There is a lot of unrest around our country right now. It seems every authority structure is being challenged. No one trusts the people in authority. So we ask the question of how Christians deal with the authorities of this world.
The Bible is clear on God’s expectations for Christians and worldly authority. Let’s consider biblical teaching on the authorities of this world and holiness. We are citizens of heaven but we also have citizenship on earth.
Since we are part of two different worlds, heaven and earth, we must know which authority to obey and submit to. The Bible tells us God’s expectations for how we deal with human authority in this world.
“Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been put in place by God.”Romans 13:1 (My Translation)
“Be subject to every human establishment for the Lord’s sake, whether to the emperor as authority, or to governors as sent by him for punishment of evildoers or praise of the upright, because this is God’s will—by continually doing good, you silence the ignorance of senseless people.”1 Peter 2:13-15 (My Translation)
From both Paul and Peter the direction is to be subject to authorities on this earth. This comes from Christians who are being hunted down and persecuted, some of them killed, for their faith by the Roman Empire. And yet they still say Christians must subject themselves to these governments.
Paul goes even further to say that God has given these governments and their leaders authority. And it is true that God is the ultimate authority. Nothing happens without his stamp of approval on these governments and their leaders.
Peter and Paul contend that human governments are in place to bring justice against evildoers. Christians who do good things and stay within the bounds of the law should have nothing to be concerned about. God puts these governments in place and gives them authority to deal with evildoers. But is it so cut and dry?
Nothing to Fear
So Peter and Paul tell Christians there is nothing to fear from earthly governments. They come after lawbreakers and evildoers. As long as you are following their laws they are not interested in disturbing you.
Romans 13:1-7 shows us how to interact with the governments in which we live. We are responsible to honor God by honoring and obeying these officials. Whether you like the government administration you live under or not the Bible calls you to obey their laws so you have no fear of them.
“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. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”Romans 13:1–7, ESV
In America, we have a system that changes usually every four to eight years. A new administration is elected in these spans of time. Depending on your political values you will not enjoy certain administrations.
But we are still called to respect and obey our leaders. We must distinguish between a difference of opinion and a law. We can have differing opinions but still follow the laws administrations put down. To us these opinions may not be effective.
In a democratic system like ours the majority of people vote in the candidates and administrations they want to lead them. You may be in the minority. But I can assure you that Paul and Peter are writing by the power of the Holy Spirit. Their friends, and they themselves, were being persecuted by the Roman Empire and yet they penned these words
Even under regimes against Christians, we may endure persecution for the name of Christ (Matthew 5:10-12). In our suffering we bring glory to Jesus. We are citizens of heaven first and our inheritance comes from Jesus (Philippians 3:20).
Christians must be guided by Scripture and the Holy Spirit on how involved they get with earthly governments. Some are called to serve in an office of some kind and represent Jesus in that environment. Others want to have nothing to do with earthly governments.
The way we interact with our culture and government must be a matter that God leads us to accept. He can use Christians in every situation to be salt and light to others. As salt we preserve righteousness and season our conversations with godly counsel. As light we expose and reveal the wickedness of our world.
We must navigate the world of morality when we are involved in politics. I often find myself becoming very upset with how leaders govern. Some of them have no wisdom and it shows. Others do not have no voice because they try to abstain from being corrupted. Sometimes it’s hard to tell in the midst of situations who is godly and who is not.
But if you have the right to vote you should exercise that right. Christians have the ability to change the outcomes of their nations. But we don’t always need voting to do that. God can use us to minister to people one-on-one.
Politics is not the only way we can interact with our world for the good of the gospel. But it can be an option to make a difference for Jesus. Why would Peter and Paul say that governments are appointed by God when they faced persecution and death under the Roman Empire?
Levels of Authority
They say governments are appointed by God because he is the ultimate authority. When we resist them we are resisting God. There are levels of authority, a hierarchy, among all the authorities in our lives.
At the very top of the hierarchy is God. He reigns supreme and is the Judge of all the earth (Genesis 18:25). He is in charge of all of His creation. Everyone and everything looks to Him. He has the last word. And this is why the Bible tells us God appoints every government.
Sometimes we don’t understand why He allows a government that is hostile to Christians to exist. But we do not know His purposes and plans completely. We have an idea, but the Bible prophesies a complete breakdown of world governments and authorities in the end times.
We can make a difference for a short time but eventually governments will turn on Christians. They will persecute and barter Christians to no end. This doesn’t mean we need to have a defeatist attitude about government. While God allows us to have influence on our governments we should take advantage of that grace while we have it.
Next after God in the hierarchy are the heads of state. In some cases like in the American system, we can elect our officials. But there are other places, like the Roman Empire Paul and Peter were under, where they had no say in governmental matters.
No matter what system you find yourself involved with you must represent Jesus. These governments may be against you, persecute you, and even martyr you. But you are called to the place where you are to represent Jesus well.
After heads of state are the administrations put in place. These governments can be elaborate with many different departments. Some of them may be hostile to Christians and other departments may not be hostile. I have observed you usually get a mixed bag with each administration.
State and local officials come next. They are probably the ones you know better than national leaders. They are closer to you and more accessible. You have more sway if you are able to vote for them because you are part of a smaller pool of voters.
This hierarchy matters because it helps us define our position when we encounter laws and leaders against Christianity and God. We have said earlier that these governments are put in place for our benefit and safety because they do not penalize those who follow the law.
There are times when these governments make laws that go against God’s laws. What shall we do then? God is above all human government and the ultimate authority and Judge. So we must consider first His laws above the laws of human leaders who go against them.
Laws issued against God by these human governments must be rejected. When Peter and the apostles were commanded by the Jewish religious leaders to stop preaching Jesus they responded, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
Paul says that to be a servant of Christ we must be willing to please the Lord, not people (Galatians 1:10). The Bible sets the precedent to not embrace laws contrary to God and His Word. This doesn’t mean we have to become warriors against such laws. But it means that we do not follow them.
This may open you up to prosecution of some kind, tribulations, suffering, and persecution. But suffering for Christ is part of being one of his disciples. All of the apostles suffered for the faith and all but one, John, were martyred for their faith. John was exiled to the island of Patmos as a political prisoner for a time. Suffering is a natural consequence of being a disciple of Jesus.
Jesus gives us the grace and ability to endure suffering and persecution. We do it with a godly attitude. Sometimes this may even impress the ungodly leaders who are persecuting us. But even if they are too hardhearted to see His light breaking through us we still glorify God as we righteously suffer for Him.
Living at Peace
We don’t need to become activists against ungodly governments or ones we don’t like. We live a godly lifestyle before them. We follow God’s commands and do what he tells us. Only God is qualified to take vengeance on His enemies (Romans 12:19; Hebrews 10:30).
God may give you a defense for His gospel and His name. But even if He doesn’t, you stand for Jesus. You are His representative on earth. You show people Jesus’ love. Even if you are mistreated you turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39) and pray for your enemies (Matthew 5:44).
Our goal is not to fight the systems of governments and rulers against God. We do our very best to live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18). We can object to an immoral law without going to war. Peaceful objection may include persecution but it certainly stands for Jesus and the principles He gives us to live by.
Jesus calls us to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). We want to live peacefully when we can. Even when we must stand for godly and biblical principles we can do it peacefully. Do everything you can to live peacefully with everyone.
Jesus expects us to do our best to live at peace with everyone around us, including governments and administrations we don’t feel comfortable with or have a negative opinion about. As His representatives we live a good and holy life so we are not trouble to the authorities.
We don’t have to be afraid of the authorities if we live within their laws. But when laws go against the commandments and teachings of Jesus we must peaceably object and not follow them. Even if this brings persecution Jesus gives us grace and strength to endure it. How do you handle authorities when they oppose God’s laws in your context?