For several decades now there has been a teaching within certain evangelical circles that any type of resistance to government authority is anti-biblical and is not Christ-like conduct. Some have even gone so far as to say that the American Revolution that gave birth to the United States was in direct violation of what God ordained. It is their belief that Christians should obey the government in all circumstances, whether the government is good or evil and whether it’s laws are good or bad. Is this really true? Did God transform sinners into saints so we could be the government’s floor mats?
There are three scriptures that are commonly used to promote this idea–Romans 13:1-7, 1 Timothy 2:1-4, and 1 Peter 2:13-17. Here are sample verses from each text to get an idea of what they say:
Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. Romans 13:2
I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. 1 Timothy 2:1-2
Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. 1 Peter 2:13-14
At first glance, it appears that we are truly told to obey authorities no matter what and in every circumstance. However, one must look at the context of scripture to get the whole picture of what the apostles meant. In Romans 13:4, Paul tells us the true purpose of government authorities is for them to act as God’s ministers to punish evil. “Evil” would be anything that violates God’s moral laws. According to Paul in this text, it is when we do good by God’s standards that authorities who do good will hold us in high regard. And all Christians should obey what God says is good in his word, including paying taxes, as Paul points out in the text.
In 1 Timothy 2, Paul commands us to pray for rulers and the text gives us at least two reasons for that–(1) so that unsaved rulers may get saved and (2) so rulers may make godly decisions that will allow us Christians to live our lives in peace with godliness and honesty. When rulers make ungodly decisions, more often than not Christians will become targets of those unwise decisions which will result in unrest in society, ungodly compromises among the Christians, and pressures to be dishonest. These can ultimately lead to the loss of innocent life. That’s something no Christian wants and based on the fact that Paul wrote this by the Holy Spirit, it’s obvious God desires for us to have a peaceful, quiet life.
1 Peter 2 has the same context as Romans 13. Peter is in agreement with Paul, who are both in agreement with God. Authorities are supposed to punish evildoers and praise those who do well when they obey good laws that are in keeping with God’s commandments. When ordinances are for the “Lord’s sake,” then obedience to those ordinances are for the “Lord’s sake.” Verse 15 even points out that doing well is God’s will and it silences our critics. This text also points out our Christian liberties are not to be used for evil purposes.
The notion that we are obligated to obey authorities no matter what the circumstances is erroneous teaching by Christians who hold that view. The context of these scriptures clearly mean that when authorities are in line with God, we should obey those authorities. This implies by default that when authorities are in clear violation of God’s principles, God does not expect us to submit to their ungodly ordinances. The apostles no doubt had to write what they did because it would have been so easy for believers to conclude that they did not have to obey anything the Caesars or their governors decreed since those rulers were pagans. So the apostles probably wanted to emphasize that when rulers do what’s right, obey them when they do. And scripture gives us many examples of this from Genesis to Revelation.
Just think what would happen if all believers throughout history followed the teachings of those who think we should always obey authorities:
- Moses would have been killed at birth.
- David would have never had people protecting him from king Saul.
- Shadrach, Meshach, & Adednego would have bowed down to the idol & those three, in addition to king Nebuchadnezzar, would not have seen Jesus appear as a testimony of God’s power.
- Jesus wouldn’t have healed as many people as he did, especially on the sabbaths.
- The apostles would have stopped preaching the gospel by order of the
- Believers in Revelation who are killed and appear in heaven for refusing the mark of the beast would not be in heaven since taking the mark will be an ordinance.
- Evangelicals would not have hidden or helped Jews when Hitler ordered the arrest and extermination of all Jews.
Harry A. Gaylord