When is civil disobedience permitted for Christians?


By BibleAsk Team

Christians and the State

The apostles Paul and Peter gave clear council to the relationship of the Christian and the state:

“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor” (Romans 13:1–7).

“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king” (1 Peter 2:13–17).

Civil Disobedience

Although Paul was speaking to those under the rule of the wicked Nero, the believers were to accept submission to the government because no authority exists other than that established by God, and that rulers are under God in their political office. But does that mean Christians are always to submit to whatever the government commands, no matter what is asked of them? No.

The Scriptures teach that the Christian is allowed to act in civil disobedience to the government if it commands to violate the principles of God’s Word. The Bible gives us examples of people who were disobedient to the government in order to maintain obedience to God, and were blessed by God for that:

Exodus 1 – the Egyptian Pharaoh gave the clear command to two Hebrew midwives that they were to kill all male Jewish babies. But the midwives disobeyed Pharaoh and, “feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live” (Exodus 1:17). The Bible goes on to say the midwives lied to Pharaoh about why they were letting the children live; yet even though they lied and disobeyed the government, “God was good to the midwives, and the people multiplied, and became very mighty. Because the midwives feared God, He established households for them” (Exodus 1:20–21).

Joshua 2 – Rahab directly disobeyed a command from the king of Jericho to give up the Israelite spies who had entered the city to gain intelligence for battle. Instead, she helped them escape. Rahab disobeyed the command and was redeemed from the city’s destruction when Joshua and the Israeli army destroyed it.

1 Kings 18 – Obadiah who “feared the Lord greatly” rebelled against queen Jezebel who was killing God’s prophets, and Obadiah took a hundred of them and hid them from her so they could live.

Daniel records several civil disobedience acts. In chapter 3, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to bow down to the golden idol in disobedience to King Nebuchadnezzar’s command. And in chapter 6, Daniel defied the king’s command to pray to no one else but the king. These faithful ones disobeyed the laws of their kingdom in order to obey the laws of God.

Acts 4 and 5 records the civil disobedience of Peter and John towards the authorities for preaching the Word. And Peter said, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19–20). And Peter added, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

And finally, the book of Revelation predicts the future civil disobedience to the government when all the believers will rebel against the Antichrist who will use civil powers to restrict religious freedom and to command all those who are alive during the end times to worship an image of himself (Revelation 13:15). This would be the final test for all believers. Those who will comply with the state will be lost eternally.

But those who reject it will be saved. Until that time, Christians are commanded to pray for their governments: “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:1–2).

Check out our Bible Answers page for more information on a variety of topics.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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