Do I have to obey the government?
“If (insert candidate here) gets elected, I’m moving to Canada.”
I’ve heard that statement more in the last six months than in my 35 years on Earth. And I know I’m not alone. Back in March, Google searches for "how can I move to Canada" surged as Super Tuesday results came in.
No matter who wins the presidential election in November, a lot of people are going to be disappointed. My conservative friends worry about future appointments on the U.S. Supreme Court if Hillary Clinton is elected, and my more liberal friends fear nuclear war if Donald Trump wins the presidency.
Whether it’s this election, a past election, or a future election, at some point we will all inherit a leader we didn’t vote for and find ourselves under laws we didn’t support.
Turns out, this isn’t the first time God’s people have found themselves in that situation. How we respond to living under authority — especially a leader we didn’t choose — can be as influential for our country’s future as our vote.
3 Facts We Learn About Government from Reading the Bible
1. God establishes all authority in our lives, including our government.
God’s people have found themselves under the authority of God-fearing kings and idol-worshipping kings. They have been captured, enslaved, and exiled by conquering nations. Even in Jesus’ day, believers worried their faith could be considered treason. And God was not surprised by any of it.
Psalm 22:28 says, “for dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.” This means every leader of every nation all over the world is only in charge because God allows it to be so.
Through every election and every regime change, God is still sovereign — literally, The King over all kings — and still at work. Even if we don’t like the outcome of an election, we take comfort in knowing God can work through anyone, in any place and time, to bring change to the world (Psalm 46:10).
2. God calls us to obey the rules and regulations in the countries where we live.
Paul, an early church leader, wrote to believers in Rome: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God” (Romans 13:1).
This call to submit to our governing bodies was so important, it’s repeated two more times — in Titus 3:1 and 1 Peter 2:13-14.
So why does obeying the government matter so much to God? Because the best way to demonstrate our trust in God is to continue to obey the law, pay taxes, and do whatever we can to live at peace with other people (Romans 13:2-7). No matter who wins the election, our actions reflect whether we truly believe that person was established by the Lord and is carrying out His, sometimes mysterious, purposes. When we’re responsible as citizens, we show ourselves as responsible before God.
3. God wants us to pray for those in authority over us.
Submitting to our governing authorities doesn’t mean we have to agree with them. 1 Timothy 2:1-4 specifically calls us to pray for “all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”
Our leaders’ decisions can affect our families, our churches, our workplaces, our cities, and our countries. So if we’re worried about our leader’s moral compass or new laws that would challenge our faith, the best thing we can do is pray and work lawfully within our democratic system to create change. We can pray for our leaders’ salvation, for them to have wisdom, and be surrounded by good counsel. We can pray for peace and for justice in our communities and help accomplish it.
Is It Ever OK to Protest or Disobey the Government?
As Christians, our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). So our allegiance is to God before country.
When Nebuchadnezzar passed a law that everyone in Babylon had to bow to a golden statue, Daniel refused, knowing that to do so would violate God’s command not to worship other gods (Daniel 3). When the high priests tried to stop Peter and the apostles from talking about Jesus, they answered, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
When we’re faced with obeying God or obeying man-made laws, we choose obeying God. But disliking a person or disagreeing with a policy will never be a good reason for disobeying authority. Jesus and His apostles never disobeyed the government for personal reasons. The cost to the Gospel and to their own lives was too high.
In Bible times, protesting the government often resulted in being tortured, beaten, and even executed. Disobedience came at a cost and delivered a clear message: This issue is so important I’m willing to die for it.
People pay attention to what we do more than what we say. Submitting to authorities speaks volumes about our trust in the Lord. And what we choose to protest over says a lot about what matters most to God.
As Jesus’ representatives on Earth, how we use the influence we have matters because it communicates what matters to Him. So what will you use your influence for?