The big story in the news this week is the new immigration law in Arizona that allows law enforcement officers to request proof of citizenship if there is a reasonable suspicion that the person may be undocumented. If the individual cannot produce such proof, the law enforcement officer is able to make an arrest. The Arizona legislature says that the law simply allows law enforcement officers to treat illegal immigration like…well, illegal immigration.
But perhaps a bigger story than the law itself has been the cacophony of outrage at its passage. To those protesting, the law will lead to a Nazi-like state and racial profiling. Based solely on the color of their skin, people will be forced to “produce their papers.” There will be rampant harassment at the hands of the police, leading to a virtual terror state.
So what is a Christian to think? Does the Bible give us any guidelines to help us make sense of this issue? I believe so, and we can find it in Romans 13:1-5.
1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.
2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.
3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval,
4 for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer.
5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience.
(Rom 13:1-5 ESV)
A few principles can be drawn from this passage.
1. It is God’s desire that all people submit to the governing authorities, v1. The sinful human mind would wish to qualify that truth by asking, “which governing authorities?” Is it just the authorities from my political party? Just the authorities I voted for and agree with? Paul gives an answer that we might not like in v1, saying essentially that we are to submit to all the governing authorities since all governing authorities have been instituted by God.
(There is one notable exception found in Acts 5:29. Whenever a governing authority commands us to do something contrary to God’s Word, “We must obey God rather than men.”)
So to apply this to the issue at hand, we must acknowledge that since the statutes regarding illegal immigration were made by the governing authorities, which were established by God, those statutes must be obeyed.
2. To disobey the law of the land is to disobey God, v2a. The governing authorities established by God have declared it illegal to enter this country outside of the channels expressly outlined by the law. To subvert these laws is to resist God.
3. Those who disobey the law will incur judgment, v2b. This means that those who ignore existing immigration laws should expect to pay the penalty for this. It is God’s design.
4. The governing authorities should not be feared by those who obey the law, v3. Let’s suppose for a moment that the protesters are right and the police will now harass people as a matter of course, making racial profiling official policy [even though the law does not allow this]. Those who are in this country legally should have no fear – they are not breaking the law. They should produce the requested identification and thank God that He uses men to keep law and order in this sinful world.
Many times, when I use my debit card to make a purchase, I’m asked to show my driver’s license. I have never broken out in a cold sweat over this because I do not use stolen credit cards. Every time I have ever gotten on an airplane I have been asked to produce my driver’s license and to walk through a metal detector. This has never given me heartburn because I never travel under an assumed name and I don’t carry firearms or explosives when I fly. Do I resent these procedures? Absolutely not. Such requests to prove the legality of my actions is not bothersome to me, since this process was instituted by God and it is a tool used by Him to protect me by administering justice to those who are breaking the law. Further, my calm demeanor in such situations is evidence that my submission to the authorities has resulted in a clear conscience (v5).
5. The governing authorities should be feared by those who do not obey the law, v4. Are those who are in this country illegally afraid that they will be caught under this new law? Good. God’s design is working. The police officer enforcing this law is God’s servant. For those who obey the law, he is God’s servant for good, keeping law and order in a world that without them would spiral into utter lawlessness. For those who disobey the law, the police officer is God’s servant in carrying out God’s wrath for their wrongdoing. They are right to be fearful and it is a function of that fear to cause them to turn from their ways and obey the law.
Now, some might respond, “I’m not concerned for myself, but for those who would be adversely affected by this law.” To that I would say that according to the passage above, I don’t see how the enforcement of the law could adversely affect anyone. To those who obey, such enforcement makes them safer. To those who disobey, the enforcement will result in a just penalty. We need to realize that to seek to deprive the government of their ability to enforce the law is to desire that God’s design for government be thwarted. It would remove “the sword” mentioned in v4, which is the very cause for the criminal’s appropriate fear. No sword means no fear, which means no bounds placed on the lawless hearts of men.
God knows what He is doing. He uses the law enforcement community to keep us safe and to punish criminals. We should trust His design. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval.
Posted by Greg Birdwell