“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” (v. 12). - Romans 13:1–2
Any attempt to summarize the biblical theology of the state must include a study of Romans 13:1–7, one of the most important passages on the relationship of the Christian to the civil government. Paul’s reasoned presentation of the nature and function of the “governing authorities” (v. 1) helps us understand that obeying the civil magistrate is part and parcel of obeying God Himself.
We noted yesterday that all human authority is grounded in the Creator’s authority, and this is the basis for our submission to earthly rulers. When we consider how God has established the governance of creation, we see that ultimate authority belongs to our triune Creator and is exercised first by God the Father (John 8:28). Following Jesus’ resurrection, the Father entrusted Christ, the God-man, with all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18–20). Christ subsequently appointed authorities under Him — husbands, rulers, teachers, parents, and so on (Rom. 13:1; 1 Cor. 11:3; Col. 2:9–10).
If all authorities are ultimately answerable to Jesus and operate on the basis of His mediated authority, we obey our Savior when we obey human rulers. This is the basis for Paul’s admonition to us in Romans 13:1–2, which warns us to submit to the civil government lest we incur divine judgment. Note that Paul does not tell us to obey only those rulers who favor us. In fact, the Roman government to which he orders the Roman believers to submit is the same government that later put the apostle to death! Christians are to be model citizens even when they do not occupy a privileged place in society, blamelessly obedient to all laws, wise or foolish, that do not command what God forbids or forbid what God commands. We may not agree with everything the government requires of us, but we must submit graciously if doing so will not make us violate God’s Word (1 Peter 2:18).
Certainly, the Almighty does not endorse the unjust actions of human rulers, and His call for us to obey even corrupt governors does not mean that evil officials are pleasing to Him. But the book of Habakkuk indicates that it is the Lord’s prerogative to repay their corruption, not ours. We must submit even to ungodly men until that day they call us to disobey our Redeemer.
Some of the laws and regulations in your country today may seem unnecessary. Nevertheless, in obedience to Scripture we must obey even these unless they lead us to sin. We should not be known as those who try to find ways around the laws of the land; rather, our scrupulous obedience should be a model for the unbelievers around us. We must never give the ruling authorities just cause to view us as a lawless people.
Passages for Further Study
- Nehemiah 2:1–8
- Proverbs 24:21–22
- Matthew 17:24–27
- Acts 21:17–26