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Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God, what is God's

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You likely know that the Continental Divide, a ridgeline in the American West, divides where rainfall (or snowmelt) ends up. Just a few feet separate whether water ends up in the Pacific Ocean or in the Atlantic. You may not know that walking a ridgeline is extremely hard. Just as gravity relentlessly pulls water one way or the other, it does the same thing to your feet.

The famous theologian J.I. Packer observed that like walking a ridgeline, holding two principles in tension is very hard. Yet Jesus called us to just such a tension in Luke 20. He said, “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” Paul would amplify these words in Romans 13:1-7, where he says:

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… and because of this 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.

The Good: God has given us government since Genesis 1, where he commissioned men in His image to exercise dominion. And clearly, God has given us a gift in government. Order is way better than chaos; justice is much preferred than anarchy. And it’s amazing (if you didn’t know) that when Paul refers to honoring Caesar under God’s sovereignty, it would be Caesar Nero that would order his execution.

The Bad: Every human ruler is fallen. They are ALL sinners in need of redemption. And surely some will align more gladly with God’s commands than others, yet we are warned. Psalm 146:3 says, “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.” Or Psalm 118 puts it, “It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes.” God’s Word says – we DO trust. Just not in humans.

The Amazing: Jesus came to save us when WE are guilty of turning on HIS government. If you understand the Gospel, then you know that Jesus had to come because we stand guilty of treason against Him and His Father. Yet in His love and grace, HE was willing to bear our punishment to restore us to His Father’s good design. And that design is to live HONORING OTHERS. 

I feel this ridgeline pulling at us. I know of many instances where we may be glad to honor God, but we resent our governing officials. Or we may believe deeply in elected leaders. We might behave as if an election going “the right way” will equal salvation from all our woes. But this is like honoring Caesar but losing sight of honoring God above all.

In this tumultuous season, you may very well feel strong disagreement with whoever ends up winning our elections. But Jesus calls us to both. 

Things to pray for:

  • A heart for God and His purposes. Ask the Lord to lift your gaze to be filled with a sense of His love and His Mission in His world.
  • Give thanks to the Lord for His gift of government, and the particular gift of how free and honoring our system of government is in the United States.
  • Ask Jesus to fill you with hope because of His sovereign rule! In light of His ability to transform your heart to His, pray that He would make you contagious with His hope.
  • Love for the lost. Ask the Father, as He sent His Son on a mission for your salvation, to send you with the amazing news of a better Kingdom to the people in your life.