Romans chapter twelve begins the practical section of the book of Romans which is based upon the doctrinal section of the first eleven chapters. Understanding and experiencing the love and mercy of God through faith in Jesus Christ changes our relationships. God’s mercy motivates us to love Him and offer ourselves to Him as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2). God’s mercy motivates us to love our neighbors as ourselves beginning with our brothers and sisters in Christ (Romans 12:3-16). We have received mercy and so we show mercy. We are sinners saved by grace and not by our own good deeds or superiority so we do not think too highly of ourselves nor look down on others. God’s mercy also motivates us to love non-Christians and even our enemies (Romans 12:17-21) even as God loved us while we were sinners and His enemies.
After dealing with how God’s mercy affects those relationships, the apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, focused on how God’s mercy is to affect the Christian’s relationship to civil government (Romans 13:1-7). As Christians, the effect of God’s mercy on us is to affect our citizenship in this world – we are to be the best citizens in whatever nation God has planted us. Whether one lives in the United States of America under a system of democracy or in China under a system of communism; no matter where one lives, as a Christian, he or she is to be the best citizen of that nation.
We must not forget that Romans 13:1-7 are universal in their application regardless of the form of government in which one lives. We must also remember that God in His sovereignty determines where men will live – there are no accidents. “He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:25-27). So the application of these verses is universal regardless of the form of government one lives under. Following God’s guidelines for civic duties Christians can maintain both their witness and their conscience.
What, then, are the Christian’s duties to civil government? Primarily there are two civic duties for Christians found in this text. It is the Christians civic duty to submit to government authority (Romans 13:1-5) and it is the Christians civic duty to support government authority (Romans 13:6-7).
First, it is the Christian’s civic duty to submit to government authority (Romans 13:1-5). There are two main reasons that Christians are to submit to government authority: One, because it has a divinely appointed position (Romans 13:1-2); two, because it has a divinely appointed purpose – to praise or punish (Romans 13:3-5).
Christians submit to government authority because it has a divinely appointed position (Romans 13:1-2). Government is ordained by God – it is divinely appointed – it is instituted by God (Romans 13:1). The word “subjection” means to submit to the absolute authority of a superior officer. Paul gave no qualification or condition for this command to be obeyed. Every civil authority is to be submitted to willingly. Submission is not based on the personality or performance of those in authority but on love for and trust in God – He is sovereign and in control. We submit to government because it is from God and established by God.
Resisting government is equivalent to resisting God (Romans 13:2). Since all authority comes from God and those which exist are established by God, government is His institution and rebellion against government is rebellion against God. Opposing the laws of the government will bring condemnation upon the law-breaker and if the person is a professing Christian it harms his or her witness and conscience. Christians can and should submit to government without condoning whatever evil it may be guilty of perpetuating. God will deal with the evil of governments – Christians are to be the best citizens of their government through their submission.
Christians submit to government authority because it has a divinely appointed purpose (Romans 13:3-5). God established government and gave it authority for the purpose of maintaining order and justice in this world of fallen mankind. Government is to praise its citizens of good behavior (Romans 13:3). Government is intended by God for your good and is His minister whether it knows it or not and whether we believe it or not (Romans 13:4a). But government is also to punish its citizens of evil behavior (Romans 13:4b-5). Government is to execute wrath upon evil-doers (Romans 13:4). Since it bears the sword, government is a tool in the hand of God and has the authority to carry out capital punishment as a minister of God and His vengeance. Government has the divine right to punish through fines, imprisonment and even execution. We submit to government because of its right to punish and for the sake of our consciences (Romans 13:5). To resist government is to defile the conscience.
As Christians it is our civic duty to submit to government authority because of its divinely appointed position and divinely appointed purpose.
Second, it is the Christian’s civic duty to support government authority (Romans 13:6-7). There are two main ways that we support the authority of our government: One, we support it with our resources (Romans 13:6-7c); two, we support it with our respect (Romans 13:7d).
Christians support government authority with their resources (Romans 13:6-7c). Because government has a divinely appointed position and purpose, it is God’s servant and we pay taxes (Romans 13:6). We support government with our resources understanding that God is using it as a minister for our good. With our resources, we render to all what is due them (Romans 13:7a): tax to whom tax is due (Romans 13:7b); custom to whom custom (Romans 13:7c). We support government with our resources.
Christians support government authority with their respect (Romans 13:7d). Since government is God’s servant we support it with our respect. Not only are our minds to be renewed concerning the church, they are also to be renewed concerning the state. It is our civic duty to submit to government authority and support government authority for the Lord’s sake.