As we have been considering the relationship of the believer to the modern secular state, what have we learned? We know that our current rulers are in high rebellion against God, and have therefore forfeited all moral legitimacy. Judgment, when meted out by God, will have been most mercifully delayed—even if it happens tomorrow. In the meantime, we submit to the de facto rule of the regime because God is the one who judges, and because we are included in His judgments. But even in judgment their authority is not absolute in God’s eyes, and so there is a point where we must resist. Further, their authority is not absolute according to their own constitutions and laws, which have far more residual Christianity woven throughout them than the secularists would like us to believe. Remember particularly that resistance is sometimes the only way to submit to “the established authorities.”
Our dilemma can be summed up this way. Our rulers have no moral legitimacy. But neither do we.
“Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk . . .” (Matt. 22:15-22).
Render to Caesar
The Lord Jesus was presented with a difficult question. Do we pay taxes or not? If
yes . . . He is a quisling. If no . . . He is a rebel. But Christ answered in a way which left them thunderstruck. We have very tiny minds, and have difficulty distinguishing things which necessarily differ.
So here we must distinguish between “less than perfect government,” which is what we will always have on this planet, and “idolatrous government,” which we are commanded not to have. To complicate things further, these two kinds of government will frequently overlap. With the former, we have the option of resisting, depending upon the issue, circumstances, history, laws, etc. With the latter, resistance is a positive moral duty in every instance where they have made the idolatry mandatory. This is not the same thing as having the idolatry present. Daniel in the Babylon was in the midst of idolatry, but was untouched by it.
Christians on both ends of the left/right political spectrum have trouble making these distinctions, and ideological perfectionism is a real plague. Remember that our phrase right wing came from the seating in the French legislative chambers after the Revolution.
The right wingers were the moderates, but they were moderate revolutionaries.
Common Problem Areas
These are some areas where we must think with maturity, and pick our battles carefully. Consider carefully the teaching in Matthew 17:24-27.
“And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your master pay tribute? He saith, Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers? Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free.
Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee” (Matt. 17:24–27).
The first point here is that not every right should be grasped. Jesus here had His disciples pay a tax they didn’t owe. On the subject of taxes, we apparently need more humbling than we have received thus far—and besides, to draw the line here and not at other places reveals why we need humbling. As Jesus points out here, such taxes are a sign of alienation between the rulers and the ruled.
What about regulations? Do not assume that you are required to do whatever a random bureaucrat says you are required to do. There is a difference between regulations and laws—with regulations frequently being illegal and unconstitutional themselves. At the same time, do not embroil yourself in nickel/dime controversies. This would include building regulations, EPA regulations, and so forth. But making such prudent choices does not mean your conscience is bound. At the same time, you do what you do before God.
Those who have a zeal for liberty sometimes display an absolute genius for picking a swamp to defend instead of a hill. In a perfect world, we would not have to get a license in order to mow our own lawns, but in the meantime, take care that you do not set yourself up to have to fight over issues with a very low rate of return.
None of these issues can be settled with a check list mentality. “Is this okay? How about that?” The principles which should be brought to bear on your decision include history, context, resources, accountability, and more. Seek to grow in grace and wisdom.
Render to God
Now let’s return to our text. That which Caesar can manage to get his image on can lawfully be rendered to him (although Christ does not teach that it must be). But we bear the image of God. Therefore, we are prohibited from rendering ourselves, or our children, to Caesar. When he claims ultimacy, we are required to clearly and plainly say, “We must not do as you say.”
But how can we understand the image of God, unless we recover the biblical vision of God? If we do not know God, then how can we comprehend or see that which reflects Him? We cannot know ourselves without seeing God revealed as the Most High. Man- centered religion is therefore the enemy of . . . man, the image-bearer. This is why reformation in the church is essential to political reformation.
Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (2 Cor. 3:17). This is not because of some mysterious and invisible connection, but rather because the Spirit of God works in converted men and women in order to renew the defaced image of God. “. . . and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:23-24).
There is more to this than simply refusing to render the imago Dei to Caesar. We must render ourselves and our children to God, so that He might teach us the truth, and consequently set us free. A righteous and holy people have never been successfully enslaved. We, on the other hand, have been made slaves. The way out is not to beat your head against the walls of the prison. The way out is the pursuit of righteousness and holiness. And that can only be accomplished through the gospel of free grace. Only free grace can grow free men.