Civil Disobedience (Romans 13:5)

Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.” (Romans 13:5, KJV 1900)

The second question regarding the events of the past several weeks that I wanted to address is this. When is it right to disobey government? While this verse does not specifically speak of this, Paul does state that we need to be subject to the authorities, not just to avoid the wrath of God, but also for conscience. If we can understand the conscience and our role as believers, we can come to a conclusion in this area.

The conscience is an interesting thing. It is an endowment to man from God that gives him the ability to discern right from wrong. It is a fragile thing since it can be seared through continual disregard of its promptings. It also functions based upon knowledge, the mind. Whatever is fed to the conscience becomes the moral standard upon which it operates.

As believers, this takes us back to Romans 12:2, which states that we must not be conformed to the pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of the mind. Unless our minds are being renewed by the word of God and the illuminating work of the Spirit of God, our conscience will work in a flawed manner. However, if our conscience is working correctly, based upon its being transformed by the truths of God’s word, we will be able to discern right from wrong.

Herein lies the problem. Throughout history, there have been corrupt governments that have enacted laws contrary to the divine standard. What is a Christian to do if he is required by law to transgress the divine ordinance? In this case, the believer has a moral conflict for it would be impossible to obey God and government at the same time.

Some traditions say that there will never be moral conflict and yet the Scriptures have many examples of these. Consider Daniel. Darius, king of Babylon signed a decree forbidding anyone from petitioning any god or man except the king for thirty days. What does Daniel do? Once the order was signed, he violated the king’s order and prayed to God three times a day just as he had always done.

The words of Peter and John give us a direct answer of how we should respond to such moral conflict. They were preaching in the name of Jesus in Jerusalem and the Jewish religious leaders who had authority over civil law forbid them from preaching in the name of Jesus. Peter and John responded, “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, KJV 1900)

Thus, we can conclude that there is a time when we must disobey government. However, we may only disobey government when obedience to government causes us to violate the divine standard of obedience to God. In this case, we must obey God above all else, even though there may be earthly consequences.

Published by Steve Hankins, Th.D.

Steve has had extensive military, business and ministry experience. He has served for over 16 years in full time vocational ministry and many years of part time ministry in churches. He has led churches through start-up and recasting of vision. Now He resides on the Outer Banks of North Carolina where he is working to help smaller churches and believers to renew their hearts and regain the joy of the Lord.

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