Disciples and the State

Paul presents principles of conduct when dealing with the State in his Letter to the Romans. Believers must “subordinate themselves to governing powers, for there is no authority except by God.” He wrote this when the infamous emperor, Nero, ruled the Empire. Despite the despotic nature of his regime, he instructed the Church to honor and respect Caesar and his officers.

The existing governmental powers are “arranged” by God. This English verb translates the Greek word tassō, meaning to “order, arrange, set, appoint.” Whether we understand His reasons, the present order has been “arranged” by the Creator of all things and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Caesar - Photo by Illona Frey on Unsplash
[Caesar - Photo by Illona Frey on Unsplash]

This principle was not new, and Paul based his argument on Old Testament precedents, including passages in the
Book of Daniel. Near the start of the Babylonian Captivity, Daniel declared that God ruled over the affairs of the nations:

  • He removes kings and sets up kings He rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever he pleases, and sets up over it even the basest of men” - (Daniel 2:21, 4:17).

Because God “arranged” the existing authorities, to “resist” them means resisting the “arrangement of God.” If God does give political authority to whomever He pleases, rebelling against them would mean trespassing on God’s prerogative and challenging His sovereignty.

Over the centuries, some church leaders have argued that tyranny, corruption, and incompetence constitute exceptions to Paul’s rule. In such circumstances, Christian support for political and even violent revolution becomes necessary if not justified, but that is an argument of expedience, not principle - The “end justifies the means” – and it ignores the historical context of the house churches of Ancient Rome.

First, Paul says nothing in his Letter about exceptions to the rule. Justifying insurrection on the government’s repressive policies or corruption is a loophole sledgehammered into the passage.

Second, Paul wrote to Christians living under a pagan and authoritarian regime. The Roman Empire was not democratic and only occasionally just. Caesar held absolute power, and the government was notoriously corrupt and brutal.

Third, at the time Paul wrote, Nero was Caesar, and he was so depraved that even by the pagan standards of Rome he was beyond the pale. Among other things, he murdered his half-brother and his mother. In a fit of rage, he kicked his pregnant wife to death. Needing a scapegoat for the fires that burned much of the city in A.D. 64, he blamed the conflagration on the followers of Jesus, and he became the first emperor to persecute the Church.


Considering New Testament principles and its apocalyptic perspective, the teaching of Paul makes perfect sense. The disciple of Jesus is called to give his total allegiance to him and to call him and no one else “Lord.” That is a political action, and it transcends all national, ethnic, social, and cultural loyalties - (Galatians 3:28, Revelation 5:9-12, 7:9-17).

The disciple of Jesus is a citizen of a realm that does not tolerate “dual citizenship” or divided loyalties. Commitment to him supersedes all other allegiances and obligations. Moreover, he tasked the Body of Christ with proclaiming the Good News of the “Kingdom of God” to all nations, summoning all men to swear allegiance to him and his Kingdom.

The only political reality that matters in the end is the Kingdom of God. The day will come when His rule replaces all existing governments and national boundaries, legitimate or not, and that day will coincide with his “arrival” at the end of the age. That biblical teaching alone tells us that no government today will endure forever - (1 Corinthians 15:20-28).

In the interim, every disciple of Jesus must bear witness to his sovereignty and realm while living in a fallen world. To work for change in the corrupt institutions of this age means working for something that will not endure, expending time and energy on “meat that perishes” - (1 Corinthians 7:31).

The apostolic exhortation to give proper respect to a despotic regime should give us pause before immersing ourselves in the political processes of this world, let alone advocating rebellion against existing authorities. All calls by others to disobey or disrespect an unpopular government or officeholder must be rebuffed, if for no other reason than because Scripture demands it.

Preach - Photo by Arthur Miranda on Unsplash
[Photo by Arthur Miranda on Unsplash]

The disciple of Jesus must not disengage from the world, but rather, he or she must
engage it with the biblical means - faith, prayer, gospel witness, acts of mercy, and above all, self-sacrificial service for others, especially “enemies.”

Moreover, Paul explained in Ephesians that we are not at war with “flesh and blood,” but against the spiritual “powers and principalities” that enslave all unregenerate men, including those who hold political power. The solution is not to revolt against the government, but to offer salvation through Jesus to every man, woman, and child.

We are not called to live our lives in conformity with the ideologies and values of this age. Yes, often the State is unjust and brutal, and that is precisely the point. We must not do evil so some alleged greater “good may come.” Ends do not justify means! The Assembly of Jesus Christ is called to something far different and greater than the political systems of the present “evil age” that was judged already on the Cross.

  • Greatness in the Kingdom - (His disciple is called to engage in self-sacrificial service for others just as Jesus gave his life as a ransom for many – Mark 10:35-45)
  • Mercy and Enemies - (When disciples react to hostility with hostility, whether by government, society, or individuals, Satan triumphs)
  • Superabounding Righteousness - (Mercy and love are defining characteristics of the disciples of Jesus, reflecting the true nature of his Father – Matthew 5:43-48)



On the Cruciform Road

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