Key Christian Duties

Life Impact: This lesson will challenge you to practice the gospel by honoring and submitting to governing authorities, loving neighbors, and avoiding immorality by “putting on Christ.”

Submit to Civil Authorities: Romans 13:1-7.

[1]  Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. [2]  Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. [3]  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; [4]  for it 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. [5]  Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. [6]  For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. [7]  Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.   [NASU]

 [1-3]  Paul begins with a clear command of universal application: Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities [1a]. He then goes on to give the reason for this requirement. It is that the state’s authority is derived from God, and this he affirms three times in 1b, 1c and 2a. Thus the state is a divine institution with divine authority. We need to be cautious, however, in our interpretation of Paul’s statements. He cannot be taken to mean that all the evil dictators throughout history were personally appointed by God, that God is responsible for their behavior, or that their authority is in no circumstances to be resisted. Paul means rather that all human authority is derived from God’s authority. Even when someone like Pilate misuses his authority to condemn Jesus, nevertheless, the authority he used to do this had been delegated to him by God. Having called for submission, Paul now warns against rebellion, since rebels are not only setting themselves against what God has instituted [2a], but in addition will bring judgment on themselves [2b]. In depicting rulers as commending the right and opposing the wrong, Paul is stating the divine ideal, not the human reality. Yet the requirement of submission and the warning of rebellion are couched in universal terms. But, as the context shows, there can be no question here of an unconditional and uncritical subjection to any and every demand of the State. How, then, can it be shown that Paul’s demand for submission is not absolute? Granted that the authority of rulers is derived from God, what happens if they abuse it, if they reverse their God-given duty, commending those who do evil and punishing those who do good? Does the requirement to submit still stand in such a morally perverse situation? No. The principle is clear. We are to submit right up to the point where obedience to the state would entail disobedience to God. But if the state commands what God forbids or forbids what God commands, then our plain Christian duty is to resist, not to submit, to disobey the state in order to obey God [Lk. 20:25; Acts 4:18-20; 5:29]. This is the strict meaning of civil disobedience, namely disobeying a particular human law because it is contrary to God’s law. Whenever laws are enacted which contradict God’s law, civil disobedience becomes a Christian duty. There are notable examples of it in Scripture [Ex. 1:15-20; Dan. 3:9-18; 6:6-10]. In each case civil disobedience involved great personal risk, including possible loss of life. In each case its purpose was to demonstrate their submissiveness to God, not their defiance of government.

[4-7]  Paul makes it clear that the state’s authority is with a view to its ministry. Now he affirms three times that it has a ministry from God in 4a, 4c and 6. If we are seeking to develop a balanced biblical understanding of the state, central to it will be the truths that the state’s authority and ministry are both given to it by God. What, then, is the ministry which God has entrusted to the state? It is concerned with good and evil, which is a recurring theme throughout Romans 12 and 13. Here, then, are the complementary ministries of the state and its accredited representatives [4a, 4b]. The state’s functions are to promote and reward the good, and to restrain and punish the evil. When the state punishes evildoers, it is functioning as the servant of God to execute His wrath upon them [4]. God’s wrath, which one day will fall on the impenitent [2:5], and is now seen in the breakdown of the social order [1:18ff], also operates through the processes of law enforcement and the administration of justice. It is important to hold Romans 12:19 and 13:4 together. We human beings as private individuals are not authorized to take the law into our own hands and punish offenders. The punishment of evil is God’s prerogative, and during the present age He exercises it through the law courts. The role of the state is not only to punish evil, however, it is also to promote and reward goodness. Paul gives us in these verses a very positive concept of the state. In consequence Christians, who recognize that the state’s authority and ministry come from God, will do more than tolerate it as if it were a necessary evil. Conscientious Christian citizens will submit to its authority, honor its representatives, pay its taxes and pray for its welfare. They will also encourage the state to fulfill its God-appointed role and, in so far as they have opportunity, actively participate in its work.

Love Your Neighbor: Romans 13:8-10.

[8]  Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. [9]  For this, "YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, YOU SHALL NOT STEAL, YOU SHALL NOT COVET," and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." [10]  Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.  [NASU]

Three times in these three verses Paul writes of the need to love our neighbor, and so alludes to Leviticus 19:18, Love your neighbor as yourself. Indeed, he makes three affirmations about neighbor-love. (1) Love is an unpaid debt. There is one debt which will always remain outstanding, because we can never pay it, and that is our duty to love. We can never stop loving somebody and say, ‘I have loved enough”. (2) Love is the fulfillment of the law. The two sentences of verse 8 present a striking contrast. If we love our neighbor, at least in the sense of not doing him or her any harm, we may be said to have fulfilled the law even though we have not fully paid our debt. We need to read Paul’s statement about having fulfilled the law against the background of chapter 7, in which he argued that we are incapable of fulfilling it by ourselves, on account of our fallen, self-centered nature. He went on to write, however, that God has done for us what the law (weakened by our sinful nature) was unable to do. Now that Paul repeats in chapter 13 his statement about our fulfilling the law, he changes his emphasis from the means of the fulfillment (the Holy Spirit) to the nature of it (love). Law and love are often thought to be incompatible. The truth is that love cannot manage on its own without an objective moral standard. That is why Paul wrote not that ‘love is the end of law’ but that ‘love is the fulfillment of the law’. For love and law need each other. Law without love is rigid, legalistic, harsh. Law receives its proper motivation and affection from love. Love without law is mere sentimentality. Love receives its content and direction from the law as the objective moral standard. (3) Love does no harm to its neighbor. Why does love sum up all the commandments? Because love does no harm to its neighbor. It is the essence of love to seek and to serve our neighbor’s highest good. That is why love is the fulfillment of the law. It is sometimes claimed that the command to love our neighbors as ourselves is implicitly a requirement to love ourselves as well as our neighbors. But this is not so. One can say this with assurance, partly because Jesus spoke of the first and second commandment, without mentioning a third; partly because agape is selfless love which cannot be turned in on the self; and partly because according to Scripture self-love is the essence of sin. What the second commandment requires is that we love our neighbors as much as we do in fact (sinners as we are) love ourselves. This means that we will love them with a love as real and sincere as our sinful self-love, about the reality and sincerity of which there is no shadow of doubt. If then we truly love our neighbors, we will seek their good, not their harm, and we will thereby fulfill the law, even though we will never completely discharge our debt.

Wear the Character of Christ: Romans 13:11-14.

[11]  Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. [12]  The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. [13]  Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. [14]  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.    [NASU]

[11-12a]  The Bible divides history into ‘this age’ and ‘the age to come’, and the New Testament authors are clear that the age to come or the kingdom of God was inaugurated by Jesus. So at present the two ages overlap. We are waiting expectantly for the parousia, when the old age will finally disappear, the period of overlap will end, and the new age of God’s kingdom will be consummated. Paul makes three time references, which assume this background understanding. First, the hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber [11b]. Secondly, this is because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed [11c]. Salvation is a comprehensive term embracing our past (justification), present (sanctification) and future (glorification). In this verse clearly our future and final salvation is in mind, what Paul has earlier depicted in terms of the freedom of glory, our final adoption as God’s children, and the redemption of our bodies [8:21-23]. Thirdly, the night is well advanced, so that it is nearly over; the day is almost here, on the threshold [12a]. The night represents the old age of darkness while the day is when Christ returns. We must be watchful and alert, because we do not know the exact time of His return. Here, then, are the apostle’s three time references. The time is already here for us to wake up [11a]; now our salvation is nearer than it was [11b] and the night has nearly given place to the day [12a]. It is the familiar tension between the “now already” of Christ’s first coming and the “not yet” of his second.

[12b-14]  Understanding what is appropriate to the time. The therefore in the middle of verse 12 marks the transition from Paul’s statements about the time to his corresponding exhortations. Paul issues three appeals. The first two are couched in the first person plural, so that he includes himself, while the third changes to the second person plural and is his direct summons to his readers. All three are double sentences, the negative and positive aspects of the appeal forming a radical antithesis. (1) The first continues the metaphor of night and day, darkness and light. It concerns our clothing, and what (in the light of the time) it is appropriate for us to wear [12b]. The picture is that, because of the hour, we must not only wake up and get up, but get dressed as well. We must take off our night clothes, the deeds of darkness, and put on instead, as suitable daytime equipment for the soldiers of Christ, the armor of light. For the Christian’s life is not a sleep, but a battle. (2) From appropriate clothing Paul proceeds to appropriate behavior. Positively, let us behave decently or properly as in the daytime, that is, as if the day had already dawned, and turn from the kind of things people do under cover of darkness: not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy [13]. Opposed to decent Christian behavior is lack of self-control in the areas of drink, sex and social relationships. (3) Paul’s third and concluding antithesis might be said to concern our preoccupation, what it is which engrosses our attention as Christian people. The alternative set before us is either the Lord Jesus Christ or our fallen self-centered nature [14]. In Galatians Paul has written that those who are in Christ by justification and baptism ‘have clothed’ themselves with Christ. In Romans this clothing ourselves with Christ is something we still have to do, or to keep doing. It is not Christlikeness only that we are to assume, but Christ Himself, laying hold of Him, and living under Him as Lord. In contrast to the beautiful and protective clothing which is Christ, Paul refers to our ugly, self-centered nature. Our instruction is not only not to gratify its desires, but not to think about how to do so, not to make any provision for them, rather to be ruthless in repudiating them and putting them to death [8:13]. There is no greater incentive to the doing of these duties than a lively expectation of the Lord’s return. We will be rightly related to the state (which is God’s minister) and to the law (which is fulfilled in loving our neighbor) only when we are rightly related to the day of Christ’s coming. Our calling is to live in the light of it, to behave in the continuing night as if the day had dawned, to enjoy the now already of the inaugurated kingdom in the certain knowledge that what is still not yet, namely the consummated kingdom, will soon arrive.   

Questions for Discussion:

1.          Why does Paul instruct Christians to submit to governing authorities? What key biblical principle must we follow when deciding when or if we should resist the governing authorities?

2.          What does it mean that love is the fulfillment of the law? What is the relationship between law and love? What happens to law when love is not present; to love when law is not present?

3.          What things does Paul tell us to focus on in verses 11-14 while we wait for Christ’s return? Why do you think he mentions these things? What does he mean by put on the Lord Jesus Christ?


The Epistle to the Romans, John Murray, Eerdmans.

The Epistle to the Romans, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.

Romans, John Stott, Intervarsity.

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