Submission to Authority

Hi everyone,

Christians have “wrestled” (a favorite term of my pastor) with the concept of submitting to authority since the time of Christ. “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” Jesus forced His enemies to pull out the hated Roman coin and answer the humiliating question, “Whose image is this?” My question is what does the “image” of obedience to Caesar and God in this multicultural world look like? Most of us live in the United States under President Biden, others live under prime ministers with the names Trudeau, Johnson and Modi (apologies for overlooking any). While trying to minimize the political slant here, I believe all of them have not acted for the well-being of their countrymen, let me leave it like that.

Romans 13:1-6 is my “default” Scripture for this subject and I’d bet it is for many Christians. Peter also touches on this in 1 Peter 2:13-14. I would like to bring a third Scripture to this discussion, one that really tests our priorities: “ First of all, then, I urge that requests, prayers, intercessions, and thanks be offered on behalf of all people, even for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. Such prayer for all is good and welcomed before God our Savior, since he wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 2:5 For there is one God and one intermediary between God and humanity, Christ Jesus, himself human (1 Ti 2:1–5, NET Bible). The issue is authority here, regardless of how the ruler came into power (representative republic, votes in parliament, militarily, etc.) The book of Daniel, among its many themes, is that God sets rulers up and removes them when they have served His purposes. He is sovereign over how they enter office: money, violence, media, organization, you name it. The inspired human writers of Scriptures wrote when terrible people were in power such as Nebuchadnezzar and Nero, yes Nero! If Peter and Paul taught submission to leaders during that wicked man’s rule, how little excuse does anyone living in a western democracy have for ungodly disobedience!

I heard that Franklin Graham caused a firestorm on Twitter for asking for prayers for Mr. Putin of Russia. They were as biblical as could be. Yet, he was condemned by some. Something similar applies to President Trump (trying to stay a-political here) when in office: cursing him was not only tolerated in many quarters but actively encouraged. Fast-forward to 2021 and the vulgar language happens to President Biden and there is outrage among some over the “loss of civility” over such language. Mr. Biden is my president now as much as Mr. Trump was four years earlier. To say “that person is not my president” is anarchy and the Bible roundly condemns such chaos.

This brings up the thorny subject of leaders and spokesmen in the Christian community about “speaking truth to power.” If they speak it has to be consistent regardless of who is in power at the moment. They are representing Lord and not a political party, social movement or whatever captures the public’s attention at the moment.

I don’t have as much time and energy as I would like for our community so I am aiming for topics like this that are of utmost importance, cross-cultural and stimulating. This was my initial impression of the community and what attracted me to it.


Hi @jeff,

This is an interesting question that might push a lot of buttons. I will remind all participants to avoid partisan jabs and stirring the pot. :slight_smile:

Still, it’s one we need to consider. I’ll start with a reflection on this part of your post:

This brings up the thorny subject of leaders and spokesmen in the Christian community about “speaking truth to power.” If they speak it has to be consistent regardless of who is in power at the moment. They are representing Lord and not a political party, social movement or whatever captures the public’s attention at the moment.

I think one of the ways that Christians in my context, the USA, have lost credibility is their allegiance to one political party over another. As I’ve heard it said, when you mix faith with politics, you get politics.

Consequently, to many observers, it seems like Christians are less interested in loving their neighbors in allegiance to Christ; rather, we appear to be interested in leveraging our religion to gain political power for ourselves.

As reported by The Baptist Press, here’s a comment from the academic Nilay Saiya, who has studied this trend worldwide:

The politicization of Christianity is repelling potential converts to Christianity who see the Christian faith as nothing more than a political movement. It is also driving away Christians themselves who no longer can tolerate their faith being equated with a particular party or the ideology of Christian nationalism.

However, we engage with this question, we need to search our hearts to identify our loyalties.

And within this community, I again will point us to The Cape Town Commitment as one of our statements of faith. If you read it carefully, I think you will find that it is at odds with every political party.


Hi @jeff ,

Thanks for raising this question. As @Carson said, it’s one that can trigger a lot of people, so I appreciate the opportunity to practice discussing this so that others are edified rather than riled. It’s a good habit to cultivate.

I was drawn to your reference of Romans 13:1-7 because I have heard it quoted a lot in the last couple of years. In this passage, Paul is exhorting Christians to submit to authority as God put them in this position, so to rebel against human authority would be to rebel against what God has put in place. Again, you referred to Paul writing under Nero who is one of the most infamous examples of a ruler abusing his position of authority. So I think it’s important to discuss 2 main aspects of this Romans passage:

  1. Was Paul suggesting Christians should submit to and OBEY Nero when he wrote this passage?
  2. Should we always submit even if our consciences (under the direction of the Holy Spirit) tell us that the authority and subsequent laws are not of God?

As I’ve considered this myself over the last couple of years, I’ve formed a rudimentary framework to weigh it up:

  • what was God’s purpose in creating mankind? Answer: Relationship with Him and community with each other, (ie to love God and to love my neighbour as myself - Deuteronomy 6:4-5)
  • does this ruler/law block or work against God’s kingdom and design for mankind? Does it attempt to impede the spread of the Gospel?

I’ve used this framework to avoid getting all ‘political’ about issues. I don’t want my motivation to be all about a political party or tradition, because I’ve noticed these become pointless and damaging quarrels within church. Instead, if we can keep our focus on the Gospel message, it’s helped me personally as I’ve wrestled with this.

So to return to Romans 13:1-7. I’m still growing in my understanding, so I’m happy for others to correct me here, but this is how I’ve understood it so far:

Firstly, the law, if good, will do good. Why would we go against this? I’ve outlined above my definition of how I interpret good (God’s kingdom). If we act evilly against these good laws, it is a clear sin. Putting this in the context of Nero and Paul, I wonder what Paul was getting at. Was he suggesting Christians submit to the laws of burning Christians as candles at Nero’s palace or being subjected to death in the arena?

In verse 1, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities”, Paul uses the Greek word ‘hypotasso’ which means ‘to subject’ or ‘be subject to’. There’s another, stronger word which is ‘hupakouo’ which neither Paul nor Peter use for obedience in this context whereas it is used when referring to wind and waves obeying Jesus (Mark 4:41). ‘Hypotasso’ is used in reference to wives submitting to husbands (Colossians 3:18) or submitting to elders (1 Peter 5:5). This difference suggests that ‘to submit’ does not mean ‘to obey’. There are limits on the authority that God has given our rulers, and if they step outside these limits, we as Christians need to use wisdom in how far we obey. If the authorities and laws are to do good, then we as Christians should submit and obey. If they start to do evil, then we need to reconsider. Evil isn’t always obvious, and some Christians will have different perspectives depending on their personal experiences, level of research and sources of research.

This leads to another issue for a prayerful Christian; that of conscience. Perhaps a topic for another time, but my own reflection of these issues and subsequent choices according to my conscience has sometimes lead me to different conclusions to other Christians. I think we need a lot of grace for each other as we navigate these waters. It’s an issue Christians faced 2,000 years ago, and is something we continue to have to consider.


Submission to Authority

Hi @jeff ,
Thank you for bringing up such an important topic. While I agree that it’s easy to see the question as one with political implications and great potential for partisan viewpoints. But it doesn’t really get to the heart of what God’s intent is when he says to be submitted to governing authorities.

I must say that I’m right with you. I’m so grateful to have found this community yet at the same time recognize that I don’t have the time to really engage as much as I want. But this is one topic that has been close to my heart. And I believe close to the Lord’s heart as well.

As I was reading through your post, I was reminded of Micah 6:8. I just couldn’t shake how the idea that this simple verse contains what could be seen as an anthem for those truly submitted to God’s authority and trusting Him to wisely establish earthly authority for our protection.

Act justly… seek what is just in this world. If the governing authorities have enacted unjust policies and practices, then it is good to speak, “truth to power,” and stand up for those without justice. But please don’t take this too far and think I’m speaking of a subjective form of justice that is shaped by popular opinion or sentiment. Because, an unjust act done to correct an unjust act, does not a just act make. Instead I think it is this mandate from the Lord that has compelled Christians throughout history to stand up against injustices and initiate change within their social & governmental context.

Seek mercy…I tend to think that to be truly merciful is to demonstrates an unflappable reliance on a good, just, sovereign, and loving God. The reality of His character and faithfulness means we don’t need to take matters into our own hands when others have wronged us. For what is mercy if not sparing another that has wronged you?

Walk humbly with your God…isn’t this the heart of the matter? It’s an acknowledgement that I don’t have the full picture and I can trust that He’s got this. I think it is this humility that expressed in Romans 13:1-6, because if we zero in on verse 4 it’s clear to see that God’s rule over the government is the point.

vs. 4 For government is God’s servant for your good… For government is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong.

The passage in Micah brought to mind Daniel 3:16-18 and how Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied to the king with an attitude of submission to the governing authority and a reply of confidence in God without a presumption of what God will do. Though they did not obey the command of the king, they did not rebel against his rule and cause a revolt. Instead, they submitted themselves to whatever the king chose to do saying,

vs. 17-18
"If the God we serve exists, then He can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and He can rescue us from the power of you, the king. But even if He does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up.”

They understood that the king was a servant of God just like them.

In Numbers 22 & 23 we read about how Balaam was hired by Balak to speak a curse over the people of Israel. This story can be used to illustrate how God’s authority has the purpose of providing protection for God’s people. In Numbers 22:41, 23:13-14, & 28 we can see that Balak and Balaam keep going to higher and higher places, seeking a position higher than God’s authority, he could not supersede the Sovereign God. Years ago I was struck by the reality that there is no authority higher than God’s authority. That truth has sustained me even when I see and experience the pain of an authority lording it over me or others. Ultimately, I can trust that God has a higher purpose than my own and it is for my good.

Balaam’s story contains a cautionary point relevant to this discussion that is also echoed Peter and Paul’s exhortations to submit to authority. Balaam, understanding the concept of authority as protection and also motivated by the great reward promised by Balak, taught Balak how to bring God’s people out from under God’s covering. Moses mentions it in Numbers 31:16 and Jesus condemns it in Revelation 2:14. If Balak can get the people of Israel to practice idolatry, sexual immorality, and abandon God’s law, they are in effect willingly coming out from under the covering that God’s authority affords.

The reality is that politics will still come into play. Generally speaking, and at a high level, I used to feel that the different parties had a similar goal, “make things better for those they govern” and much of the debate revolved around disagreement about HOW that can be accomplished. However, I no longer believe they are motivated by such a high ideal. Instead, the individuals in government can easily become focused on their own gains and it is easy for us to slip into partisanship when we realize that. At that point, at least for me, I must remind myself that they are God’s servants, and my duty is to pray for them with the anthem of Micah 6:8 in mind. I also must focus on my responsibility to be an ambassador of the King I represent. Paul seemed to pivot to this mindset in Romans 13:11-14.

Thank you again, for bringing up this topic. I’m grateful for the reminder to study and dig in to such an important question in a community of believers that esteems the Word of God as they do.