Romans 13: How should Christians respond to governing authorities?


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“Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God. So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves.” (Rom. 13:1-2)

In Romans 13, we find a leader of the early Church ordering Christians to obey governing authorities no matter what. How should we be responding to such instruction today? Well, let’s start with a broader question: how seriously should we take any of the commands, guidelines, and viewpoints that are found in the Bible? After all, the Bible is a collection of documents which were penned by human beings, and some of those humans were spiritual dingdongs. Romans was written by the apostle Paul–a man who rejected the Divinity of Christ, made a lot of insulting inferences about Yahweh, and put out a lot of really bad teaching (for specific examples, see The Great Offense of Paul: Rejecting the Divinity of Christ). Rather than own up to these things, the Church teaches you to view “St. Paul” as some icon of spiritual maturity and wisdom. She says that you ought to view Paul as an infallible mouthpiece for God Himself, and assume that anything Paul wrote is beyond question. Well, no, we certainly will not sit back and smile while a man refers to the magnificent Jesus as a mere mortal who only reigns on a temporary basis. Anyone who so shamelessly bashes on Christ can hardly be viewed as a reliable source of truth. And yet the fact remains that God frequently speaks through humans–even spiritual rebels like Paul. So we can’t just blow off everything Paul says as wrong. Like most bad spiritual leaders, Paul is a mixed bag. He puts out a cocktail of truths and lies and if you’re not seeking the wisdom of God in your own soul, you’re going to end up in a muddled mess.

There is no substitute for God in your life. As a Christian, you need to get a firm grip on this fact. The Church today is filled with souls who claim to want to grow in truth while at the same time they inwardly reject the idea that God could ever be counted on to guide them personally. How far do you think such an attitude will take you? The fact that God won’t let you choose His teaching style for Him does not mean that He isn’t guiding you in life. God is guiding you, and He is teaching you. He’s not just talking to people who run Christian websites. He’s not just talking to pastors and priests. Talking to Christian leaders and reading through historical documents that the Church holds in high regard is all fine and well, but if you try to rely on these things alone in life, then your very jealous Creators will see to it that you are led far astray.

Yahweh, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit have great sympathy for how frustrating They can be for humans to communicate with, but if you close your mind to receiving Their guidance, you’re going to end up in major trouble. Just look at the carnal mess the Church is in today. On all sides, we see lies being defended and truth being aggressively suppressed. We see serious Christians being ostracized by the very Church that claims to be striving to make fully devoted followers of Christ. Why is this? Who is keeping all of Christendom in such a crippled, suffering state? Our Gods are. Why? Because the Church as a whole has turned her back on Them. She refuses to revere Them, she refuses to sincerely seek Them, and so They have effectively hamstrung her. She can’t thrive, she can only languish. This entire universe is being controlled by three magnificent Beings who will not allow rebellion to go unpunished.

The Bible did not create you. The Bible is not alive. It is not a god, and it most certainly is not infallible. The Bible is a mere created thing, and when you put any created thing on the same level as your glorious Creators, you are moving onto the wrong side of God’s wrath. So if you’re going to ask your pastor or us or anyone else how you ought to view some passage in the Bible, you’d better be asking God as well. His Voice needs to be the One you’re listening for when humans speak, because His views are the only ones that count. It doesn’t matter if we claim to be speaking for God—the apostle Paul claimed to be passing on direct revelations from Christ while he simultaneously reduced Christ to some limited creature who was still in the throes of trying to conquer His enemies. Claims of Divine revelation are meaningless. Only God can tell you if someone is accurately representing Him or not, and what God says to you personally will always trump anything someone else says (see God Told Me: The Only Valid Basis for Faith).

So then, the goal of this post is to examine the teaching about governing authorities in Romans 13. How valid are the commands that Paul puts out? Since God’s opinion is the only One that matters, His opinion is what we’re going to be discussing. You’ll find that this is what we do in every article on our site: we talk about what God wants. Well, this should give you pause, because we are not God. We are only humans, and no human is infallible. If you just blindly accept whatever we say without asking God what He thinks of the things we’re saying about Him, then what are you doing? You’re treating us as substitutes for God in your life. How do you think He’s going to react to this? Not well.

For those of you who have been following us for a while, now is the time to make an honest assessment of where you’re directing your admiration. Any of you who are thinking that we’re oh so fabulous need to knock it off. We are not fabulous. God is fabulous, and He is also jealous, and He detests it when humans are exalted as being a sufficient replacement for Him (see Encouraging Christians in a Way that Honors God). Because we care about the state of your soul, we hammer the glory issue, and we come down hard on anyone who gushes over us because such attitudes are not going to take you anywhere good. God detests the created being treated as the equivalent of the Creators. Some of you have never been taught this, and if this is a new concept for you, then you need to seriously pray about this subject and ask God to educate you. God never blames us for not knowing something He hasn’t taught us, but if you’re maturing in the faith, then the jealous Nature of your Creators and the importance of seeking Them directly are critical issues which we will frequently remind you of.

There is no wisdom apart from God, and that means no question can be resolved until He speaks to you personally. Maybe He’ll choose to do that through the Bible, or us, or some other human being. Whatever His method, God is leading you in life, and He is responding to your soul’s response to Him. If you want to go far with God, your soul attitude needs to be, “God, I want to know Your truth, and You are the only One who can show me, because all wisdom comes from You. Help me to know You better. Increase my desire to love and please You. Make me all that You want me to be.” This is the attitude that God wants from all Christians, and very few give it to Him. Those who do are rewarded with invitations to know Him better, and since He is the point of everything, to rebel against Him is utterly foolish. So think about where you’re personally at with God today and ask Him if there are any changes He wants you to make.

Now that we’ve discussed the proper way to approach the subject of spiritual wisdom, let’s finally talk about Paul. Whenever you’re reading or listening to material about God, you need to be listening for underlying assumptions that are being made and asking God to show you if those assumptions are correct or not. The first verse of Romans 13 gives us good practice with this. Listen for the flow of logic in this statement that Paul makes:

Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from Yahweh, and those that exist are instituted by Yahweh. (Rom. 13:1)

Yahweh is the only God Paul acknowledges, so to properly understand him, you should be mentally substituting the Name of Yahweh wherever you see the generic title of “God” in his writings. Now Yahweh is very clear that He reigns with absolute sovereignty, thus Paul is correct in saying that no authorities exist apart from God’s will. But Paul then leaps to the unsupported conclusion that it is always Yahweh’s will for everyone to submit to all governing authorities. Well, this is absurd, especially for a man who was highly trained on the Old Testament. But then again, look at how useless our seminaries are today. Being familiar with words on a page is insufficient. It’s application that we need to be good at, and that is something only God can teach us.

Here in Romans 13, Paul says that Yahweh wants every governing authority to be obeyed simply because Yahweh put those authorities in power. Well, since when? As we browse through the Old Testament, we find many examples of Yahweh encouraging public defiance of governing authorities. When Shadrach and his pals refused to bow down to the huge idol god and thus ended up being thrown into the fiery furnace, were they not rebelling against the governing authorities? And how about when Daniel refused to obey the law that said praying to anyone other than the current human king was a sin? It was his rebelling against governing authorities that landed Daniel in a lions’ den, yet how did Yahweh respond? Did He give Daniel a grisly death as punishment for Daniel’s defiance? Not hardly. In the accounts of Daniel and Shadrach, we find Yahweh using public defiance of governing authorities to set the stage for Him to greatly glorify Himself. And in both cases, after Yahweh miraculously spared His followers from certain death, the governing authorities concluded that Yahweh was the Supreme Ruler who trumped all other authorities.

Yahweh has always taught that what He’s telling someone to do right now trumps everything that any other authority is saying to do. And while we do find Yahweh raising up human leaders which He speaks through, those leaders are never to be treated as a higher authority than Yahweh Himself. Those leaders are also not excused from being disciplined if they step out of line. In the Bible we find many examples of spiritual leaders who got in trouble with Yahweh for stepping out of line in various ways. When Moses and Aaron tried to take the glory for a miracle that Yahweh did, they ended up banned from ever entering the Promised Land (see Understanding Yahweh: Why Moses & Aaron Were Banned From The Promised Land). While Yahweh rescued Jeremiah from many life-threatening situations, He afflicted the prophet with personal misery when Jeremiah got attitudinal (see The Snarky Prophet: Lessons Learned from Jeremiah). The high priest Eli was put in power by Yahweh and entrusted with the raising of the prophet Samuel. But Eli and his two priest sons ended up damned to Hell by Yahweh because of their refusal to submit to Him.

God is the Supreme Authority, therefore what He says trumps what any other ruler says. This is the first critical principle that you need to bear in mind when you’re trying to decide how to respond to a certain situation. But there is a second principle which is equally important, and that is that God is wild. Despite what the Church tells you, God does change His mind. He also completely contradicts Himself, and when He does, He says that what He’s telling you to do right now trumps anything He’s told you to do in the past. Christianity is a fabulous example of this. A true Christian worships three Gods: Yahweh, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Many Christians don’t like this pointed out to them, because they like to pretend they only worship one God. But no, we worship three. This is why we have worship songs that are just praising Jesus, songs that are just praising the Father, and songs that are just praising the Holy Spirit. This is why we often start prayers with “Dear Father” and end them with “In Jesus’ Name.” Christians acknowledge three distinct Divine Beings. Well, if we were caught doing this in ancient Israel under the time of the Old Covenant, then according to Yahweh’s Laws, we should all be publicly executed and our towns should be burned to the ground and never rebuilt. It was Yahweh who said that polytheism (the worship of multiple gods) was such a terrible thing. Then it was Yahweh who completely reversed positions and said that anyone who refused to start worshiping Jesus as a second all-powerful God was going to end up eternally damned. Under the Old Covenant, Yahweh demanded monotheism—the worship of Him alone. Today He demands polytheism, which is why we find Jesus commanding His disciples to baptize Christians in the Name of Yahweh and Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Talk about Yahweh changing His mind. And yet in the world today the religion of Judaism is still alive and well, and that is a religion in which people are trying to act like what Yahweh commanded people to do in the past trumps what Yahweh is telling people to do today. Well, no, this isn’t how it works.

When Yahweh ordered the prophet Ezekiel to cook his food over fire that was fueled by poop, Yahweh was ordering Ezekiel to break Yahweh’s own Covenant laws—a fact which Ezekiel found quite distressing. Peter was also distressed when Yahweh showed him a bunch of unclean animals in a dream and ordered Peter to eat them. And after Yahweh said that public displays of nudity were unacceptable, He told the prophet Isaiah to walk around barefoot and butt naked for three long years. What do you do when your God starts contradicting Himself like this? You feel immensely uncomfortable, but then you remember that as the Supreme Authority of all things, Yahweh gets to change His mind whenever He feels like it (see Present Convictions vs. Past Commands). The creature doesn’t tell the Creator “You’re not allowed to do that.” God lives above His own laws. He can do whatever He wants (see Why God Doesn’t Obey His Own Laws).

Let’s review. God is the Supreme Authority over all things, therefore anything He says goes. God also reserves the right to change His mind whenever He wants, even if that means contradicting a previous command. In the Old Testament we find Yahweh sometimes telling His people to obey governing authorities, and other times telling them to rebel. In the New Testament, we find the glorious Jesus continuing this fine tradition. One minute Jesus tells the Jews to pay Roman taxes, but then we find Him frequently urging His followers to oppose the Pharisees and Sadducees, who were the governing authorities in Jewish society. As for Jesus Himself, He was constantly modeling rebellion by breaking Sabbath laws, refusing to abide by Old Covenant cleansing rituals, and publicly discounting Yahweh’s cleanliness laws. Talk about a wild card—but then again, Jesus is God, and our Gods are wild. In Revelation, we find Christians being praised by Yahweh and Jesus for defying Roman authorities who wanted them to worship false gods. So given all of this, what should you make of Paul telling you:

Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from Yahweh, and those that exist are instituted by Yahweh. So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing Yahweh’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have its approval. For government is Yahweh’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For government is Yahweh’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong. (Rom. 13:1-4)

Given Paul’s personal history of being assaulted by both Jewish and Roman authorities merely for his personal beliefs, one wonders what strange mood he was in when he penned this letter. How can a man with Paul’s background possibly claim that governing authorities only punish those who do wrong and never those who do good? It was both Jewish and Roman governing authorities who tortured and crucified Christ—what wrong had He done? It was Jewish governing authorities who stoned Stephen merely for preaching about Christ. Do rulers attack those who do good? Of course they do, and Yahweh has a long history of letting corrupt rulers assault His followers. Jeremiah was locked in public stocks where he was forced to endure all manner of mocking and physical assault merely for acting as Yahweh’s prophet. Later he was thrown into a muddy well where he nearly died of suffocation in the slime. Moses was almost stoned on multiple occasions by his mob of bloodthirsty God haters. Daniel was a true believer who was assaulted by pagan foreigners and hauled away to be a slave. Paul knows that the Christians in his day are being chopped down by both Jews and Romans.  Before he claimed to convert to Christianity, Paul used his clout as a Pharisee to go around ordering Jewish Christians to publicly disown Christ.  When they refused, he would torture them, yet here in Romans 13, he talks as if he’s never heard of authority figures abusing their power. The man is a dingdong, and after he totally discounts the complexities of real life, his blanket command that it’s never acceptable to ever defy human authorities can hardly be considered valid. Yahweh and Jesus have both demonstrated that Their will is far more complex than this.

So what does this mean for you? It means that when a question arises in your own life about how you should respond to a governing authority, you need to ask God directly for wisdom. Blanket commands on this subject simply don’t work. When Yahweh commanded Ezekiel to cook over a poop fire, He didn’t tell other Jews that this was okay to do. Often we find our Gods convicting individual believers to head in different directions. He tells your friend to get involved in ministry while He tells you to stay on the bench. He gives one soul a burning desire to share the Gospel message with others, while He blocks another soul from doing so.

Our Gods love variety and They do not lead us all in the same direction. Today we can find Christian lawyers with Christian clients who all feel strongly convicted to fight against injustice, while other Christians feel led to eat it when wrong is done to them. When it comes to matters of conscience, other humans can give you their perspectives, but it is God who you need to be getting your leading from, because it is God who you are going to be judged by. If God is telling you not to obey a law, and you do it anyway because of what the apostle Paul said, then you are treating the apostle Paul as a higher authority than God. How do you think God is going to respond to that? You see, the particulars of any situation are secondary in importance. It is the underlying soul attitude that God judges you by. Why are you submitting to a particular law? Are you receiving any conviction to do otherwise? Are you open to God leading you to go in a direction that opposes the majority?

There’s nothing holy about rebelling just to do it. We need to be acting with purpose and taking the time to listen for convictions that God might be giving us. He doesn’t always weigh in on a particular situation, and when that is the case, He certainly isn’t going to punish you for doing it wrong. God is extremely easy to succeed with because when He wants you to do something, He makes His instruction very clear to you. What He gets irked by is when we just rush in without even asking for His opinion. Chucking rocks through the window of an abortion clinic because you’ve decided that it’s holy to act like some merciless jerk is hardly going to get you praise from God. Declaring that some gay man is going to Hell when you don’t know the first thing about what’s going on in his soul is hardly a righteous act. Christians are notorious for spewing hate in the Name of Jesus. And while some are busy assaulting everyone that they personally disapprove of, other groups are “affirming” everything God says is wrong just so they can get more tithe paying members. Before you take a stand on an issue, you need to be asking God what He thinks, and not let other humans put words in His mouth. It doesn’t matter if your pastor says it’s time for political action. You need to be getting clearance from God directly before you jump into the fray.

Paul was quite correct to say that no human authority figure gets into power without Divine approval. But he failed to point out the fact that God often raises up corrupt leaders as a means of punishing rebellion. We find Yahweh discussing this strategy in the Old Testament and our Gods continue to use this strategy today. When a nation is spitting in God’s face, why should that nation be blessed with peaceful times and economic prosperity? Defiance deserves discipline, and where we find societies crumbling into moral decay, we find a plethora of spiritual rebellion. Authority figures don’t just function to keep peace—they often function to create further unrest, which is a key point that Paul totally discounts. Happily for you, the issue is a simple one: seek God’s wisdom when dilemmas arise and then trust that He is leading you personally.   When our sincere desire is to please our Gods in life, They will make sure that we do.

Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t: Finding Peace in the Midst of Moral Dilemmas