July 19, 2020

Be Subject, Be Free

Dave Zuleger (South Campus) | 1 Peter 2:13-17

Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.—1 Peter 2:13–17

Introduction: This Is Not Our Permanent Home

We’ve talked about our “newness” a lot in chapter 2. New taste buds, a new people of priests from all the peoples, a new nation from the many nations, and new identity as sojourners and exiles. Last week, we talked about how the result of all of that is a chosen race that fights against ugly sin in own hearts and does beautiful deeds that show the beauty of their King in a foreign land.

You can’t make sense of the New Testament without realizing such an identity shift has happened and that such a transfer of our hope has happened that this place we live now—wherever it is—is no longer our true home.

We talked last week about three temptations we could have: an assimilation that goes with the cultural flow instead loyalty to our identity as citizens of heaven, an avoidance that tries to disengage from the culture out there, and an aggressiveness that takes the stance of a defensive anger grasping to protect its territory. Instead, we said that Peter calls for a humble, courageous life of beautiful deeds that shine forth character of Christ as a people with our full hope in Christ. Do you see these desires in yourself? Assimilation in some areas? Avoidance in some areas? Aggressiveness in some areas?

What will keep us from giving in to these temptations? Remember your living hope. Remember your inheritance. Remember your new identity in Jesus. This has to sink in. A hope in this place as your home—no matter how much you like it—will lead to all sorts of distorted reactions that are not driven by a heart that seeks to bring glory to God with the humility of Jesus. This place is not your home. And that’s really good news. It’s not your hope. America—with all its amazing feats of democracy and all its warts—will one day will be a footnote in the story of God redeeming a new nation from all the nations. 

If my saying that makes you bristle and want to say, “This is my home, Dave. You don’t care enough about our cultural moment.” Then you’re underestimating the evil going on. I would say two things. One, I want us to engage in this place with beautiful words and deeds that show the beauty of Jesus. I’m not telling you to not care or not engage. I want to see the beauty of Christ fill this land. Two, I’m not underestimating the evil—the world, the flesh, and the devil are always at work in hearts and places. I am simply remembering it won’t ever have the final word because of the power of my King who reigns over all. 

So, I can think, pray, talk to my neighbors; and seek to influence the world around me in love without a white-knuckle grip on this place as if it were my hope. This posture puts us in the best place to love the place we’re in now as Christians with another primary citizenship and permanent home. Do you feel the world is broken? We do. Is a new creation coming? It is.

Submit to Institutions for the Glory of God (1 Peter 2:13–15)

Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.

Notice three things in these verses.

First, notice the purpose of institutions, “to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.” Peter is speaking these words in a time when the persecution of Christians was not likely in full swing, but there was still plenty of corruption, sinful idolatry, and persecution beginning in the Roman form of government. Yet, he still recognizes that governments are generally a gift. We can see this in history. Places with no governments to punish evil and praise good have much more chaos and pain than places with imperfect governments.

And notice their purpose is to bring about justice. That is, upholding and praising what is good according to God and opposing and punishing that which is evil to God. God appoints them. 

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.—Romans 13:1–2 

So, God ordains institutions and governments to uphold good and punish evil—that is to do justice, even though no government has ever been anywhere close to God’s perfect righteousness. 

Second, notice God’s purpose in our submission. That we should silence the ignorance of foolish people. It was true then and it is true now that people will look for reasons to point out how Christians are bad for society. Our views and ideas will not line up with the culture. Therefore, even in the midst of corruption and oppression as a people, God would have Christians “do good” as they submit to the government wherever it is not asking them to sin. Can you imagine what a witness to the world this would be?

A government seeking to oppress and persecute a particular group and that group standing against anything that is sin—yet submitting to whatever is not asking them to sin—even when it is not convenient. You can see how easy it would be for the flesh to simply get a posture against everything the government does when they seem against you, right? But, that is not Christian. It is Christian to continue to “do good” in our spheres of influence so that as people see Christians, they see the beauty of Jesus in their midst.

This was certainly true as the persecution ramped up. You can read historians who write of the Christians being opposed and oppressed and blamed as evil-doers who stand against society, and then the historians speak of “something divine” being in Christians because of the way they do good in the city peacefully and in submission to the emperor and the way they love each other.

So, we’ve seen the purpose of institutions to carry out justice. We’ve seen God’s purpose that we do good and silence the accusations of those who would want to show otherwise. Third, we need to see the general posture we should take.

Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution.—1 Peter 2:13

Our general posture should be submission where these institutions are not asking us to commit sin. We should let that sink in. But, deeper than that simple fact written here by Peter to a people in a corrupt society with persecution coming, is the “why”: For the Lord’s sake. 

Our disposition of submission to the governing authorities is not ultimately for our sake or even for society’s sake, though that will be true as well. It is for the Lord’s sake. You remember Peter was one of the apostles so confused about what was going on with Jesus because he was supposed to bring a military, political revolution to Rome, right? Instead, Jesus was going to build a different kind of kingdom through his death and resurrection and by the power of his Spirit. Jesus would say, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” Rather than establishing the nation of Israel again for the world to come and see, he instead saves a new nation and tells them to “Go and make disciples” where they are—and to honor authority he appoints there. 

So, this is the new Kingdom way: Wherever you are, shine the beauty of Christ with your disposition of submission to the authorities when they are not asking you to sin. This kind of mindset gives so much more credibility when we must take stands where there is clearly sin. We don’t look like a people just angrily shaking our fists at the political party we don’t like, but we look like a people glad to submit to the authorities God has put into place as long as they don’t ask us to deny our Savior or enter into sin.

Institutions are appointed by God to bring about justice. God’s purpose for us is to do good where we are to silence those who would profile us as evil troublemakers who oppose society. One of the main ways we do that good is with a posture of submission to the authorities when they are not asking us to sin.

Live as Free People as Servants of God (1 Peter 2:16)  

Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.

Now, we get to the root of where this kind of heart can come from. The heart that can gladly submit to governing authorities is the heart that sees itself as having a master much greater than governing authorities. Why do you ultimately have this posture of submission? Because you belong to God. Let me show you this from Jesus and Peter in Matthew.

You are a free servant of God. That sounds like an oxymoron, right? You are free—because you are owned by God. You are free—because your life is totally submitted to God. Here is where there are three deep points we need to see. 

First, does the President or the Governor have any ultimate, final authority over you? No. None. You do not belong to them. You are totally free and belong to God. You are a citizen of a different nation looking forward to a final, permanent home. You don’t submit to federal or state laws or follow the speed limit or keep your dogs on a leash in the city because you are owned by those places. You follow those things because God is your master and he has called you to submission. 

True freedom is complete servanthood to God. True freedom is a life completely submitted in every thought, action, and emotion to God. True freedom is a life completely controlled by the Holy Spirit. Remember, early in this book we learned that we were purchased by Jesus “for obedience to Jesus Christ.” This freedom includes submitting to those God has called us to submit to for his sake and as his servants (cf. Matthew 17:25–27).

Second, we should not use our freedom in Jesus as a cover-up for evil. We should not rally for one political party but then as soon as the other is elected use our “freedom in Christ” to quickly mock and slander them. We should not sin in order that grace may abound. If you are passionate about the good of this place we live in as citizens of heaven, then be passionate to fight your own sin and fill this place with beautiful deeds that accord with the beauty of Jesus. If you find yourself more passionate about political issues going on than the sin going on in your own heart, you may be distorting what true freedom is.

Third, this freedom as servants of Jesus allows us to submit to authorities gladly where they do not call us to sin. It also allows us to resist the governing authorities with respect when they ask us to sin, abandon our Savior, or legalize unrighteousness. Our freedom is found in our having God as our ultimate master who has redeemed us so that we gladly walk contrary to sinful requirements and ungodly laws. 

Putting all of this together, it is a beautiful witness of the beauty and sufficiency and submission to our King and our freedom in Christ when Christians have a general posture of glad submission to the government wherever it is not asking them to sin. And, this kind of glad “doing good” and submitting wherever we are will make the times where we must resist because of our allegiance to Jesus shine all the more—as the beauty of his righteousness—rather than the angry fist-shaking of a people always frustrated when their party didn’t win. 

Do you have this true freedom? Do you shine forth this true beauty of Christ? Do you have this posture of submission? Are you as passionate in the fight against your sin as you are in the political fight?

Application: Beautiful Conduct in Our Temporary Home (1 Peter 2:17)

Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

This is not our home, but we are called to beautiful conduct that shows the beauty of our King in our temporary home. Not assimilation. Not avoidance. Not aggressiveness. But engagement with the humble and righteous character of Christ with our hope in him. Here are four commands applying those things to the people around us.

I want to start with fear God because it is foundational. We obey him. We belong to him. We are his children. We have been purchased by him. We have freedom to live in his power and for his glory. We don’t ultimately have to fear anything else if we fear God as our Father. It creates in us a holy passion. It creates in us a holy love. If we believe that we are who God says we are in Christ as those born again to a living hope, with a future inheritance, and purchased for obedience to Jesus, then we will realize that we are indeed a free people—free to fear our Father and submit our lives in worship to him like we were created to do.

Out of this holy fear and freedom flows honor for all people. This is a harder word than we realize. As we live in this place, we will interact with many other image-bearers of God—who are worthy of respect and honor because they are made in his image. In a cancel culture, does your heart run honor people around you? Does your heart work hard to honor those people you think are diametrically opposed to you? Do you seek to do good to those with completely opposite political agendas and outside the kingdom of God or do you use their opposing views as justification to dishonor and disrespect them? What would Christlike honor look like? 

And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.—Luke 6:33, 35 

Jesu would call us to honor all people and be sons and daughters of the Most High.

Love the brotherhood. I’ve heard from some of you this is hard right now. The events of our world have us disagreeing on how to proceed on a bunch of things. If these things (like mask-wearing) divide us, then it shows a sad reality of what was actually uniting us. Can you love brothers and sisters who disagree with you? Can you love brothers and sisters that take a different stance than you? Can you love brothers and sisters that don’t agree with you on how serious something is? Will you walk away or will you engage with love and reason with them? Will you draw near to them as members of your family or let your heart grow distant and cold?

My heart has broken and tears have been shed as I’ve seen disagreement turn to divide. Some of us are so right that we are wrong. I’m not asking you not to take a stance and speak for what you think is right. I’m asking you to love your brothers and sisters in it. I’m asking us to stand together and work through these things together and not need immediate answers or immediate resolutions. I’m asking for us to remember who we are as a blood-bought family of the King. I’m pleading with you right now to confront unloving, uncharitable, impatient, self-righteous, and easily frustrated attitudes in your heart toward brothers and sisters in Christ. I’m asking you to fight against an attitude that needs quick agreement instead of patient engagement. I’m asking you to fight against a heart that divides into camps instead of unites in Jesus and begins to figure out the rest together. I’m pleading with you as your pastor. 

If we are divided this quickly, it shows that our unity may have been built on things much less important than the shed blood of Jesus and our sure resurrection hope. If we are this impatient with each other—even where someone is mistaken, then it shows we might not yet understand the patience of Christ with us in the gospel.

Lastly, honor the emperor. Can you imagine this flat-out command to this church with an unstable Nero ruling? I mean, we are not talking about someone whom we might disagree with on how he handled our city on fire—we are talking about someone who is suspected of actually commanding his city to burn and then blaming Christians. We are not talking about someone who didn’t open churches back up fast enough for our liking but someone who would find Christians and turn them into human torches.

Listen, it is hard for some of you to show honor to President Trump. You must. You must honor him. It’s a command. It is hard for some of you to honor Governor Walz. You must. You must honor him. This is unique, Christian. We can stand against choices we see that are evil with peaceful opposition—and yet be glad to submit wherever we are not asked to sin. We can disagree with policies and strategies and even character, and yet show respect and honor.

We should be those calling for respect of our leaders on social media rather than giving into the finger-pointing, name-calling, quick-to-dishonor culture. We should be those praying for our leaders more than posting against them. We should be those who are careful, thorough, and thoughtful in our criticism, and not those known for our flippant, careless, and sarcastic cynicism.

And yes, we should engage and disagree and participate. I’m not calling for us to stop that. It’s a beautiful privilege we have. We should not abandon it. But, we have to do it and find a way to obey this command.

We find our identity in the love of God for us in Christ. We resist assimilation, avoidance, and aggressiveness. We seek to let our identity in Jesus, as a new people with a new home and a new hope, overflow into beautiful deeds of love that shine forth the character of Christ and show our hope in Christ to a watching world. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. This is hard. God will help.

Sermon Discussion Questions


Introduction: This Is Not Our Permanent Home
  1. Submit to Institutions for the Glory of God (1 Peter 2:13–15)
  2. Live as Free People as Servants of God (1 Peter 2:16)  
Application: Beautiful Conduct in Our Temporary Home (1 Peter 2:17) 
Discussion Questions
  • What should the posture of Christians be toward the institutions they live among? Why? 
  • How can we be submissive and free at the same time? What does that mean? 
  • Why is it so important to realize that this world is not our permanent home? 
  • Why is it so important to have beautiful conduct in our temporary home? 
  • In our current cultural moment, what steps can you take to align your heart with this Scripture passage? 

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