The above meme has some truth to it. If you look at history and examine how governments in the past have betrayed its people, one would be foolish to trust the government… at times. It is true that there is corruption in government, but let’s be fair here: government in its entirety is not corrupt. Corruption does exist in the American government (just look at Hillary Clinton, *ahem*). However, that does not mean all of government is tainted with corruption. For example, it would be racist to say all black people are criminals just because there’s a high rate of crime among African American communities. It is unfortunately true that a lot of black communities are involved in crime, but certainly not all black people are criminals. Likewise, corruption exists in some parts of the government, but not all government is corrupt. If we want to be intellectually honest with ourselves, we must acknowledge this fact.
Government is not a bad thing. God did not intend to use government for our demise. God institutes government for our protection, and it is we as sinners who work in government who make it fail. Paul says the following about government in Romans 13:1-7:
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 judgement. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore, one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honour to whom honour is owed.
Government is a lot like the first use of the Law: the curb. The first use of the Law is to restrain us from sin—the fear of punishment and condemnation will sometimes prevent us from sinning. In a way, that’s the purpose of government. The government’s job is to both protect us from the sin of others (our foreign and domestic enemies as well as criminals) and to prevent us from sinning by legislating laws. All authority comes from God. We know this because of the fourth commandment, “Honour your father and mother.” Martin Luther explains the commandment in his Small Catechism, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.” All authority on earth is a representation of God’s authority; therefore, all forms of authority come from God. As sinners, we abuse this authority and when that happens, it is not from God. When we resist righteous authority, however, we resist God, as Paul says. Resisting arrest, for example, would be resisting God’s authority to use the law to judge your sin. But what about those who haven’t committed a crime and are being unjustly arrested? Simple: don’t be an idiot and resist arrest because resisting arrest is still illegal in that case; just simply follow instructions and your innocence will become ostensible eventually. That says a lot more about your character than resisting arrest does even if you’re innocent.
Rulers are a terror to bad conduct, Paul says, not good conduct. Lately on social media, I’ve seen people saying we shouldn’t feel afraid when we see a police officer, but protected. Sure, we should feel protected, but there’s nothing bad about feeling fear or anxiety when you see the law. As Paul said above, “Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority?” We’re supposed to have fear of the law because by being afraid, we become more cognisant of our actions and won’t break the law to prevent hurting our neighbour and/or ourselves. For example, when you see a police car on the road, what do you do? You immediately check your speed and slow down, right? You do this because you fear the law, which you’re supposed to. If we never feared the law, then we would break it all the time, and that’s not a good thing. Laws are in place to prevent danger from happening. If, for example, everybody drove however fast they wanted to on the roads, danger is high and more people would get injured. There are speed limits to lower the danger and therefore protect people, as well as protecting you from yourself. If you’re doing wrong, Paul says, be afraid! You should be, because the government does not bear the sword in vain—that is, the government does not have the power to take life for no reason. God gave the government this power, so they can justly sentence a criminal to death for murder and declare war, so long as it’s just. We won’t get into capital punishment or just war theory here. Overall, if the reason is to protect people from harm, then it’s likely just. Likewise, the government has authority from God to punish criminals for committing misdemeanours, felonies, and other classes of crimes—carrying God’s judgement against the wrongdoer. Ultimately, the government serves God and God uses the government to exact His wrath against evil, whether it’s a criminal or a country or terrorist group that wishes to harm us.
“Therefore,” Paul says, “one must be in subjection.” In other words, one must obey the law “not only to avoid God’s wrath,” but also to soothe our conscience. If you do what is right according to the law, you have nothing to fear. However, if you break the law, you have every reason to fear. So pay taxes and revenue and give respect and honour to whom it belongs. Honour and respect those in law enforcement and the military, for they are agents of the government and therefore act with God’s authority.
The only time we should ever disobey the government is when a law or policy is against God’s Word. During the ministry of the apostles, the Sadducees had control over Jewish religious practise. According to Roman law, Judaism was a legal religion, and Christianity—what was then viewed as a Jewish sect—was illegal. The apostles were preaching Jesus Christ, which the Jews viewed as contrary to the Law (rather than Him fulfilling it), thus they grew jealous of the apostles and threw them in prison (Acts 5:17-18). Standing before the council of the Sadducees, the council commanded the apostles to stop teaching in Jesus’ name (Acts 5:27-28). But Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). According to Roman law, it was against the law to preach in the name of Jesus rather than the Jewish Torah; but the apostles, knowing their commission from Christ, knew it was God’s will to preach in Jesus’ name. God’s will and His Word trump human law, and where law attempts to usurp God’s authority, God’s Word must reign. So with today’s laws that legalise gay “marriage,” support abortion, and force churches to obey these laws as well as forcing them to make transgender bathrooms and forcing Christian universities not to reject transgenders despite their religious beliefs, Christians have every authority from God to disobey these laws because they attempt to usurp God’s authority on these matters. We can oppose gay “marriage” because God’s Word says homosexuality is a sin and marriage is only between a man and a woman. We can oppose abortion because murder is a sin and specifically breaks the fifth commandment. We can oppose transgenderism laws and policies because God as Creator assigns gender as He intends and our identity does not rely on what we imagine; rather, it relies on Christ and the gender God assigns us is never a mistake. These Christian views, of course, are not popular beliefs in today’s moral relativistic world, even among some Christians. It is not the world’s place, however, to tell Christians what to believe. In the effort to be all-inclusive with the fear of offending somebody, we abandon God’s Word to obey the word of man. We end up fearing man more than we fear God.
God instituted government to protect us from sin and to help prevent us from sinning and He has given government the authority to take life when necessary in order to carry out His judgement. As its citizens, we therefore must responsibly obey the law and honour and respect government authority. When the law is against God’s Word, however, we must adhere to God’s Word rather than the word of man, for God has the ultimate authority and He is ruler over all the earth.
*Disclaimer: this article has been republished with the full permission of Sheep of Christ, which is owned by the author.*