product of disobedience. We must examine ourselves as a nation. The problem isn’t as much the politicians in Washington D.C. as we would like to believe. The problem is in our homes, our communities, and even our churches. Indeed, the heart of the American people has changed.
How far have we digressed as a nation? In 1620, William Bradford and the brave men and women of faith aboard the Mayflower declared America to be “for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith.” Later it was President George Washington who said that the twin pillars essential for supporting a successful society are morality and religion. What kind of religion? Was it just any kind? John Adams, our second president, clarified this when he declared, “The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were … the general principles of Christianity.”
Where are we today? Stephen Hopewell describes our current state of affairs:
The pillar of traditional morality is certainly one that needs to be restored to our society; but we will have to separate it once and for all from the other pillar, that of progress. It is no longer possible for us to see America as ‘the leader in moral progress,’ a conceit which has made us blind to the real moral decline in our society and susceptible to believing that our supposed moral goodness can serve to defend us from enemies and invaders.
Are we still a Christian nation? For those of us who align with this faith, the easy answer is yes—but the reality is more difficult to process. According to recent surveys, including one from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, the fastest growing “religious” group in America is made up of people with no religion at all. This group has grown by 25 percent in the past five years, and for the first time evangelicals and Protestants now make up only 48 percent of the population. There was a significant decline in the group who identified themselves as Christian—by as much as 14 percent since 2005.
This alarming trend provides a pathway to power for individuals whose perspectives do not align with those of our Founding Fathers or the general precepts of morality we have strived to preserve for 396 years (since the Mayflower Compact). Proverbs 29:2 reminds us, “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; but when the wicked rule, the people groan” (nrsv). Noah Webster, a Founding Father and educator, offered a similar warning:
Let it be impressed on your mind that God commands you to choose for rulers just men who will rule in the fear of God (Exod 18:21). … If the citizens neglect their duty and place unprincipled men in office, the government will so be corrupted … If government fails to secure public prosperity and happiness, it must be because the citizens neglect the Divine commands, and elect bad men to make and administer the laws.
We have no one to blame but ourselves. We have failed to pass a legacy of faith to the next generation as God Himself directed us to do (Deut 6:1–9; Psa 78). In four generations, we have lost a firm foundation on moral truth. Now the heart of our nation is divided, and we must be reminded of what the prophets spoke to the people of Israel—a reminder that is still relevant to us today: If we repent and return to God, He will hear, forgive, and restore our land (2 Chr 7:14). It was the Lord who said to Isaiah, “their hearts are far from me” (Isa 29:13). Again He spoke to Jeremiah and said that if His wayward people would return to Him with all their hearts, then He would give them leaders who honor Him—“shepherds after [His] own heart” (Jer 3:6–18). You see, it begins with us assuming a humble, contrite spirit before our Almighty God, expecting nothing in return.
God knows what He’s doing—a fact that we, His people, need to be reminded of. This was true of Job, who stated, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (Job 42:3). Max Lucado challenged me with these words:
It’s easy to thank God when he does what we want. But God doesn’t always do what we want. Ask Job. His empire collapsed, his children were killed, and what was a healthy body became a rage of boils. From whence came this torrent? From whence will come any help? Job goes straight to God and pleads his case. His head hurts. His body hurts. His heart hurts. And God answers. Not with answers but with questions. An ocean of questions. After several dozen questions, Job gets the point. What is it? The point is this: God owes no one anything. No reasons. No explanations. Nothing. If He gave them, we couldn’t understand them. God is God. He knows what He is doing. When you can’t trace His hand, trust His heart.
God says that He saw the end from the beginning (Isa 46:10), that He is omnipresent (Psa 139:1–18), and that there are no accidents, for all things are according to the counsel of His will (Eph 1:11). Do we believe it? Even when tragedy strikes or we experience a refining defeat, He already has the victory and assures us of such. King David recognized God’s sovereignty and sang Him praise: “Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all” (1 Chr 29:11–12). Scripture declares that God directs the hearts of the rulers of the earth and selects them for His bidding (Prov 21:1; 8:15; Dan 4:25; Col 1:15–20). The battle is not lost—God is still hearing the cries of His people.
Prayer is needed in America to restore the foundations of Christianity in our homes. Now is not the time to grow weary. Now is not the time to give up. God has identified for us the chinks in our armor and the hindering sins that prevail within, so that we gird up our loins and prepare in solemn assembly as never before. We must not allow our prayers to diminish. Rather, we must amplify our prayers with persistence and perseverance. In the words of the Apostle Paul, “Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor 15:56). May our days be filled with praise and adoration for the King of kings. Let our faith be contagious with our passion of service, and may the joy of our love for Him fill our home and impact generations not yet born. We must be intentional for such a time as this.
Let’s Pray – next week as we talk about Dual Citizenship- Part II: Authorities and Taxes.
Look – it’s tax season so this is important to discuss. See you next week.