The Christian and Government Authorities – Romans 13:1-7

 

 

 

 

In Romans 13:1-7, we see how believers are to live in response to government authorities. Sometimes it is very difficult for believers to obey human authorities. However, scripture teaches us plainly that we are to respond to governing authorities with obedience. In this passage, we find several reasons as to why we are to respond properly to government authorities.

Government authorities are ordained by God. Notice what Paul says in verses 1-2. Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. 2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.”[1] Paul clearly states that the ‘powers that be are ordained by God.’ I believe that Paul is referring more so to the position rather than the person. In America, we have a democratic society. We have the awesome privilege and freedom to choose who our government authorities will be. We have an electoral system that allows us to vote on who will hold certain positions. Sometimes, as a nation, we may elect godly leaders, other times we may not elect godly leaders. The point here is that God has ordained civil government. The way in which our society functions and is organized is through such government. “God has established three institutions: the home (Gen. 2:18–25), government (Gen. 9:1–17), and the church (Acts 2).”[2] It is the institutions that are ordained by God. Therefore, God has appointed human government to be the framework through which matters of the state are carried out. So, for the believer, no matter who holds a particular office, we are to respect the office. We may not agree with everything the government does, but we must respect the government. We may not like the person who holds the office, but we must respect and respond appropriately to the person, because he or she holds the office.

Paul goes on to say that if we resist the God ordained institution of human government, we resist the ordinance of God. We may not be able to obey every law that the government puts in place, especially if those laws are contrary to God’s Word. However, we are not to resist the process of human government. We have what we call a ‘due process of law.’ There is a framework in which we are to work. If we disagree with the government, there are certain legal steps we can take to stand for what we believe in. Rioting in the streets and purposefully breaking the law is not the way we are to respond when things don’t go our way. God ordained human government; therefore, we are to carry out our lives within the framework of human government.

Be subject to human government for wraths sake. Look at what Paul says in verses 3-4. “For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: 4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.”[3] One of the main purposes of human government is to provide safety to the citizens of the country. Therefore, human government is designed in such a way to provide law and order. If someone commits a crime, then they will suffer the wrath of the powers that be. “The text says that “he does not bear the sword for nothing.” The sword is a symbol of the power delegated to governing authorities to enforce acceptable social conduct. Here we have the biblical basis for the use of force by government for the maintenance of law and order. The power to punish has been delegated by God to those who rule. To disobey the laws of the land, except where they contravene the express will of God, is to violate the purpose of God himself.” [4]

Be subject to human government for conscience sake. Paul addresses the issue of our conscience in relation to human government in verses 5-7. “Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. 6 For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. 7 Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.”[5] Part of living in a civilized society is the responsibility to pay taxes. Nobody enjoys paying taxes; however, it is something we all must do. Taxes are used in order to help fund the government agencies that provide for the well being and safety of the nation. As Christians, living within a nation, we also have the responsibility to pay taxes. If we do not obey such laws and meet such requirements, we violate our conscience. God has given us a conscience for a reason. As believers, we cannot violate our conscience, for to do so is sin. Failure to pay your taxes or breaking the laws of the land go against what you know is the right thing to do. Therefore, we must subject ourselves to the laws of the land in order that we do not violate our conscience and sin against God.

The issue is often raised as to how we are to respond to a government that passes laws that are contrary to God’s Word. What do we obey, the law of the land or God’s Word? The New American Commentary sheds light on this issue: “Government sometimes oversteps its rightful domain. When this happens, the believer will find it impossible to obey the ruler. Two clear examples of civil disobedience are found in Acts. When Peter and John were told by the Sanhedrin not to preach in the name of Jesus, they replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God” (Acts 4:19). Upon being released they resumed their work and consequently were taken into custody. To the charge of the Sanhedrin that they had filled Jerusalem with their teaching they replied, “We must obey God rather than man!” (Acts 5:29). The believer’s ultimate allegiance is to God. Wherever the demands of secular society clearly violate this higher allegiance, the Christian will act outside the law. This, of course, must not be done in a cavalier fashion.”[6] If there ever is a time when obedience to the law is not an option, then we still must not rebel. In other words, we do what is right in accordance to God’s Word and we humbly accept whatever punishment comes, thus, respecting the governing authorities.

As believers in Christ, we are to live blameless before the world. Part of our responsibility as believers is to be subject to the God-ordained governing authorities. Believers are to be law abiding citizens. Living in such a way is part of being a living sacrifice and a testimony of God’s Word to the unbelieving world.

[1] The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Ro 13:1–2). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[2] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 556). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[3] The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Ro 13:3–4). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[4] Mounce, R. H. (1995). Romans (Vol. 27, p. 244). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[5] The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Ro 13:5–7). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[6] Mounce, R. H. (1995). Romans (Vol. 27, p. 244). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

 

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