Augustine and Jerome show us how obedience to God requires submission to the government and loving one’s neighbor.
Note: This article was written before the author’s conversion to Orthodoxy.
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13:1 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.
Speaking of praying for enemies, Paul asks us to put into practice being at peace with our enemies (Rom 12:18). Make no mistake, Rom 13 is after Rom 12 for a reason. The Roman government that killed Christ, also imprisoned and killed Paul, Peter, and many others.
Yet, as much as it is up to us, we are to submit to the government. It is not up to us if those in the government decide to persecute us. But, it is up to us (and required of us) to submit. The reason Paul gives here is that God established the authority, so to rebel against the authority is to rebel against the One who established it.
Elsewhere in the Scripture, Christ speaks of slaves obeying masters, children being obedient to parents, and wives submitting to husbands. There are two important concepts we need to understand about these things.
First, our submission in these situations is not dependent upon whether any of these parties are worthy of submission. As long as it does not get in the way of being obedient to God, we are called to submission in full knowledge that those we submit to are “not righteous, not one” (Rom 3:10). So, being a good husband and making financial sacrifices for one’s wife is not contingent upon her being a good wife. “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21). Christ did not die for us based upon the contingency that we were good people in our former lives (or even present ones). Far from it! In the same way, we are to submit to the government as long as it does not cause us to sin “for we obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
Second, our submission reflects a divine hierarchy. Concerning the submission of wives to husbands, we know that it reflects Christ and the Church (Eph 5:32). It also is a picture of how Christ submits to the Father (1 Cor 11:3). So, we must take our submission serious as it is a portrayal to the world of how we understand our Christology.
2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.
The Roman government treated Christians like North Korea does today. Yet, Paul taught there was condemnation in store for those who resisted it. How much clearer can the Scripture be concerning our obligation to submit to the government, no matter how unjust?
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.
Yet, many a ruler is a cause for fear, including those Paul lived under. We must suppose that here Paul is speaking of the ideal, not the reality in every single situation. This verse should be seared into the minds of rulers, as they should not cause their people to be in fear of doing what it right, but rather, legitimately put fear in the hearts of those who practice wickedness.
It should also be noted that also, in general, even the most wicked governments uphold some semblance of law and order. Even tyrannies that execute their own people are preferential to absolute anarchies where everyone kills one another. So, the Scripture does not say this in vain, though we have every reason to be grateful for that many of us do not live under the Roman tyranny today in much of the Earth.
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.
Render onto Caesar what is Caesar’s and onto God what is God’s. Our conscience compels us to be in subjection to the authority He has set up, and to give that authority the money that same it demands. Money is not ours anyway. “What do you have that you did not receive” (1 Cor 4:7)?
If God has set up an authority that demands something of you, which is not yours to begin with, by giving it to the authority we give it back to God. As much as it is not sinful, we are obligated. In the same way, if there are legal means to skirt around obligations to the government, because they are legal there is no sin in doing so. Christians are not bound to be more obedient to the government in power than what the government itself demands. There is nothing wrong with hiring a good accountant or taking advantage of tax loopholes. It is wrong to lie, however.
God is not asking us to worship the government. Rather, He asks us to submit and not rebel, for this submissive attitude reflects the submissiveness of Christ to the Father.
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.
In light of what was just said about the government (“Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due…”) Paul expands upon the “all” in which we render what is owed. We owe to everyone to live lovingly with them. This includes our enemies which we spoke about in the end of Rom 12.
Being that this discussion concerning how “love is the fulfillment of the Law,” it is easy to say that Christians are saved by both faith and love. The Scripture would appear to teach this:
[I]f I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing (1 Cor 13:2).
This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us (1 John 3:23).
So, is Paul backtracking here and adding something on top of faith, even if it is not a litany of works or sacraments done in holiness of heart, but merely love? No.
For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love (Gal 5:5-6).
The manifestation of righteousness, though already achieved by faith but not made perfect when we are in the veil of the flesh, is accomplished through the Spirit who comes into our hearts by faith. For this reason outward works of circumcision or uncircumcision mean nothing, but faith that works through love does. Faith, without love, is like faith without works. It is dead and it is not faith at all!
So, love fulfills the commandments because Christ fulfilled the commandments (Matt 5:17), and we are credited this righteousness by faith in Him. Faith, by definition, must have love, so it is this faith that saves.
The Holy Spirit indwells all of those who have legitimately placed their faith in Christ so coming out of their hearts are springs of living waters, fruit of the Holy Spirit, works of love! So, love fulfills the Law because faith fulfills the Law. We are not antinomians, so because we died to sin we live for Christ and the Holy Spirit compels us to. According to Jerome:
Faith which worketh by love. Therefore faith works by love, and not by fear: for he, who believeth God, obeyeth his commandments (Comment. in Epist. ad Galat. v.).
It is important to note that in all of this talk about love and good works, there is no talk of sacraments. This is because the belief in doing sacraments to maintenance our justification did not yet exist.
Augustine, who was a sacramentalist, understood this section of Rom 13 in the same sense:
What then is God’s law written by God Himself in the hearts of men, but the very presence of the Holy Spirit…by whose presence is shed abroad in our hearts the love which is the fulfilling of the law, and the end of the commandment? Now the promises of the Old Testament are earthly; and yet it contains such precepts of righteousness as we are even now taught to observe…: for instance, You shall not commit adultery, You shall do no murder, You shall not covet, and whatsoever other commandment is briefly comprehended in the saying, You shall love your neighbour as yourself. Nevertheless, whereas as in the said Testament earthly and temporal promises are, as I have said, recited, and these are goods of this corruptible flesh (although they prefigure those heavenly and everlasting blessings which belong to the New Testament), what is now promised is a good for the heart itself, a good for the mind, a good of the spirit, that is, an intellectual good; since it is said, I will put my law in their inward parts, and in their hearts will I write them,— by which He signified that men would not fear the law which alarmed them externally, but would love the very righteousness of the law which dwelt inwardly in their hearts (On the Spirit and the Letter, Chapter 36).
As we can see, Augustine saw the Law as fulfilled specifically because of union with Christ by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit from whom implants love in the heart of the believer. Further, Augustine writes that God “signified that men would not fear the law which alarmed them externally, but would love the very righteousness of the law.” So, Rom 13:10 is not speaking of another way to be justified, but what the volition of our hearts should be because we have been justified and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
Elsewhere he writes:
[A] man is not justified by the precepts of a holy life, but by faith in Jesus Christ—in a word, not by the law of works, but by the law of faith; not by the letter, but by the spirit; not by the merits of deeds, but by free grace (On the Spirit and the Letter, Chapter 22).
A final note: when the Scripture speaks of loving a neighbor, we are not talking about just anyone. Rather, the Church is in view, as it is those who are merciful that are our neighbors (Luke 10:37). So, we fulfill the Law when we “do good to all people,…especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal 6:10). For those who believe Christ has had mercy on them will be merciful to others.
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.
Paul is invoking the armor of God, something he does in more detail in Eph 6. It is worth noting that in Isaiah, the armor of God is not something we put on, but something God puts on:
And it was displeasing in His sight that there was no justice.
And He saw that there was no man,
And was astonished that there was no one to intercede;
Then His own arm brought salvation to Him,
And His righteousness upheld Him.
He put on righteousness like a breastplate,
And a helmet of salvation on His head;
And He put on garments of vengeance for clothing
And wrapped Himself with zeal as a mantle (Is 59:15-17).
Why did God put it on? “It was displeasing in His sight that there was no justice. And He saw that there was no man…to intercede.” So what did God do to make sure justice was done? He laid the iniquity of us all on Christ (Is 53:5), His own arm brought salvation to Him (Is 59:16) as He rose Himself from the dead (John 2:19), He put on His own righteousness because our righteousness is like filthy rags (Is 64:6).
So, when we “put on the armor of light” we are literally “put[ting] on the Lord Jesus Christ.” We are being clothed with His righteousness when we live by faith.
Augustine speaks of the “vestment of the righteousness of faith, clothed with which we cannot be found naked” (On the Spirit and the Letter, Chapter 31).
Augustine also writes:
‘The righteousness of God is manifested:’ he does not say, ‘the righteousness of man,’ or ‘the righteousness of his own will,’ but the ‘righteousness of God,’— not that whereby He is Himself righteous, but that with which He clothes man when He justifies the ungodly“ (Augustine, On the Spirit and the Letter, Chapter 15).
This idea is not original to Augustine. Paul writes:
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Gal 3:26-27).
Those who live by faith, live out the faith–they will be baptized, they will partake in the Lord’s Supper, they will live peaceably with all men, they will show mercy, they will love their neighbor.
Therefore, be vigilant: work out your salvation in fear and trembling, knowing it is God who works within you to will and who indwells you by His Spirit (Phil 2:12-13). Make no provision for the flesh by satisfying its lusts, but rather put on the Lord Jesus Christ by living faithfully.