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On this day and every day –
God is in Control
. . . and His Grace is Sufficient, so . . .
Keep Looking Up
Caesar . . . or God?
If there’s anything that will spark a spontaneous debate, if not an outright argument, it’s a discussion involving politics—even among believers. As followers of Christ, what should be our attitude and our involvement with politics? It’s been said that “religion and politics don’t mix.” But is that really true? Can we have political views outside the considerations of our Christian faith? The answer is no, we cannot. The Bible gives us two truths regarding our stance towards politics and government.
The first truth is that the will of God permeates and supersedes every aspect of life. It is God’s will that takes precedence over everything and everyone (Matthew 6:33). God’s plans and purposes are fixed, and His will is inviolable. What He has purposed, He will bring to pass, and no government can thwart His will (Daniel 4:34-35). In fact, it is God who “sets up kings and deposes them” (Daniel 2:21) because “the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone He wishes” (Daniel 4:17). A clear understanding of this truth will help us to see that politics is merely a method God uses to accomplish His will. Even though evil men abuse their political power, meaning it for evil, God means it for good, working “all things together for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Second, we must grasp the fact that our government cannot save us! Only God can. We never read in the New Testament of Jesus or any of the apostles expending any time or energy schooling believers on how to reform the pagan world of its idolatrous, immoral, and corrupt practices via the government. The apostles never called for believers to demonstrate civil disobedience to protest the Roman Empire’s unjust laws or brutal schemes. Instead, the apostles commanded the first-century Christians, as well as us today, to proclaim the gospel and live lives that give clear evidence to the gospel’s transforming power.
There’s no doubt that our responsibility to government is to obey the laws and be good citizens (Romans 13:1–2). God has established all authority, and He does so for our benefit, “to commend those who do right” (1 Peter 2:13–15). Paul tells us in Romans 13:1–8 that it is the government’s responsibility to rule in authority over us—hopefully for our good—to collect taxes, and to keep the peace. Where we have a voice and can elect our leaders, we should exercise that right by voting for those who best demonstrate Christian principles.
One of Satan’s grandest deceptions is that we can rest our hope for cultural morality and godly living in politicians and governmental officials. A nation’s hope for change is not to be found in any country’s ruling class. The church has made a mistake if it thinks that it is the job of politicians to defend, to advance, and to guard biblical truths and Christian values.
The church’s unique, God-given purpose does not lie in political activism. Nowhere in Scripture do we have the directive to spend our energy, our time, or our money in governmental affairs. Our mission lies not in changing the nation through political reform, but in changing hearts through the Word of God. When believers think the growth and influence of Christ can somehow be allied with government policy, they corrupt the mission of the church. Our Christian mandate is to spread the gospel of Christ and to preach against the sins of our time. Only as the hearts of individuals in a culture are changed by Christ will the culture begin to reflect that change.
Believers throughout the ages have lived, and even flourished, under antagonistic, repressive, pagan governments. This was especially true of the first-century believers who, under merciless political regimes, sustained their faith under immense cultural stress. They understood that it was they, not their governments, who were the light of the world and the salt of the earth. They adhered to Paul’s teaching to obey their governing authorities, even to honor, respect, and pray for them (Romans 13:1-8). More importantly, they understood that, as believers, their hope resided in the protection that only God supplies. The same holds true for us today. When we follow the teachings of the Scriptures, we become the light of the world as God has intended for us to be (Matthew 5:16).
Political entities are not the savior of the world. The salvation for all mankind has been manifested in Jesus Christ. God knew that our world needed saving long before any national government was ever founded. He demonstrated to the world that redemption could not be accomplished through the power of man, economic strength, military might, or politics. Peace of mind, contentment, hope, and joy—and the salvation of mankind—are provided only through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
“Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s” is a well-known quote that appears in Matthew 22:21 and is part of Jesus’ response to a joint attempt by the Herodians and Pharisees to make Jesus stumble in front of His own people.
The Herodians were a non-religious Jewish party who supported the dynasty of Herod and the general policy of the Roman government. They perceived that Christ’s pure and spiritual teaching and influence were antagonistic to their interests. The Pharisees, on the other hand, were members of an ancient Jewish sect who believed in the strict observance of oral traditions and the written Law of Moses. They didn’t believe that Christ was the Messiah, despite His many miracles during His earthly ministry. Although Herodians and Pharisees were at opposite ends of the political spectrum, their common hatred of Christ was enough for them to join forces to try to destroy Him.
Here is the context of Jesus’ command to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s”: in Matthew 22 Jesus had just returned to Jerusalem for the final time and recently finished sharing several parables with the crowd. Jesus’ enemies saw an opportunity to put Jesus on the spot in front of His followers. In verse 17, they say to Jesus, “Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (ESV). It was a trick question, and they knew it. If Jesus answered, “No,” the Herodians would charge Him with treason against Rome. If He said, “Yes,” the Pharisees would accuse Him of disloyalty to the Jewish nation, and He would lose the support of the crowds. To pay taxes or not to pay taxes? The question was designed as a Catch-22.
Jesus’ response is nothing short of brilliant: “But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius” (Matthew 22:18–19, ESV).
The denarius was a coin used as the tax money at the time. It was made of silver and featured an image of the emperor with an inscription calling him “divine.” The Jews considered such images idolatry, forbidden by the second commandment. This was another reason why, if Jesus answered, “Yes,” He would be in trouble. His acceptance of the tax as “lawful” could have been seen as a rejection of the second commandment, thus casting doubt on His claim to be the Son of God.
With the coin displayed in front of them, Jesus said, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” The Herodians and Pharisees, stating the obvious, said, “Caesar’s.” Then Jesus brought an end to their foolish tricks: “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21, ESV). Upon hearing this, Jesus’ enemies marveled and went away (verse 22).
Caesar minted coins, as he had a right to do, and he demanded some coins in return, as was his right. After all, his image was stamped on what he had made. God has “minted” the human soul, and He has stamped His image on every one (Genesis 1:27). So give Caesar his due—the temporary stuff of this world—but make sure to give God His due: “Offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness” (Romans 6:13).
When Jesus said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” He was drawing a sharp distinction between two kingdoms. There is a kingdom of this world, and human rulers, from benevolent monarchs to corrupt, vicious tyrants hold power over it. But there is another kingdom, not of this world, and Jesus is King of that (John 18:36). Christians are part of both kingdoms, at least temporarily. Under our human rulers, we have certain obligations that involve temporal things. Under Christ, we have other obligations that involve things eternal. If our human rulers demand money, give it to them—it’s only mammon. But make sure you also give God what He demands.