Should Christians obey the government? Regardless of your position on the current controversy surround the NFL and players kneeling during the National Anthem, most every Christians has rightfully cause to be displeased with their local, state, and federal governments. Corrupt police officers have abused minorities. Judges have promoted murder through the defense of abortion. The state department has refused to grant Christians sanctuary from persecution. And then most every Christian has cause to complain about how the IRS collects and spends their tax money. Some Christians are quick to point out the government takes their hard earned money for the purpose providing lazy bums with welfare checks. Other Christians are mad that the government allows and empowers corporations and the wealthy to enrich themselves at the expense of poor, hard working men and women. In short, most every Christian has cause not to obey the government because they are ruled by petty, corrupt, and sometimes purely evil officials.
Thus, we arrive back at the question. Do Christians have to obey their governments? Jesus says yes. In Mark 12:13-17, Jesus faces the same question that we face. He responding by saying, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are Gods” (vs17c). Jesus call us to obey our government because he reigns. We are to submit to our local authorities as an act of submitting to God.
The Back Ground
Before we write of Jesus as being out of touch and as not understanding our current political American backdrop, we need to remember Jesus’ setting in Mark 12. The Jews did not like the Romans. When the Roman general Pompey the great conquered Jerusalem and the temple mount in 63 B.C, he had his troops slaughtered the priests, he walked over their dead bodies and entered the Holy of Holies, and then he desecrated the temple by offering pagan sacrifices. The Jewish Roman relations did not go up from this point. The Jews hated to Romans and regularly revolted against the Italians, viewing them to be interlopers, oppressors, and decidedly wicked. Most of the Jews spent their days dreaming about the Romans dying. Even much of Jesus’ popularity was tied to the hope that he would end their reign. The Romans were a wicked, unpopular, and oppressive government that readily exploited the Jews.
The Pharisees and the Herodians come ask Jesus about paying taxes to Caesar because they know that many of the Jews have ample cause to hate their Romans. Paying taxes in Jesus’ day like our day was not a popular subject. And so these leaders pose this question about governmental authority seeking to trip Jesus up. The parallel passage in Luke reports, “So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor” (Lk 20:20).
In a rather striking moment two groups of Jews that typically hate each other have been unified by their hatred of Jesus. The Pharisees were the strict, legalist leaders of the Jewish world. They were the homeschool, long skirt, anti-smart phone champions of the ancient world who regularly policed how far people walked on the Sabbath. The Herodians were the playboy, nude beach, and pro-luxury champions of the ancient world who readily embraced the bathhouses and vileness of the roman culture. Although these men had very different outlooks on life and operated on two separate worldviews, they were united in their hate of Jesus. Jesus opposed both legalism and licentiousness and called men and women to repent and believe on him. They hate Jesus so much that they were willing to overlook their own disagreements.
As believers, we must not be surprised that the world gangs up on us. We must not be surprised when we see agnostics, Tibetan monks, and Muslims uniting together to oppose Christ. They all affirm different answers to life’s most meaningful questions of purpose. But they all are unified in their rejection of Christ. They share a friendship based on the belief that humans can reach God apart from the saving work of Jesus on the cross. Those who proclaim Christ will be hated by the world. We must expect opposition. And now falter in our gospel witness when we see the world teeming up to oppose Christ.
The trap they set revolves around to supposed answers to their question “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay them or should we not?” These men ask the question seeking to trip Jesus up, seeking to derail his ministry much like Jesus had done to the chief priests the day before when he asked by what authority did John baptize (Mk 11:27-33). The Jews believe that Jesus can give only one of two answer. First, Jesus could tell the Jews not to pay taxes to Caesar. Jesus would win over the crowds with this answer but would also commit treason against Rome. As a result, the Jews could scamper back to Pilot report Jesus’s treasonous words which would compel the Romans to arrest and most probably execute Jesus. Second, Jesus could tell the Jews to pay taxes to Caesar. If Jesus responded in this manner, then the crowds would leave him. Jesus would go from trending to being blocked on twitter and Instagram. As the crowds melted away, the Jewish leader could seize Jesus and kill him because no one would care.
In their Pharisees and Herodians’ minds, they had landed on the perfect question. Regardless of how Jesus answered, they would win. But Jesus calls an audible. He gives them a completely unexpected answer and says, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mk 12:17c).
Render To Caesar
We are to obey our crooked police officer when he unfairly asks us to stop, we are to pay our taxes even when we think the government is wasteful, and we are to obey the laws of the land because God reigns. Our government, the Romans, and every other government in this world exists because God appointed them to power. President Obama and President Trump have both run this country because God wanted them to rule America. We do not obey them because they are always good, wises, and worthy of our respect. We obey them because God is always good, wise and worthy of our respect. We obey our government because God reigns and has appoint our local, state, and federal officials to rule over us. We should respect our elected officials with our words, we should pay our taxes, and we should stop when we see blue lights pop up in our rear view mirror because we are to “render to Caesar the thing that are Caesar’s.”
The apostle Paul said,
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.
Again Paul is not calling the government good. But he is saying that our God good instituted the government. The government that fallen and messed up still exist for the good of the people. The goverments still protect us from our foreign enemies, from the evil people in our neighborhoods, and from other corrupt government officials. Again some will say, “but God does not get how bad things are in my town.”
He does. Paul wrote this words most likely when Nero ruled Rome. The man tied up Christians to polls, dosed them in fluid and set them on fire to provided lighting for his garden parties. If Christians are admonished to obey this emperor surely we can obey our president our respect our flag regardless of the party in power.
We are not called to look the other way when our government sins. We should take legal steps to fight for justice. We should call our police officers to treat all fairly. We should call our congressmen to stop wasting our tax dollars on abortions and other sinful practices. And we should encourage our state department to welcome Christians being persecuted for their faith. But we should speak to these things orderly and obediently recognizing that their authority comes from God.
And because our governments come from God, we should also beseech God to change our governments and to graciously provide us for godly men and women to rule over us. “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” (1 Tm 2:1-2). Brothers and sisters if you want persecutions to stop injustices to end, do not riot. Do not sin. Beg God for mercy. Plead with God to change hearts and to bring justice. He can and he does. And moreover, plead with Christ to return. As Augustine said, “sin is the primary cause of servitude.” The City of God, the perfect garden where all men and women live in perfect harmony will not arrive until Christ returns and assumes his proper place as ruler of this world. All who suffer under imperfect governments who are mistreated by those in authority should long for that day. We should submit to our governments because they are appointed by God.
Render To God
Then we must render to “God the things that our Gods.” Our governments make demands of our time, person, and wealth. We have to suffer through the DMV and through filling taxes and then we have to pay taxes. But God requires more than lip service. God demands more than a perfunctory service or portion of our income. God demands our whole person. We owe God true obedience and worship in every area of our lives.
Yes, we should be good, caring, loving, informed, and involved citizens. We should vote. We help our neighbors clean up their yard after a storm. We should seek to understand various politicians and their legislation so that we can make informed decisions when we pick up our ballot and slide the yellow voting card into the computer. We should speak up when we see county officials abusing their power by cutting the new road through their property for the purpose of personal gain. We should speak up when we see police officers abusing the poor. We should attempt to remove crooked congresspersons and the president from office through impeachment or the voting booth when the practice evil. We should be involved citizens because God sovereignly reigns over all.
But obedience to God extends well beyond the limits of being a good citizen. Men can open doors for women, and greet everyone with a firm handshake and still refuse to give Jesus the worship that he is due. Women can slow down and rid their house of every electronic device and still not render to God the things that are God’s.
And Christ is not just making demands upon our worship. We should want to long to be in the house of God. We should enjoy singing, giving, and hearing the word of God preach. But we can do all these religious things and more and still not render to God the things that our Gods. In Mark 7:6-7 Jesus quotes from the prophet Isaiah and condemns the Jews for the improper worship, saying “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” God is not pleased with a self-righteous worships. He cares little if we give the social acceptable amounts. He cares little about the number of times we have prayed in public. He does not respect us for all the solos and choir specials that we have sung. He is not impressed with our years of nursery service.
God does not ask us to render him a few moments or portions from our table. Christ wants it all. He demands our whole life. He calls us to place our whole life under his authority. He demands that we worship God with our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mt 22:37). Every aspect of our life is to be devoted to Christ through heart felt obedience. We cannot worship God apart from obedience. Jesus plainly said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” To render to God the things that our Gods is to obey him in every aspect of our lives.
We are to obey God in our sex lives. We are to flee from pornography, adultery, and fornication. We are not to live with our boyfriend and girlfriend before marriage. We cannot practice homosexuality and still walk with God. We can regularly divorce and do what God hates and render to God the things that our God. We must remain chaste until marriage and then delight ourselves in our spouse for as long as we both shall live.
We are to render to God the things that are God when it comes to our words. We must embrace Christ commands and speak only the truth in love. We cannot render to God the things that our God’s if we regularly attack, insult, slander, and belittle people with our words.
We must render to God the things that our God’s in our recreational life. We cannot forsake the assembling together of the brethren to make every weekend tournament and render to God the things that our God’s. When cannot become desperately sorrowful when our teams lose and then sinfully boastful when our teams win and think we are right with God.
God demands our whole life. Every aspect of our lives from time to money, from sports to school, from singleness to marriage must be brought under God’s jurisdiction. We must render to God the things that our God’s.
Admittedly no person God can do this in their own strength. We cannot work our way to heaven. No can we will our way to rendering to God the things that our God’s. Regardless of my effort, I cannot make an unwieldy, non-aerodynamic toy airplane fly. I tried and the plane shattered when I sent it off tumbling off the top step of the walkway that slopped down our front yard. They plane lacked the capacity. We too lack the capacity to obey God. We are sinners with corrupt hearts that long to do evil all the time.
Thankfully, God offers to change our nature. He offers to change our broken hearts. Through his son’s death on the cross, Jesus redeems the lost who call on him for salvation. Jesus gives us his righteousness. He gives us new hearts and his spirit so that for the first time in our history we can obey him from our hearts. We can go past lip service and truly worship him. If you have not repented, I implore you to repent and believe today.
And if you are a believer, I encourage you to daily confirm your life to God’s image. No one in this life perfectly renders to God the things that our God’s. And thankfully, we do not have to achieve perfection to reach heaven. Christ has already lived the perfect life, fully rending to God all the things that our His. We reach heaven not based on our righteousness but based on Christ’s. But if God has transformed our hearts, we will daily long to be more like. We will work we the spirit to transform our lives. We will daily see areas of our lives where our rendering falls short and will repent, change and start rendering to God what he is do. We will delight in obeying him. We will delight in becoming like Christ through rendering to God the worship he is do in every aspect of our lives.
Generally speaking governments are not good. They exists because men and women are sinful and need protection from each other. At times, they need protection from the very source that is called to protect them. But our ultimately reason to obey our authorities and to pay our taxes does not flow from our governments. We obey our rules because God is sovereign. And though we should render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, we should be even more concerned about rendering to God the things that our God’s. God’s demands extend beyond claiming some of time, efforts, and resources. To render to God the things that our God’s, we must worship him with our whole life. We can only truly worship God if we are redeemed by Christ and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
And now the question is to you. Will you render to God the things that our Gods?