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When It's Right to Resist - Shepherd of Hope

Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. – Galatians 5:1

 

Is it ever right to resist a government mandate? Jesus was questioned about this in the gospels, and His answer is relevant to our day and circumstances.

There is a verse further on in the New Testament that is relevant as we consider this particular interaction between the enemy “spies” sent to interrogate Jesus with loaded questions and Jesus’ response. The verse I quote here is:

  • Galatians 5:1 (NKJV) – Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.

The context of this verse is Paul’s writing to correct people who are wavering in their reliance on the Biblical gospel. In the gospel, God has given a gracious provision of Jesus’ atoning substitutionary sacrifice to pay the debt of human sins. This wonderful gift of grace is received by faith alone to secure forgiveness of sins and eternal life. The “yoke of bondage” spoken of by Paul here is trying to be saved from sin by relying on human good works rather than the completed atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross. On the cross Jesus said, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). No one can add to His completed work. No one should try to add to His completed work. And when someone does, it creates a bondage of uncertainty. That’s because in such a works reliant system, no one ever knows when what we try to do to achieve salvation is enough. In reality, when we try to work our way to heaven, it’s never enough. Therefore, in a works reliant system, there is no peace or assurance of salvation because you never known when your work is complete. When we rely on our works to get to heaven, we always fall short of what God requires (Romans 3:23).

Having said all that, what I want to emphasize from Galatians 5:1 is the importance of liberty and freedom. The completed work of Jesus on the cross has “made us free,” from trying to achieve forgiveness for our sins in our own strength. The gospel of Christ is certain because it relies on the completed sufficient and accepted work of Christ on the cross. Any other attempted path, such as our good works effort, only results in uncertainty.

We are exhorted, “do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage,” which is the works-righteousness religious system. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were caught up in such a religious system. And they used it to bind people and bring them to bow before themselves. Jesus spoke against this and saw it for what it really was in truth, hypocrisy (cf. Matthew 23). That is because the religious leaders promoted a system that they themselves were unable to abide by or live victoriously in. Evidence of this truth and reality if demonstrated in the Pharisee Nicodemas who came to see Jesus one night and to whom Jesus told, “You must be born again” (John 3).

Liberty and freedom are important to Jesus. The gospel is meant to free people from the bondage of sin. The gospel is also meant to free people from the bondage of trying to work one’s way to heaven. Jesus said, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). In the same context He said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin” (John 8:34). And then He offered, “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). Freedom from sin was a prime reason Jesus came. He came to bear witness to such liberating truth (John 18:37). Freedom was and is important to Jesus.

Yes, liberty and freedom are important to Jesus. The gospel is how sinners can be freed from the bondage of sin. But the importance of liberty and freedom are not limited to salvation from sin. Liberty and freedom are important to our Creator in all His creation. And when someone or something tries to curtail or strangle freedom, it is sin.

Now, I am not speaking of the restraint used to prevent bully sinners from victimizing people. We should never think that obedience to God’s word is a matter of liberty in the sense we can choose to obey God or not and then think that’s acceptable to Him. Our obedience to God should go without question. But sinners don’t like to obey God. Sinners choose to disobey God and such sin leads to pain and suffering. To prevent that God has given us the gospel, and He has also ordained governments. There are good reasons why we have speed limits, safety requirements, fare labor practices, litigation, and courts to uphold law and order. But sometimes even such systems of government cross the line so that they use “law and order” to remove freedom of choice. When that happens, it is sinful, and God’s people should resist.

When the enemy spies come to Jesus in the following passage, they are not coming with genuine or sincere questions, they are coming with weaponized questions meant to corner Jesus in hopes of His incarceration. These spies want to lower Jesus in the popularity polls of the people. They are trying to lock Jesus up with their questions.

The spying enemies of Jesus are trying to box Him in and confine Him to a cell of their liking. But Jesus was too smart and wise for that. He saw right through their evil questioning tactics. And we can learn from that. We learn how to respond to such arrows of interrogation. And in the process, we will learn a bit about the importance of our liberty and freedom.

In Luke 20 it states:

20 So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, that they might seize on His words, in order to deliver Him to the power and the authority of the governor.

As here with Jesus, sometimes people ask questions in a way they think will cast a net to catch the one they are posing the questions to. Such questions are not honest inquiries seeking answers and truth. Such questions are instruments of dishonesty. Such questions are weapons used to attack. That is what we see now from the enemies of Jesus. They “pretended to be righteous, that they might seize on His words, in order to deliver Him to the power and the authority of the governor.”

21 Then they asked Him, saying, “Teacher, we know that You say and teach rightly, and You do not show personal favoritism, but teach the way of God in truth:

They introduce their question with insincere compliments to Jesus. This is a tactic that seeks to disarm a person and make it seem like they are an ally rather than an enemy. This tactic is used in interviews even in our day. The interviewer uses a question to lay a trap and a gotcha moment. When the one responding the question is unwittingly lured into a compromising self-convicting answer, they gotcha.

What they were saying of Jesus was indeed true. He spoke and taught what was right. Jesus did not show personal favoritism but spoke truth to all regardless of their position. Jesus indeed did “teach the way of God in truth.” Jesus taught according to the truth of God’s word (cf. John 17:17). All these things were true, but Jesus’ enemies were not mentioning them to genuinely compliment Jesus. They were slyly trying to disarm Him and give a false impression that their question was innocent.

22 Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

Paying taxes was a hot button issue of that day. Paying taxes is always a hot button issue. Does anyone actually “like” to pay taxes? For the people of Jesus’ day paying taxes represented being subjugated to the Romans. Romans were seen as oppressive in their taxation. Not paying taxes was an offense the Romans punished with great severity. By asking this question Jesus’ opponents thought they had cornered Jesus. If He said pay the taxes, it would alienate Him form the people. If He said don’t pay the taxes, it would break Roman law and set Him up to being arrested. How would Jesus respond?

23 But He perceived their craftiness, and said to them,

Jesus “perceived” (Greek katanoesas – Aorist/Active/Participle of katanoeo) or was perceiving, noticing, observing carefully the “craftiness” (Greek panourgian) or shrewdness, skill, craftiness, cunning, trickery. Here is a lesson for us. We need to be perceptive when entertaining questions from people.

We should always pray for discernment (e.g. Philippians 1:9). We should cry out to God for discernment (Proverbs 2:3). And the Bible speaks of the Holy Spirit providing spiritual gifts of wisdom and knowledge (e.g. 1 Corinthians 12:8). We need to trust the leading of the Holy Spirit Who Jesus said would give us the needed words when questioned by enemies (e.g. Matthew 10:19-20).

“Why do you test Me? 24 Show Me a denarius. Whose image and inscription does it have?”

They answered and said, “Caesar’s.”

25 And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

This was the perfect answer. The denarius was equal to a day’s wage. It was marked with the image of Caesar. Therefore, it belonged to the Romans and was something used to buy and sell. If the Romans demanded a price to use their currency, pay it. But also Jesus said they should render to God what belongs to God. This practically apportioned the difference between the secular and the sacred.

26 But they could not catch Him in His words in the presence of the people. And they marveled at His answer and kept silent.

Jesus disarmed their dishonest question. He used discernment to not be caught off guard. And He answered wisely. That is a good example for us to follow.

When should the Christian resist government? In Romans 13 it tells us that governments are ordained and put in place by God to enforce the good and punish evil. And it tells us to obey the government.

  • Romans 13:1 (NKJV) – Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.

This should be our intent, to be subject to the government. Government is installed by God to maintain order, laws, and keep the peace.

But obedience to government should not be unquestioned. Governments use fallen and imperfect people. Therefore, we should be discerning when it comes to government. In this regard, there is an important phrase that helps us understand when to resist government. The phrase I am referring to is “for conscience sake” ( Romans 13:5). If a government attempts to force us to go against our conscience, we should resist. Humanity is created in the image of God. The image of God in us entails the ability to exert and make free will decisions. And such liberty of conscience and decision should be protected.

This principle is practically addressed in the matter of eating certain foods in Romans 14. There it tells us to make allowance for people to have different opinions. (There are of course clear cut truths of scripture where we cannot abide differing opinions. We cannot compromise scripture or the gospel.) But in gray areas of secondary not foundational issues, we can agree to disagree at times.

When we differ in opinions we should respect each other in love. Romans 13:10 tells us that love does no harm to a neighbor therefore love fulfills the law. We should love one another even when we differ on certain issues. This means too that we should be willing to curtail our own individual rights for the sake of not stumbling another person’s walk with the Lord (cf. Romans 14:13).

But where the line is drawn in complying with government is twofold. When a government orders us to do anything that is contrary to God’s truth or command, we must obey God rather than people (e.g. Acts 5:29). And secondly, when government removes the freedom of personal decision, that is tyranny and should be resisted. In this case the standard is “for whatever is not from faith is sin.”

If we do not have faith to do something, we should not do it. We should resist when government tries to impose their will at the expense of our freedom and liberty. And that should be true whether our liberty is personally infringed upon, or if we see someone else’s liberty infringed upon. We need to expose the darkness wherever we see it (cf. Ephesians 5:11). Other than these reasons, we should seek to comply and be “subject to the governing authority.”

Increasingly as we see the tentacles of tyranny reach out from government, Pastors and their people are being pushed to a point of decision. Just as God put Esther into her providential position “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14), Pastors and their people are seeing a similar predicament. Such times stir up memories of the roots of our nation.

On January 21, 1776, Lutheran pastor John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg preached a sermon that included a climactic application to wise words found in Ecclesiastes. Pastor Muhlenberg, at 30 years of age, was also a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses. What happened in the heart of Muhlenberg and many other pastors of his day is strongly associated with The First Great Awakening that began in America in 1730 and had lasting effects in the colonies leading up to the birth of our nation.

The American Revolution was not entered into lightly. There was much prayer and debate about whether it was God’s will for people to submit to the evermore enslaving will of an earthly king, or bow to King Jesus. Circumstances really did put these two authorities in opposition to one another. One source describes the predicament as follows:

The King of England willfully placed himself above the law as he unilaterally broke the charters that were in place between the Colonies and Great Britain. As the Colonists sought to print Bibles and tracts for the Indians, the king said ‘No.’ As Pennsylvania voted to outlaw slavery, the king said ‘No.’ The king rejected the authority of elected officers in America and placed his own handpicked governors over the colonists. Finally, the rumor of a plan to ‘establish’ the Church of England over the colonies and outlaw other religious denominations was one of the last straws. The king placed troops in America even though there was no conflict with the Indians or France – an effort clearly meant to subjugate the Colonists. [1]

For many years, the liberties of the colonists had been increasingly infringed upon. The colonists found comfort in the move of the Spirit in The Great Awakening. Sinners were convicted of their sins and gave their lives to God in Christ. Wonderful testimonies of life transformation through the gospel of Jesus Christ filled the land. And there was a tangible change in society.

Roads throughout the colonies that had been havens of criminals became secure and safe to travel on. Streets where women were regularly accosted and threatened, not to mention beset with vulgar epithets, were not tranquil and trouble free. Bars were emptied. Jails were emptied. Equality and abolition were promoted more than ever before. Yes, the move of the Spirit during the First Great Awakening bore tangible and real fruit of change among the colonists.

One of the greatest effects of the First Great Awakening was to unite the thirteen colonies. The thirteen separate independent colonies were united into what would soon become one united coalesced independent nation. And the instrument for this liberation was Patriot Pastors who came to be known among the British as “The Black Robed Regiment.” It was in the churches where the colonists met and where pastors stood tall proclaiming the truth of the word of God. It was the courage and faith of pastors who led the way in the revolution proclaiming, “We’ll have no king but Jesus!”

Pastor John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg was one of those courageous black robed pastors. On that fateful day in January 1776, in the concluding words of his sermon from Ecclesiastes, he was moved by the Spirit to say:

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven, . . . In the language of the Holy Writ, there is a time for all things. There is a time to preach and a time to fight. And now is the time to fight.”[2]

As Pastor Muhlenberg reached his crescendo, he cast off his clerical black robe revealing he was wearing a uniform of the Continental Army. He then walked down the aisle of the church followed by immediate enlistees who kissed their wives and followed this call to duty.

Three hundred men joined Pastor Muhlenberg and became the 8th Virginia Regiment of the Continental Army. Muhlenberg attained to the rank of Major General and would make it through the war. He was born on October 1st, 1746. He would die the same day, at the age of sixty-one, October 1st, 1807. We owe our national liberty to pastors like Muhlenberg.

Is there another conflict in our future? Some would say, and I would mostly agree, that we are already in a battle for the soul of this nation. Only God knows what the future holds. It is very possible the church of the genuinely saved will be raptured out of this world by Jesus before the conclusion of our nation. But if not, I hope and pray our nation can be saved through peaceful means. I believe the Bible and our LORD would have us exhaust every other means to uphold freedoms and justice, before the more extreme means of physical conflict is considered. No matter what the future holds, we must remain in the hands of the One who sovereignly holds our future. His will be done! And we need to follow the spirit of our Black Robed Regiment forefathers and their followers. We need to proclaim from the pulpit and in public, whether pastors or common people, the truth of the word of God and the gospel that frees people from the tyranny of sin. “In God we trust” must become more than an empty moniker; it must be an expression of truth. We need another revival for that to happen. Pray for God’s mercy and grace. Pray in Jesus’ name.

 

 

[1] Patriot Pastors website at http://reclaimamericaforchrist.org/patriot-pastors/

[2] American Renewal Project at https://theamericanrenewalproject.org/2015/10/a-time-to-preach-and-a-time-to-fight-john-peter-muhlenberg/

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