Government: Official and Citizen


For each relationship we will consider a few important biblical concepts and answer the following questions:Diagram of Relationship of Government Official to Citizen

  • Question #1 – In general, what are the Biblically defined responsibilities for each party within the relationship?  What are the behavioral expectations set by God to fulfill these responsibilities?
  • Question #2 – Specifically, what authority has God granted to each party within the relationship?  What is the extent of this authority?  What are it’s limitations?
  • Question #3 – What requirements for submission and obedience have been placed by God to each party within the relationship?  What is the extent of this submission?  What are it’s limitations?

The following verses are the primary ones that we will use to answer these questions.  Review these verses and then the questions and answers.

Review of Diagram

The diagram shows a government official being positioned over the citizen.  This is general sense that is conveyed by the Word of God.  The diagram for this particular relationship (government official <-> citizen) is pretty simplistic and the relationship is clear in the Word.

Relevant Verses

Romans 13:1-7 – Let every person be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except by God, and those that exist are put in place by God.  So then, the one who resists authority resists the ordinance which is from God, and those who resist will receive condemnation on themselves.  For rulers are not a cause of terror for a good deed, but for bad conduct.  So do you want not to be afraid of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from it, for it is God’s servant to you for what is good.  But if you do what is bad, be afraid, because it does not bear the sword to no purpose.  For it is God’s servant, the one who avenges for punishment on the one who does what is bad.  Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience.  For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are servants of God, busily engaged in this very thing.  Pay to everyone what is owed: pay taxes to whom taxes are due; pay custom duties to whom custom duties are due; pay respect to whom respect is due; pay honor to whom honor is due.

Titus 3:1 – Remind them to be subject to the rulers and to the authorities, to obey, to be prepared for every good work

1 Peter 2:13-17 – Subject yourselves to every human authority for the sake of the Lord, whether to a king as having supreme authority, or to governors as those sent out by him for the punishment of those who do evil and the praise of those who do good.  For the will of God is as follows: by doing good to silence the ignorance of foolish people.  Live as free persons, and not using your freedom as a covering for evil, but as slaves of God.  Honor all people, love the community of believers, fear God, honor the king.

Matthew 22:15-21 – Then the Pharisees went and consulted so that they could entrap him with a statement.  And they sent their disciples to him with Herodians, saying “Teacher, we know that you are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and you do not care what anyone thinks, because you do not regard the opinion of people.  Therefore tell us what you think.  Is it permitted to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”  But because he knew their maliciousness, Jesus said, “Hypocrites! Why are you testing me?  Show me the coin for the tax.”  So they brought him a denarius.  And he said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?”  They said to him, “Caesar’s.”  Then he said to them, “Therefore give to Caesar the things of Caesar, and to God the things of God!”

1 Timothy 2:1-2 – Therefore, I urge first of all that petitions, prayers, requests and thanksgiving be made on behalf of all people, on behalf of kings and all those who are in authority, in order that we may live a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.  This is good an acceptable before God our Savior

Review of Relationship

In general, what are the Biblically defined responsibilities for each party within the relationship?  What are the behavioral expectations set by God to fulfill these responsibilities?

For Government Authority

This side of the relationship (for the government authority) is somewhat unique from the others we are exploring because the Bible does not place specific responsibilities on government authorities.  Government authorities carry tremendous authority and it is clear that they wield this authority because God has given it to them.  We can account for His appointment of these leaders as being under God’s sovereignty.  We don’t know exactly how he places each leader in their place, but we know that whomever is placed is there by God’s will and the government authority implements God’s will.  There are many reasons we may question government authority, but the Bible is clear that they have authority and they wield it according to God’s will even if they act in a manner that is against Biblical teaching.  The Bible distinguishes between kings and governors.  Kings are described as having supreme authority while governors do the bidding of a king and can carry the king’s authority as granted by the king’s will.

Government authorities carry full weight and have the right to execute judgment and punishment against a citizen.  In many modern societies the power of the “king” has been diminished by setting laws as higher than the king.  In some societies and in history, this was not the case.  The person and the will of the king had ultimate authority.

In summary, government authorities carry out their God-given authority as a right.  Only God can hold them responsible for their actions through various means of His choosing.

For Citizens

The Bible is written to believers, so the following is specific to citizens who are believers.

On this side of the relationship (the citizen’s) it is clear that as believers we are to submit and subject ourselves to the authority of a government authority.  This does not mean that a government authority who has a lesser scope of authority can wield more authority than has been granted to them.  It means that we submit to the level of the authority that the particular government authority has by definition.  This is easiest to be understood by an example.

  • If you go to the passport office to get a passport, the government authorities in those positions are the authority for issues related to passports.  They do not govern or hold authority over other things.

Historical societies granted tremendous amounts of authority (including decisions over putting people to death) in localize authorities.  Think of Pontius Pilate (Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23) who could choose between granting Jesus life or death.  In many modern societies, authority has been distributed across many parties in a system of “checks” and “balances” through a set of laws to try to prevent as many injustices as possible.

Even with our more modern ways of authority being held by government authorities, the need to submit never changes.  We just have to understand the level of submission required to a particular government authority based on the scope of authority granted to them.

The Bible doesn’t do much more than tell believers to submit and to be subject to all the governing authorities.  It gives some reasons why, but it does not provide lots of information on the subject.

Submission vs. Obedience

The Bible distinguishes between submission and obedience.  For many people, the distinctions are difficult to understand.  In simple terms, submission is a proper attitude towards authority and considering of one’s self to be “under” the party with authority.  Submission is connected to obedience because obedience is the outward action of heeding to the will of an authority.

While submission isn’t seen to have limitations (i.e. our attitude needs to stay right and stay “under” the authority), obedience does have limitations.  Obedience is expected to the level of authority wielded by the government authority, but should not come in conflict with a higher authority.  If a government authority at a passport office tells a citizen that they must do something related to their vehicle the citizen may refuse to obey their command because the government authority doesn’t have authority over the citizen’s car.  This refusal can and should be done respectfully.

Ultimately, we know that submission to government authorities can include the willingness to be put to death rather than renounce the name of Jesus Christ.  This is the most extreme form of proper submission without obedience included.  Your life is submitted to the government authority, but you do not obey the command to deny Christ because God’s higher authority should be respected while you also remain in submission to the government authority by allowing them to take y0ur life.  This is the most extreme example, but it is also very clear and distinguishes between submission and obedience within the relationship between a government authority and a citizen.