The letters of Paul are more than just occasional documents; they are the Word of God, and as such speak to us even in the late twentieth century. (2 Timothy 3:16) How is a Christian in 2015, who is committed to nonresistance and discipleship, to respond to Paul’s argument for submission to governing authorities in Romans 13:1-7?
Must WE THEN SUBMIT TO ALL AUTHORITIES, since according to Paul there is no authority except from God? Should Christians have submitted to Hitler’s regime in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s?
Although all governing authorities have been instituted by God, they have been tainted with human sin, and as such do not always conform to the rule of God. Clearly, Hitler’s regime, which produced massive death and destruction, was not an authority in God’s service (13:5). If a government or authority ceases to be a force for good and order, but instead becomes an instrument of evil and death, it is no longer a Christian’s duty to submit and obey that authority.
Acts 4:19 reads “But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.”
Acts 5:29 reads “Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.”
Obedience to God, concern for the unity of the Church, and love for other people have been clearly laid out throughout the letter to the Roman Church in the first 12 chapters. We cannot take these 7 Scriptures and give them precedence over the previous issues that Paul has already clearly defined as Primary and Preeminent in this letter to the believers in Rome. In other words, Christians must understand that “The First things REMAIN first.” In short, love and obedience to God was and is always to take precedence over national sentiments.
The concerns that led Paul to direct the Christians in Rome to submit to imperial rulers stem from the fact that Jewish Christians, had only recently returned to the Rome after having previously been exiled by Emperor Claudius. Paul clearly is concerned that if the Roman believers were to become involved in any Palestinian-Jewish revolution at this time in mixed Jewish-Gentile communities then unity among the Roman believers would be impossible. He was clearly concentrated on the bigger picture here, understanding that if the Jews were to grumble about and share their anti-Roman ideas with the Gentiles it could lead to a complete disaster that could have ultimately put believers against believers thus destroying the Unity of the Body of Christ specifically at Rome.
If a governing authority calls its citizens to acts that run counter to obedience to God, Christian unity, and love for others, such as participating in a legal but ungodly ordinances, then the Christian may say with a clear conscience that he or she is heeding the call of God by refusing to submit and obey the government. If a law is passed that every Christian must be put to death because of their belief in Jesus, and calls for everyone that believes in Christ to turn themselves in to the authorities so that the magistrates can execute them, again we must say with a clear conscience that we are heeding the call of God by refusing to submit and obey the government.
In Daniel 6 king Darius signed a decree that (verse 7) “whosoever shall ask a petition (PRAY) to any God or man EXCEPT to King Darius then he shall be cast into the den of lions.” Daniel was a devout man of God and a servant of God that specifically set out 3 different times in each day to go and pray to God. We see this in verse 11. Did he stop praying to God because the law of the land said that he could not do so? Nope…
It is God, who has all power in Heaven and on Earth (Matthew 28:18) to whom a believer owes allegiance. “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” Submission to the authorities is not something a Christian person does lightly. We must live as citizens of two worlds. Here on Earth to which the governing authorities are subordinate and is passing away, and in Heaven, under the rule of Christ.
Isaiah 55:8-9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Therefore Christian, rejoice in Philippians 3:20-21 which reads “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”