Jim Denison on Jeff Sessions and Romans 13: Should Christians Always Obey the Government?

I don’t remember the last time a biblical citation generated so many headlines.

Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions sought to defend the Trump administration’s immigration policies, especially with regard to separating families. At one point, he stated, “I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes.”

His citation set off a firestorm of debate in the culture and among Christians.

My purpose today is not to discuss the multitude of ways Romans 13 has been interpreted through history. Rather, it is to consider the larger question: When should Christians obey or disobey the government?

Obeying the state

God’s word consistently calls us to obey and support our governing authorities.

Paul urged that “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

His instruction to Christians living in Rome was clear: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (Romans 13:1-2).

The apostle then stated that “the authorities are ministers of God” (v. 6) and urged his readers: “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (v. 7).

Peter added: “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (1 Peter 2:13-14).

It would seem clear, then, that Christians are to submit to the authority of the government, seeing its exercise of power as God’s will for us. However, there’s more to the story.

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Source: Denison Forum