How Christians can magnify Jesus in our relationships to society and the government

December 11, 2019

How can a Christian rightly magnify the Lordship of Jesus while submitting to a government that does not share the same values? In 1 Peter 2:13-17, the Apostle Peter helps us answer this question. Writing to an audience of believers who were facing persecution under a cruel government, Peter wanted his readers to understand the primacy of their relationship to Jesus and the impact it should have on all of their relationships. What we find in 1 Peter 2:13-17 is that our relationship to God must inform and shape our relationship to everyone and everything else in this world. Let’s consider Peter’s words,

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.

Understanding our submission to authorities 

In verses 13-15, Peter calls his audience to be submissive to every human authority that God has placed in their life. This is not because these authorities possess some sort of intrinsic authority that can never be forfeited. It is because any authority that a human institution possesses is an authority that has been delegated to that institution by God himself.  Without having to say it, Peter believes that human authorities only possess a derived authority from God and therefore are not to be submitted to in all circumstances. 

Peter’s audience should only submit to “every human institution” if they can do so “for the Lord’s sake.” If, however, their submission to a human institution would violate their relationship with God, then they must resist the authority of such an institution. We see this clearly in passages like Acts 4:18-20, which says, 

So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”

However, when these human authorities are not forcing Christians to live contrary to God’s call on their life, then Christians should be submissive to such human institutions.

What, then, allows the Christian to live in this position of submissiveness? According to 1 Peter 2:13, it is because of the Lord. The Lordship of Christ has effectively made them “sojourners and exiles” in this land by his resurrection from the dead, which brought victory over their enemies. So, while they live in this world temporarily, they live as those with hope in God through Jesus Christ. They are not angry nor are they joyless. They know who wins in the end, therefore, they can willingly submit to the human authorities that God has placed over them, as we see in Romans 13:1-7.

This is God’s will for us—magnifying the Lordship of Jesus in our relationships to God, the Church, society, and the government.

But why should Christians live in submission to every human institution? If Jesus is Lord, why should we submit to anyone else’s authority? Peter answers with an allusion to verses 1 Peter 2:11-12. Accordingly, when Christians live in obedient submission to the human authorities in their life, they shame the accusations of their peers who accuse them of evil. 

At first, this probably seems inaccessible to us due to our own experience, but if we remember the gospel accounts and the story of the Church’s growth under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts, you will recall that there were times when opponents of the gospel attempted to stall the advancement of the Kingdom by falsely accusing them of social disobedience. Consider Acts 16:19-22, which reads,

But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.” The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods.

The accusations of the owners were false. How is that the case? Well, Paul and Silas were Roman citizens. They weren’t promoting customs that were illegal. They upheld the customs of Rome that were in keeping with their confession of faith in Christ. By living in submission to the human authority of the Roman government and doing good (freeing a woman from demon possession and sharing the gospel with the Philippians jailer), Paul and Silas were vindicated in the sight of the people, and the claims of the owners were demonstrated to be false. The foolish people were decidedly “silenced” when Paul insisted on the officials formally escorting him and his companions out of town.

So, Peter, by commanding his readers to “do good” in the context of the world is promoting God’s will for their lives. This means that God’s will for our lives can be carried out in all sorts of contexts, even under bad rulers and governments like those in Rome during the time of Peter’s ministry. A good government with good rulers is not a prerequisite for a life of faithfulness to Jesus. And while we should pray for our leaders and our country that we might be able to live godly lives in peace, if persecution comes upon the Church for its faithfulness to Jesus, then we must be ready to suffer and persevere just like Peter’s audience and so many others in the world today.

Living as servants of God

In 1 Peter 2:16, Peter moves from his readers’ position of submission to their perspective as servants of God. While it was and is completely true that Peter’s audience was set free from the condemnation of sin and forgiven, this does not mean that they are now free to live contrary to God’s will. In reality, the Christian should be the type of person that is growing in godly desires and fleeing evil desires. But Christians can and will struggle with sin. Peter’s point in verse 16 is to highlight that their freedom in Christ should never be used to justify any behavior that would bring dishonor to the glory of Christ. While they are free from the world, they are now servants of God, and that perspective should inform their behavior. They belong to God, not themselves.

What does this mean for our question regarding how we can magnify the Lordship of Jesus while submitting to a government that does not share the same values? It means, as one commentator put it, that we can “give each relationship its due” in light of Jesus’ Lordship. Peter concludes by referencing four realms in which relationships for his readers exist: a social realm (“Honor everyone”); a church/ecclesiastical realm  (“Love the brotherhood”); a spiritual/theological realm (“Fear God”); and a civil/political realm (“Honor the emperor”). In each realm, we must show honor, love, and respect for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Regardless of how hateful and unkind society may become, we are called to live with honor and respect for the members of our society as those created in God’s image. Regardless of how lovable or unlovable our fellow church members may seem, we are called to love them as God has loved in Jesus Christ. Regardless of how worthy others in our lives may appear, we are called to fear and revere God supremely. God deserves the highest place of honor and reverence in our lives. Regardless of how wonderful or terrible our government may operate, we are called to submit to its authority and support its God-ordained purpose (punishing evil and promoting good) so long as they do not call us to disobey God.

This is God’s will for us—magnifying the Lordship of Jesus in our relationships to God, the Church, society, and the government. We are to live and relate to others as those people who genuinely believe that we have a hope in a living Savior. And we are to live in the freedom of Christ as servants of God for the sake of others coming to know him.

Casey B. Hough

Casey B. Hough (Ph.D., New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary) serves as lead pastor at Copperfield Church in Houston, Texas, and assistant professor of biblical interpretation at a Luther Rice College and Seminary. Casey and his wife, Hannah, have three sons and two daughters. For more ministry resources from Casey, visit his … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24