Categories: Articles, NT Church

Romans Chapter 13: What does it mean? Who is the ultimate authority? Should we resist government

The following is an interview of Dr. Greg Dixon by Dr. Chuck Baldwin, Pastor of Crossroads Baptist Church in Pensacola, FL on his radio program “Chuck Baldwin Live.”

Submitted by Dr. Greg Dixon

In these times of unrest in America, we are very slowly having our religious freedoms stolen from us. We hear many confusing statements from various members of the religious community regarding this issue. Ironically, these are the same issues that the churches in Germany faced prior to Adolph Hitler’s Nazi regime. We owe a debt of gratitude to men who aren’t afraid to face the hard questions of our day in light of Scripture, even when it is unpopular to do so.

Chuck Baldwin: Today’s guest is Dr. Greg Dixon on Romans Chapter 13. Dr. Dixon for 41 years was the senior pastor of the great Indianapolis Baptist Temple in Indianapolis, Indiana.

We want to discuss particularly today the area of authority, especially as it relates to Romans chapter 13. I hear constantly, from my readers and listeners, questions regarding Romans chapter 13 and the discussion of political authority in the lives of Christians.

Romans 13:1-5:

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.

Now this passage of Scripture is constantly referred to, Dr. Dixon, by many in the Christian community, including many notable pastors and Christian leaders throughout our country who submit, on the   basis of this Scripture, that Christians are commanded by God to submit to every governmental authority, every governmental decree, ruling or dictate, regardless of its propriety or its appropriateness, or even of its righteousness simply based upon the virtue of this Scripture. And I want to have a discussion with you today regarding this topic. Let’s talk about Romans 13, and let’s talk about what the Bible teaches regarding human authority and how we as Christians are to relate to human authority.

Dr. Greg Dixon: Thank you very much, it’s certainly a pleasure to be with you. I think it’s very interesting, first of all, you’re dealing with a false doctrine of the unlimited submission to civil government, and the Bible simply does not teach that; it does not support it, history doesn’t support it, and certainly the very existence of the United States of America does not support such a doctrine. I think it’s very interesting; however, that every single leader in Christendom who teaches the unlimited submission to civil government does not really believe it themselves, because every single one of them has a bottom line.

I’m sure that all of your listeners, most of them at least, have seen the movie Braveheart, for example, where the king demanded, it was called “First night,” and that every one of his soldiers would lie with one of the women of men who were in subjection to them, on their wedding night before they lay with their husband. There was a rebellion over that. So the point I’m making is everyone has a bottom line. But the problem is that nobody wants to accept my bottom line. They want their bottom line, but they don’t want to accept my bottom line. They want me to accept their bottom line and they want me to say that their bottom line is Biblical, scriptural, spiritual, righteous, but my bottom line is not spiritual, biblical and righteous, so that shows you right there the hypocrisy of it.

CB: Well, what you’re saying is, we’ve got to recognize that there are spheres of authority; in other words, that no human being has absolute authority over another human being in every area of their life. That only God is Sovereign in our lives. Only God is Prophet, Priest and King. He alone has total authority over every area and sphere of our life, and no human being has that kind of authority. Isn’t that what we’re saying?

GD: That’s absolutely correct. For instance, the Bible teaches that wives are to obey their husbands. I Corinthians chapter 11 is very clear that God has put the husband as the head of his wife, but he does not have unlimited authority over his wife. A very famous evangelist, who is in Heaven now, who I loved with all my heart, he taught that. He taught the unlimited submission of wives to their husbands. One of his daughters wrote a book, Me, Obey Him?. The general principal of the book was true, that wives are to obey their husbands, children obey your parents, but it says, “in the Lord.” So there is always this sphere of authority, and anyone who gets outside of that sphere of authority into God’s area, then they cannot rely upon the Scriptures and say that there must be unlimited submission on the basis that “I have an unlimited authority.”

CB: Now we cannot take one Scripture all by itself; the Bible is very clear that “no…scripture is of any private interpretation…II Peter 1:20” and you can’t take one passage of Scripture, build a whole doctrine around it, and ignore the rest of God’s word. We have to take the  totality of Scripture as it relates to any subject to find the mind of God on that subject. As it pertains to human authority, as we’re talking today, that is also true.

Now in Romans 13. let’s start with this passage first and then I want to branch off into some of the other passages of Scripture that deal with human authority. You’ve already alluded to a couple, but here in Romans chapter 13 it very clearly states that as believer we do have an obligation to submit to lawful human authority. Right?

GD: That’s the whole issue. Now, we need to understand     that Romans chapter 13 is certainly not the last word on government; it comes along here almost at the end of the Bible. We’ve had the entire Old Testament. All you have in the Old Testament for all practical purposes is government, and you have example after example that the king is to rule for God. Romans 13 doesn’t stand by itself. Romans 13 is Paul’s treatise on government, which is unquestionably the best treatise on government that has ever been written. Now let’s just break it down a little bit here, rightly dividing the Word of Truth.

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers…. (1) Let every soul. Well, that also includes the king, the president, the dictator; it doesn’t make any difference who it is, they also are subject to the higher powers. So to say that government, to say that human government is the higher power is to say that government has no power higher than themselves; therefore, you make government “god.” So, they are wrong on the very first verse. But let me give you a Scripture that will explain that.

In Ecclesiastes 5:8 it says, “If thou seest the oppression of the poor, and violent perverting of judgment and justice in a province (Such as a county), marvel not at the matter (Don’t be surprised, because men are evil and you can expect evil): for he that is higher than the highest regardeth (Someone up the ladder will notice and bring them into account); and there be higher than they.” So, (2) the higher powers…that’s God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. So whoever is not obeying the law in the lower echelons of government, they had better know that there is a higher authority than them, and they are going to be brought to task.

CB: And with that thought, as it relates to our country, the United States of America, which is unique in the annals of human history because our country is not a monarchy. We have a Constitutional Republic that encompasses a system of government with checks and balances for the express purpose of doing  just exactly what that passage alludes to. That is to holding various governments accountable to other elements of government and ultimately, in our country, every level of government; even the highest levels of government, being the courts, the White house, the Congress, whatever, is ultimately held accountable to we the people. As an independent nation, our country’s form of government is different than any other nation that has ever existed.

GD: But the “higher powers” in America is the United States Constitution and the various Constitutions of the fifty states. Therefore, “let every soul be subject to the higher powers,” they are subject to that higher power. Now where do you think Thomas Jefferson got the quote “bind government with the chains of the Constitution?” Well he got it from Psalms 149:5-8, which says, “Let the saints be joyful in glory: let them sing aloud upon their beds. Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a twoedged sword in their hand (that is, the physical sword and the Bible, both. Right there is the Second Amendment); to execute vengeance upon the heathen, and punishments upon the people; to bind their kings with chains, and their nobles with fetters of iron; To execute upon them the judgment written: this honour have all his saints. Praise ye the LORD.” So the Bible, the Word of God says, that the First Amendment, and our Founding fathers understood this; they gave us first the First Amendment, religious freedom, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of  expression. Then they gave us the Second Amendment so that we could preserve those freedoms.

It’s amazing. The more we know of the Scripture and we know of our own history, it’s just amazing to see how the Founding  fathers incorporated these great biblical principles into our form of government. And they say these great men, and I’m not saying these men were Born-again. We cannot judge that. But to say that these men were not Christian men, that is, they were not Muslim, they were not Hindus; they believed they were Christians. They believed in the God of the Bible. They believed in the principles of Christianity. Every one of them gave a public testimony that they were Christians. Even Thomas Jefferson. Absolutely!

CB: Now Dr. Dixon, even to go back to Romans 13, you know, one of the things that I think that we need to help people understand is that since human government is limited, and is under the authority of God, and God has established proper governments and improper governments, and when a local governor, whether he be state, city, national, whatever; transgress or trespass into the areas that God has forbidden them to go, then we have to recognize that they, the authority, are living in rebellion. Absolutely! They are the ones that are the rebels. And so in Romans 13, note in verse 3, let’s look, “For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil.” Proper government punishes evildoers. It does not punish well-doers. And any government that would punish those that seek to do well, they are in rebellion against their very limits of authority. So then when we talk about being in subjection to the higher powers, let’s not forget that the government must be accountable to that which God has given it as well. Verse 4 “For he is the minister of God to thee for good.” But not for evil. When government becomes evil, it is still evil. Some of these people say, “Well, if an individual does it, it’s evil. If I as an individual go out and harm someone, or steal someone’s property, that I should be subject to judgment for that evil doing, and we all accept that. But then as a group, as a government which is some kind of an organizational group of persons that decide to steal people’s property or to do that which is evil; well, they themselves have become evildoers. They are not doing righteous deeds at that point.

GD: That’s why God can judge nations. And will. As well as individuals.

CB: Let’s go to I Peter 2: 13-15 “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men:”

GD: Now that’s exactly what Paul the Apostle said in Romans chapter 13. He is saying, “submit yourselves to every ordinance of man.” Now, the word “ordinance” means, “original foundation.” So what Peter is saying is, submit yourselves to every ordinance of man that is in sync with God’s law, because as James says, there is only one law giver. Some time ago a fellow was elected to the state legislature in the state of Indiana, and I said “Where are you going?” He said, “Well, I’m going up to Indianapolis to make laws.” And I began to laugh. And he said, “Why are you laughing?” I said, “How can you make a law when there’s only one lawgiver and He’s already made all the laws that will ever be made in the history of the universe? Your responsibility is to go up there and codify (reduce to a code) the law of God, and that is represented in the Constitution of the State of Indiana. You couldn’t make a law, man couldn’t make a law if he tried.”

CB: The only thing man would be able to do would be to circumvent God’s law to trespass against God’s law. And I think that’s what we have going on in many instances today, where men in government, they see themselves as sovereign. They see themselves as lawmakers, as you just said. They see themselves as being “god over the people.” They’ve abrogated (abolished) the rights of men. They have taken and stolen that loyalty and allegiance that men have to their Creator and they have placed themselves in the Creator’s place in the lives of many people. Unfortunately, so many of our pastors and church leaders are either so ignorant of this historic truth, or perhaps have never studied it to begin with, or whatever, but are not teaching the people the truth relative to what we are talking about here today. Do you not find that to be true?

GD: Absolutely! Now, let’s talk about I Timothy chapter 2 verses    1-4,  “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” Now, here is the only responsibility that the church has to government; to pray for them. Why? So that we can lead quiet and peaceful lives in godliness and honesty. Why? Because God would have all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.

CB: And I want to take just a minute and go back to I Peter when he said “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake.” Let’s not forget, folks, that it was this same person, Simon Peter, who wrote I Peter, who defied the laws over him when he was commanded not to preach and teach in Jesus name and he is quoted in the Scripture in the book of Acts (5:29) saying, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” So the same man who said, “submit yourselves to every ordinance of man,” deliberately and willfully defied an ordinance of man as it is commonly interpreted, “a dictation from government” when he said, “we will obey God and not man” in this instance.

GD: Well, we’re back now to where I started. Most of these men have a bottom line who are teaching unlimited submission to government; they’re saying, “unless they tell you not to preach the Gospel.” Caesar, and the Jewish authorities never told the disciples not to preach the Gospel. They told them not to preach in Jesus name. They told them they could preach the Gospel if they got a license to preach the Gospel. The same way the Lord Jesus in Luke chapter 20, the Pharisees came to Him and said, “By whose authority do you do these things?” Because He was preaching without a license. He was healing without a license. He was practicing medicine without a license. The issue here was licensure. They were simply saying, “These are ignorant and unlearned men,” in other words, they had not graduated from the rabbinical school or the Jewish theological seminary in Jerusalem; therefore, we will not allow them to involve themselves in the teaching of the people because they’re not qualified.

CB: Well, when  these fellows that you are referring to said, “Well the only bottom line is that as long as they don’t command us not to preach the Gospel, it doesn’t matter what they tell us to do, we must obey it.” Even that is a falsehood; because, you cannot preach the Gospel without preaching that it was the Lord Jesus Christ who was crucified, buried and risen for our sins. It is the Lord Jesus Christ who we must submit to as Saviour and Lord of our lives. Now when you call Him “Lord,” then you are giving Him that place of preeminence and sovereignty over your life; so I submit that one cannot properly preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ without preaching the authority and the sovereignty of Christ over our lives.

GD: Absolutely! For instance in Acts 3, where the lame man was healed and they said “By whose power, by whose authority did you do this?” So consequently, they went on to say in Acts 4:12, “I’ve got news for you fellows; not only was this man healed by the authority of Jesus Christ, not by our authority, but you can’t even get into the eternal Heaven without the authority of Christ. There is no other name by which you can be saved, except the name of Jesus Christ.”

CB: And the Pharisees that gave Jesus so much trouble, that gave the early church leaders so much trouble were known for their compliance to Roman authority over their affairs. They were lackeys, if you please, for the Roman government, and they had this two sphere idea; in other words, as long as we’re able to practice our religion,  we won’t bother you in any other area. So they divided the authority of God into two spheres. They had the religious sphere which the Pharisees tried to control; then they had the political sphere which they let the Roman government control, and that was the concept. When Jesus came along and when the Apostles came along they defied that logic and that philosophy by saying, without any equivocation, “No! There’s only one sphere of authority and that is God. God alone is sovereign. God alone is the authority over our lives and whether it’s a political authority, whether it’s a religious authority, whether it’s a family authority, whether it’s a vocational authority, a scholastic authority, all authority ultimately is under the authority of God.

GD: That’s absolutely correct, and in Acts 4 and 5, when they said, “Do not preach in the name of Jesus,” that meant they had to get a license. They were dealing with authority. That was the issue. It was authority.

CB: Now in our country, isn’t it amazing, because I hear some of these good men otherwise, good men that, they’re actually promulgating the idea that our forefathers here in America were spiritual rebels. That they should have never fought the War for Independence to begin with. Such reasoning to me is so ludicrous. It’s hard to believe that any reasonable person, much less a Christian could espouse it. And you know, many of our brethren are doing just that. How can they even celebrate independence day? How can they celebrate July 4th? How can they celebrate this country if they really believed that the founding fathers were in rebellion against God whenever they fought our War for Independence?

GD: Well, in the first place, the cry of the Revolutionary War was “Jesus is King!” “Jesus is Lord!” That was the cry of    the Revolutionary War, that Jesus Christ is above the king. That was the whole issue, and one of the most prominent preachers in America, you can go to Bible bookstores, and there is a book there that he has written teaching that our founding fathers were rebels. There’s a difference between rebellion and Christian resistance. In I Samuel 15:23, Samuel said to Saul, “rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft” We do not believe in rebellion. We believe in submission to civil government. We do not believe in cursing authorities. We believe in   praying for those who have the rule over us. But we will not give unlimited submission and recognize them as God. There’s only one God. It’s a first commandment issue. Exodus 20:3″Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”

CB: So, to summarize, Christian people are without a doubt, the most law abiding people you will find. You don’t find on Sunday morning the police having to go to the church house to restore order. For the most part, Christians are law abiding people. However, it is a very dangerous, and may I say a very damnable doctrine to suggest     that any human authority is ultimate; that any human authority is sovereign over our lives, but that we are accountable to only one authority and that authority is God.

GD: Well, that’s why there were so many martyrs down through the centuries. That’s why we have the trail of blood, because they refused to burn even one little piece of incense to Caesar each year.