We Christians are citizens of heaven, and we name Jesus as Lord. How, then, should we behave when it comes to the world? First, we should respect governing authorities. Second, we should love one another. Third, we should live like Jesus really is going to return. In these instructions, we see instructions moving from society to church to individual living. At each level, we Christians have responsibilities to fulfill.
Romans 13 is an important reminder that God’s mercy meets us in the real world. Rather than evacuating us to a higher plane or freeing us from worldly responsibilities, God’s grace meets us in reality and empowers us to live differently in the here and now. Of course, this grace-filled living is not always clean cut or easily figured out. Obey governing authorities, Paul says. But, what about when governing authorities move counter to God’s ways? History is riddled with such instances. Love one another, Paul tells us. But, what about when love is hard to figure out? What about those times when people take advantage? Even worse, what about those times when everyone thinks they are doing right even as they oppose one another? In Romans 13, Paul gives clear cut directives that aren’t always so clear cut on the ground. What then?
It is here that directive three – live like Jesus really is coming back – comes to the fore. The imagery Paul uses here is that of waking and sleeping. He tells us to live like people who are awake in the day. Individually, this means turning away from the deeds of darkness. At the same time, living as people of the day helps us with the grey areas already mentioned. When it comes to life in the real, messy world, our job is to live for Jesus. This singular focus brings incredible clarity to our living. No, it doesn’t make the ambiguities go away, but it does define the goal. What would Jesus have me do right now? What would please Jesus in these circumstances? What does it mean right now to live like Jesus really is going to return?
Grace in the real world doesn’t remove us from the circumstances of life. Instead, it brings a new clarity into those circumstances. May God give us wisdom to know what it means to live as people of the day in each moment.