Christians often have questions about God and his connection to government and how that relationship affects believers in Christ. Questions especially arise when we get a government that appears to be at odds with Christian convictions. Let’s briefly explore this important topic.
Seven Biblical Truths about God and Government
In God’s providential control over all things and his care for human beings, he has revealed seven principles in Scripture to help guide Christians on matters pertaining to ruling authorities.1
1. God established government.
The Lord’s sovereign reign over the world includes the establishment of human authorities. From a biblical perspective, the authority of human government is not absolute but rather divinely derived. The apostle Paul writes:
“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God” (Romans 13:1).
The prophet Daniel proclaimed:
“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning” (Daniel 2:20–21).
2. God instituted government for the good of all people.
Government was instituted by God to commend the good, punish evil, maintain peace, and protect the innocent. The apostle Paul explains:“For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience” (Romans 13:4–5).
The prophet Zechariah received the Lord’s benevolent directive:
“And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: ‘This is what the Lord Almighty said: “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other”’” (Zechariah 7:8–10).
3. God uses noble and ignoble governments to accomplish his sovereign purposes.
God accomplishes his sovereign will through just and unjust authorities. God even used the Jewish and Roman authorities that opposed Christ to realize his ultimate purposes. Luke writes:
“Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen” (Acts 4:27–28).
And the Psalmist proclaims:
“Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, ‘Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.’ The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, ‘I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain’” (Psalm 2:1–6).
4. God calls his people to pray for government officials.
Believers in Christ have the obligation to pray for those who govern them. Whether we voted for them or not, or whether we agree with them or not, Scripture exhorts us to pray for our government leaders.
Paul appeals to Timothy:
“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior” (1 Timothy 2:1–3).
5. God calls his people to honor and submit to the governmental authorities.
Christians are to extend honor and submission to those who govern them. Whether we voted for them or not or whether we agree with them or not we are required to honor and submit to them. The apostle Peter writes:
“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right” (1 Peter 2:13–14).
“This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor” (Romans 13:6–7).
To respect and honor government authorities involves esteeming and appreciating their seat or role in government. Even if one disagrees with the person and their policies one can still offer deference to the important position that the leader holds.
Believers in Christ should follow the laws of the state. If a law is unjust, then the believer is to seek legal and peaceful ways to repeal such a law and replace it with legislation that is fair and honorable.
6. God calls his people to obey him over all government authorities.
Submission to government has its limits. Christians are to obey government except when government commands something God forbids or government forbids something God commands. When commanded not to preach the gospel by governing authorities, the apostles responded defiantly:
“We must obey God rather than human beings!” (Acts 5:29)
This story in the Book of Daniel illustrates a loyalty to a higher authority:
“Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up’” (Daniel 3:16–18).
When Christians find it necessary to disobey government, then they should approach their civil disobedience with moral and spiritual responsibility by seeking to align their actions with such virtues as courage, wisdom, humility, justice, and charity.
7. God will bring all present human governments to an end in the eternal state where Jesus Christ will reign forever.
Jesus Christ is the true king and his kingdom will indeed come. Consider his exchange with Roman governor Pontius Pilate:
“So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?’ Pilate answered, ‘Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?’ Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world’” (John 18:33–36).
From the Book of Revelation:
“‘He will rule them with an iron scepter.’ . . . On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.” (Revelation 19:15–16).[
Believers in Christ should discharge their responsibilities as citizens of this temporal world with diligence, wisdom, justice, and benevolence as informed by the Christian worldview. Even though circumstances may not look favorable, God’s people must also remember that the Lord’s sovereign purposes will ultimately be accomplished.
- St. Augustine, The City of God
- David VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms
1. My article was influenced by Justin Taylor, “10 Things to Know about What the Bible Teaches on God and Human Government” and Michael Oh, “The Purpose and Role of Government.”