The Christian and Government

(Greek words can be viewed using the Symbol font)


Pastor Scott L. Harris

Grace Bible Church, NY

March 23, 2003

The Christian and Government

Romans 13:1-7

The timing of our study of Romans 13:1-7 could hardly be
better. Our passage this morning instructs us on the origin and
purpose of government. Given the debating that has been going on
for quite sometime about the role and authority of government in
prosecuting a war, we need to understand what God says about it.
It is also always very relevant for us to understand the
relationship of the Christian to government, but perhaps even
more so when we look at our calendars and see there are only
about three weeks left to file your Federal & State income

Turn to Romans 13:1-7 and follow along as I read through it,
and then we will come back and examine it verse by verse.

1 Let every person be in subjection to the governing
authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those
which exist are established by God. 2 Therefore he who resists
authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have
opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 3 For rulers
are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you
want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good, and you will
have praise from the same; 4 for it is a minister of God to you
for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not
bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an
avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil. 5
Wherefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because
of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. 6 For because of this
you also pay taxes, for [rulers] are servants of God, devoting
themselves to this very thing. 7 Render to all what is due them:
tax to whom tax [is due;] custom to whom custom; fear to whom
fear; honor to whom honor.

Remember that what Paul says here is predicated upon what he
has already said in chapter 12. The Christian’s relationship
and response to government is based on the fact that we are to be
living and holy sacrifices which are acceptable to God and whose
lives are being transformed by the renewing of our minds. We will
not have a correct relationship with government if we do not
first have correct relationships with one another. We are to love
without hypocrisy, abhorring evil while clinging to what is good.
That foundation directs our relationships with other Christians
and non-Christians alike. We are to even love our enemies and
overcome evil with good. As those qualities increase in our life
we become more like our Lord Jesus Christ, and the more we are
conformed into the image of Christ, the better citizens we will
be regardless of what kind of government is over us. Keep in mind
that Paul wrote this to a group of Christians that were under the
tyrannical rule of Caesar Nero who only a few years later would
carry out an horrible persecution of them.

The Authority of Government (vs. 1,2)

Command to Submit

This chapter begins with the statement, "Let every
person be in subjection to the governing authorities.
Governing authorities are those who hold ruling power and their
representatives. The king is the one who holds the ruling power,
and his army represents him in enforcing that rule. In our land,
the ruling power is actually supposed to be our laws. Those laws
are then enforced through the law’s representatives which
include our elected officials, military personnel and law
enforcement officers. Each of these representatives of the law
are sworn to uphold the U.S. Constitution, and depending on the
particular officer, also the Constitution and laws of their
particular State and local government. This allegiance to law
instead of a person is one of the things that makes our nation
very different from many other types of governments.

This opening statement is given in the command voice, so it is
not an option. The word "subjection" is from upotassw / hupasso, a military term, meaning
to be under in rank. Here it is in the passive voice, meaning
"to subject oneself to." This is obedience that is done
willingly instead of being forced. In other words, the Christian
is commanded to obey government authority willingly instead of
being forced to do so by the authority of the government.

This command to submit ourselves to the governing authorities
makes the Christian different from the non-Christian in their
relationship to government. Both must obey the government, but
they do so from very different motivations. It is Paul’s
explanation of the origin of authority that gives us our
motivation to submit to it.

Origin of Authority (vs. 1)

"For there is no authority except from God, and those
which exist are established by God.
" Take note here that
Paul does not make any exceptions in his statement. Remember too
that he said this when Nero was Caesar in Rome. Those facts can
make this a difficult idea to accept for it means that not only
Nero, but other despots that have existed throughout the ages,
including those in modern times such as Hitler, Stalin, Mao and
Saddam have had their authority established by God. Even
Satan’s authority as the "god of this world" (2
Cor. 4:4) and "prince of the power of the air"(Eph.
2:2) ultimately comes from God.

Does that mean that God is the author of evil or responsible
in some way for what evil beings do? Of course not! God is good
and there is no evil in Him or that can come from Him (Psalm 5:4;
Hab. 1:13; James 1:17). It does mean that God is so powerful that
even the evil that presently exists cannot thwart His will. God
can even use that which is evil to accomplish His holy purposes.
We have already seen this concept in our study of Romans 9:22
that God has "endured with much patience vessels of wrath
prepared for destruction"
in order to "demonstrate
His wrath and to make His power known
." Proverbs 16:4 is
succinct in this point stating, "The Lord has made
everything for its own purpose, Even the wicked for the day of

The Bible is full of examples that demonstrate that it is God
who decides who will be in authority and who will not. One of the
more dramatic examples of this is Nebuchadnezzar. In Jeremiah
25:9, the Lord calls Nebuchadnezzar, "My servant," who
would bring destruction on Judea and Jerusalem because of their
sin. 2 Kings 24,25 and 2 Chronicles 36 records him doing exactly
what Jeremiah had foretold. In Daniel 4 Nebuchadnezzar is warned
by Daniel that God would punish him for his pride and wickedness
by making him like a beast of the field. A year after that
warning, Nebuchadnezzar was boasting about his accomplishments,
power and glory, and while the words were still in his mouth, a
voice from heaven pronounced, "King Nebuchadnezzar, to
you it is declared: sovereignty has been removed from you, and
you will be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place
[will be] with the beasts of the field. You will be given grass
to eat like cattle, and seven periods of time will pass over you,
until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of
mankind, and bestows it on whomever He wishes"
4:31,32). Nebuchadnezzar spent the next seven years grazing with
the cattle until his reason returned to him and he "blessed
the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever; For
His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom
[endures] from generation to generation. 35 "And all the
inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does
according to His will in the host of heaven And [among] the
inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to
Him, ‘What hast Thou done?’"

The Christian recognizes this important truth. There is no
authority except from God, and those which exist are established
by God. Because of that truth they willingly submit themselves to
that governmental authority because they recognize in so doing
they are actually submitting to the authority God has
established. That is why Christians should be the best citizens
of whatever nation they are in regardless of the form of
government in that nation or the personal qualities of the
governmental leaders. We will see the exceptions to that
submission in a few moments, but understand clearly the principle
that is set forward here. Christians willingly submit themselves
to governmental authority because in doing so they are obeying
God. That does not mean the Christian must agree with the
governmental system, nor does it mean that they cannot work to
change the system or its leaders, but it does mean that any
efforts toward such changes will be done in a godly manner as
good citizens of their nation.

Consequences of Rebellion

In verse 2 Paul warns of the consequences of rebellion against
governmental authority. "Therefore he who resists
authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have
opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.

The word for "resists" here, antitassw
/ antitasso, is the exact opposite of "submit" in the
previous verse. This is to be against or oppose authority. This
resistence does not have to be active rebellion, but can also be
the more passive rebellion of refusing to submit. Active and
passive resistance to authority are the same in God’s eyes
because He looks at the heart which is manifesting itself in the
opposition to authority, and that opposition is ultimately
against Him. Such rebellion will result in God’s
condemnation, and whether the consequences of that occur now or
in eternity, you want to avoid it.

The Purpose of Government (vs. 3,4)

What then is the purpose of government? Can governmental
authorities freely do whatever they want under the idea that God
has given them that right? Western European kings claimed such
"divine rights" until modern times. What divine
restrictions are placed on governmental authority and is there
any manner in which despots can legitimately be removed? Paul
does not answer all those questions here, but he does give us a
foundation upon which we can find answers to those questions.

Promotion of Good (vs. 3)

In verse 3, Paul shows that one of the purposes of government
is the promotion of good. "For rulers are not a cause of
fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear
of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the

Remember that Paul is writing this while Nero is Caesar. Roman
rule could be oppressive and cruel, yet for the most part, Roman
rule brought stability and security for those that did what was
good. The same is actually true for most governments including
some ruled by despotic dictators. The laws that are established
by most governments are for the purpose of deterring evil
practices while promoting good behavior. To the degree that a
government is doing that, it is fulfilling God’s purposes
for it. To the degree that a government is not doing that, is the
degree that it risks God overthrowing it for one that will carry
out His decrees. As Isaiah 5:20 warns, "Woe to those who
call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light
and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet, and
sweet for bitter!"

Most governments will have a mixed record in deterring evil
and promoting and protecting what is good because humans are
skewed by their sin in understanding what is good and evil. Even
our own government is mixed in its record. While for the most
part we must conclude that it seeks to promote good and deter
evil, there are many areas in which it has become confused about
what is good and what is evil because the philosophies of men
instead of the revelation of God are being used to determine what
is good and evil. Killing unborn children is evil. Advocating
adoption is good. Protecting freedom of conscience is good.
Requiring homosexuality and other sexual perversions to be
accepted as legitimate "alternative lifestyles" is
evil. Deterring such unrighteous behaviors as greed, stealing,
slander, malice, insolence, murder, lying, adultery, fornication,
drunkenness, debauchery, etc., is good. Giving awards to those
who do these things or who promote them through entertainment is
evil (the Academy Awards are tonight).

A government that causes those who do good to fear are in
direct violation of one of the reasons God has allowed that
government to exist. They are in danger of God’s judgement
against them. God judged ancient Israel, in part, for this very
problem (see Isaiah 5). If He will judge His own people for this
failure, then all other nations also need to fear His judgment
upon them.

Punishment of Evil (vs. 4)

The other major purpose of governmental authority is in verse

" for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if
you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword
for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings
wrath upon the one who practices evil.

It is not enough to just promote good, but a government has a
responsibility to carry out just punishment on those who do evil.
Rulers are to be a cause of fear to those who have evil behavior
because they will punish such people.

Notice that in bearing the sword and being an avenger who
brings wrath upon the one who practices evil, the ruler is a
minister of God. We don’t often think of government
officials in that light, but it is true never the less. Our
President, U.S. Senator, Congressman, Governor, State Senator,
Assemblyman, Town Supervisor and Town Councilmen all have a
responsibility in making laws that will promote good while
deterring evil and punishing those who do evil. Every judge and
police officer of every jurisdiction has the responsibility of
enforcing those laws. All of them are ministers of God in this
respect, regardless of their own personal beliefs about God. Even
an atheistic government authority is a minister of God.

Why is that an important point? Because every government
authority will have to give an account of their stewardship of
office to God. What King Jehoshaphat said to the judges he
appointed still applies today. "Consider what you are
doing, for you do not judge for man but for the Lord who is with
you when you render judgment. "Now then let the fear of the
Lord be upon you; be very careful what you do, for the Lord our
God will have no part in unrighteousness, or partiality, or the
taking of a bribe"
(2 Chron. 19:6,7). This is a truth we
should remind our elected officials of constantly. Too often they
think their loyalty must be to their constituency for fear of not
being re-elected. The truth is their loyalty needs to be to God,
for He will judge each of them by their faithfulness in being His
servants. No matter who you are, it is a sobering thought to
consider having to stand before God and give an account of your

Evil doers should be afraid of rulers because they do not bear
the sword in vain. The "sword" here represents the
authority of the ruler to punish evil doers even to the extreme
of the death penalty. What is true for the most severe penalty is
also true for lesser penalties.

Many people are against the death penalty for a variety of
reasons. Regardless of those reasons, government authorities must
remember that God is the one that established capital punishment
for certain crimes and He has entrusted the exercise of it to the
civil authorities. While appropriate procedures must be carefully
followed so that the innocent are not unjustly executed, fear of
such a tragedy must not result in the failure to carry out
God’s commands and execute the guilty. Such injustice brings
tragedy on a nation. The Lord commanded in Genesis 9:6 that "Whoever
sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the
image of God He made man."
Whenever there is a failure
to bring a murder to justice and executing him, the blood of the
victim pollutes the land and calls out for God’s wrath upon
that nation. This was another one of the reasons for God bringing
about the destruction of Ancient Israel and Judea (Numbers 35:33;
Psalm 106:38).

America is not innocent in this area, for there are many
States that will still not carry out capital punishment for even
the most heinous of crimes. And worse than that, we are a nation
in which a majority of our elected officials are still protecting
the practice of murdering the unborn under the evil delusion that
a fictitious right of privacy is superior to the unborn
baby’s right to life. The so called "pro-choice"
crowd is not concerned about choice or the woman, if they were
they would support informed consent and waiting period laws so
that the pregnant woman could make an intelligent decision. They
would also support parental notification and medical hygiene laws
which apply to every other kind of medical procedure except
abortion. The truth is that these people want the power to murder
their unborn at will for any reason. They are among those that
call evil good, and good evil.

God gives authority to governments so that they will promote
good and bring punishment upon evildoers. Those governments that
will not fulfill His purposes risk His judgement. We need to
thank the Lord for His continuing longsuffering and mercy toward
us, for we are deserving of His wrath. The blood of the innocents
pollute our land and cry out to Him for justice.

Before I go on to look at what Paul says about the
Christians’ duty to government, let me make a couple of
brief comments about how God deals with governments that will not
fulfill His purposes. We have many Biblical examples of how God
has done this in the past.

In some cases, God will raise up a deliverer who will throw
off the yoke of a government that is oppressing people over which
they have no legitimate claim of authority. Such was the case in
the Exodus when God raised up Moses to lead Israel out of its
bondage to Pharaoh. In this case, God directly intervened and
destroyed Egypt until they sent the Israelites away. In the
period of the Judges, God would raise up individuals that would
lead a rebellion against a foreign power that was oppressing
them. The Israelites belong to God and their proper government
authority was the system set up within that Theocracy. Other
nations that came in and conquered various areas were usurpers to
the legitimate government. The "rebellion" was the
legitimate authority re-establishing a proper government.

In other cases, God used one nation to destroy another for
various reasons. I have already pointed out that God punished His
own people in this manner. Assyria destroyed Israel and Babylon
destroyed Judah. Later, the Persian empire, successor to the
Babylonians, restored the nation of Judah. God also used Israel
to destroy the wicked nations. They destroyed the Canaanite
kingdoms first, and then as other nations would attack, they
would fight back and destroy them. That includes Moab, Edom and

These same sort of actions still occur. When one nation
oversteps its bounds and threatens or attacks another nation,
that other nation has a duty to protect its people, promote good
and punish evil by wielding its own sword. Such was the case with
defeat of the Axis powers in World War II and is the case in the
current war against Iraq.

We must remember that nations are not the same as individuals.
Nations are in themselves governing authorities. There is no God
given command for them to submit to each other. And just to be
clear on this in case anyone wonders, the United Nations is not a
governmental authority. It is a forum for nations to work
together in relationships with one another in solving
international problems, and to develop coalitions in dealing with
the threats and attacks of belligerent powers against allies. The
U.N. holds no "governmental authority" over the U.S. or
any other nation.

Our Duty to Government (vs. 5-7)

In verse 5-7, Paul gives instructions on the Christian’s
duty to governmental authority.

Be in Subjection (vs 5)

First, he repeats the principle that we are to be in
subjection to governing authorities, but he also gives the reason
why. "Wherefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not
only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake."

Fear of its wrath is the first reason. This is a very
practical reason, for the "sword" should be feared.
This is the reason people slow down when they see a State Trooper
by the side of the road or in their rear view mirror. This is the
reason that just the presence of police at a function keeps a
crowd quieted down, and why a visible security guard – or even a
camera – reduces shoplifting. People fear the consequences. They
don’t want a ticket and they don’t want to go to jail.
But this is not the reason that should motivate the mature
Christian. We are not to live in fear, for God’s love casts
that away.

Conscience sake should be the motivation of the
Christian. In Acts 24:16 Paul said that his hope in Christ and
the resurrection had caused him to always strive to have a
blameless conscience toward God and man. The Apostle Peter was
also motivated by his relationship with the Lord and he wanted
other Christians to be motivated by the same. In 1 Peter 2:13-17
he commanded that for "the Lord’s sake,"
Christians were to "submit [themselves]"
"to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in
authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of
evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the
will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of
foolish men. [Act] as free men, and do not use your freedom as a
covering for evil, but [use it] as bondslaves of God. Honor all
men; love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king."

That is very similar to what Paul has said here in Romans. Peter
added in the next chapter that the Christian is to "sanctify
Christ as Lord in your hearts, always [being] ready to make a
defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope
that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a
good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered,
those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to
(1 Peter 3:15,16).

Laws, warning signs and such are there to motivate the
non-Christian to refrain from evil by making him fear the
consequences. Christians are to be motivated out of their love
for Christ to do good and flee from evil. As we mature as
Christians, we should be increasingly motivated to submit to the
governing authorities out of a conscience transformed by our love
for Christ, instead of fear of punishment.

Pay Taxes (vs. 6)

This motivation also causes us to do something else. "For
because of this you also pay taxes, for [rulers] are servants of
God, devoting themselves to this very thing."

No one has ever liked taxes, except those who make their
living off them, and even they don’t like paying them. Yet,
because the Christian recognizes the origin and purpose of
government, out of conscience sake they will pay their taxes so
that the government can carry out its God given duties of
promoting good and deterring evil because of their punishment of
it. Remember once again that Paul is writing this at a time when
taxes could not only be unjust and oppressive, but often even
harsher because of the corruption of the tax collectors who would
demand more than the required amount. Remember that even Jesus,
who as Son of God owed no taxes, still paid them (Matt.
17:25-27). Jesus’ response in Matthew 22:17-21 to the
Pharisees question about paying the hated poll-tax is still the
final word on paying taxes. "Then render to Caesar the
things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are

Taxes belong to the governing authorities. We pay what we owe
out of conscience sake because they are servants of God. In this
nation we can and should work toward making sure taxes are fair
and used properly. But even when they are corrupt and used
wrongly, we still do not cheat on our taxes, because that would
not only affect ourselves, but also bring shame on the name of
our Lord Jesus Christ.

Render Proper Respect (vs. 7)

In verse 7, Paul wraps up the application of this principle of
subjecting ourselves to the governing authorities saying,
"Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax [is due;]
custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom
To "render" is to "pay" or
"give" what belongs to them.

Tax has already been covered, but the fact that Paul
mentions it again in this verse and first in this list stresses
the importance of it. This is the general income or property tax.

Custom is actually a particular kind of tax on
merchandise. We know this as sales tax.

Fear is a word describing emotion, and as used here, it
refers to the proper emotions that should be due to someone in
authority. It could range from the simple awe that is often
present when you meet someone in an important position of power,
to the dread you might feel when being questioned by the police
or standing before a judge awaiting his verdict.

Honor is proper respect due to a person that is
exhibited in following proper decorum and protocol. It includes
the proper courtesies such as using formal speech, wearing
appropriate clothing and making respectful gestures.

We live in a society that is not only increasingly informal,
but also one in which rudeness is replacing courtesy, and
authority is not respected. Though a believer in Christ may come
from such a society, as they mature, they are to change in this
area as well, for that is the example our Lord Jesus and His
apostles gave to us whenever they interacted with governmental

Out of love for God and understanding that He is in control of
all things, including government, Christians should be the best
citizens of any nation. When people look at your life, would they
think that of you?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
* * * * *


Parents, you are responsible to apply
God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.
Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear
during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at
lunch. Older Children : Do one or more of the following:
1) Count how many times "government" is mentioned in
the sermon 2) Discuss with your parents what God says are your
responsibilities to government.


Questions to consider in discussing
the sermon with others.

What must be true before a person can
be a godly citizen? What character traits would make a good
citizen? What is the source of authority for government? Is this
true for governments with evil leaders? Why or why not? Paul was
writing to the believers in Rome. What was their government like
at the time he wrote? What are the consequences for the person
that resists government? What makes a government
"legitimate" or "illegitimate"? What are
God’s purposes for government? How can government promote
good? How can government deter evil? How do these principles
apply to the debate about capital punishment? War? What about the
current war with Iraq? Terrorism? Why should the Christian obey
the government? How should that subjection display itself? What
should the attitude of the Christian be about paying taxes? What
does it mean to render "custom," "fear," and
"honor" to government officials? How are you to do that
toward our governmental leaders? When should the Christian resist
government and refuse to obey its laws? What privileges and
responsibilities do American Christians have toward government?
Are you fulfilling them. Why or why not?

Study Sheets


Sermon Notes
3/23/2003 am

The Christian and Government – Romans 13:1-7


The Authority of Government (vs. 1,2)

Command to Submit

upotassw / hupasso

Origin of Authority

Romans 9:22; Proverbs 16:4;

Nebuchadnezzar – Jeremiah 25:9; 2 Kings 24 & 25; 2
Chronicles 36; Daniel 4

Consequences of Rebellion

antitassw / antitasso

The Purpose of Government (vs. 3,4)

Promotion of Good (vs. 3)

To the degree a government does not fulfill its God
given purposes, is the degree to which it risks being
overthrown by God

Isaiah 5:20

Punishment of Evil (vs. 4)

2 Chronicles 19:6,7

The "sword" =

Genesis 9:6

Overthrow of Governments

Through a Deliverer – Moses, Judges, Etc

Through another Nation –

Our Duty to Government (vs. 5-7)

Be in Subjection (vs 5)

Fear of its wrath

Conscience sake

Acts 24:16; 1 Peter 2:13-17; 1 Peter 3:15,16

Pay Taxes (vs. 6)

Matt. 17:25-27; Matthew 22:17-21

Render Proper Respect (vs. 7)