God can and does work in the hearts and minds of rulers and officials of government to accomplish His sovereign purpose. Their hearts and minds are as much under His control as the impersonal physical laws of nature. Yet their every decision is made freely – most often without any thought or regard to the will of God.
We should take more seriously our responsibility to pray for the leaders of our government that they will make wise decisions. Although we may suspect that some of the more disastrous decisions are evidence of God’s judgment, we do not know that. We do know God has instructed us to pray for leaders. Our duty, then, is to pray for wise decisions, but to trust when foolish and harmful decisions are made.
The so-called sovereign nations of the world are not truly sovereign. They are nothing more than instruments in the hand of God to accomplish His will; sometimes to protect His people, sometimes to open doors for advancement of the gospel, and sometimes to be His instrument of judgment against ungodliness. As God looks down upon the nations that accomplish His purpose, even while rebelling against Him, He sees them as nothing more than His instruments (Isaiah 10:15).
I [do not] necessarily understand every decision or… agree with every action the various levels of government have taken. But that’s the very nature of submission. God doesn’t call us to follow leadership only when we fully agree with it. It has struck me that the New Testament’s posture toward civil leaders is generally positive. It seems to nudge us toward the assumption that governments are acting wisely, not foolishly; that our opinion toward their actions should generally be favorable, not skeptical; that our words about them should be supportive, not rebellious; and that our response to their decrees should generally be submissive, not resistant. Romans 13:1-7 is not about the limits of governmental authority, but about the goodness and necessity of Christian obedience. The same is true of 1 Peter 2:13-17 and Titus 3:1, not to mention Matthew 22:21.
God’s delegated authority, the necessity of submission, the role of government in acting to protect and preserve the health of the people, the call for respect and honor—I find myself joyful, grateful. I am joyful to obey the mandates of my government as it tries to lead through a grueling, opaque situation. I’m grateful for God’s good gift of government, and grateful even for my government. Behind it, I see Him. In its authority, I see His. Of course, this government will lead imperfectly. They will make poor decisions. They will make mistakes. They will even act sinfully at times. They are, after all, human beings and subject to every kind of frailty, sin, and limitation. But God was not unaware of what was in the heart of men when he commanded through Peter “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme or to governors as sent by him” (1 Peter 2:13-14).
Many seem to think they have a responsibility to submit to authority only as long as they agree with it, or as long as it is fair in their eyes, or as long as it does not require too much inconvenience.
At the same time, however, the kind of trust that we are called to give to our fellow imperfect humans in this life, be they family or friends, employers or government officials, or even leaders in a church, can never finally be earned. It must be given as a gift – a gift in faith, in trust more of the God who gives than of the leaders He has given (Eph. 4:11-13).
Law is the expression of the mind and will of a sovereign power. As God is the Creator, Lord, and King of heaven and earth, He is sovereign over all of His creatures. God’s law, which is based in His own holy nature, is the expression of God’s will for all mankind. God reveals His law in Holy Scripture so that man will know what is righteous and good.
When in his God-ordained role of civil magistrate (Rom. 13:1-6) man is called upon to make positive law for the governance of the body politic, the laws he enacts ought to be based on the commands and principles of God’s law. If the law is not based on the righteousness revealed in biblical law, then the law is not only unjust, it is also a usurpation of God’s sovereignty by man. No man or institution has authority to legislate anything that is contrary to God’s law. The state is not the creator of law, but the custodian of God’s law for the civil sphere. As God’s servant, the duty of the state is to interpret and apply biblical law to the circumstances of its own day within the sphere of its own jurisdiction (Deut. 1:16-17; 16:18-20; 2 Chron. 19:6-7).
When the church takes its mind and heart away from Christ and His words, human authority and tradition fills the vacuum.
No one need to think that the world can be ruled without blood. The civil sword shall and must be red and bloody.
By God’s own sovereign decree, presidents, kings, prime ministers, governors, mayors, police, and all other governmental authorities stand in His place for the preservation of society. To resist government is therefore to resist God [Rom. 13:15; 1 Ti. 2:1-3; 1 Pet. 2:13-15].
Why would God put an evil ruler in power (Rom. 13:1)? 1. All men are evil so there are no good candidates to choose from. 2. Nations that work hard to reject God…deserve bad rulers. 3. No matter how bad our rulers may be they are never as bad as the hell we deserve. 4. God uses evil rulers for good and righteous ends (Jack Hughes).
[Jesus] did not consider the political dominance of the Romans to be any infringement of the sovereignty of God. It is not the rule of foreigners over the nation, but the rule of all ungodly powers in the inner life of men, that the sovereignty of God aims at removing (Gustaf Dalman).
The better we understand the seething evil of the human heart that is ready to break out where there is no restraint, the more thankful we will be for government.
It is easy to criticize and find fault with the conduct of kings, and write furious articles against them in newspapers, or make violent speeches about them on platforms. Any fool can rip and rend a costly garment, but not every man can cut out and make one. To expect perfection in kings, prime ministers, or rulers of any king, is senseless and unreasonable. We would exhibit more wisdom if we prayed for them more, and criticized less.
If we really want law and order in our country, it needs to start with respecting those in charge of administering law and order! Leaders should be respectable, but either way we are called by God to respect those who have authority over us (Rom. 13; Tit. 3). You can’t trash the rulers and then expect to have any respect for following the rules!
What is God’s Purpose for Government? In other words, according to the Bible, what does God expect from the leaders He establishes?
Number 1 – Restrain and punish evil. Consider Romans 13:4. “For [the civil leader] is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.” Or 1 Peter 2:13-14. Kings and governors in authority are “sent by [God] for the punishment of evildoers.” Leaders are responsible to bring lawbreakers to justice and exert punishment. At the deepest level, they are responsible to wage justified war if necessary.
Number 2 – Protect life and property. God puts the highest premium on human life. I know we love our pets and want to save the environment, but nothing is more valuable to God than you. Why? Because only human begins are created in the image of God. That was the very reason God gave Israel permission to terminate life when the Sixth Commandment declares “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13). “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man” (Gen. 9:6). Moreover, the highest responsibility of government is to protect our weakest members, especially the ones that can’t protect themselves.
And number 3 – Recognize and encourage good. Good, law-abiding citizens should be recognized by their leaders. Romans 13:3, “For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same” (cf. 1 Pet. 2:14).
So what are the issues government should be concerned about? There are many, but personally speaking, none are greater than the need to protect the lives of the unborn. Though I know of Christians that disagree with me on this, but if a man or woman supports abortion, I believe he or she, in my opinion, is immediately disqualified from office. I compare it to a dynamic leader that could be our greatest President in history but wanted to reinstitute the institution of slavery. Immediate disqualification.
While Christ presently reigns over human governments, we see how even the best men and women in leadership fail to provide the perfect kingdom. We are primarily citizens of Christ’s kingdom, Philippians 3:20, “For our citizenship is in heaven.” But for the time being, we also dwell in a lesser sense, as citizens among this world too. So we long for the day when Christ will overthrow all these puny human leaders and rightly take to Himself what is rightfully His and reign over His kingdom that is without end (Dan. 2:44) where and when “EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil. 2:10-11; cf. Rev. 7:9-10).
Yes, we have a responsibility to vote! “When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when a wicked man rules, people groan” (Prov. 29:2). Because we do live in a republic where our voice counts (“We the people”), we need to know what is most important according to God’s will and determine the politician that best will uphold it. It’s impossible to say that religion and politics do not mix. Being “salt and light” does not exempt us from the political world. We should influence it. When Christians choose not to vote we open a vacuum to unrighteous legislation that now provides a greater opportunity for evil to thrive and be imposed on the will of the people, including ourselves and future generations. In the Bible, Joseph and Daniel heavily influenced governing leaders and it greatly benefitted God’s people. Likewise, we are called in Galatians 6:10 to “do good to all people.” Why would we want men and women in the office that will introduce and perpetuate unrighteousness in our society? With the blood-bought freedoms we enjoy as a country, thanks to our military heroes, we cannot sit back and refuse to exercise our rights only to further individuals in the office that will not submit to Divine Law or the Constitution.
What is our responsibility to government? First, Titus 3:1 – we are to be in subjection to their laws (cf. Rom. 13:1-5; 1 Pet. 2:13-15). I believe you have heard before that when the Apostles wrote for the need to submit to governing officials, the evil Roman leader Nero was in power who made it a pleasure of his to torture and kill Christians. Second, Romans 13:7 – we are to respect them (cf. 1 Pet. 2:17). I am always saddened when people make vile comments and threats to leaders. I feel that way about our current President and I felt that way about our former President. Even Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from the Book of Daniel respected the King, despite his call for them to engage in idolatry or die. Third, 1 Timothy 2:1-3 – we are to pray for them. Fourth, Romans 13:7 – we are to pay our taxes (cf. Mt. 22:17-21). However, since God is our ultimate authority, we are never to obey when they demand us to violate His commands (Dan. 6:10; Mt. 2:7-12; Ac. 5:29).
The government is called by God to punish evil, protect the innocent and reward good. But we all know there have been many regimes throughout history that have done just the opposite. They have punished good, hurt the innocent and rewarded evil. What God intended for good actually becomes the enemy of the people and often the church. Jesus in speaking of world leaders in the finals days said, “Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name” (Matt. 24:9). So is the institution of government bad? How do we view bad governments? This is a dilemma. The great theologian Augustine said that government is a necessary evil and that it is necessary because of evil. And most theologians in the history of the church have said that human evil is the reason even corrupt government is better than no government at all. Because it is run by sinful man, government will never ultimately be what God commands. Even the Kings in Israel and Judah barely got it right. However, because we are sinful, if government was removed there would be little restraining us from total anarchy. James Madison put it this way, “If men were angels there would be no need for government.”
- Our Savior is Jesus Christ, not government. Government is not designed by God to provide our ultimate hope. It is to corrupt the mission of the church to think government can advance the cause of Christ. Throughout history, the church was often the strongest under repressive, pagan regimes. Our trust must be in the Lord. He is Lord over government. Only He is the Savior of the world.
- Our goal is evangelism. Though I understand the context is different, there is nothing in the Bible of the Apostles trying to overturn Rome. No calls to civil disobedience. Our primary goal is to see people transformed by the Gospel. Jesus Christ changing hearts is the greatest way to change a culture. As Jesus said, “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come. (Mt. 24:14).
- Human government is only a picture of Christ’s reign.
From sacred Scripture [2 Sam. 12:1-15; 1 Ki. 21; Mt. 14], we see representatives of the church not trying to become the state but offering prophetic criticism to the state – despite the potential consequences. The church is not the state, but it is the conscience of the state, and it is a conscience that cannot afford to become seared and silent.
[Within the Holy Trinity] we see that in principle the notion of subordination does not carry with it the notion of inferiority… Christ willingly submitted to the Father, without a word of protest. It is precisely that willingness that we are called to imitate in submitting ourselves to authority.
All authority is under Christ. When we disobey lesser authorities, we are guilty of disobeying Christ. You cannot serve the King and honor His authority by rebelling against His appointed governors. To say you honor the kingdom of Christ while you disobey His authority structure is to be guilty not only of hypocrisy but of cosmic treason.
In America, we have a long history of valuing the concept of the separation of church and state. This idea historically referred to a division of labors between the church and the civil magistrate. However, initially both the church and the state were seen as entities ordained by God and subject to His governance. In that sense, the state was considered to be an entity that was “under God.” What has happened in the past few decades is the obfuscation of this original distinction between church and state, so that today the language we hear of separation of church and state, when carefully exegeted, communicates the idea of the separation of the state from God. In this sense, it’s not merely that the state declares independence from the church, it also declares independence from God and presumes itself to rule with autonomy.
Why do authorities exist? It is because we live in a sinful and fallen world, and without authority everyone would do “what is right in his own eyes,” resulting in chaos. Those who will not be constrained from within by the living presence of Jesus Christ, must be restrained from without by the state, acting under God’s ultimate authority, in order to “promote the general welfare,” in the words of the Constitution’s preamble.
God Ordained Authorities:
Government: Rom. 13:1-7, 1 Pet. 2:17
Employer: Eph. 6: 5-8, Col. 3:22-25, Pet. 2:18
Husband: 1 Pet 3:1, Col 3:18, Eph 5:22
Parent: Eph 6:1-3; Col. 3:20
Elders: Heb 13:17; 1 Pet. 5:5
The first truth is that the will of God permeates and supersedes every aspect of life. It is God’s will that takes precedence over everything and everyone (Matthew 6:33). God’s plans and purposes are fixed, and His will is inviolable. What He has purposed, He will bring to pass, and no government can thwart His will (Daniel 4:34-35). In fact, it is God who “sets up kings and deposes them” (Daniel 2:21) because “the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone He wishes” (Daniel 4:17). A clear understanding of this truth will help us to see that politics is merely a method God uses to accomplish His will. Even though evil men abuse their political power, meaning it for evil, God means it for good, working “all things together for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).