God’s wisdom is far above man’s (Isaiah 55:8,9). Human reasoning, including the policies of civil governments, often is different from God’s. Regardless of how one expresses the sentiment, this truth shines bright: God’s decrees are above the decrees of human governments. God’s law is higher. Many people, including some Christians, are of the persuasion that if something is legal, then it is acceptable in God’s sight. The Bible does not support such a conclusion. I know that a subject such as this can stir up strong emotions, but the correct answer to our question about legality and rightness cannot be determined by emotional appeals. Civil government has a role to play in society. The Bible says, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities . . . and the authorities that exist are appointed by God” (Romans 13:1). Furthermore, a government ruler is described as “God’s minister” (Romans 13:4). Though the Lord does not approve of every decision and policy of each government, civil governments exist by the authority of God.

What is the function of a civil government?

Civil governments provide and enforce law (Acts 25:10,11). Second, civil government punishes evildoers (1 Peter 2:14). A civil government also is to provide peace and stability in society (1 Timothy 2:1,2). It is true that not all governments carry out these tasks properly, but that is what they are supposed to provide for their citizens.

Paul the apostle was a citizen of two kingdoms. He was a Christian, and thus a citizen in the Lord’s kingdom, the church (Colossians 1:12-14). He also was a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37). As a Christian and Roman citizen, at times Paul appealed to civil law and the privileges which it granted to him. For instance, when he was being interrogated by lower- level civil officials, he appealed to his right to be tried by the emperor of Rome, Caesar himself (Acts 25:10-12). Thus, in principle, it is not wrong for a child of God to use civil laws to his/her personal benefit or to the benefit of the Lord’s Cause. Let us look further.

If a civil law forbids a particular activity, that does not prove that such an activity is wrong in God’s sight. We think of an instance recorded in the book of Daniel. The king of the Medo-Persian Empire forbid anyone under his rule to make a petition to any “god” or man during a thirty-day period. Daniel knew of that decree, yet he continued to pray daily to the Lord (Daniel 6:7-10). Daniel, though he was a lawbreaker when he continued to pray to God, made the right decision. No human or group of humans have the right to forbid action which the Lord requires.

If a civil law requires a particular action, that does not prove that such action is pleasing to the Lord. We return to the book of Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, commanded all people under his rule to bow down and worship an idol. At least three of God’s faithful servants, Azariah, Hananiah, and Mishael, refused to do so (Daniel 3). By failing to obey the king, they broke the law, yet their action was the correct action to take. No civil authorities have the right to force humans to commit sin.

If a civil law allows a particular action (a government neither forbids nor demands it, but gives the freedom to do it), that does not prove that such action is pleasing to the Lord. Prostitution is legal in some locations, but it is a violation of God’s will that bed relations are only for those who are married to one another (Hebrews 13:4). Worshipping idols is allowed by human governments, but that does not make this transgression of God’s will acceptable to Him. The Bible says to flee idolatry, so idolatry is unacceptable, period (1 Corinthians 6:18).

Same-gender marriages and adultery are legal under some civil laws, but they are a violation of God’s teaching. Marriage is for a husband and wife, which means a male and female (Matthew 19:4-6). When one divorces his wife, not due to her cheating on him (that is, committing fornication), if he marries another woman, then the relationship he has with that second female is adultery (Matthew 19:9), and no civil laws can make that relationship pleasing to the Lord.

The Lord God is the One who determines what is right and wrong. If the decree of a human government contradicts God’s standard of truth (John 17:17), then what humans say, whether it is a king, queen, sultan, prime minister, president, governor, mayor, or military council, is wrong and needs to be changed.

— Roger D. Campbell