Obeying God or Government?

(Mark 12:17) “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

As New Covenant believers in the Messiah our Lord Jesus we are instructed to obey those who govern us. Having said this does it mean that we should do everything that the government tells us to do? We know that God establishes kings and removes them but expects them to seek His wisdom and knowledge and if they do this then He will increase His wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning (Daniel 2:19-22).

We are also told in the Bible that it is God who judges the thoughts and intents of the hearts of leaders and that He brings down one and exults another (1 Samuel 16:7) (Psalm 75:7). We are told in the New Testament that “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous, and good” (Romans 7:12). The governments God sets up are to be ones that promote holiness, righteousness and that are good for the well-being of those over whom He places leaders, and His expectation is that those leaders will rule according to His holy, just and righteous laws and commandments.

When you consider the Ten Commandments these are the most perfect set of laws given to man written personally by the very finger of God Himself, who by His eternal nature is holy, righteous, just and good (Exodus 31:18). Any government God sets up He knows that the rulers are human but still expects them to govern according to His laws and according to the light they have and so they are without excuse if they choose to ignore His law and commandments (Romans 1:20). This is lawful government that God ordains if it lines up with His principles for holiness, righteousness and justice.

Now let’s look at this from Romans Chapter 13:1-7 beginning at verse one…

(Vs.1 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.”

While God oversees everything He has made and has everything under His control including those who govern nations He has only one set of Laws which He has given to man to be governed by. As it has been stated something along these lines that “men can only rightly govern who themselves are governed by God.” Now God sets up governments having in view that they will govern wisely and according to His laws and commandments. When we see a wicked government mandating unholy, unrighteous and unjust laws do we have to still obey what they tell us to do? Have they in fact been ordained by God? Does God establish wicked men to govern nations? He permits it for His own purposes but in no way endorses it.

The Bible tells us about the kind of kingdom God establishes when it says that “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; loving devotion and faithfulness go before You” (Psalm 89:14). As God said to Moses concerning the laws He has decreed for man; “And what nation is great enough to have righteous statutes and ordinances like this entire law I set before you today?” (Deuteronomy 4:8). And again it is written “righteousness and justice are His throne’s foundation” (Psalm 97:2). Therefore the government He establishes, that He accepts, is that government which promotes holiness, righteousness, goodness and justice. No human government is perfect of course but the ones God establishes are to govern according to what He mandates as holy, righteous, good and just. If they do not seek to do this then He removes them. As it is written in the Book of Proverbs; “He who is often rebuked, and hardens his neck, will suddenly be destroyed and that without remedy” (Proverbs 29:1).

Any other laws that man makes that are not in accordance with what God calls lawful government are not established by Him and where there is a wicked and unprincipled man in a position of power in government God oppose him and eventually deposes him. God’s Word is clear on this and there are many references in the Bible where God blesses the righteous but curses the unrighteous. The very foundation of a kingdom He approves of must reflect His throne of authority established and grounded upon righteousness and justice for all.

Any deviation from this He does not approve of. If He did then He would be approving wickedness and we know that He does not sin but He is pre untainted light and no wickedness or inherent evil dwells in Him at all (1 John 1: 5) (James 1:17) The Lord Jesus, being God who became flesh and tabernacled among us, was always and is also without sin (John 8:46) (1 Peter 2:22) (Hebrews 4:15) (1 John 3:5). So then the government we must obey is one that is holy, just, righteous and good. If our leaders are promoting the principles of God’s kingdom, even though they do not know Him, then we are commanded to obey them. Now let’s continue…

(Vs.2-4) “Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behaviour, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.”

Where there are evil, unrighteous, unjust laws and commandments that God has not ordained being forced upon those over whom wicked and unprincipled politicians govern then as Bible believers we are not obliged to obey these governing authorities because our first and foremost duty is to obey God rather than men! (Acts 5:29). As New Covenant believers we render to Caesar the things that are of Caesars but render to God the things that are Gods. Resisting authority in this context is resisting those in government who are seeking to maintain just and righteous laws even though they may not know the God who gave us those good laws. Where there is law being practiced based on God’s laws then we are to comply and if we do not then we will find ourselves resisting God and come under His condemnation for such rebellion.

Just and righteous rulers, imperfect as they are because of the fallen sinful nature of man, are to be obeyed and recognised as those whom God has ordained to keep evil in check. If we are law abiding citizens under such laws then we are to have no fear in obeying them as they are not promoting laws that go contrary to what God approves of in His Word, the Bible. However, if we violate those laws that have God’s approval then we will reap the consequences of our actions because those who govern according to God’s laws have the authority from God to use it to punish evil. This kind of government “does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.”

We know from the Bible that there are blessings and curses attached to the laws and commandments of God, blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience (Deuteronomy Chapter 28). These principles of life according to the way God has planned it are the foundation of any earthly throne He has established. Good is rewarded and evil is punished. Let’s continue…

(Vs.5-7) Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.”

If we want to avoid being punished by the law then we need to obey those earthly rulers whom God has placed over us. They are far from perfect, yet if the laws they are maintaining are just and fair, then we are to comply. Also our conscience is a factor in working and walking out our faith. While our faith is nurtured and built upon the foundation of God’s Word (Romans 10:17) our faith is also to be monitored by our conscience, especially if we know the Word of God and are seeking to obey it.

If we have the Holy Spirit living down on the inside of us then He will be controlling our conscience and we are not to ignore our conscience when considering the laws we are under. By ignoring our conscience we can make shipwreck of our faith if we do not listen to its voice. As Paul writes to Timothy; “…holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and thereby shipwrecked their faith” (1 Timothy 1:19).

We should pay taxes and obey the law if the laws do not go contrary to the Word of God. Added to this we also need to recognize that the law and law enforcement have been established by God for our protection and welfare. We know that some politicians and law enforcement officers are corrupt and devious and deceivers and often enforce laws that are anything but just, righteous and good. In such cases we should continue to pray for them as this is commanded in scripture that we pray for all kings and for those in authority who govern us that they might be governed by God and that we might live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness as this is good and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth as this is God’s priority for all men (1 Timothy 2:1-4) (2 Peter 3:9).

If we pray for our leaders both the good and the not so good then this is acceptable to God our Saviour and in doing this they might yet be saved. Alternately, if the leaders are wicked and enforcing and mandating practices and legislation that are oppressive, tyrannical and of a totalitarian nature and are being perpetrated against faithful believers and upon people who cannot defend themselves, then we can ask God to remove them while at the same time leaving room for God’s vengeance which, when it comes, will be more just than anything we may conjure up in our deep minds.

As Paul writes; “If it is possible on your part, live at peace with everyone. Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but leave room for God’s wrath. For it is written: “Vengeance is Mine; I will repay, says the Lord.” On the contrary, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. For in so doing, you will heap burning coals on his head” (Romans 12:18-20).

While we are to pray for the salvation of those who persecute us even if we do not feel like doing it, we have the comfort in knowing that in the end, if they refuse to be saved even after hearing the gospel, then God will avenge us as His own elect who have been crying out to Him day and night to avenge us and He will do it quickly (Luke 18:7-9). We also know from the Book of revelation that the souls under the altar of those dear believers who are being killed for their faith are crying out for justice and that they will be compensated after the rest of their brethren have been martyred (Revelation 6:10-11). There is a place for this kind of prayer that wants to see justice prevail against those who are wilfully persecuting God’s people.

We know that the Lord Jesus prayed for His enemies and taught us to do the same. However, the day will come when the Lord Jesus will come back, not with the meekness of a lamb, but with the power of a lion. As the prophet Amos declares; “The Lord Will roar from Zion” (Amos 1:2). When the Lion of the Tribe of Judah roars every institution of man that God has not established on earth will be shaken to its very core (Haggai 2:6-7). When the Messiah our Lord Jesus comes back it will be payback time for the wicked who have persecuted His people and rejected His laws and commandments and especially for the leaders of nations who have not sought to govern according to the Law of God (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9).

So then we are to render to our government leaders what is due to them, “tax to whom tax is due; custom (respect) to whom custom is due; fear (reverence) to whom fear is due; honour to whom honour is due.” If what we are being asked to do by our government does not go against God’s Word and our conscience, then we are to obey those who govern us because they are there by God’s decree and to disobey them is to disobey the Lord. In this way we will be empowered by the blessed Holy Spirit to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”