The Central Piece
Many Christians in our day are seeking to learn more regarding a biblical understanding of governmental authority. What is the government’s defined role? How should Christians act towards those in positions of political office? What are the biblical boundaries for submission and civil disobedience? Questions such as these, and many more, whirl around in the heads of many believers who are seeking answers faithful to God’s Word.1 Undoubtedly, if you go to countless Christian blog sites you will see countless answers given on this topic. I commend believers for trying to think biblically about this issue and for the attempts of many theologians to give biblical answers. Yet, what I have noticed on many occasions (certainly not all) is that far too often, we forget about the primary aspect of Christianity and government. We forget to even bring the one aspect to the table without which we shall have no understanding whatsoever.
That one doctrine is this fact, governmental authorities are called to bow the knee to Jesus Christ and serve Him in their duties. Their allegiance must be to God and His Word, or else they are serving idols made by their hands, imaginations, or both. This component is too often neglected in our day. We have placed the governmental realm into a compartmentalized section in our minds which has nothing to do with Christ, which is a grave mistake largely driving why we are living amidst the current crisis. Governmental authorities are called to serve Christ and to perform all their job requires with a focus upon the glory of His name and the good of those He has called them to serve. It is imperative that we begin to emphasize this fact rather than backing away from it as Christians. Without it, we shall surely fall prey to unbiblical ideas about the state.
Considering The Biblical Teaching
Many of you probably are curious as to whether I actually have a biblical basis for calling governmental authorities to submit to Christ? How do I arrive at this particular theological conclusion? I am glad you asked, let us examine a couple of texts together, one from Isaiah and one from the book of Romans. Consider Isaiah 49:7 with me:2
Thus says the Lord,
the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One,
to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nation,
the servant of rulers:
“Kings shall see and arise;
princes, and they shall prostrate themselves;
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” -Isaiah 49:7
This passage comes from one of the texts in Isaiah known as the Servant Songs, which describe the coming Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. It clearly says the nations would see the one who had been deeply despised (talking about Christ), and the kings would prostrate themselves. Clearly, it is evident that governmental authorities are called to bow before the King, who is Jesus Christ. Therefore, as the church, we must call all people, including those in governmental authority, to bow before Jesus. We must exhort them to undertake all of their life in accordance with His Word. It is imperative we call all men to serve Christ and take up the Scripture as their guiding lamp. Those in government should be called by believers to repent of their sins, bow before the Lord Jesus Christ, and govern according to the biblical commands.
Another passage in the New Testament points us to this particular conclusion. Romans 13:1-4 states:
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. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.
For the purpose of this blog post, I want to focus on that part of this text which calls the governing authorities God’s servant. What standard must a servant of God use to determine good from evil? It has to be the standard of His Word, for that is God’s special revelation to us! Therefore, the Apostle Paul writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit echoes what we saw in the book of Isaiah. Governments must serve God as their master and govern according to His standards. The biblical evidence and testimony to this effect is abundantly clear from the text of Scripture!
Testimony From The Past
I have no doubt that many of my fellow brethren will object to my position. They will find it astonishing I would assert we should call governmental authorities to bow before Jesus and execute their duties according to biblical commands. Yet, I must humbly remind the biblical testimony is clear to this effect, and I am not somehow inventing this idea out of thin air. “The theologian” of the Protestant Reformation, John Calvin, said this in the prefatory section of The Institutes during his address to the king of France:
“The Characteristic of a true sovereign is, to acknowledge that, in the administration of his kingdom, he is a minister of God. He who does not make his reign subservient to the divine glory, acts the part not of a king, but of a robber. He, moreover, deceives himself who anticipates long prosperity to any kingdom which is not ruled by the scepter of God, that is, by his divine word. For the heavenly oracle is infallible which has declared, that ‘where there is no vision the people perish’ (Prov. 29:19).”3
It is quite impactful to note that Calvin clearly and passionately called upon governing authorities to bow to Jesus Christ. We should learn from this theologian who had clear theological backing for this position. It is our duty as Christians to call the government to the standard of Christ. If they are not serving Christ, then they are acting like a robber trying to steal His glory. Our charge is to call them to Him and to tell them of the judgment to come. We have miserably failed in our duty if we do not urge those in positions of authority to bow before Jesus Christ.
The King of kings
I hope this post has served to remind all of us about the centerpiece to a proper understanding of governmental authority. We must remember the government is called to bow before and serve Christ. As Christians, we know this to be true because we call Christ the King of kings all the time as one of our common phrases for Him. It is a core part of our theology that Christ is the King who reigns above all. We must apply that principle as it pertains to governing authorities by calling on them not to serve for the glory of any other than the true King.
Let us seek to live under the rule of this great King ourselves and have every aspect of our life in submission. May we think about all issues in a way that honors Him. Particularly, for the purposes of this post, we must seek to think about issues of governmental authority unto His honor. I pray this blog has been helpful for you towards that end!
1 Check out the articles I have written around these issues:
Also, here is a brief biblical defense of the American Revolution:
2 For my full exposition of Isaiah 49:1-13, you can go to this link where I preached as a guest at a congregation: https://www.sermonaudio.com/saplayer/playpopup.asp?SID=102421175222343
3 John Calvin translated by Henry Beveridge, Institutes of The Christian Religion, p. XXII.