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Should Christians Always Submit To Government Authority?

by Missionary Bill

Most people that have been Christians for a while are very familiar with the Bible verses that urge Believers to submit themselves to Government Authority. The Epistles in the New Testament seem to reinforce this notion over and over again, but many Christians misunderstand or misinterpret these admonitions as being commands to follow their government leaders without question or complaint. This occurs because they fail to fully read the verses in question or simply take them out of context. Here is a good example from the Old Testament:

“And Samuel said, Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king.”

1 Samuel 15:22-23 (KJV)

These verses have Samuel scolding King Saul for failing to obey God’s command to kill King Agag and destroy the Amalekites along with all their possessions. Instead, Saul spared Agag and told Samuel that he kept the best of what the Amalekites had to sacrifice to the Lord. However, that was not what God commanded and Samuel likened Saul’s disobedience to the sin of witchcraft. Although the rebellion mentioned in these verses has to do with disobeying God, many preachers will use these scriptures to indicate that we should never question authority or rebell against it. If that were true then all the kingdoms that had to be destroyed or overrun to give the Jews the land that God promised them would have remained in the hands of the people who once lived there under the kings that ruled them (God having established their authority and kingdoms). As in the case of the Pharaoh of Exodus in Egypt, God did not expect his people to suffer under the kind of slavery that this national leader forced on them.

Most of the confusion about the topic of submitting to government authority comes from our inability to fully understand and properly interpret the New Testament Epistles like Romans and the 13th Chapter:

1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.

2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.

3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:

4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.

5 Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.

6 For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.

7 Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

8 Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.

9 For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

10 Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

11 And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.

12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.

13 Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.

14 But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.

It would be hard or even impossible for anyone to believe that these verses were referring to anyone in the morally corrupt Roman Government or even mass murderers like most Roman Emperors themselves as “...the minister of God to thee for good.” The same could be said of the non-believing Jewish Priests and Leaders who were mostly trying to kill the Apostles and Disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ. Note the important exception that Paul inserts in verse 5: “Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.”

In Romans 2:15 we’re told that the conscience was a tool used by God to let the Gentiles know what is right and wrong, as well as to provide a path to God if they chose to follow it: “Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)” Remember, the Gentiles of the Old Testament (for the most part) did not have the law or anyone to share it with them. What they did have was a knowledge, in the form of their conscience, that a right way of acting existed and was given to them by the one true God that they needed to follow. Likewise, the conscience is to be our tool when we submit to authority.

Consider I Corinthians 10:23-33 (KJV): “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.

Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth.

Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake:

For the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof.

If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake.

But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof:

Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another man's conscience?

For if I by grace be a partaker, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks?

Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.

Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God:

Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.”

Here we find a clear teaching that whatever we do we are to do to the glory of God. Paul followed his conscience as long as it agreed with the Word of God, even if it differed from what other Christians might say, do or teach. This makes it plain that we are not to follow leaders that tell us to do things that the Bible clearly forbids. Abortion is legal in the USA at this time, but Christians know that the Bible teaches that human life is precious and removal of a child from the womb is nothing short of murder.

“But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.

And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.

For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb.”

Luke 1:13-15 (KJV)

Abortion is not a gray area, no matter how many laws are passed in support of it: Neither is the legalization of mind altering drugs. The Bible tells us to avoid being in any sort of a drunken state (an altered state of mind brought on by substance abuse of any kind whether it be alcohol or drugs).

“And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;” Ephesians 5:19 (KJV)

Christians are not to use the liberty they have found in Jesus to sin or disobey God. Instead, we are encouraged to present ourselves to God in this manner: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” Romans 12:1 (KJV)

The same sort of confusion about submission to authority comes from these verses:

“Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme;

Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.

For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men:

As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.

Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.

Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.

For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.

For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.

For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:

Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth:

Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:

Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.

For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.”

I Peter 2:13-25 (KJV)

If we take these verses at face value it appears that we are to follow our leaders blindly; but is that the message being delivered here? The real message is that Jesus Christ suffered and died for our sins when he did not have to; He submitted himself to men that condemned him and we are to follow his example of obedience... not to men, but to God... Look at verses 23-25:

“Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:

Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.

For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.”

Was “him that judgeth righteously” Pilate? When Jesus was brought before Pilate our Savior made it clear who had given Pilate the power he had and why he had been given that power:

“Then saith Pilate unto him, Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?

Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin.”

John 19 10-11 (KJV)

Pilate was given the power he had by God, but Jesus made it clear that what he was doing was committing a sinful act by finding a sinless man guilty and condemning him to death. This was allowed to occur to put God’s Plan Of Salvation in place. That doesn’t mean that Pilate was not guilty of sin or that he was actually doing the work of God by condemning Jesus. In fact, Jesus points out that only Judas had committed an even greater sin by delivering him to the Jewish leaders. Even more importantly, would Paul and the other Apostles tell Christians to obey all civil authority in the Books of Romans and I Peter and then disobey that same authority themselves? No, because Believers were constantly told to follow their examples. Look at Acts 5:40-42 (KJV):

“And to him they agreed: and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.

And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.

And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.”

Here is a perfect example of how the Apostles directly disobeyed the religious leaders and local council members that warned them not to “speak in the name of Jesus.” The first thing they did was to begin preaching and teaching about Jesus. Was that obedience? Of course not. Christians are given liberty through Salvation in Jesus Christ, but we are expected to use that liberty in a way that is responsible and one that brings glory to God. We cannot bring glory to God by obeying godless leaders who hate the Lord and try to destroy his people. More importantly, we are not expected to obey leaders like that. Obey and love God: that is a lesson taught throughout the Bible and one that every Christian should learn and follow well.

Finally, we find a perfect example of who to obey from the Law of the Old Testament in Leviticus 18:

1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
2 Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, I am the LORD your God.
3 After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do: and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do: neither shall ye walk in their ordinances.
4 Ye shall do my judgments, and keep mine ordinances, to walk therein: I am the LORD your God.

26 Ye shall therefore keep my statutes and my judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations; neither any of your own nation, nor any stranger that sojourneth among you:
27 (For all these abominations have the men of the land done, which were before you, and the land is defiled;)
28 That the land spue not you out also, when ye defile it, as it spued out the nations that were before you.
29 For whosoever shall commit any of these abominations, even the souls that commit them shall be cut off from among their people.
30 Therefore shall ye keep mine ordinance, that ye commit not any one of these abominable customs, which were committed before you, and that ye defile not yourselves therein: I am the LORD your God.

In these verses God clearly points out that His Law and His Commandments always out weigh those of any Government that would be at odds with them. God also makes it clear that there is no doubt that people who wish to be in obedience to Him must always obey His Law and His Commandments above all other laws, traditions and religious rights. In Leviticus 18:21 the Lord offers a tragic example of a nation and a people out of His Will and disobedient to His Law:

21 And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.

God points out that the people of this land were being pushed out because of their terrible sin of sacrificing live babies and children to a false god called Molech. This is why he constantly warns the Israelite people not to fall into the trap of obeying laws, traditions and religions that are opposed to what He has commanded. He also warns them to avoid intermarrying with them so that their foreign wives and husbands would not be able to turn their hearts away from Him. In the end the entire matter of who we should obey is summed up in Psalm 9: 17:

17 The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God. .

Read more articles and ebooks by Missionary Bill at You can Trust God Article and Ebook Directory

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