The elections have passed …mostly…and the Republican party will control the House, leading to at least a bit more balance in what our government wishes to do. But already we are hearing the Republicans talk about holding hearings on the Biden family and their inappropriate activities. While there may be some substance to such an investigation, it feels like a counter-attack on the Democrats who have spent the past two years carrying on a witch-hunt attacking President Trump.
Do the Republicans really feel this is the most important concern facing our nation? Or is this just an attempt to stage a bigger or better witch-hunt than the Democrats have attempted to do? Kind-of feels like the two bullies on the school yard trying to one-up each other!
While I love this country and all it stands for, I am glad I put all my faith, hope, and trust in God, and not in Government. Yes, we need government to establish and maintain the infrastructure fundamental to our way of life, but it is in God that we need to give full commitment to, for how to live our lives and how to build our relationships.
Jesus taught us, many times that it is in God alone that we need to place all of our trust. The most famous of Jesus teachings was from one interaction in particular. This familiar story from Mark 12:13-17:
And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar’s.” Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him.
Jesus’ response says a lot more than you might think. This one sentence gives the beginning of a Christian view of politics and religion. It’s a foundational statement for the Christian way of looking at issues of church and state, issues of God and government. There are at least six implications for our view of church and state in this one sentence—six statements about God and government that flow from this response.
1. Be good citizens, even if you think the government is bad.
The Romans weren’t Nazis. They did a lot of good things and made tremendous accomplishments. They didn’t persecute the Jews nonstop, but they did when they had to. They swindled when they could. It’s safe to say, no matter how much you may dislike American politics (or politicians!) or how much you may think the government is stupid or unjust, Rome was worse. And yet Jesus said to pay your taxes. Caesar’s face is on the coin. He had a right to levy tribute. So, pay up the denarius.
2. Allegiance to God and allegiance to your country are not inherently incompatible.
Sometimes Christians talk like you should have no loyalty for your country, as if love for your country is always a bad thing. But Jesus shows it’s possible to honor God and honor Caesar.
By telling the people, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” he was saying there are duties to government that do not infringe on your ultimate duty to God. It’s possible to honor lesser authorities in good conscience because they have been instituted by a greater authority.
3. It is acceptable that there be some measure of separation between church and state.
Church and state occupy overlapping spheres, and government is always ultimately accountable to God. But if we can render some things to Caesar and render other things to God, it must be the case that they are not one and the same, that it is possible to have some separation between the realm of organized religion and the realm of government
4. God’s people are not tied to any one nation.
When Jesus says, “Go ahead and give to Caesar what belongs to him,” he is effectively saying, “You can support nations that do not formally worship the one true God.” Or to put it a different way: true religion is not bound with only one country. This means the church will be transcultural and transnational.
5. The state is not God.
So far, we’ve been looking at the first half of Jesus statement: “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” but now we need to look at the second statement: “Render to God the things that are God’s”. You may think, well, Jesus certainly is pro-government. He may have given a cute answer by looking at the coin, but all he’s done is side with the Romans. But look more carefully.
By saying, “Give to Caesar what belongs to him, and give to God what belongs to him,” Jesus is making clear that he believes the two are not identical.
6. We owe our ultimate allegiance to God.
The state’s power is limited. Our allegiance to country or government is never absolute. But our allegiance to God is comprehensive. Do you see the word “likeness” when Jesus asks about the coin? It’s the Greek word eikon from which we get icon. The word can mean image or likeness. It’s the same word used in the Greek Old Testament in Genesis 1:26. Let us make man in our eikon—in our image, after our likeness. What are the things that belong to Caesar? Taxes, respect, honor—that’s what belongs to governing authorities. But what belongs to God? You. Your whole self. Your life. Your existence. Your everything.
Imagine standing before God, and he says, “Come up here. Let me take a look. Whose image, whose likeness do I see?” You are made in the image and likeness of God. You are like a coin—you may be dirty, rusted, nasty looking—but a penny is still worth a penny. And you are still worth something to God, because his likeness has been stamped on you. You belong to him. So, the only way to render to God the things that are God’s is to give to God your whole life.