Submit to the Civil Authorities – The Reasons

In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans 
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005 
Part 69b of 83 

2. The Reasons 

Paul gives us 3 reasons. 

a. First, we must submit to the civil government because they are appointed by God. 

1b For there is no power but of God:  the powers that be are ordained of God. 2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God:  

The civil government may come into power by various means such as conquest, coupe, subtlety, dynastic ascension, or by a free democratic election. But yet, they are ultimately in the position of power by the providential appointment of God.  

6 For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south.  7 But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another.”

Ps 75:6-7

All authorities are established by God. As the prophet Daniel taught King Nebuchadnezzar, “the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will” (Dan 4:17).  

In whichever way the ruler obtained his authority, he has power ultimately because God has vested it upon him. “The powers that be are ordained of God,” says Paul. They are the ministers or servants of God (v. 4).  

Therefore, whoever resists the power, resists the ordinance of God. That is to say, whoever rebels against the authority, rebels against what God has instituted, and therefore rebels against God Himself. 

The child of God will never want to offend God, much less rebel against Him. Therefore, we must submit to the civil authority appointed over us. We must do so out of loving submission to God. 

We must not hold to the mistaken idea that while and breaking the law of God is not OK, breaking the civil law is OK. No, no; if you have no good reason to break the civil law, you are sinning against God when you do so. 

b. But secondly, we must submit to the civil government to avoid wrath. 

Paul adds in verse 2… 

2b and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. 

God himself will bring judgment upon those who refuse to submit to the civil authority or rebel against the civil authority. How will he bring judgment? Paul suggests that it will usually be through the civil authority itself.  

3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: 4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. 

God appointed civil authorities as His servants for the good of the people. Their role is to protect the honest citizens of the land by restraining and punishing those who do evil. The civil authority bears the sword on God’s behalf. It is His agent of wrath. They have to answer to God if they cross their boundaries and begin to implement laws for their political gains, self-aggrandisation or other immoral agendas contrary to God’s Moral Law. But that is another subject.  

For the moment, Paul’s emphasis is that believers must submit to the civil authorities on all things lawful and legal. On the other hand, it is evil to rebel against the civil authorities. Why? Because that would be to violate the 5th Commandment! 

If we do evil, by breaking God’s laws or by breaking the good laws of the land, then we do deserve to be chastised.  

Then if the civil authority were to penalise us, it would have the LORD’s approval. It would be executing God’s wrath. So we must submit to the authority to avoid God’s wrath. If we love the Lord, surely we will not want to grieve Him, and He has indicated in His word that He is angry when we refuse to submit to the civil authority He has set over us. 

c. Thirdly, we must submit to the civil authorities for conscience’s sake. 

The civil government has been appointed by God. It is the ordinance of God. Therefore, if we fail to submit to the civil government, we will have an evil conscience not only towards the government, but also towards God. So Paul says: 

5 Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.  

That is, even if you escape punishment from the civil authority because your crime is not discovered, your conscience will trouble you. 

If you are caught by the law, your conscience will, of course, trouble you. Many years ago I was stopped by the traffic police for speeding along the Canadian mountain highway. How embarrassed I was! It troubled me for months! As a Christian, be sure that your conscience will trouble you whenever the hand of the law is on your shoulder. 

But do not think that if you are not caught, it would not be a problem. Unless your heart has been hardened by repeated sin, your conscience will trouble you when you break the law of the land—regardless of whether you are discovered. 

Will not your conscience trouble you if you dash a red light in the middle of the night? I think, if you are walking with the Lord, it will trouble you for you know that although the police may not catch you, God sees and God knows you have violated His ordinance. 

Here then are three inter-related reasons why we must submit to the civil authority. First, the civil authority is appointed by God and bears His authority. To disobey the government is to disobey God. Secondly, the civil authority has God’s warrant to punish all who rebel against it. Thirdly, our conscience—which is God’s deputy in our soul—will not allow us to disobey the civil government without afflicting us. 

These, then are the reasons why we must submit to the civil authorities and not break the laws of the land. Laws are not made to be broken. They are made to be kept. We must keep the civil laws out of love and obedience to God. As long as the laws do not violate God’s laws, Christians must be the most law-abiding citizens in the land. 

But apart from submitting to the rule of the authorities and obeying their laws, what other obligations do we have towards the civil government.  

…to be Continued Next Issue 

—JJ Lim