We are living in a time when the government mandates many things – from health insurance to certain shots. And while many may take the stance that Romans 13 addresses how the Christian should respond to such mandates, I believe that is a blanket statement in which the blanket has far too many holes in it to keep anyone warm.
Now, to be clear, most of the people I personally know that have been faced with the more recent mandate, have actually gotten around it by applying for an exemption. Some of the exemptions have been medical and some have been religious. And it seems that there is a controversy as to whether religious exemptions are biblical.
Those in charge in many places were expecting people to apply for religious exemptions, specifically tied to the fetal cell argument, so they sought to obscure the truth, (see link here). My thoughts today are not to talk down that line of thinking for applying for a religious exemption because of the deeply held belief that abortion is wrong, but to also offer another train of thought in regards to exemptions – namely the idea of a Christian conscience.
Many have seemingly forgotten one of Christianity’s deeply held ideas, that every Christian has a conscience and to go against one’s conscience is sinful. On October 31st, the church across the world celebrates Reformation Day, which is the anniversary of the day that Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg Chapel.
As history taught us, the ruling powers in the church at the time did not take kindly to what Luther thought, so they started persecuting him and asking him to take back what he had said against the pope and the church. It is in that context that he is reportedly to have said: “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.”
Christians today could learn a lot about the sheer boldness and fortitude possessed by Luther, because the conscience is an important part of how we are to live out our lives as believers. Deep within our souls we know right from wrong and God expects us to do what is right.
“So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” James 4:17
James does not hold back here, it’s sinful to go against your conscience. The Bible doesn’t address every area of sin. It doesn’t mention how much time we should spend on Facebook or in what ways we should use computers, but it does say that the law of God has been written on the hearts of men. And James draws from that, the idea that we know the difference from right and wrong and we must do what is right. Where the Bible is silent, in other words, we must follow what God has put into our hearts.
Now we know according to Jeremiah 17:9 that the heart is exceedingly deceitful, so how does this play into our conscience? Well the Bible answers that in the New Testament. Hebrews 9:14 says, “how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”
Put simply, because of Jesus and his atoning work on the cross, our conscience is being purified. Now this doesn’t mean it’s perfect and we should certainly pray over our responses in critical situations, but as James said, we can’t go against our conscience as that would be sinful.
Now I’ve said all of that to say this, when it comes to government mandates, the Christian must search his conscience and do what is right to him, for to do anything other would be sinful. The Bible is clear that government has its place and it is to be God’s servant for your good (Romans 13:4). It should be honored and respected. But the Government is not God and when the government tells you to do something that goes against God or your conscience, then you have a duty to do what is right before God.
This line of thought was summed up perfectly in the early church when Peter and the apostles were brought before the local authorities and were instructed to stop preaching the gospel. Now they could have obeyed the principle in Romans 13, but instead, they understood the principle in James 4:17 and chose to stand up for what they believed and said, “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)
So I’d like to encourage you in a couple of areas today. First, if you are facing a mandate and it goes against your conscience, stand strong. Secondly, if you are having discussions with friends and family on this subject, and their conscience is telling them something different than what yours has told you, please love and respect them. We are free to disagree with one another, but we are not free to hate on one another. Christians should be known for their grace, not their vitriol, even in times like these.