Dual Citizenship

Dr. Ron J. Bigalke

Romans 12:1 urges believers “by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” The language used is not trite; rather, it acknowledges an ever-present reality within the ancient Roman Empire, because emperors could take the life of anyone.

For example, Herod the Great attempted to take the life of the newborn king of Israel (Jesus), by decreeing murder for all male children who were two years old and younger in Bethlehem and its vicinity (Matt 2:16-18). Herod’s son, Herod Antipas, celebrated his birthday by ordering the beheading of John the Baptist (Mark 6:14-29). Even though Antipas enjoyed listening to John (Mark 6:20), he gave the order “because of his oaths and because of his dinner guests” (Mark 6:26). One’s life could be taken capriciously in the Roman Empire.

Caligula and Tiberius Gemellus were first appointed as co-emperors. When the Senate and the people later chose Caligula to be the sole ruler, he murdered Gemellus. Caligula also murdered his relatives, tortured and killed people while eating, named his favorite horse as his counselor, declared himself to be a god, and dedicated sacrifices and temples to himself. Caligula was assassinated, and his uncle, Claudius I, became the next emperor. Claudius delegated his responsibilities to his wife, Messalina, whom he later murdered. He married his niece, Agrippina the Younger, who was responsible for his poisoning. Prior to his death, Claudius banished all the Jews from Rome, due to unrest from believers proclaiming the good news that God’s salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 18:2).

Nero became emperor following Claudius’ death. He was the “governing authority” when the Book of Romans was written (AD 57). Nero had his mother murdered (when he was age 22), and later divorced and murdered his wife. Nero instigated the great fire that consumed Rome in AD 64, yet he blamed the Christians. Consequently, he tortured and murdered Christians publicly, and eventually took the lives of the apostles Paul and Peter. When his policies were questioned, Nero killed himself in AD 68.

The relentless persecution of the church did not cease until Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in AD 313. Constantine believed that God granted him victory in battle. Consequently, he would later grant tremendous privilege and power to the church, which was not good because Christians adapted themselves to the paradigms of imperial governance. The relationship between the church and the state has provoked interesting discussion since this historical time.

The historical introduction to Romans 13 is necessary for understanding the challenging words for Christians, not only in the past but also in the present time. Verse 1 commands “every person ... to be in subjection to the governing authorities,” because “those which exist are established by God.” When one considers the experience of the early church, the difficulty of the biblical command is readily understood. One can imagine believers wondering how it is possible that murderous rulers were “established by God,” and then thinking why would they need “to be in subjection” to them. Could you also imagine the emotions and thoughts of the church when the “Christian” ruler (Constantine) became emperor?

Romans 13 is an important biblical passage for the church throughout the ages, as is all Scripture (2 Tim 3:16-17). The commands therein were certainly relevant for a church that lived under the rule of murderous emperors. The instruction, however, is also necessary for understanding that “governing authorities” are not everlasting. Christians are destined for an eternal inheritance, which has no comparison to anything in this life. Therefore, believers are to submit to the authorities, love one another, and “behave properly.”

Citizen of Earth: Obedience and Respect
(13:1-7) Romans 13 addresses the relationship of “every person” in regard to the state. “Subjection to the governing authorities” is especially applicable to the Christian, because he/she has a unique relationship to the state. Christians are both citizens of earth and citizens of heaven. Philippians 3:20-21 reminds the believer that his/her “citizenship is in heaven”; therefore, the Christian may appeal to the Savior, just as the Philippians could appeal to Rome for protection.

The believer is also to live with anticipation and eagerness for the return of the Lord Jesus Christ (which is the habitual perspective of the Christian, whose citizenship is in heaven). The believer’s citizenship means that Christians have unique spiritual responsibilities that are not obligatory for “every person.” Nevertheless, such citizenship does not lessen responsibilities to the state. The believer has solemn obligations to the state and the officials who govern the state. Verses 1-7 outline earthly responsibilities “to the governing authorities.” Verses 8-14 reveal spiritual responsibilities that are obligatory for Christians.

The responsibilities that are stated in 13:1-7 regarding earthly rulers, are directly related to the admonitions immediately preceding it in 12:9-21, and subsequent to it in 13:8-14. In other words, the instruction in 13:1-7 is related to the broader context. With a word of endearment (“beloved”), Romans 12:9-21 commands Christian to “never take your own revenge.” The reason is that Christians are to love “without hypocrisy” and to “bless and do not curse.” The believer is not to repay “evil for evil to anyone”; rather, the Christian is to “overcome evil with good.” Romans 13:8-14 resumes the theme of love, and teaches that the command to love one another is a perpetual debt for the believer.

The biblical teaching regarding the state is given strategically, because two sections emphasizing the priority of love border it (12:9-21; 13:8-14). Consequently, the emphasis is that the state does not bear such love, yet the individual Christian does heed the principle of love. Government has both the entitlement and the obligation to employ vengeance, because the state “is a minister of God.” The church is not entitled to avenge. What is illegitimate for the individual Christian, is entirely legitimate and essential for the state. If government does not avenge, chaos would result; then ordinary citizens would be subject to individual impulses and mob rule. The command “to be in subjection to the governing authorities” is an emphatic result of the fundamental principle of love.

The reason for subjection is, “there is no authority except from God.” Authorities do not derive their power from the consent of the governed; rather, civil authority is derived from God (cf. Dan 2:21; John 19:10-11). Every human being is made in God’s image and has God’s “Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness” (Rom 2:15; cf. 13:5). Therefore, even non-Christian lawmakers can outlaw evil, without recognizing that their criterion “for good” is derived from God. The role of the state is to protect those who obey the law and to punish the lawless. Proverbs 20:26 states, “A wise king winnows the wicked, and drives the threshing wheel over them.” Of course, there are rare times when Christians cannot submit to the state (e.g. Exod 1:15-22; Dan 6; Acts 4:19-20). The Christian cannot disobey what God has commanded, nor obey what would be contrary to Scripture.

Citizen of Heaven: Love and Behavior
(13:8-14) The second half of Romans 13 explains the responsibilities that Christians have consequent to their relationship to God. Verses 8-10 reveal that the primary motivation for the Christian’s behavior is love. The thought here resumes the discussion that concluded Romans 12. Christians are to “owe nothing to anyone except to love one another.” This verse derives emphasis from the immediately preceding statement in verse 7, to pay “tax to whom tax is due.”

Taxes and debts are legal obligations, and it is proper to reduce them as much as possible. However, the believer’s spiritual obligation is to love others in such a manner that it is continually increasing. In this sense, love is the only debt that should never be regarded as paid “in full.” The rule to love is the fundamental principle of Old Testament law. Christians are to love God and love their neighbor. Only when love is one’s motivation can a person fulfill his or her responsibilities to God, to other believers, to society, and to the state.

The final verses of Romans 13 provide an additional incentive for proper behavior: “The night is almost gone, and the day is near” (v. 12). Time of service upon this earth is brief at best. The consummation of “salvation is nearer to us than when we believed” (v. 11). Christians belong to “the day,” while living among a world in spiritual darkness. Consequently, believers are to live with regard for the future. The Christian’s responsibility is to have a mindset that anticipates life beyond the present. Each day, believers live among a world in spiritual darkness. Christians are to both demonstrate and testify with their behavior that they do not belong to this “darkness.” The believer does not belong to this world; rather, the Christian’s behavior is to characterize “the one to come” (Eph 1:21). Behavior as a Christian—who is saved by grace through faith/trust in Christ alone—should be a preview of the age “to come” among those with whom there is persistent contact.

One manner in which believers can live with regard for the future is to “lay aside the deeds of darkness” (13:12) that are listed in verse 13. When a Christian practices this command, he/she is able to live a life pleasing to God. Believers are to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (v. 14). When this command is heeded, the Christian will be victorious over temptation—sin will not have any prospect for establishing a foundational influence. Praise be to God for His provision through Christ Jesus!

Midnight Call - 11/2021

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