Christians all over the world are faced with this issue: How do I interact with my government? The reason for this is that most Christians, whether they like it or not are a part of some nation where they are expected to submit to its rulings. But are we as Christians supposed to submit to government? That’s the question I hope to answer today by looking at some of what the Bible has to say on the issue. Throughout this article I’ll be asking some questions to help lead you to a biblical conclusion. Let’s look at the first one…
Question #1: Is government a God-instituted authority?
The answer to this question is simple: Yes. Government is instituted by God. Romans 13 makes it clear that all authority is put into place by God Himself. That means that every person who has ever lived that has held some position of authority was put in place by God. That means that everyone from president down to the business clerk for your town was given his/her authority by God. That’s cool to think about…until we run into our next question.
Question #2: Does that still mean that we have to obey and submit to them?
We’re citizens of heaven, Romans 13 goes on to explain, so with that in mind that obviously means that we submit to God directly, right? Wrong. Lots of Christians assume that God’s rule completely negates the rule of government, but those who think this do not understand what Paul is trying to communicate in Romans 13. Look at this illustration…
If you can, picture the authority of God as an umbrella. Underneath that big umbrella, you’ll see a smaller umbrella that represents government. While we are under the government’s umbrella of authority we are to be subject to the government, all while being under the bigger umbrella of God’s authority. Trust me, it isn’t as complicated as it seems. So with that in mind let’s answer another question based on the two questions we’ve answered so far.
Question #3: What happens when government is run by non-Christian people who want nothing more than to wipe people like me off the face of the earth?
Anti-God and anti-Christian governments are nothing new. If you think that this is the first time in human history that there has been a government like that, think again. History is filled with ruthless men bent on the destruction of our faith, and some of those men lived during the time that the Bible was penned. One such person was the infamous Roman emperor Nero, who was so bent on attacking Christians that he took pleasure in dousing Christians in oil and then using them as lights for his garden. Not a nice guy and clearly an enemy of the gospel. It was during this horrible man’s reign that the apostle Peter wrote in 1 Peter 2:13-14,
“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.”
Peter told Christians to submit to Nero.
What? That doesn’t seem right! How could Peter tell Christians to submit to a guy like that? I’ll tell you how. Peter, like Paul, recognized that God in His sovereignty placed Nero and men like Him in power. If we follow this thought to its logical conclusion then that means that God put men like Hitler, Stalin, Saddam Hussein, and the thousands of other wicked men in power. Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, Barack Obama, Queen Elisabeth II, Jacob Zuma, and whomever else might be in power when you’re reading this are in a position of authority because God put them there, whether they want to admit that or not. And because that authority is placed there by God, to disobey that authority is to disobey the God who put that authority in place. In essence every time you go over the speed limit, you disobey the government who put the speed limit there and disobey the God who gave that government to make that ruling. That’s a sobering thought.
Now I know what you’re thinking, “But Scott! What about the apostles in Acts who disobeyed the Sanhedrin? What about the godly Christians who disobeyed their governments in the Bible? If a government told me to kill someone how could I submit to that?”
Don’t misunderstand me: God’s authority trumps the authority of men. BUT you’re going to find that 90% of the time government submission is possible. There are exceptions, like in Acts 5 when the apostles disobey the governing powers. There are definitely times when the umbrella of government is metaphorically out from under the umbrella of God’s authority, but we would be foolish to say that Acts 5 was the rule, thinking about the whole of Scripture which clearly explains that submission is necessary. Don’t use the God’s Word to support your sinful desire to rebel against the authority God has placed over you!
So here are the main points:
- Government is placed by God.
- Government is under the authority of God.
- Submit to your God by submitting to your government.*
*Minimal exceptions noted.