Romans 13: Let Every Soul Be Subject to the Higher Powers


A Publication of Separation of Church and State Law Ministry.


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Jerald Finney
Copyright © February 20, 2018


Important note. This short lesson is a very condensed version of Chapter 4, pp. 17-36, of Render Unto God the Things That Are His: A Systematic Study of Romans 13 and Related Verses; for the online version click here For full understanding, the student should read that chapter. Just click the link above to go to the online PDF of the book.


Romans 13.1 first makes clear that every soul is to be subject to the higher powers. Thus, even human leaders, since they also have souls, are subject to a higher power. According to the Bible, God is the power higher than all other governments. As shown in I.A. of these studies, God ordains all governments, is above all governments, and lays out the jurisdiction of all governments. Man is to be subject to civil government concerning those earthly matters over which God has given civil government jurisdiction. According to Romans 13.3-4, civil government was ordained by God to be a minister of God to execute judgment over evil doers and to reward those who do good.

Romans 13, consistent with Old and New Testament principles, proclaims the God-ordained purpose of civil government, and that God—the highest power—ordained and is over civil government. According to Romans 13.7, Christians are to render to civil government tribute, custom, fear, and honor—where due under the God-given jurisdiction of civil government.

Romans 13.3-4 and 1 Peter 2.13-14 lay out, consistent with the rest of Scripture, the God-given jurisdiction of civil government over man. In those verses, God grants civil governments jurisdiction over certain earthly, not spiritual, matters, and instructs man to do good and to refrain from doing evil. Many Christians point to those Scriptures and incorrectly declare: “That settles it. The Bible orders blind obedience to civil government in all matters, period;” or they proclaim that those verses require Christians to obey civil government in all things with the possible exception of the preaching of salvation.

Even with the establishment of the church, as recorded in the New Testament, God found it necessary to continue the institution of civil government. The original God-given purpose and jurisdiction of Gentile civil government was to continue. In Romans 13.3 He proclaims that “rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil” since if citizens “do that which is good,” rulers will praise them. The word from which “evil” in Romans 13.4 is translated means “generally opposed to civil goodness or virtue, in a commonwealth, and not to spiritual good, or religion, in the church.”Fn[1] Romans 13.4 proclaims that this is because a ruler is a “minister of God to thee for good,” just as he is “a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.”

Many civil governments go beyond their God-given jurisdiction. See Fn[2] for examples. How does God feel about Christians who obey God and thereby disobey civil governments which go beyond their jurisdiction? See Fn[3].

The Bible, history, and reality show that some rulers, according to Romans 13, exceed their God-ordained power. America does not honor God and His principles.Fn[4]

Although the early colonial dissenters such as the Baptists were persecuted by the established churches in the colonies, they were nonetheless free. On the other hand, today’s Americans, including Christians in churches which place themselves under civil government, are in bondage. The eighteenth century words of Isaac Backus apply to Americans today. See Fn[5] for quote from Backus.

The biblical truth is that God gives Gentile civil government control only over certain earthly sins involving man’s relationship to man as is attested to by Romans 13 and I Peter 2.13 in their immediate context and in the context of Scripture as a whole. As at His original establishment of civil government at the flood, God never mentions one act which involves man’s relationship to God in any Scripture involving the authority of civil government. Even in Israel after God allowed the people to have a king, as they requested, the civil ruler was not to intrude into the affairs of the priest (See, e.g., I S. 13.8-14). In Romans 12.9-20 and 13.8-14, the verses immediately surrounding Romans 13.1-7, the Word of God, speaking to Christians, elaborates upon the Christian responsibility to his neighbor and to civil government. Nothing is said about the Christian’s responsibility to God (Notwithstanding, treating one’s neighbor as God desires is a responsibility to God.).  See, e.g. Romans 12.9-20, quoted in F[6]. See also, Romans 13.8-14.

Notice in those verses that, in regard to obeying the ordinances of men, Paul only dealt with the law of love toward one’s neighbor; that is, with man’s relationship to man, and not man’s relationship to God. God did not give Gentile civil government responsibility for exercising authority over spiritual matters, over the first four commandments dealing with man’s relationship to God.

Civil government has no authority over matters dealing with man’s relationship to God since such matters are spiritual. Spiritual matters, according to God, the Supreme Ruler of the highest government, include both our duties, as individual believers and as members of a church, to God and to man. Christians are to love both God and their neighbor.

Religious and secular rulers, being led by the god of this world to satisfy their own lusts, have always been concerned with their authority. Not knowing God, they are their own gods. We see that over and over again in the Old and New Testaments. Jesus faced that problem (See, e.g., Jn. 10.31-38).

The apostles always obeyed God in regard to spiritual matters, even when, in so doing, they violated ordinances of man. Disregarding threats, imprisonments, and beatings, the apostles continued both to do for their fellow man and to preach, both in the name of Jesus, repeatedly violating Romans 13, and 1 Peter 2.13 as interpreted by most contemporary “ Christians.”

The rulers would have had no complaint had Peter and John and the other apostles done what they did under the authority of the rulers. Obviously, Peter and John had not yet been taught that Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2.13 required them to obey the earthly authorities over them in all matters, including spiritual matters. Of course, the apostles, under the authority of the rulers, would not have been able to heal and do other miracles, nor to preach in the power of the Holy Ghost. They still understood that the Highest Power, God himself, told them to do what they were doing and gave them the power to do it, that no earthly power was given the authority to direct them concerning spiritual matters, and that even had an earthly power given the authority to do those matters under earthly authority, they could not have done the miracles or preached the true gospel with power. Many “Christians” today believe that they and the church can simultaneously achieve God’s spiritual goals while operating under the authority of the god of this world. “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away” (2 Ti. 3.5).

Paul knew that Satan would continue to come against the church through earthly powers, through civil government.  He also knew that God wanted His children to fight this warfare using only spiritual, not earthly, means. His goal was the glory of God, not the happiness of man.



Endnotes

[1] Roger Williams and Edward Bean Underhill, The Bloody Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience Discussed and Mr. Cotton’s Letter Examined and Answered (London: Printed for the Society, by J. Haddon, Castle Street, Finsbury, 1848), p. 133.

[2] Was Rome a minister of God for good when she executed untold numbers of Christians before the marriage of church and state in the fourth century? What about those governments during the Middle Ages that worked in conjunction with the Roman Catholic “church” to persecute and kill millions of Christians labeled as heretics for refusing to bow down to a false theology? Was Hitler a minister of God for good when he forbade, on penalty of imprisonment and/or death, authentic biblical teaching which condemned his actions against the Jews and true Christians? How about Lenin and Stalin who were not only responsible for the murder of tens of millions of Christians, but who also required the teaching of atheism and established atheism as the official faith of the Soviet Union? How about the governments of Red China, Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and many others at the present time? Are such civil governments legitimately operating under God and His principles? Is the Christian who lives under such civil governments expected by God to follow all their rules?

[3] Were those Christians who conspired against Hitler wrong? Were Corrie Ten Boom and others wrong to save Jews from extermination? Were Moses’ parents wrong to save their son against the order of Pharaoh (Ex. 2.3)? Was the writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews wrong to praise them for hiding Moses, not being “afraid of the king’s commandment” (He. 11.23)? How about the Egyptian midwives when they “feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them but saved the male children alive” (Ex. 1.17)? Was God wrong in dealing well with those midwives for saving the male babies and lying to Pharaoh” (Ex. 1.20)?  Was Moses wrong when he “refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; [c]hoosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; [e]steeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward” (He. 11.24-26).

Was God wrong when He told Moses to defy Pharaoh (Ex. 3.2-12; 3.15-22; 4.21-23)? Was Moses wrong to exercise his faith, obey God, and defy Pharaoh”(Ex. 5.12; He. 11.27)? Was Rahab the harlot wrong to lie to the authorities about the whereabouts of the Jewish spies in her land in order to save their lives (Jos. 2)? Was Joshua wrong for allowing her to live as a reward for defying her governing authorities (Jos. 6.22-25)? Was God wrong to include Rahab in the hall of faith, along with such people as Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Sara, Isaac and Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, and other heroes of the faith (See He. 11 and 11.31)? What about Ehud who killed King Eglon (Jud. 3.15-26); Joshua who attacked the governing authorities by God’s command (See the book of Jos.); Jael, who nailed her governing authority to the ground with a tent stake (Jud. 4.17-22); Samson who revolted against the governing authorities (Jud. 13.24-16.30); David who ran from Saul (See I S. 18.8 through chapter 31); Mordecai who refused to bow down and worship Haman (Est. 3.5); Elijah who ignored the order of a wicked King even when fifty soldiers showed up, then stood against King Ahab, Jezebel, and their false prophets (1 K. 18.17-41; 2 K. 1.9-16); Daniel and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego (See the book of Daniel); the apostles including Peter who said, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Ac. 5.29); Paul who disobeyed many of his ruling authorities; all those down through the ages since Jesus’ resurrection and return to glory who have suffered persecution and death for the cause of Christ, including all the apostles, eleven of whom were ultimately martyred for the faith; Christians down through the last 2000 years from Christ to this very day who were imprisoned, tortured, and killed because they would not submit to the governing authorities in spiritual matters, many times religious organizations such as the Lutheran or Catholic churches, or renounce Christ, or quit rebaptizing, or quit street preaching, or succumb to false doctrines and/or worship the governing authorities; and those contemporary Christians in the underground churches of China, Cuba, Korea, Indonesia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam,, Laos, Malay, the Sudan, Morocco, Libya, Somalia, Algeria, Malaysia, Afghanistan, Colombia, the former Soviet Union, and many other nations? (An excellent source to keep abreast of the ongoing persecutions of Christians throughout the world is “The Voice of the Martyrs,” 1-800-747-0085; e-mail: thevoice@vom-usa.org; web site: www.persection.com; children’s web site: www.kidsofcourage.com; address: The Voice of the Martyrs, P.O. Box 443, Bartlesville, OK 74005-0443.)

Did the blessed Savior and God, the Lord Jesus Christ, sin when He chose to continue to do His miracles, to preach to the people, to condemn the religious leaders of His day and their errors, to proclaim that He was the Messiah even though He was upsetting the religious rulers of His day who ultimately used the governing authorities to crucify Him?

[4] America is now a pluralistic nation. All religions are regarded equally, except for Christianity which is now attacked from all quarters. America allows abortion, the murder of unborn babies, to go unpunished. (Jb. 31.15: “Did not he that made me in the womb make him? and did not one fashion us in the womb?” Is. 44.24: “Thus saith the LORD, thy redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb, I am the LORD that maketh all things; …” Is. 49.1: “… the LORD hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name.”  Je. 1.5: “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.”).  Abortion is the ultimate attack on God and the legitimacy of God’s supreme rule (Ge. 1.27: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”). Abortion is an attack on the first institution ordained by God in that it tells men, and especially women, that they can discard God’s rules concerning sex before marriage and engage in sex outside the marriage vows with impunity (See, e.g., Ro. 1.29; 1 Co. 5.1; 6.9-10 (“… Be not deceived: neither fornicators … shall inherit the kingdom of God.”), 13; 18 (“Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.”); 7.2; 10.8; 2 Co. 12.21; Ga. 5.19; Ep. 5.3; Col. 3.5-6; 1 Th. 4.3. In Mt. 19.4-6 Jesus confirms the Genesis narrative of creation ([Jesus said to the Pharisees who were attempting him,] “Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”). See Ge. 1.27 and 2.23-24 (God created male and female in his own image).  See also, for example, Mt. 5.31-32, 32; Mk. 10.1-12; Lu. 16.18; and I Co. 7.10-15 which deal with dishonoring the marriage relationship.). Abortion attacks individuals by tempting them to ignore God’s rules regarding fornication and adultery. Women who have their babies killed risk great emotional, and spiritual damage. Likewise, men who allow their babies to be murdered suffer, at the very least, spiritual and emotional harm. Abortion is the ultimate attack on the God-ordained institution of marriage, the basic building block of society.

America has also redefined marriage and the family contrary to biblical definitions and principles. In fact, what authority has the state to define marriage other than it is defined by God? Who—the state or God—ordained marriage? America has redefined marriage as a contract between two equal people. God said marriage is a covenant between a man, a woman, and God (See, e.g., Mt. 5.31-2; 19.3-9; Mk. 10.1-12; Lu. 16.18). America has redefined the family to be a group of people living together all of whom should have an equal voice, even children. Are fathers and mothers wrong to structure and operate their families according to biblical principles, denying their children an equal voice? Perhaps they are if the state married them since they willingly submitted their marriage and family to the authority of the state. If married by the authority of the state, perhaps they are also wrong to operate their family according to biblical principles because they willingly submitted their family to state authority. Are couples wrong to choose to marry under the authority of a God-ordained minister who refuses to pronounce them man and wife by the authority given him by a God-hating government which operates under Satan’s principles (See God Betrayed, Section VI for more insights into this civil government attack on the marriage of man and woman and the family as well as the marriage of Christ and His church.)?

America has enticed churches, as will be developed, to operate by the authority given them by the state. Are pastors wrong to continue to operate solely under the Headship of God? By the way, a church can still preach, teach, and operate solely by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ in this nation. Yet, most pastors choose the government cheese and ease over the principles and promises in the Word of God. Why? The Christian who walks in the flesh does not cherish at least one of the promises of God for the Christian—persecution. “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Ti. 3.12). Most American “Christians” reject suffering instead of accepting it as instructed (“For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake” (Ph. 1.29); as mild as it would be compared to the suffering of Paul, Peter, and the other apostles and Christians down through the last two thousand years. Those “Christians” do not know what they are missing: “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death” (Ph. 3.10)[.]”  And how almost non-existent is the persecution to be suffered by the church and the Christian who refuses to put himself or herself under the American civil government in spiritual matters. What would the American Christian today—who bows down to civil government despite the very mild inconveniences that would result from doing things God’s way—do should he face the persecutions endured by the early Christians; persecutions by, for example, the Apostle Paul and others who lived in a society in which Paul, before his conversion, had “imprisoned and beat in every synagogue them that believed on [the Lord] (Ac. 22.19),” and persecution by others after Paul’s conversion. Paul noted, shortly before his martyrdom, that he had endured many persecutions (2 Co. 11.23-27: [speaking of the persecutions he endured for serving the Supreme Ruler] “… in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft.  Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one.  Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeying often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness….”), but that “out of them all the Lord delivered [him]” (2 Ti. 3.12). Let it be emphasized that despite the fact that America is no longer a nation under God, Christians are required by Scripture to obey, for the Lord’s sake, every legitimate biblically consistent American law dealing with wrongdoing against one’s fellow man.

  • [5] “Now how often have we been told that he is not a freeman but a slave whose person and goods are not at his own but another’s disposal? And to have foreigners come and riot at our expense and in the fruit of our labors, has often represented as to be worse than death…. But how is our world filled with such madness concerning spiritual tyrants! How far have pride and infidelity, covetousness and luxury, yea, deceit and cruelty, those foreigners which came from Hell, carried their influence, and spread their baneful mischiefs in our world! Yet who is willing to own that he has been deceived and enslaved by them? … All acknowledge that these enemies are among us, and many complain aloud of the mischiefs that they do, yet even those who lift up their heads so high as to laugh at the atonement of Jesus and the powerful influences of the Spirit and slight public and private devotion are at the same time very unwilling to own that they harbor pride, infidelity, or any other of those dreadful tyrants. And nothing but the divine law … brought home with convincing light and power, can make them truly sensible of the soul-slavery that they are in. And ’tis only the power of the Gospel that can set them free from sin so as to become the servants of righteousness, can deliver them from these enemies so as to serve God in holiness all their days.
  • “… Therefore the divine argument to prove that those who promise liberty while they despise government are servants of corruption is this: For of whom a MAN is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage, 2 Pet. ii. 18, 19. He is so far from being free to act the man that he is a bond-slave to the worst of tyrants. And not a little of this tyranny is carried on by such an abuse of language as to call it liberty for men to yield themselves up to be so foolish, disobedient and deceived as to serve divers lusts and pleasures, Tit. iii. 3” (Isaac Backus, “An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty,” Boston 1773, an essay found in Isaac Backus on Church, State, and Calvinism, Pamphlets, 1754-1789, Edited by William G. McLoughlin (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1968), pp. 311-312.)

[6]Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;  Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality. Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.  Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.”

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