“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. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.” (Romans 13:1-3a)
When we read the first verses of Romans 13, we see that what Paul says is fairly obvious and straightforward. There are no hidden meanings, no secret codes. Consequently these words rankle us in America, depending on who is in power. Paul tells us that we have an obligation to respect government and obey the law. Why?
First of all, governments are in power by the providence of God. They derive their authority from Him. Thus obedience to them is obedience to God. Failure to obey government shows disrespect for God’s authority.
In addition, governments are ministers of God to punish evil doers. As long as we are good, do not break the law, do not cheat on our taxes we have nothing to fear. The law holds no terror for those who do good. We must submit to governments and laws for they can exact just wrath and punishment on us as the sword of the Lord.
The final reason to do good and obey government is for the sake of our own conscience. Many of us like to disobey if we think we won’t get caught. Who’s going to know if we cheat on income tax, or steal something in a store or at work when no one is looking? And yet our conscience will condemn us in the sight of God Who sees all.
So we must subject ourselves to the law, deliberately surrender ourselves to its authority. This submission involves respecting those in authority, obeying the law and paying taxes. What Paul does not tell us here is what to do if the government sanctions things that are evil, or commands us to do things that are sinful. Many people use all sorts of excuses to avoid obeying. Some even claim that they do not want to pay taxes as a protest against the oppressive tyrannical policies of an evil Satanic government. Why support or even obey such a government?
But didn’t Jesus Himself command us to do so? Didn’t He say, give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s? By saying this, He upheld the authority of the government of Rome, an ungodly, cruel and oppressive power. Jesus maintained that government, even an evil power such as Rome, is also a force for good. Governments protect the rights, property and lives of private citizens from anarchy, violence, robbery, assault and murder, not perfectly, but they do. We must obey laws that are just and fair, but are not obliged to obey those that are sinful or opposed to the Kingdom of God.