Should believers always obey the government?

June 30, 2020
George T. Ferrier

Not only now during this pandemic but always it is helpful for the believer to know what the Bible says about our responsibility to obey the authorities. We read in Romans 13:1-4a, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore, whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good” (NKJV). 

God ordained government after the flood, appointing the “authorities that exist.” Therefore, governments are ministers (servants) of God to ensure order by protecting and preserving society. Without it, there would be anarchy and unrestrained evil. Therefore, bad government is always better than no government. We also see God’s desire for order in other structures. For example, He has appointed man to be the head of the home, to lead his family by following Christ’s example in His love for the church (1 Cor. 11:3; Eph. 5:22-33). Also, He has ordained elders to shepherd believers in the local church (Titus 1:5). In these instances, there must be submission–by the family in the home and by the believers in the local assembly for there to be order. 

Similarly, to maintain God’s order in the world the governed must submit to the authorities. Believers especially must do so for the Lord’s sake (1 Pet. 2:13-15). Since we are identified with Christ, we must not provide an opportunity for people to slander His Name. We should not be selective in what laws and what authorities we obey. Instead, we are to fully submit to every ordinance and every authority over us (vv. 13-14). By doing so, we are doing God’s will (v. 15). To resist government is to rebel against God and any punishment that the government administers in response to our disobedience is just. 

Though we are citizens of heaven we are still in this world and we can testify to Christ and bring honor to God by giving authorities the respect, honor, and obedience due them as God’s appointed servants. The exception to the rule is when the government demands something that goes against God’s will such as forbidding the preaching and teaching of His Word. In those circumstances, we must be true to God and be willing to suffer the consequences for our obedience to Christ. As the apostles said in Acts 5:29, “we ought to obey God rather than men.” However, most of the time obedience to God means obedience to the authorities.

The Cretans were rough people and hard to govern but Paul told Titus that he should teach them to obey their rulers. Things that characterized them before their salvation were now to be absent. Among these former things were foolishness, disobedience, and speaking evil of others including their rulers. (Titus 3:1-3). In western civilization we have freedom of speech which we can prudently exercise to both commend and criticize our government’s actions. However, we should not demean and belittle God’s servants with personal attacks. Instead, we should pray for our rulers that they will serve righteously so that we may live a quiet, peaceable, and godly life. (1 Tim. 2:1-3).

Regardless of whether we feel their measures are wise or useful, when governments pass laws we honor God by obeying them. However, should they enact ungodly regulations that oppose God, we must then choose the Lord. During the current medical crisis, believers have still been able to worship and hear God’s Word virtually, and while not ideal, it has allowed us to concurrently obey the authorities.

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