The political and moral climate in America is in turmoil. It has probably been this way for some time, but now it is reported better. With television channels and radio stations devoted entirely to the political landscape, it is hard to not be a little anxious about the condition of our country. Some Christians are fearful that our government is becoming more and more ungodly. There are those, some professing Christians among them, who would advocate a forceful overthrow of our government. What does the Bible say about our relationship to government? Let us investigate.
The New Testament On Christians And Government
Romans 13:1-17 lays out guidelines for the Christian’s relationship with government. By giving these verses some careful thought, and allowing the Holy Spirit to reveal biblical truth, the believer can form a godly view concerning his or her responsibility to government.
Verses 1-2: “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” (see also Titus 3:1; I Peter 2:13-17).
The first thing that is apparent from these verses is that the Christian should not have a rebellious, antagonistic attitude toward our leaders. Nothing happens that God does not authorize. Therefore, those politicians who are in power are there because God has allowed it. History has shown us that, generally, a people who are following God will have good leaders, whereas a people who reject God will have ungodly leaders. Oftentimes it is through these ungodly leaders that God’s judgment is felt on those who have rejected Him.
Verses 3-4: “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.”
These verses tell us that the purpose of government is to be God’s representative in preventing ‘bad conduct’ or ‘wrong-doing’. However, when a government becomes an agent of evil or wrongdoing itself, it is no longer fulfilling its God-given purpose and the Christian is no longer obligated to obey it. Nevertheless, resisting an evil government may bring severe consequences because, as verse four tells us, the government ‘bears a sword’ and, as history has revealed, is often too quick to utilize it.
Verses 5-7: “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.”
This passage contains several biblical truths central to our study. First, there are two guiding principles here to be followed in determining our responsibility to government. One is that a good government should be God’s servant, dispensing His wrath and His judgments; if this is not the case, we cannot legitimately call that government ‘good’. Secondly, the believer’s conscience must be involved in any response to government; our Holy Spirit-guided conscience should be our guide. If it is a good government, we should obey it for God’s sake. If it is a bad government, and they attempt to force us to violate our conscience, we are obligated to do God’s will, not the government’s. These principles come from the phrase “pay to all what is owed to them”. We do not owe allegiance to an ungodly government. When God’s will and government’s will conflict, our allegiance must be to God.
We Are To Pray For Our Leaders
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior…” (I Timothy 2:1-3 ESV) The Bible tells us that we are to pray for our leaders. We do not go before God’s throne enough on behalf of our leaders. Too many times, we rely on our supposed political power instead of relying on the spiritual power that comes from our Heavenly Father.
If We Are Asked To Do Anything, We Know God Would Not Want Us To Do; We Must Obey God Rather Than Our Government
In the Book of Acts, the religious leaders of that day attempted to force the disciples of Jesus to stop preaching the Gospel. However, Jesus had appointed these disciples to spread the Gospel everywhere they could. The Bible records the disciple’s response, “But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men…” (Acts 5:29 ESV). Clearly, from what we have already seen, the Christian is not to be a troublemaker. Nevertheless, if what we are asked to do conflicts with what God wants us to do, we are to “obey God rather than men”. If we are asked to violate our conscience, a conscience controlled by the Holy Spirit, then we should refuse and, instead, do what God would have us do.
Christians Need To Vote
In our country, we have the ability to make our opinions known by exercising our right to vote. What would America be like if every Christian prayed for God’s guidance and voted their conscience? It would have to have a positive effect. Besides praying for our leaders and our country, voting is the best way the Christian can influence the political climate of our nation.
Remember That, No Matter What The Situation, God Is In Control
Oftentimes, we are intimidated by our perception of government. We see it as all-powerful, as far as it has the ability to define, or rescind, our liberties. However, we can rest in the fact that nothing takes place unless God causes or allows it to happen. “So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above”” (John 19:10-11 ESV). God’s sovereignty applies not on to Pilate, but to everything in the universe.
It is very clear that God is sovereign over everything that happens to us. What is our responsibility to God? Our basic foundational response is to, “…love the Lord your God with all [our] heart and with all [our] soul and with all [our] mind and with all [our] strength.” (Mark 12:30 ESV; also Matthew 22:37 and Luke 10:27). When we live this way, we have nothing to fear from man at all, not even the entity we call ‘government’.
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31 ESV)
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The Holy Bible, English Standard Version
“Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV)