3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. 4 For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. (Romans 13:3–4, NKJV)
God ordained “governing authorities” (human governments), and He expects “every soul” to respect and yield to such authority (Romans 13:1). Today’s passage explains that God set these authorities in place, to protect the innocent, and to punish evil doers. Lenski comment is worth repeating here: “The world is full of wicked men, and God has placed rulers among them to check and to control this wickedness by means of laws and penalties, all of them being directed, not against good deeds, but against evil deeds” (Commentary on Romans, 789). There is no hesitation in the apostle’s explanation that governing authorities have God’s permission to “execute wrath” on the evil doer. The use of capital punishment is approved, since “the sword” referred to in verse 4 is the actual sword used by the executioner, as he applies the death penalty on criminals. When governments become a terror to good works, God removes them (Daniel 4:25, 34-35; Jeremiah 18:5-11). For our part, let us “do what is good,” and thank God for the protection He provides us by means of governing authorities.
15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk. 16 And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men. 17 Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? 19 Show Me the tax money.” So they brought Him a denarius. 20 And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” 21 They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:15–21, NKJV)
In their vain attempt to ensnare Jesus, the Pharisees and Herodians assumed intrinsic conflict between the government of God and the government of men. Yet, the kingdom of God is spiritual; it is “not of this world” (Jno. 18:36). The kingdoms of men exist by the will of God, who is Sovereign over all (Acts 17:26; Dan. 4:25, 32). Therefore, there is no inherent conflict between God and “Caesar.” God commands us to pay our taxes and honor our rulers (Rom. 13:7; 1 Pet. 2:17). Christians willingly submit to the ordinances of men unless doing so violates the revealed will of God (Rom. 13:1; 1 Pet. 2:13-16; Acts 5:29). Christians are not anarchists, but patriots, who “honor the king” as they “fear God” (1 Pet. 2:17).
1 Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. (Romans 13:1-3, NKJV)
Christians are not exempt from obeying the law of the land. We who respect the authority of Christ must, like everyone else, respect the “governing authorities” and obey the laws under which we live. The reason why is clear and plain: All authority comes from God. God has given authority to civil government. Therefore, we are to be subject to its laws. (There is one proviso: We must obey God when the laws of men contradict His word, Acts 5:29.) When a person refuses to obey the laws of the land he is refusing God’s ordinance and brings God’s judgment upon himself. He faces the punishment that comes with violating the law. Our incentive to be good citizens is first, because of our conscience toward God, and also to avoid punishment as a law-breaker (Rom. 13:4-5).