Q: Should Christians Always Obey Civil Government?
God instituted civil government in the Noahic Covenant after the universal flood (Gen. 9:6, 8–17) to protect human life and maintain order and peace within nations (Rom. 13:1–7).
Government exists to promote the greater good in society, punish lawbreakers, keep order, and provide tranquility. People who resist or disobey the law usually suffer judgment at the hands of officials elected to enforce it. Even though many governments are extremely corrupt, God’s command is to obey the government in power, no matter how bad it might be. People everywhere are also commanded to pay taxes to fund the government (v. 7).
Remember, the apostle Paul wrote the book of Romans when Nero was emperor of Rome. Nero was a heinous tyrant whose unspeakable brutality led him to burn Christians alive and feed them to the lions in the Roman arena.
Paul also commands Christians to pray and give thanks for all people in authority so that we may lead quiet and peaceable lives (1 Tim. 2:2). The apostle Peter issued the same command.
Some Christians oppose government laws, policies, regulations, and leaders whose authority they consider unjust or contrary to their political beliefs or ideologies. Often, they join groups that not only speak out in opposition but sometimes resort to violence. Those who oppose government laws are not at liberty to give non-scriptural excuses for their disobedience. Rather, they should respectfully subject themselves to the government as divinely ordained in Scripture.
The question is often asked, “Do God’s people ever have the right to disobey government?” The answer is yes, but with stipulations. A believer may only disobey laws that are immoral and specifically stated as such in Scripture. For example, we are not to worship a heathen god, practice idolatry, blaspheme God, steal, abuse parents, commit murder or adultery, or bear false witness against another person.
Here are a few biblical examples of laws that were acceptable to disobey:
1. Pharaoh’s order that Jewish midwives murder all male infants (Ex. 1:17).
2. Nebuchadnezzar’s order to bow to a gold image. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego refused (Dan. 3:16–18).
3. Darius’s decree to pray to him alone or be cast into the lions’ den. Daniel disobeyed (Dan. 6:7–10).
4. Jewish leaders’ demands that Peter and John not teach in Jesus’ name (Acts 4:18–20). They refused to obey (5:29).
In all these situations, keeping God’s moral laws and commandments was a higher obligation than obeying the laws of human government. That said, Christians should faithfully abide by the laws of the country in which they reside, as Scripture demands.