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Bible: What Does Romans 13 Teach Us About Submission to Authority?

Updated on September 27, 2016

Daniel in the Lion's Den


Civil Disobedience

Would you ever engage in civil disobedience?

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Obey the "Powers that Be"

Paul commands believers to submit themselves to governmental authorities, for God has not only established the principle of government, but He has also appointed “the powers that be” (v. 1).

That does not mean, Ryrie is quick to assert, that God ordains only certain forms of government, or that governments always perform righteously (New Testament Study Bible, 283).

In a representative form of government, citizens have the right through legitimate means—free elections, “checks and balances,” and oversight committees—to try to prevent government officials from benefiting from corrupt actions.

Consequences of Civil Disobedience

If Christians should resist (rebel against?) the dictates of their rulers, they are, in effect, resisting God’s law, thereby risking punishment (v. 2).

One may sometimes need to combat an evil government through civil disobedience, but one must be willing to accept the consequences that that government might exact.

Authorities exist to uphold the rule of law and to punish those who break it.

If believers desire to avoid fearing the government, then they should do good works; a good “ruler” will commend them for this behavior (v. 3).

The Law of God


Principle About Debt

After speaking about recompensing governmental officials for their work, Paul formulates a general principle about debt.

If one finds oneself in this condition, one should get out of it as quickly as possible, except when the “debt” is that of loving people. By loving others, one fulfills the law (v. 8).

The apostle then lists the last five Mosaic commandments (those dealing with one’s relationship to one’s fellow human beings) and, thinking that he may have omitted one, simply sums up the entire law by citing Leviticus 19:18: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (v. 9).

[What other commandment did Paul think he left out? Showing honor to parents].

Paul states love’s impact toward others: it does not injure them in any way.

He reiterates the principle that love “fulfills” the law, i.e., one accomplishes what the Law requires when one loves (v. 10; cf. v. 8).

Fulfill the Debt Called "Love"

Christians should love their neighbor in light of “the coming of the day” (that is, the return of Christ and ultimate salvation); seeing that “the night is far spent” (Satan’s misrule is ending), they should wake up spiritually and don a new wardrobe, taking off “the works of darkness” and putting on “the armor of light” (vv. 11-12; cf. Eph. 6:10-17).

[Paul’s language suggests that some professing Roman Christians were not leading holy lives].

The apostle admonishes them to live righteously at all times by repudiating three pairs of “works of darkness.

The first pair points to the abuse of alcohol, the second to the misuse of sex, and the third to the lack of love for others (v. 13).

He commands them to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” and keep themselves away from opportunities to fulfill the desires of the remnants of the indwelling sin principle [“flesh”] (v. 14).

The Powers that Be



Do you believe our taxes are too high?

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Governmental Authority

Do you believe in capital punishment?

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God Has Given the Power of Life and Death to Government

God has made the government official His servant in order to maintain order in society.

People who do evil should fear that authority, because God has given the latter the power of life and death (“he does not bear the sword in vain”).

The ruler acts in God’s place to avenge wrong by inflicting penal justice (v. 4).

This verse argues for the death penalty. When the State has gathered all the evidence and the evildoer has exhausted all his appeals, then the State should carry out the sentence.

Purpose of Taxation

The apostle reiterates his command for the Roman Christians to submit to the authority in order to avoid punishment, but he adds a second reason: “for conscience’ sake.”

That is, they should submit because they know it is the right thing to do (v. 5).

Citizen Christians pay taxes to the government as compensation for preserving the “domestic tranquility” (v. 6).

Paul exhorts them to give to the government what it needs to function properly, whether money or respect (v. 7).

© 2013 glynch1


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    • glynch1 profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago

      Thank you. I invite you to keep reading, and use my notes to help you in your understanding of Scripture.

    • profile image


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