How Should a Christian Respond to Civil Authority

Photo by Casey Robertson on Unsplash

We just got done with our civil duties of voting. For us in California, it was a time to prayerfully vote for those who we would like to see in governing powers across our state. As many may know that California is a blue state. It would seem this election time it was more blatantly shown the democratic direction .

There are many opinions on the outcome of this election. Some who are excited to those who are wanting to leave the state as they seemed to have lost hope and are in despair for the future of the state of California. Does the Bible address these concerns? If so, what is said and how should a Christian respond?

In the book of Romans, Paul gives a glimpse of the direction and heart change of the believer. He gives examples of how the Gospel changes all of us, not just our eternal destination and our standing before God, the Gospel changes our day to day outlook (Romans 12-13). The Gospel changes us!

We are new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). If anyone had a chance to complain about governing authorities it would have been Paul. He was under the Roman rule which was dominating and controlling. Now Paul could have complained about Caesar’s role and aspect of being a deity. He could have desired for the Christian to create an uprising about the freedom and danger of oppression.  Paul could have complained about Roman cruelty and punishment, and he could have said, “This isn’t fair!” But, instead we have clarity and understanding and we can see how we can respond in our current political climate.

1)    God Establishes Those in Authority

As we squirm about the political tensions that seem to be rising we must remember that God is the one who places people in power. This we can trace throughout the Bible. God raises leaders and displaces leaders (Daniel 2:21-22). God in His sovereignty is working even amidst this political climate.

Paul understood this as he wrote this to the Romans, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1). Remember he was writing to a Roman audience that would have been in submission to their leader. The leaders of Rome surrounding Paul’s life were very hostile to Christians such as Nero (37-68 AD). Yet, Paul reminds the reader that God has instituted their authority.

When we realize this, we need to come to terms of trusting God even if we don’t understand. God is good and does good and we may not always know or understand what He is doing, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8 ESV). We can put our minds at ease despite disagreements because God is in control.

2)    Disobedience to Governing Authority is Disobedience to God’s Authority

Another response that Christian need to have is one of submission. Paul continues his thought of civil government to submit because when one disobeys the governing authorities one is really disobeying God (Rom 13:2). The warning Paul gives in verse 2 should open our eyes to the condition of our hearts but does this mean the Christian is called to submit to every aspect of civil government? Is there are a point when one conscious is convicted and cannot submit?

The answer is yes, there are points of disagreement and one must be obedient first and foremost to God. When governing authority and God’s authority are in conflict. A believer’s loyalties and convictions lead them to follow God and obey God over governing authorities. Where is that line? There is not enough time to dissect this with this post. Before we start wanting to have an uprising we must look again at the heart condition that we are called to have with secular governing authority.

Paul was living in an anti-Christian society that would continue persecuting Christians more and more but he reminds the Christian of the ultimate authority that is under is God. God sees all and knows all and has asked of us to submit to those he has placed in power. Our conviction is we are to obey God over man and that is the compass we must follow with our decisions (Col. 3:23; 1 Peter 2:17).

3)    Submitting to Governing Authority is Submitting to God

As we submit to governing authority it reflects the heart that submits to God. Paul mentions a few ways we are to submit to governing authorities.

First, according to our conscience (Romans 13:5). We do not submit to authority out of fear of punishment but out of the conviction of our conscience. When one submits to out of fear, one will do whatever is necessary to avoid punishment. When it is out of Christian conscience, one will obey the state because of obeying. On the other hand, if we are asked to violate our conscience, we know we have a higher authority we must submit to.

Second, submit to them is showing honor to those in a place of honor (Romans 13:7). A Christian should show respect and honor for those who are placed in authority. They too one day will have to give an account to God on how they led. One of the best ways to show honor to those in authority, even if you do not agree with their views in certain areas would be to pray for them. Paul reminds Timothy to, “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in positions” (1 Timothy 2:1-2 ESV).

Let us reflect on the verses from Paul as we enter a new season for our country and our states. May we respond Christlike and to understand God’s sovereignty.


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