Romans 13 

The Believer and Civil Government

Lorraine Day, M.D.


This chapter contains matter that is of the greatest importance, but that fact is rarely recognized.

To Whom is the Epistle of Romans Addressed?

In studying this chapter it is necessary to remember that the Epistle is addressed to professed followers of the Lord.

“Behold, you are called a Believer (Iudean – Judean – NOT “Jew”), and rest in the law, and make your boast of God, and know His will.”  Romans 2:17,18

“Know ye not, brethren (for I speak to them that know the law).” 
Romans 7:1

“It is a mistake, therefore, to suppose that this chapter was designed to set forth the duties of earthly rulers, or as a treatise on civil government, or on the relation that the state should occupy to the church.  Since it is addressed to professed Christians, it is evident that its object is simply to tell them how they ought to behave towards the governments under which they live.”  Waggoner on Romans, Glad Tidings Publishing, p 13.184

All Power is From God

It is absolutely true, without exception, that all power is from God.

“God has spoken once; twice have I heard this; that power belongs unto God.”  Psalm 62:11

“In Him we live and move and are.”  Acts 17:28

It can as truly be said of every individual as of governments, that they are ordained, or appointed, of God.  He has a plan for everyone’s life.  The power with which the scoffer blasphemes God is as much from God as is the power with which the Christian serves him.

1 Let every soul be subject to the superior authorities, for there is no authority except under God.  And the authorities that be are ordained (literally:  appointed) by God.

Let no one entertain the idea that this word “ordained” necessarily implies the imparting of some spiritual power.  It means nothing more than appointed or ordered, which we can find in the margin.  The Greek word from which it is rendered is found in Acts 28:23, where we read that the Believers (Judeans) in Rome appointed a day for Paul to tell them about the gospel.  It could as well be said that they ”ordained” a day for him.

The “higher powers” are not above the Most High.

“Wisdom and might are His; and He changes the times and the seasons; he removes kings, and sets up kings.”  Dan 2:20,21

The Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomsoever He will.”  Dan 4:32

2 Whosoever therefore resist the authority, resists God’s mandate; and they that resist shall receive to themselves judgment (NOT “damnation”),

This is a warning against rebellion and insurrection.  It is God who removes kings as well as sets them up.  Therefore whoever presumes to remove a king is assuming God’s prerogative.  It is as though he knew better than God when the government should be altered.  They are setting themselves against God by seeking to overthrow His order.  They are putting themselves ahead of God.

It is worthwhile to remember that Christ was condemned on a political charge, and for political reasons, yet He made no resistance although He showed that He had power to do so.  See John 18:5-11; Matt. 26:51-53

It may be said that Christ knew that His hour had come.  True, but He did not resist at previous times.  He continually committed Himself into the hands of the Father.  That is an example for His followers.  If they are submissive in God’s hands, they can suffer no indignity nor oppression that God does not appoint or allow; no injury can be done to them before their hour comes.  It is easier to profess faith in Christ than to show real faith by following His example.

Saul had been anointed king of Israel by command of God; but had afterwards been rejected because of his reckless course.  Then David was anointed king in his stead.  Saul was jealous of David and sought to kill him.  David did not resist, but fled.  More than once Saul was within David’s power, but David would not lift up a hand against him.  If there is any excuse for resisting a ruler, David had it.

Yet when urged even to consent to allow another to kill Saul, David said:

“Destroy him not; for who can stretch forth his hand against the Lord’s anointed, and be guiltless? . . . As the Lord lives, the Lord shall smite him; or his day shall come to die; or he shall descend into battle, and perish.  The Lord forbid that I should stretch forth mine hand against the Lord’s anointed.”  1 Samuel 26:9-11

And yet Saul was a wicked man, who had cast off allegiance to God, and was not fit to rule.

3 For magistrates (rulers) are not a fear to the good act, but to the evil.  Now you do not want to be fearing the authority.  Do good and you will be having praise from it.

4 For it is God’s servant for your good.  Now if you should be doing evil, fear, for he is an avenger to execute wrath upon him that does evil.

5 Wherefore you must be subject, not only because of indignation, but also for conscience sake.

God’s word admonishes us to be subject to the powers that be, but it never countenances disobedience to God.  God has never ordained any power to be above Himself.  It is the height of folly for us to argue from this chapter that it is the duty of Christians to obey human laws when they conflict with the law of God.  God does not grant indulgence to sin; much less does He command us to sin.  We are not to be subject to the powers that be instead of to God, but because we are subject to God.

“Whatsoever you do in word or deed, do ALL in the name of the Lord Jesus.” 
Col. 3:17

We are to obey God all the time, and to be subject to human power as well, but always so that it does not involve disobedience to God.

Man cannot serve two masters

“No man can serve two masters . . . You cannot serve God and mammon.” 
(Matt 6:24)

The reason is that God and mammon are opposite in their demands.  Now everybody knows that there have often been human laws that conflicted with God’s commandments.  The Christian cannot hesitate a moment in his choice.  The law that contradicts God’s law is nothing.

“There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the Lord.” 
Proverbs 21:30

Some may quote 1 Peter 2:13 as opposed to this.  It says,

“Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake.”

 But let the reader follow on in the chapter quoted above, and he will see that the submission enjoined does not involve obedience to wicked laws.  We are exhorted:

“Honor all men.  Love the brotherhood.  Fear God. Honor the king.”

We are to be subject to rightful authority, whether the exerciser of that authority is good and gentle, or obstinate.  Then come the words,

“For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering, wrongfully.”  1 Peter 2:17-19

A man could not for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully, unless conscience toward God had compelled him to disobey some command laid upon him.  This statement, immediately following the exhortation to be submissive, plainly shows that disobedience is contemplated as a probability when those in authority are obstinate, stubborn, arrogant and evil.  This is emphasized by the reference to Christ, who suffered wrongfully, yet made no resistance.

“He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth.”  Isaiah 53:7

Christians and Civil Government

“For our conversation (citizenship) is in heaven; from whence also we wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Phil. 3:20

“The one who is a citizen of the heavenly country has no business to meddle with the affairs of earthly governments.  He must leave that business to those who acknowledge that this earth is their home.  If earthly rulers think to regulate the affairs pertaining to the kingdom of God, they are guilty of gross presumption, to say the least.  But if they may not presume to regulate the affairs of the kingdom of heaven, much less may the citizens of heaven interfere in the affairs of earthly kingdoms.”  Ibid. p 13.188

Making Earth Heaven

“Many Christians and ministers of the gospel seek to justify their dealing in politics by saying that it is their duty to make this earth the kingdom of heaven.  But regeneration is accomplished only by God’s spirit working upon individual hearts, and cannot be controlled by men.  The kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of Christ, but only “the zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.”  Rev 11:15; Isa 9:7.

There will be a new earth, in which only righteousness will dwell, but it will be only after the coming of the day of the Lord.  2 Peter 3:10-13.  It will not be brought about by political action.  We must preach and teach the Word.  In no other way in the world can men be made better.

Keeping the Peace

6 For this cause, pay your taxes also; for they are God’s ministers, perpetuated for this self-same thing.

7 Render to all their dues; taxes to whom taxes are due; tribute to whom tribute is due, fear to whom fear is due; honor to whom honor is due;

We must be subject to earthly governments for conscience’ sake; and for this cause also we must pay tribute and perform every duty of that nature that is laid upon us.  Taxes may be heavy, and even unjust, but that does not warrant us to rebel.  The apostle James speaks to rich men who oppress the poor, and his language applies as well when they are in public office as when in private life.  He says:

“You have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; you have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.  You have condemned and killed the just; and he does not resist you.”  James 5:5,6

Note this, the “just” do not resist.  Why not?  Because of the injunction; 

“If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.  Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath; for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”  Romans 12:18.19

As the subjects of the King of peace, and citizens of His kingdom, we are bound to live peaceably with all men.  Hence we cannot fight even in self-defense.   In this, Christ the Prince of peace is our example.

Fear and Terror

Only the evil workers are afraid of rulers.  Well-doers have no fear.  This is not because all rulers are good; for we know that many are not.  “The broad empire of Rome filled the world, and the one who ruled it when Paul wrote to the Romans was the most vile and cruel of all the monsters who governed it.  Nero put men to death for the mere pleasure of killing them.  Well might he strike terror in the hearts of men; yet the Christians could be calm, because their trust was I God.

“Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid.”  Isaiah 12:2

8 Owe no man anything, but to love one another; for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law

9 For this, “Thou shalt not commit adultery; Thou shalt not kill; Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

10 Love does no harm to his neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

Since he who loves his neighbor from the heart must also love God, and love is the keeping of His commandments, it is evident that the apostle Paul has set forth in this exhortation the whole duty of man.  He who heeds this exhortation can never do anything for which earthly governments can justly condemn him, even though he is ignorant of their laws.  He who fulfils the law of love will never come in conflict with the powers that be.  If they oppress him, they are fighting not against him but against the King whom he serves.

Were the Ten Commandments “done away with” at the Cross?

One very important note about verse 10:  “Love is the fulfilling of the law.”  Many denominations claim that the Ten Commandments were “done away with” at the Cross and we no longer need to keep them (at least not the fourth commandment – The Seventh-day Sabbath – Saturday) , because when Jesus came to earth and died for our sins, He “fulfilled” the law and therefore “did away with it,” according to these church leaders.

But Jesus clearly stated,

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets; I am NOT come to destroy, but to fulfill.  Matthew 5:17Return

These same religious leaders are assuming that, even though Jesus said He did NOT come to DESTROY the Law, that the word “fulfill” somehow means “to do away with” or “to destroy.”

But here we learn that “LOVE - is the fulfilling of the law” and LOVE is the cause AND the result of keeping ALL Ten Commandments.  When Jesus was asked, “Master, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?

Jesus responded,

“Thou shalt LOVE the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind,

This is the first and greatest commandment

And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt LOVE thy neighbor as thyself.

On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” 
Matt 22: 36-40

LOVE is the “fulfilling” of the Law – to LOVE God and to LOVE your neighbor (which means EVERYONE) IS the fulfilling of the Law.  Because Jesus was/is LOVE, in that way He “fulfilled” the LAW.  We too, will fulfill the law, when we LOVE God and our neighbor with all our heart!

It is possible to legislate “goodness”?

“Some have supposed that verses 8-10 define the limit of civil authority, and show that men may legislate concerning ‘the second table of the law,’ but concerning no other portion of the law of God.  Two things kept in mind will show the fallacy of this: (1) The epistle is not addressed to rulers, but to individual Christians, as a guide for their private conduct.  If the duty of rulers were here laid down, they, and not the brethren, would have been addressed.  (2) ‘The law is spiritual,’ and consequently none of it is within the power of human legislation.  Take the commandment, ‘Thou shalt not covet,’ no human power could enforce that, or even tell if it was violated.  But that commandment is no more spiritual than the other nine.  The language is addressed to the brethren, and the sum of it is this; Live in love, and you will wrong no man, and need have no fear of any rulers.”  Ibid. p 13.190

The End Approaches

The remainder of the chapter is devoted to exhortations that need no comment.  Their special force is derived from the fact that ‘the end of all things is at hand.”  Therefore we should “be sober, and watch unto prayer.”  Although living in the night, when darkness covers the earth (Isaiah 60:2), Christians are children of the light and of the day, leaving off works of darkness.

11 And that, being aware of the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now is our salvation nearer than when we first believed.

 12 The night progresses, yet the day is near; We then should be putting off the acts of darkness, yet should be putting on the implements of light.

13 Let us walk respectably in the day, not in revelries and drunkenness, not in licentiousness and in wantonness, not in strife and jealousy,

14 but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the lusts of the flesh.

Those who put on the Lord Jesus Christ will not themselves be seen.  Christ alone will appear.  He who is crucified with Christ, can say,

“I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.:  Galatians 2:20

And in that case he will conduct himself towards rulers and private persons just as Christ did, “because as He is, so are we in this world.”

How far is it possible for the Christian to live at peace with all men?

“It is possible for him to be at peace with all men, so far as he himself is concerned, all the time.  For he is dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto Christ.  Christ dwells in his heart by faith, and Christ is the Prince of peace.  Then there are no circumstances under which the Christian is justified in losing his temper and declaring war either against an individual or a government . . .”  Ibid, p 13.191

If those in authority steel their hearts against the truth of God, and will not be affected by the truth, they will make trouble, but the trouble will be on their part; with us there will be peace all the time.

“If you suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are you; and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts; and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asks you a reason of the hope (literally – expectation) that is in you with meekness and fear.”  1 Peter 3:14,15

Don’t be afraid of the terror.  Why?  Because we have sanctified the Lord God in our hearts, and He is our fear.  God is with us, Christ is with us, and when men cast reproaches upon us, they cast them upon our Savior.  The most important thing for all of us who have this truth that is bound to bring us into trouble with the powers that be, is to sanctify the Lord God in our hearts by the Spirit of God and His word.  We must become students of the Word of God, and followers of Christ and His gospel.

It is our duty to preach the gospel; to arise and let our light shine, and if we do that, God will hold the winds as long as they ought to be held.  But the gospel will never be brought to the world by people who keep quiet about it, but by those who have their trust in God, and are not afraid to speak the words that He has given them.

In doing this we will not take our lives into our hands, our lives will be hid with Christ in God and He will care for them.  The truth will be brought to this high place simply by men and women going forth and preaching the gospel and obeying that which they preach.  Let the people know the truth.  If we have a peaceful time in which to spread it, we will be thankful for that.  And if men make laws that would seem to cut off the channels through which it can go, we can be thankful that we worship a God who makes even the wrath of men to praise Him; and He will do it,  - He will spread His gospel by means of those very laws that wicked men have enacted to crush out its life.

God holds the winds and He commands us to carry the message.  He will hold them as long as it is best for them to be held.  Our job is to teach the Good News about God, to tell the truth about prophecy, and God will open the eyes and ears of those destined to “hear.”

The final answer to the question of the Believer and Civil Government is:  “We ought to obey God rather than men.”  Acts 5:29

© Lorraine Day, M.D. 2007. All Rights Reserved.
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