We’re in the middle of a sermon series on 1 Peter, a letter the apostle wrote to Christians who were struggling to figure out how they were supposed to relate to an increasingly hostile world. Like them, we sense a change in the cultural tides against the practice of historic, orthodox Christianity, and sometimes we’re confused about who we are and how we’re supposed to live.
After laying the theological groundwork and encouraging his readers to remember the importance of living in ways that influence the surrounding world for good, Peter now turns to specific applications. In other words, he applies the theological principles to real-life situations, and he begins with how Christians ought to relate to the state.
Embedded in this short paragraph is the key to understanding Peter’s message: verse 16 says that Christians are “free . . . servants.” The gospel has set us free, and we’re citizens of a kingdom not of this world. So if that’s true–i.e., we’re not really part of the Roman Empire in their case or not truly American citizens in our case–are we free simply to disregard Roman (or American) laws?
The answer is complicated. Put simply, Peter says that we should willingly submit to “every human institution” so that we can “put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” So the normal relationship between Christians and the state is one of submission.
But the Bible includes stories of God’s people resisting political powers when higher principles were at stake–we’ll look at a few on Sunday. And history shows examples of Christians engaging in civil disobedience.
We’ll struggle with some of this while emphasizing the overarching principle: Christians should be good citizens so that the gospel’s influence will not be hindered, but there may be times when we must resist.