The Christian’s Duty to Obey and Disobey

Many Christians believe that we should submit to whatever our government says because God has established them per Romans 13. Therefore, we should not resist or disobey the government. But is that the correct biblical position? No, it is not. In fact, the Scriptures contain many instances of true believers defying the ‘governmental’ authorities. I will take a look at this in-depth. But, first, let’s take a look at Romans 13:1-2, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves…“. 

The general principle we derive from Romans 13 is that to submit to civil authority is to submit to God and not disobey any government requirement. This is consistent with the Old Testament. Consider Daniel 2:21 that says it is God who “removes kings and establishes kings.” Therefore, to submit to authority is to submit to God. So far, so good. However…

Resistance to ungodly leaders is biblical: Peter (Acts 5:29)

But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men…” (Acts 5:29).

The apostles had been put in jail for healing people (Acts 5:16-18). An angel opened the prison gates and commanded the apostles to go to the temple to speak about the “message of this Life,” (v. 20). They did so (v. 21, 25) and were apprehended and brought before the religious council (v. 27). The council reminded the apostles that they had been given orders not to preach in Christ’s name (v. 28). But Peter answered, “We must obey God rather than men,” (v. 29). He disobeyed their command.

So we see that the apostles resisted the religious authorities because God, through the angel, had commanded they preach the gospel. Let me remind you that Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 28:19). He has commanded us all to preach the gospel. Doing so will sometimes mean that we do not submit to everything our government tells us to do or not do.

The Jewish Midwives disobeyed the order to kill male children (Exodus 1:15-17)

In the Old Testament, we see where the king of Egypt had ordered the Hebrew midwives to kill all male newborn babies. But, though the functioning’ civil government ‘required this, the people of God disobeyed.

Then the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other was named Puah; and he said, ‘When you are helping the Hebrew women to give birth and see them upon the birthstool, if it is a son, then you shall put him to death; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.” But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live,” (Exodus 1:15–17). They disobeyed their government because murder is forbidden per God in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:13). The midwives deliberately disobeyed the governing authority represented by the king of Egypt because it contradicted God’s law. (Though the Ten Commandments had not yet been written down, there were obvious laws in place against murder.)

This truth against murder applies to the issue of the secular abomination of abortion. Christians should resist and disobey any civil authorities in this matter and not just submit to it.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego disobeyed Nebuchadnezzar’s order to worship false gods (Daniel 3:14-18)

As is often the case, people in authority demand obedience. In the case of Nebuchadnezzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego disobeyed the order to worship false gods. King Nebuchadnezzar then threatened to kill them. But, even in the face of death, they would not comply. Instead, they trusted in God. They knew there was no guarantee that He would deliver them. Yet, they were willing to face death rather than obey the civil authority and worship false gods in violation of Scripture. Take a look at what is recorded. 

Nebuchadnezzar responded and said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? “Now if you are ready, at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery and bagpipe and all kinds of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, very well. But if you do not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?” “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. “But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up,” (Daniel 3:14–18). 

As Christians, we cannot bow down and worship any false god. But, you might ask, “Where does the government demand us to worship a false god?” It doesn’t. Or does it? To worship is to give honor and glory to something and trust in it for deliverance from suffering, hunger, sickness, and more. Is it that much of a stretch to say that our government has become that which lessens our suffering, hunger, and sickness? I cannot help but wonder that far too many people put their hope and trust in the secular government rather than Christ to be their savior and provider. This is worth exploring, but for now, we must understand what Christ said. “…render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s,” (Matthew 22:21).

Of course, our government does not actually force us to bow down before graven images and worship them under the penalty of death. But, our government pushes secularism, promotes the killing of the unborn, promotes homosexuality, and penalizes conservatives, especially Christians, who resist. Functionally, our government sometimes acts as though it is God with its demands of submission, obedience, and compliance. But, we must resist all that is ungodly in any government.

Christians disobeyed the Kings order to seize Paul (2 Corinthians 11:32-33)

In Damascus, the ethnarch under Aretas the king was guarding the city of the Damascenes in order to seize me, and I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and so escaped his hands,” (2 Corinthians 11:32-33). Damascus is a city in Syria outside of Israel. An ethnarch is a ruler who someone from another country gives authority. Aretas was an Arabian King and the father-in-law of Herod Antipas. So, when Paul was in Damascus preaching about Jesus, the Jews there plotted to “do away with him,” (Acts 9:23). But, his disciples lowered him in a large basket through an opening in a wall so that he escaped (Acts 9:22–25).

We see here that a ruler, in concert with the Jews, sought to apprehend Paul. Instead of obeying the wishes of the civil magistrate, Paul’s disciples helped him escape. They did not submit to the governing authority because, again, it violated Scripture.

Does the word of God contradict itself?

In one sense, we are to obey the civil magistrates, but in another, we are not. The dividing line is simple. Whenever the government advocates something that is against Scripture, we are to disobey it. Our obligation is to follow God rather than man (Acts 5:29). 

Therefore, when any government advocates abortion, we are to resist it. When the state approves of homosexuality, we are to resist it. If the state approves of same-sex marriage, we are to resist it. This is significant, especially since the government is promoting and legislating ungodliness.

  • State-approved abortion 
    • Roe v. Wade: The Constitutional Right to Access Safe, Legal Abortion
    • Taxpayers subsidize roughly 24% of all abortion costs in the U.S.
    • State Funding of Abortion Under Medicaid
  • State-approved homosexuality
    • The military holds an event marking gay pride. 
    • “Since 2012…the American government has spent more than $41 million specifically to promote gay rights globally,”
    • Final Rule to Revise the Definition of “Spouse” Under the FMLA
    • President Obama proclaims June 2016 as LGBTQ Pride month
  • State-approved Same-Sex Marriage
    • Federal Marriage Amendment to define marriage between one man and one woman fails to pass in U.S. Congress in 2015
    • Supreme Court Affirms Constitutionality of Gay Marriage
    • Same-Sex Marriage Legalization by Country

Our Christian Duty

Our duty as Christians is to resist and even disobey ungodliness wherever it may be, even in our government. But this does not mean being violent. It does mean that we pray, vote, petition, and show our grievances in compliance with the laws of our land. We are not to be idle and passive. But, like the men and women of the Old Testament and apostles of the New, we are to do what is right in God’s eyes – which sometimes means disobeying the commands of our leaders.

Remember, Scripture reveals that we are to “defend the rights of the afflicted and needy,” (Proverbs 31:9), “reprove the ruthless and defend the orphan,” (Isaiah 1:17), “do justice to the afflicted and destitute…and deliver them out of the hand of the wicked,” (Psalm 82:3-4). We are to have no other gods but the true and living God (Exodus 20:3). We are to resist the sin of abortion (Exodus 20:13; Psalm 82:3-4). We are to resist the rise and promotion of homosexuality (Leviticus 20:13; 2 Peter 2:6-9). We are to resist the redefinition of marriage to accommodate sin (Mark 10:6). Resistance is biblical when it means to defy the decrees, laws, and commands of the ungodly leaders above us ( Exodus 1:15-21; 1 Samuel 14:24, 43-46; Jeremiah 26:10-16; Daniel 3:14-18; Matthew 2:7-12; 2 Corinthians 11:32-33).

Yet, whenever possible, we are to be at peace with all men (Romans 12:18) and obey the civil authorities (Romans 13:1-4). But, we don’t submit to leadership if it means compromising the truth of God’s word. “We must obey God rather than man,” (Acts 5:29). 

The information contained in this message was obtained from the Christian Apologetics Research Ministry.

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