Clearing up misconceptions about Romans 13

By Scott Tibbs, March 4, 2019

How should Christians approach civil government in respect to Romans 13? The Apostle Paul explains that all powers are derived from God, and those who resist the government's authority are resisting God. Obviously, we should honor those in authority over us, whether it be President Obama or President Trump, down to the local Mayor and County Commissioners. So does this mean we must obey every single thing the government commands us to do, and never criticize the state or its leaders?

Nope. As with any Biblical doctrine, we have to take Romans 13 in context with the rest of Scripture. Remember that the prostitute Rahab was commended for lying to her own civil rulers by hiding the spies sent to Jericho by Israel, and that the Hebrew midwives were commended for disobeying Pharaoh and refusing to murder male newborn Jewish babies. The prophet Nathan rebuked King David for committing adultery and murder. Multiple prophets rebuked various kings of Israel and Judah. This continued in the New Testament when John the Baptist rebuked King Herod for his sexual immorality.

Context matters. The Bible nowhere demands absolute loyalty to the civil magistrate. We are to respect and honor our leaders in government, but we are not prohibited from dissenting against bad government policy or calling out immoral behavior by government leaders. We should obey the law, but only to the extent that the law does not require us to sin or prohibit us from worshiping God. At that point, we must obey God rather than men, as we see in Acts 5. The civil magistrate is given authority by God, but the civil magistrates themselves are not gods. There is always a higher authority, and the highest authority is the Lord Jesus Christ.

So yes, pay your taxes, obey that speed limit, and obey traffic lights. Taxation in and of itself is not theft. But always remember that our highest loyalty must always be to Jesus Christ, who has been given all authority in Heaven and on earth. (See Matthew 28:18-20.) Speak your conscience, always remembering that the First Amendment is also included under Romans 13 and that the civil magistrate may not rebel against God by taking away your rights under the Constitution.

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