“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mark 12:17)
I recently preached this text at my church and over all the other points that could be made, I was most focused on what God gets. What belongs to God? I think the answer to this question helps us live out the first portion of that answer, “Giving Caesar what belongs to him.”
We know Caesar gets his taxes, and in a broader sense the respect of rule from those he rules over. In that rule, the people subject to him are afforded some protections and socio-economic services, and this is true for us today in whatever governmental system that takes on the role of Caesar.
So… What belongs to God?
I know the answer can literally be “everything," but when you consider the coin they showed Jesus, the one with Caesar’s image and inscription on it, there’s really only one true correlation. His people. God’s people have been imprinted with God’s image upon them.
Scripture literally says we are made in the image and likeness of God in Genesis 1:26-28.
I believe this is where we can gain the better perspective needed to help us live kinder and better lives in the right now of the civil kingdom of Caesar.
When we say we are what belongs to God, we need to remember that we belong to God by Grace Alone. It’s not by our best works. It’s not by the sweat of our brow. It’s not even by our best attempts to repent (though we'd like it to be sometimes). That’s why so many people twist Scripture in an attempt to tie the “trueness” of our faith to good works, instead of understanding that works will simply be an outpouring from that faith.
We needed God to gift us the faith to believe, and even if we do then “give” ourselves to him, we wouldn’t be able to do it in a way that could get us remotely close to complying in the manner he would require, which is totally repentant or sinless. There hasn’t been a Christian alive or dead that could say they are, that isn’t already sinning before the words drip from their mouths.
1 John 1:8 shuts this idea down: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
Prior to that, in verse 7, it says: “we have fellowship with God, if we walk in the light as he is in the light.”
That’s because the light exposes the darkness of sin in us. It doesn’t mean it’s not there or it disappears completely from our lives. As much as we’d like to stay in the light, our mixed nature of sinner and saint tends to cause us to walk in and out of it. We allow ourselves to be swayed into the dark corners of society and ourselves. Sin, in its many forms finds its way in like a rat squeezing through a too-small crack in a wall. Because of that, we need that light to keep revealing to us the sin in our lives.
Being exposed to that light, knowing we are forgiven, that’s humbling to consider. This light of God doesn’t just expose a little thing here or there, it reaches into our tiny crevices and exposes not just our outward actions, but our inward attitudes. I don’t need to you nod your head in agreement with me as you read along, and you never have to say it out loud. I know it does, because I know me. Sinners sin. It’s what we do.
It should serve to remind us that we still have a lifetime of sin that we haven't even committed yet that God is already forgiving.
So, what does God get? He gets what already belongs to Him. Us.
He gets us. This sinner in need of grace. This mess of us that God has gifted faith to, that loves us by his grace and mercy. This is the reason why every week at church we begin with words of repentance and absolution. We come to God with our books wide open, recognizing the need for forgiveness. The few times I’ve had the honor of leading God’s church in the service, I always make a point to remind our people, not to read the confession just because the words are there in a book or on a screen, but read them because the words are true, read the words because they’re honest, read them, because if you allow them to take hold, they are humbling.
Knowing we belong to God by this undeserved grace, and knowing we fall short of the high standards of God, and yet are still accepted solely by the work of Christ alone, it should cause us to pause our attitudes in how we deal with people here in church, and in the world. It should temper our reactions to the systems around us, especially the ones we don’t agree with. If I had to say that there is one prevailing trait that should drive Christians in every one of our interactions, it is humility. It is having this low view of self-importance in light of how great and awesome God is. That’s what should permeate our actions and reactions in our daily lives.
This devotional is nearly done now, and in a few moments, you’ll look up from your computers, tablets, and phones, and re-engage in your everyday life. Hopefully, this article will have reminded you that politics, shouldn’t consume us, work shouldn’t consume us, being more “right” than the next person, shouldn’t consume us. Now, because we DON’T live in a bubble, something will happen, “The next outrage,” and some of us will feel compelled to respond and even push back. We never push back emotionless. It tends to stir up strong feelings. When we do that, it powers us past the “humility” we should be walking in.
I get caught up in it too. I know I do. I probably used to do it more. But even now, I have days where the next outrage still draws me in.
Then I walk into church on Sunday, and I’m reminded as I speak these words of our confession:
“Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We justly deserve your condemnation. For the sake of your son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will.”
That I should be humbled and broken by my sin, and that I can also know without a doubt, through that precious proclamation of absolution, that I am forgiven again and again.
One last time. God gets what belongs to him, us, but it’s a bad deal, because we give him the worst of us. We give him the ugly, sinful us. The one that must be given to him over and again.
Oh, blessed and broken saints, be grateful, because he takes us willingly. He even buys us, sin and all, with his Son’s precious blood.
Consider that, when you disagree with people on politics, religion, government, and on any other issue, so that you might have the humility to disagree with them with kindness and respect.
May you always be reminded of God’s constant forgiveness.
May it keep you humble before God and others.