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Romans 13: Who is the Higher Authority?

Romans 13: Who is the Higher Authority?

by Dominic MacAulay

A problem many Christians in America struggle with when contending with the unconstitutionalities of our Government officials is text of Romans 13. This particular passage written by Paul to the church in Rome reads as such:

"Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 

Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended.

For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience."

This is the main phrase used by many christians to say that it is absolutely crucial that you obey your Governor or President regardless of their orders or mandates. Now, the text of Romans 13 does paint a complete picture with what Paul is referencing here. It is very obvious that he does intend to communicate governmental rulers with the phrase "governing authorities," and this is supported by the continued reference to these governing bodies throughout the rest of the passage.

Paul also, when referencing these authorities, makes it very clear that they were put on this earth with those positions according to God's plan. The reasoning Paul gives us to support the statement that we should submit to these authorities follows two lines of logic: These officials derive their power and position from God, and that these rulers are there to ensure the doing of right.

Obviously, it would be ludicrous to say that every single thing a government says must be followed. There is a boundary. That boundary is morality. When a government is attempting to force you to commit an act of immorality, your duty is to disobey them and adhere to God. As the government derives its ultimate authority from God, their limit is, sequentially, God.

This is echoed throughout the rest of the bible when a servant of God was commanded by his authority to do something wrong:

When Potiphar's wife commanded Joseph to act contrary to God, he disobeyed. When the Israelite kings demanded the prophets' compliance against God's will, they refused. When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were ordered to bow down and worship a golden image, they remained standing. When Daniel was told to pray to Darius the king alone, he prayed only to God. When the Disciples were told to renounce Jesus by the Jewish and Roman authorities, they proclaimed the gospel all the more. When Jesus himself was ordered to stop teaching contrary to the pharisees, he looked them in the eyes and preached his love. 

Now here is an issue. Not every act of tyranny from our American government forces us into a direct violation of God's word. Sometimes it is just an abuse of power. So what do we do, as Christians, when they begin to act tyrannically?

Well, the answer is simple: We hold them to their authoritative standard.

You see, the Government of America has a limited authority described in the text of the Constitution and the subsequent amendments. The law of the land or the true governing principle and authority of America comes from the Constitution. So when a governing official acts contrary to the source from which they derive their position, then they are breaking the law. The law describes a duty we have as citizens to remove lawbreakers from office.

That is the simple reason that the American Christian has a duty to fight against a tyrannical government in America. Romans 13 directly says to adhere to the governing authorities, and, for us, that is the Constitution, primarily, not just the government. Therefore, it is our God-commissioned duty to make sure that the Constitution is followed. It is as simple as that.

In addition, any time and anywhere, that the government attempts to force you into committing sin, they have overreached their God-given power, and it is your duty to listen to God before man. It is as simple as that.