How should the Christian respond to the governing authorities, particularly if they do not seem to be upholding Biblical principles? Now it is clear that Scripture does teach subjection to the existing authorities (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17; 1 Timothy 2:1-4). This is particularly significant as the emperor at this time was Nero, who was not known for his just rule. However, there is also a point where we must serve God rather than man (Acts 5:29; 4:19,20; Daniel 3:17,18). Now there are a couple of things we need to recognize to put this in perspective. As Christians we are not to be surprised if the world, including the governing authorities of that world, opposes Christian truth (John 15:18-21; 16:1-4; 1 Peter 4:12-14). But we also need to remember that God is control of the world and will ultimately use even the bad things in the world to accomplish His purposes (Daniel 4:32; 2:21; Romans 8:28). But this does not mean God will not require us to go through times of suffering (2 Timothy 3:12; Acts 14:22; John 16:33). Now I want it to be clear that I am not suggesting passivity. What I am suggesting is that we work to promote God’s truth and His standards in a cool and considered manner rather than in a state of shock and panic. There is a place for appropriate indignation, but we need to avoid unrestrained anger and vitriol.
Now it is important that Christians declare God’s truth, though in a loving but firm manner (1 Peter 3:15; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; Colossians 4:5,6). We are also called to rebuke injustice (2 Samuel 12:1-15; 1 Kings 21:17-26; Matthew 14:3,4). To do this we need to be instructed and grounded in the faith so as to stand firm in the current climate (Ephesians 4:11-16; 2 Timothy 4:1-4; Hebrews 5:12-14) and to instruct our children also to do this (Ephesians 6:4; Deuteronomy 6:6-9; Proverbs 22:6). In all this we must remember the limitations of civil law. Now civil law and punishment do have a function in the restraint of evil (Deuteronomy 13:11; 17:13; Romans 13:3,4), but even God’s Law cannot really change the heart of the individual (Romans 3:19,20; 5:20; Galatians 3:19-22). Martin Luther likens the civil use of the law to putting a muzzle on a wild animal; it does not change the nature of the animal, but it prevents it from biting you. Therefore we must not think that all that is necessary to produce a Christian moral climate is to pass the right laws. What is needed is the change of heart that can only be produced by the teaching of the truth of God (Romans 1:16; 2 Timothy 3:16,17, Hebrews 4:12). Therefore, while I believe Christians should be involved in working for better laws, we should not see that as our fundamental focus. Rather, we need to work on all levels to encourage God’s principles in our nation (Proverbs 14:34; Psalms 86:9; Malachi 1:11).