1 Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God. 2 So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have its approval. 4 For government is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For government is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong. 5 Therefore, you must submit, not only because of wrath, but also because of your conscience. 6 And for this reason you pay taxes, since the authorities are God’s public servants, continually attending to these tasks. 7 Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honor. 8 Do not owe anyone anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments: Do not commit adultery; do not murder; do not steal; do not covet; and whatever other commandment — all are summed up by this: Love your neighbor as yourself. 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Love, therefore, is the fulfillment of the law. 11 Besides this, knowing the time, it is already the hour for you to wake up from sleep, for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over, and the daylight is near, so let us discard the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk with decency, as in the daylight: not in carousing and drunkenness; not in sexual impurity and promiscuity; not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no plans to satisfy the fleshly desires. — Romans 13
Submission to Governing Authorities
by Russell Burt
Whenever the topic of the Christian response to the governmental system is brought up, two extremes seem to appear. Either people turn against the secular government and aim to create a Christian government, or they choose not to engage politically at all. Both of these views, though popular for different generations of Christians, are far from biblical.
Though we do not aim for a so-called “Christian” nation, we must also understand that engaging in politics is an act of showing love to our neighbors. A Christian in our country who scoffs at political engagement and laments the government only mocks the mission field God has placed him in and neglects his neighbors. With that being said, a Christian who tries to over-emphasize government—focusing on putting the Ten Commandments everywhere and getting God back in schools—ends up selling out the gospel and turning his back on the Kingdom of Christ, embracing nothing more than a generic, make-believe civil religion.
What does the Bible say?
Romans 13 gives a clear understanding of the role of government. It is an institution created and ordained by God. He is a God of structure and order, appointing rulers and governors to govern His creation accordingly. In its purest intent, God created government as an act of love, assigning it to care for individuals.
God has given the government the sword of steel to uphold justice and to execute order within the community. Though some governments can be flawed because they are led by mere men, government is a good institution created by God, pointing us to the future rule of Christ.
How does a Christian relate?
Though government is instituted by God, the Christian should always note the difference between the sword of steel and the sword of the Spirit. Government can punish a wrongdoer for a crime against a fellow man. Its role is to promote the common good and human flourishing.
But God has only given the sword of steel to the government. The other sword, the sword of the Spirit, has been given to the Church. Any attempt to blur the two results in a state overstepping its bounds (Revelation 14-20), or the Church overstepping her role.
The ideal government according to the Bible is one that protects its citizens, but also stays out of the Church’s business. A government that oversteps its bounds is one that begins to suppress the consciences of its citizens. Therefore, it is incredibly important that Christians understand their role in the government. Since we live in a democratic republic, that means we are the government. For instance, when citizens vote for a candidate, they are handing the sword of steel to that candidate. This makes it critical for Christians to understand how to engage politically.
- Understand our priorities. There will never be a “perfect candidate” for a Christian. Though we will never fully agree with one, of utmost importance are the gospel issues (religious liberty, marriage, the sanctity of life) and worthiness of office.
- A Christian (or any citizen) shouldn’t feel compelled to vote for any one candidate. If there is not a candidate that a Christian feels comfortable handing their sword of steel to as a citizen, then a write-in is suggested. The conscience of the Christian in the voting booth should reign over any other factors.
- Be careful whom you vote for. When a citizen hands their sword of steel over to a representative by voting, they are indicating their approval of the candidate. All citizens, Christians included, will be held accountable for how we governed (through democracy) since we were placed in this mission field.
- We have been placed under the government for now, but we should always hold faith that we testify to a future government coming (co-ruled by us) that will be the only government we will experience in an uncorrupted form. We model that by submitting to governments here on earth (unless in violation of Christian conscience), all the while knowing we never bow until our real King, Governor, and Ruler calls us home into His eternal Kingdom. This is a Kingdom that doesn’t hold an election, a political revolution, a champion of rights, or a trump card to flourish. And it is a Kingdom that will never, ever need to be made great again.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.