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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. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.(ESV)

A Blessed Law

Thursday of Pentecost 16 

2 October 2014

The law as moral law is fatal to us in its own realm. The law works God's wrath and puts us to death (Rm 4:15). Only Christ can undo this by His doing and never by our own. This is the realm of God's Spirit. Where the Spirit is there the church is the community in which the forgiveness of sins is preached in accordance with God's Word, the dead are raised, and the poor exalted. This is the pure church of which God's Word speaks.


The church lives within a realm where there is another teaching: the civil law. While the civil law of ancient Israel is taught in the Old Testament, with its specific ordinances and penalties, it is not any longer binding upon us as law, or we would still be stoning to death those found guilty of homosexual practice. Now, do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that homosexual practice is now OK with God. It is still prohibited by the sixth commandment which forbids all unclean sexual practices. It is just that we are not required to establish a law punishing sodomy by death in the civil society in which we live. So the civil law which God enjoined upon Israel in the wilderness is not binding on us Christians and would not have been applicable as civil law since the day of Pentecost.


Does this mean that Christians are free to ignore the civil law of any country in which they live. Of course not. God has required us to be obedient to the authorities (Rm 13). Even the church which exists as an external institution within the civil realm is bound to obey the civil law. For example, the church is not free to contravene the fire codes of the city, just because it is the church. God does not give us a free pass to ignore the civil law. In fact, the civil law is a kind of blessing for those who live governed by it. It keeps our rights from being abrogated by others and gives a realm of safety in which to live out our lives to the fullest of God's blessings to us. We must keep the law for civil righteousness as a matter of conscience, because God has established government and as a matter of personal safety, because the government is an agent of God's wrath when we contravene civil law.


Those who think they can reduce God's reign in the world to a set of legal precepts have exactly not understood God's reign and do not benefit from it. They are outside of God's grace because they do not stand in the mercy of God. This is why obedience to the civil law is not the same as being a Christian. Unfortunately many think that because they model American citizens it makes them models of heavenly citizenship. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Each citizenship has its own way of participation. In the civil realm we participate by obedience and work. In the realm of the church we participate precisely by not working, but by believing the message that God has in Christ reconciling us to Himself, by not counting our sins against us (2Co 5:19). Our civil law remains a blessing to us.


Martin Luther

"The political laws of Moses do not apply to us at all. Therefore we should not restore them to the courthouse or superstitiously chain ourselves to them, as some men who were ignorant of this liberty did several years ago. Nevertheless, although the gospel does not subject us to the civil laws of Moses, it does not completely set us free from obedience to all laws in the political realm; but in this bodily life it subjects us to the laws of the political realm in which we live, and it commands everyone to obey his magistrate and his laws, 'not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience' (1Pt 2:13-14; Rm 13:5). It would not be a sin if the emperor used some of the civil laws of Moses. In fact, he should freely make use of them. Therefore the sophists are in error when they imagine that after Christ the civil laws of Moses are fatal to us." 


Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 4.27

Almighty God, help us to be obedient in the civil realm according to Your Word. Keep us from trusting such obedience for righteousness in Your sight. Send Your Spirit to us that we might have confidence only in Christ in the realm of Your church. Amen.


For all who struggle with aging parents, that they would be endowed with wisdom and patience in their service to them


For Luke George, who is undergoing therapy for Leukemia, that he would make a full recovery and regain his strength


For all who are traveling, that the Lord Jesus would give them times of rest and refreshment and that they would be strengthened in their vocations
Art: Crucifixes  Uppsala Cathedral (medieval)

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