“Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men—as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.” (1 Peter 2:13-17).
The words “freedom” and “submission” would be considered by most people to be opposites. Yet, Peter tells us in our text to use our liberty as “bondservants of God,” submitting “to every ordinance of man.” What Peter states in our text is what Luther says in the Small Catechism in his explanation of the fourth commandment concerning those in authority, that “we should honor, serve, and obey them, and give them love and respect.” This goes against our nature. The old Adam within each of us is an anarchist who wants to rule himself. By nature, we hate order, government, submission, duty, and any other words associated with authority.
But think about what our world would be like without order. It would be chaotic and unpredictable. There would be no organized system for enforcing laws, resolving conflicts, or protecting people’s rights and freedoms. Peter reminds us that those in authority are a gift from God. They keep temporal order, provide protection, and judge disputes. They punish evil and reward good. By rejecting them, we are rejecting a blessing that God intends for us.
Though we are free in Christ—in fact, because we are free in Christ—we submit to those in authority, recognizing them as God’s blessings to us. We do so remembering that Christian freedom isn’t freedom to do what we want. The great freedoms of the Christian life are freedom from the ruling power of sin in our lives, freedom from guilt because we are forgiven of our sins, and freedom from trying to earn our salvation through our obedience to God’s Law. It is the freedom to live as God wants us to live, to give Him glory, and to thank Him for all He has done for us.
As God, Jesus is truly free. Yet, consider how He used His freedom. He was subject to the government of His day. He perfectly obeyed His parents and every temporal authority that was placed over Him in His state of humiliation (the time between His incarnation and His resurrection). For us, He became a citizen of this world, under a less-than-perfect government. He stood before Pontius Pilate falsely charged with treason. He reminded Pilate that his authority to judge came from God. Christ’s suffering was undeserved. He was innocent of any crime. Yet He was subject to the authorities on our behalf, to atone for all the times when we have rebelled. He honored, to atone for those times when we have disrespected.
Jesus used His freedom to suffer in order to deal with our stubborn refusal to honor and submit to the authority that God has put in place. Jesus bore the tremendous burden of our sins to the cross. On that cross, Jesus willingly offered Himself as an atonement of our sins. He assumed the punishment that should have been inflicted on His people. That’s what makes us truly free.
In that freedom, we submit ourselves to those in authority; not bowing to men, but kneeling before our Savior God. We recognize His protecting love and thank Him for His unfailing mercy. And as we live this way, we silence the world’s accusations, and perhaps even cause someone to ask us about our faith, giving us an opportunity to share the Gospel.