Coming to Matthew 22, we find Jesus challenged on the relationship and potential tension between following God and following government.
Jesus was asked whether or not it was right to pay taxes. He responded:
“’Show me the coin for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, ‘Whose likeness and inscription is this?’ They said, ‘Caesar's.’ Then he said to them, ‘Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's’” (Matthew 22:19-21, ESV).
Does this mean that there are some things that don’t belong to God? Certainly not. Everything belongs to God as He is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. That cannot be the point Jesus is trying to make with this statement.
Rather, it seems that Jesus is establishing a position for government. There are things that ought to be given to Caesar like taxes. The government needs money in order to run. Although it is not spoken of here, there is also authority that is given to the government to enforce the law and maintain order.
However, government can never take the place of God. For example, our worship belongs exclusively to God. It should never be given to a human institution.
In this hierarchy then, we arrive at a way to solve the tension that can result from following God or following our government.
Therefore, if the government passes a bill that mandates the worship of the goddess of the earth, as Christians, we would need to stand against that law because while it would be the will of the government, it would contradict the commandment of God.
When the government passes a bill that prohibits murder or theft, we ought to follow those because they do not contradict and are actually consistent with what God has commanded.
To return to my original question then from Monday about what to do when I want to be patriotic and stand behind my country while simultaneously understanding that some things about it are absolutely wrong, I return to this idea of discernment.
As we learned from Daniel, we don’t compromise our convictions; we remain true to God. Jesus spoke about this as well and pointed out that while there is undoubtedly a place and sense of authority that belongs to the government, it cannot replace God.
Patriotism is actually a very good thing as I mentioned, but our country cannot become our religion. That is when we begin to lose our identity as Christ followers first.