Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
Tomorrow those of us living in the United States have the privilege of voting. For Christians, we thank God, first and foremost, that we have been made free by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (Jn. 8:32; Eph. 2:8-9). We acknowledge that this makes us citizens of the heavenly city (Col. 3:1-4) while being aliens and strangers here on the earth (Eph. 2:19; 1 Pet. 2:11).
We also acknowledge that we are citizens of an earthly city, one that is passing away (Heb. 11:10-16; 13:14; 2 Pet.3:10-14) . But until that time, we are called to be faithful in that city. In fact, Christians, those who are first and foremost citizens of the heavenly city, are to be some of the best, most faithful citizens in the earthly city. Though we are not to be afraid of speaking and acting against Caesar when our heavenly citizenship is compromised, which means there are times when we must obey God rather than man (Acts 4:19-20; 5:29), neither are we afraid or reticent to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, as that is the structure God has temporarily ordained (cf. the texts below) and our Lord Jesus’ commands (Matt. 22:21; Mk. 12:17; Lk. 20:25).
As an example, though Paul gladly acknowledged he was a Roman citizen and even referred to his citizenship when he was unjustly treated (Acts 16:37-38; 18:25:8, 11), he was not willing to acknowledge any other ultimate king, any other god besides God (1 Cor. 8:5-6). Contrary to the Jews’ claim at Jesus’ crucifixion that “we have no king but Caesar” (Jn. 19:15), Jesus taught and lived that rendering to God is absolute, which Paul did as well in his imitation of his Lord, Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). Paul lived the reality of being “in but not of” the world (cf. Jn. 17), being salt and light here and now to God’s glory (Matt. 5:13-16).
Read, ponder and mediate on these biblical truths that are pertinent to those of us living in the United States, who engage as faithful citizens of an earthly city because we are faithful citizens of a heavenly city. In sum, it is our citizenship in the heavenly city that fills our citizenship in the earthly city with meaning and significance.
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. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
1 Timothy 2:1-6
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.
1 Peter 2:11-17
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.