Paul is continuing in his application of how we should live in light of the gospel, and in this often-discussed and debated passage, he explains how to be good citizens.
In Romans 1-8 Paul explained the glory of the gospel and the greatness of God — how no one can be saved by keeping the law; we can only be saved by trusting that God, because of the blood of Jesus Christ, will forgive us and solve the problem of sin in our lives.
In Romans 9-11, Paul examines how God treated Israel. He argues that God did not fail Israel, nor reject them and that proves he will be faithful to Gentile believers as well. In a great crescendo at the end of Romans 11 he extols the living God with dynamic praise. Then in Romans 12 he turns to believers and says, “It is only reasonable that we worship this God with our bodies.” The rest of the book then talks about our practical response to the greatness of the gospel: How should it make our lives different?
Chapter 12:3 has implications for everything that comes after it: “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” – Romans 12:3 ESV
In Romans 13 the issue is still learning not to think too highly of ourselves, or seeing ourselves accurately in relation to the authorities that govern any nation. There are three words in this passage that summarize its themes: submission, fearlessness, and conscience.
- Submissiveness helps give us proper perspective about ourselves.
- Submission is not slavish obedience.
- Submission is an attitude in which we are predisposed to let God, through government and other authority structures, put limits on where we go, what we do, and how we spend our resources.
- Compare with Acts 4:18-20 and James 4.
- Fearlessness is not the same thing as safety.
- Being fearless means not being guilty of anything.
- If we are going to be punished for anything, it will be for righteousness.
- Compare with 1 Peter 2:11-20.
- Punishment is one means by which we are impelled to do right. But Paul says there is a better reason, and that is your conscience.
- Conscience demands that we keep the record clear for God’s sake, and not for man’s.
- We are free to submit because God is in control. We are free from guilt and anxiety if we practice what is good. We honor God when we keep our conscience clear in dealings with authorities.
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