We live in a time when many people reject authority. On the flip side, others blindly go along with everything they are told to do, even if it is not lawful. What does the Bible say? Should a Christian submit to authority?
Notice what God inspired Paul to write in Romans 13:1-2. “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.”
Strong words! God commands Christians to submit to authority.
“If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18). Submitting to authority is essential in order to live peaceably. Those who rebel against authority are punished. The prisons are full of them.
“For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same” (Romans 13:3).
We are instructed to do good—follow the laws and authority of the land in which we live.
But what should a Christian do if he or she is ordered to disobey God? The first-century apostles faced this very situation. The authorities at that time told them to stop preaching God’s message.
“But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).
The apostles understood the principle of God’s law, and so must we. They knew they were to submit to authority. But God is the ultimate authority (Exodus 20:3). When the human leaders that were in charge commanded the apostles to go against God’s authority, they obeyed God and continued to preach God’s message. The apostles submitted to the ultimate authority of God.
In Acts 5, the apostles again were brought before the council for teaching God’s message. They were asked in verse 28 why they didn’t submit to the council’s demand to “not teach in [Christ’s] name?”
“Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men” (verse 29).
The apostles followed authority. They kept the law. But they always put God first.
If a Christian’s boss tells him that he must work on the Sabbath or else lose his job, a true Christian will follow the authority of God and keep the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8).
A true Christian joyfully submits to his boss but is always submissive to the ultimate authority of God.
God’s Word further instructs us not to speak evil of dignities (2 Peter 2:10). In Ecclesiastes 10:20, Solomon wrote, “Curse not the king, no not in thy thought.”
This means that a Christian should not gossip or lie to damage a leader’s character.
However, God’s Word also instructs us to support His Work of warning about evils (Ezekiel 33:6-11). God commands this warning message be given in love, with the hope that as many as possible will repent and submit to God’s authority.
A Christian should always submit to authority. God is the ultimate authority and must always be obeyed.
To understand more about the authority of God and His Word, read our free reprint article “The Authority of the Bible.”