Don’t use Romans 13 to justify government obedience.

Romans 13 does not ask you to submit unconditional to government. It does tell you that God has established a citizen & government relationship that is required for harmony to happen in any good society.  It requires both citizen and government to fulfill their duty! If one side does not fulfill their duty, you will have chaos.

The Role of the Citizen

Romans is written to a church made up of Roman Citizens, of slaves who had been trafficked there from all over the world including Jerusalem, of merchants and tradespeople who come to Christ from different situations. The author of Romans first tells the church that Citizens are to embrace the authority structure they find themselves in (v1-2)

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted(arranged) by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed(ordained), and those who resist will incur judgment. 

Romans 13:1-2

Here is why he is saying. First, each of us finds ourselves in an authority structure. We must realize the structure is ordained by God and so is the person in the position of authority. The citizen’s role is to “be subject” or hypotassō no matter the type of government.

Hypotassō is not a greek word that means unconditional surrender. It is a word that means active engagement in a relationship. This is the same word that is used in Ephesians 5 in the marriage relationship between husband and wife. As wives are to “be subject” to their husbands, so are citizens to “be subject” to government.

.  So is the person who is there in that position of authority. The citizen’s role is to submit to authority no matter the type of government.

B. Submission is active “Be subject” hypotassō = know your role in the relationship and be engaged. This is the same word used in Ephesians 5 in the marriage relationship between husband and wife. As wives are to submit to their husbands, so citizens are to submit to government.

Does this mean “at all costs, embrace cruelty, endure torture”? Does this mean that government has no responsibility? No.

2. Government is God’s servant to champion moral behaviour (v.3-6)

For rulers are not a terror to good (moral) conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is (morally) good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good (morals). But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.

Romans 13:3-4

A. Summary of verse: government is God’s servant in society – as an external means to champion moral behaviour in your personal life.

word good = agathos ἀγαθός

  • morals / moral behaviour / Godly behaviour
  • this word is not translated “happiness” “or a good life”
  • Romans 16:19 but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.
  • Matthew 19:17 Rich man – “good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life…Jesus “no one is good but god alone”

B. This passage has been misquoted to justify slavery and segregation in the United States, Naziism in Germany, Communism in the USSR, apartheid in South Africa.

This passage does not say – “do whatever the government tells you to do.  Do not question anything they do.  They are there to give you a happy life.  The government is justified in whatever they do because God puts them in power.  If you question them, you are being rebellious”

God has established authority to advance a moral society.  As citizens we need to submit to government as the external means God uses to have us walk morally.


Q. What do you do when government does not fulfill its purpose?

A. We answer to God.  We hold our convictions. We must honour Him first.

Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience

Romans 13:5

For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11 for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess[a] to God.” So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.

Romans 14:11-12
  • Hebrews 11 – the hall of faith…
    • Moses Parents who hid their son when the government wanted to destroy Jewish children under 1 years old. V. 23 By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.
    • Daniel – was told not to pray but he prayed.
    • The prophets (last half of the Old Testament) spoke truth to power who were leading people in an immoral way.
  • Peter & Jon Acts 5:29 “do not preach name of Jesus”  /  “it’s better to obey God rather than men…

Q. What do you do when there is an issue that you deem immoral, but your Christian friend does not believe is immoral?

A. We must walk with others without condemnation.  We must preserve unity in the church.

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother?

Romans 14:5,10

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 15:5-6

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