The Christian's Place in Society: Respectful and Law-Abiding
"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."
Later on in this same chapter the apostle Paul brings up the notion of "respect." He encourages Christians to go beyond mere obedience to the law, and to adopt a posture of congeniality to one's government and ruling officials (when possible). This is a simple but potent idea for the Christian. He is not simply to trudge about, following the rules of the state. He is to exude a healthy warmth for his country and locality and is to mark himself as one who strives to obey the law and his officials.
This section in Romans 13 comes immediately after a lengthy section on conformity to Christ. This shows us that one's relationship to the law closely reflects our level of Christian maturity. Less mature believers show less respect for the law and the state. More mature believers show more mature respect for the state. One's attitude to one's government and one's involvement in it is thus a much stronger indicator of our conformity to Christ than many Christians think. On a list of entities and groups to which we are to concern ourself, I think many of us would rank "respect for government" very far down--maybe number 15, or perhaps number 20. In the Bible, however, Paul's section on government follows directly a more abstract section on Christian conformity, indicating to us that our attitude to the government and our conduct within society is far more tied to our level of godliness than we might think. In voting, obeying laws and rules, speaking well of our authorities, praying for them, paying our taxes fairly, and other such deeds, Christians show that we are a unique people, a people who honor our government and submit to it when it in turn honors and respects us.
The Christian, then, is to take pains to adopt a respectful attitude, even as he remembers his roles as hated citizen, gospel witness, and prophetic voice. The Christian in society does not choose one of these roles. Instead, he merges all of them, and seeks to fulfill all of them with courage and conviction. In this way, he mirrors his Savior, who paid His taxes, spoke the gospel, denounced individual and societal evil, and bore the hatred--and the sin--of wretched, fallen man on His cross of redemption.