Being In Subjection To The Government

By Ong Eng Boon

The Christian is a citizen of two countries : the earthly nation in which he lives and the kingdom of heaven. Colossians 1:13,14 says, “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and translated us into the Kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.”

While all of us are governed by the rule of the nation in which we live, we are also citizens of another nation – a heavenly kingdom. Notice also the following passages:-

Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lust which war against the soul (1 Peter 2:11).

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:20).

While we live on this temporal earth, every Christian is a citizen of some earthly nation with some form of government. It may be a democracy, a monarchy, or a dictatorship. For instance, Paul was not only a citizen of the heavenly kingdom, he was also a Roman citizen as well (Acts 22:25-29).

Submission to government authority

What does the bible say about submission to government authority? The biblical teaching of “we ought to submit to governmental authority no matter who is in power” has raised doubts among bible believers and the case is being made worse with those in the corridor of powers embroiled in corruption issues, discriminatory policies and racial politics etc.

Some Christians even joined street rallies when they are not happy with the government; In light of the above, should we as Christians unconditionally obey those in authority? Are there any passages of scriptures that conclusively address this issue of “unquestioned submission to all authorities?” even if the authority in power is unjust, corrupt and dictatorial?

Let us look at the relevant passages below:

  1. “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. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake.  For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing.  Render therefore to all their dues; taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor (Romans 13:1-7).
  2. “Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men – as free, yet not using your liberty as a cloak for vice, but as servants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king” (1 Peter 2:14-17).
  3. “Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work (Titus 3:1).

The Christian’s obligation to government and society

In light of the above, what are the Christian’s obligation to his government and also to society as a whole?

(1) He is obligated to pay his taxes to support the government. When Jesus was asked about paying taxes to Caesar, He asked someone to bring the coin normally used to pay taxes. Having received it, He asked whose inscription was on it. The reply was “Caesar’s.” Jesus said, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:15–22). Any government in the world needs revenue in the form of taxes to maintain itself as well as uphold civil law and order. Whatever else this passage may teach, it certainly teaches that Christians ought to pay their taxes.

(2) He is obligated to give honor to those who are in authority. Paul wrote, “Render therefore to all their dues; taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor ” (Romans 13:7). Not only should the Christian pay his taxes, but he should also respect and honor those who are in authority over him. Peter wrote, “Honor the king” (1 Peter 2:17).

The Christian must honor not only the highest government authority, but also others that are in authority which includes the president, the prime minister, the congressional leaders, the supreme court judges, state governors and local authorities. Even when he does not agree with what those in authority are doing, the Christian should never be disrespectful of them. This requirement is not dependent on the “worthiness” of those who are in authority. The emperor when Peter said to “honor the king” (1 Peter 2:17)  and when Paul wrote those words “let every soul be subject to the governing authorities”( Romans 13:1) was at that time the evil emperor Nero who was on the throne. It was a ruthless sort of government; yet it was ordained of God. The Christian may not like his nation’s leaders or appreciate their policies, but he must still respect and honor them.

(3) He is obligated to pray for his country especially those who occupied positions in the government. Pray for them to have wisdom to lead in the way of peace and righteousness, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty (2 Timothy 3:2) so that the gospel can be spread freely and more easily in times of peace than in times of war and turmoil  (2 Thessalonians 3:1-2).

Participating in rallies

Can Christians participate in a so-called “peaceful rally” to protest what they perceive as societal injustices? If you are involved, you violate this command: “Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme,  or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good.  For this is the will of God…..”

“We must take note that there are many injustices in the first-century Roman society (e.g., slavery, gladiatorial games, etc), but there is not a trace of evidence that the Lord’s people did anything other than to teach – to remedy such circumstances.” (Wayne Jackson – How Is a Civil Ruler a “Minister of God”?

Let us not forget that our God is the sovereign of the universe and “He rules over the nations” (Psalms 22:28; 1 Chronicles 29:11). The fact that all government is ordained by God and regardless of its nature, whether good or evil, all governments are under responsibility to God and He controls both the establishment of them as well as their removal at His will. God is in complete control of all His creation!

Only one exception to the rule

As Christians, we must be respectful and obedient to the rulers under whom we live. Christians ought to be the most exemplary citizens of any nation in which they live as we are to glorify God in our lives (1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Peter 4:11). There is only one exception to this rule: any law that would require us to disobey God’s law. When the apostles were charged to refrain from speaking and teaching in the name of Jesus, they answered and said “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 4:18,19; 5:29).

In some countries, churches are not permitted to preach the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). In order for the pure and unadulterated gospel to be preached to the lost, Christians have no choice but to preach the truth privately and the worship assembly has to be conducted behind closed doors.

As Christians,  we are sojourners and pilgrims in a foreign land. We need to spend time trying to teach and persuade men to do God’s will.  We ought to “walk in wisdom toward those who are outside” (Colossians 4:5) and also as children of God, “that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world (Philippians 2:15).