The Bible has much to say about government and provides principles that are meant to guide how governments should function. According to Scripture, government is ordained by God for the good of society. The purpose of government includes promoting justice, restraining evil, and punishing wrongdoers (Rom 13:3-4). At the same time, Scripture warns about the dangers of abusive government and unchecked power.
Here are some key biblical principles about government:
1. Governmental authority is established by God.
The Bible teaches that God is the ultimate authority and the source of all human authority. According to Romans 13:1, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” This means that even bad rulers are in their positions because God allowed it, either to accomplish His purposes or to punish evil.
Other verses that communicate this principle include Daniel 2:21, Proverbs 8:15-16, John 19:11. God is sovereign over all human authorities. Therefore, Christians are called to submit to government as long as its laws do not directly conflict with God’s commands (Acts 5:29).
2. Government is meant to promote good and restrain evil.
One of the main duties of government is to approve good behavior that benefits society while restraining and punishing evil. Romans 13:3-4 explains, “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain.”
Governments maintain order and safety through enforcement of just laws. This provides the structure for a stable, free, and moral society. When government fails in this duty or becomes oppressively unjust, citizens may challenge authorities to promote reforms that honor righteousness and truth (Acts 5:29).
3. Citizens are called to submit to government authority.
Because God has instituted government authority, the default posture of Christians toward government is to be law-abiding citizens who respect and obey civic leaders. 1 Peter 2:13-14 declares, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution… for this is the will of God.” Titus 3:1 also reminds believers “to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient.”
Obedience to government, however, does not mean blind allegiance. Christians are first subject to Christ’s authority. If government compels believers to disobey God, they must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). Respectful civil disobedience and willingness to suffer the consequences is modeled by Jesus and the apostles.
4. Followers of Christ live as good citizens and model righteousness.
Beyond simply obeying laws, Christians should strive to positively contribute to society and model good citizenship. 1 Peter 2:15 says to silence foolish people “by doing good.” Believers should be known for “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23) in how they engage government and fellow citizens.
As salt and light (Matt 5:13-16), the church can be a preservative that slows society’s moral decay and brings hope within corrupt systems. Christians are called to pray for all in authority to pursue wisdom, justice and truth (1 Tim 2:1-4).
5. Government leaders are accountable to God for their use of power.
While citizens are to respect authority, Scripture makes it clear God holds government leaders highly accountable for using power wisely and justly. Their authority is delegated by God and they will answer to Him for how they govern. The Bible often denounces corrupt leaders who abuse their position to oppress others (Ezek 34:1-10).
Wisdom literature like Proverbs warns kings and rulers against injustice, unrighteousness and oppressing the poor. Psalm 2:10-11 counsels earthly rulers, “Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear.” All governing authorities will one day “give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Pet 4:5).
6. The ideal government recognizes God’s standards of justice.
The perfect government on earth was the theocratic kingdom of Israel under God’s rule. Exodus, Deuteronomy and the historical books of Kings and Chronicles provide principles for righteous governance centered on God’s laws. These include defend the vulnerable, reject bribery, pursue justice, rule impartially, appoint capable officials, and hold everyone accountable to God’s moral standards encoded in the law of Moses.
Though no human government can achieve the holy ideal modeled in Scripture, these principles can guide leaders to govern in a way that honors justice and pleases God. The Bible measures the performance of kings based on their commitment to enforce, obey and submit to God’s laws.
7. God will one day establish His perfect government on the earth.
Though many human governments are plagued by corruption and injustice, Scripture promises God will ultimately defeat evil once and for all. Prophecies in Daniel and Revelation describe Christ establishing His throne to rule over every dominion with perfect righteousness, justice and equity (Dan 7:14, Rev 11:15).
Until then, believers are to pray for and honor human authorities by obeying laws, paying taxes, respecting officials and interceding for their welfare (Rom 13:1-7, 1 Pet 2:17). We live empowered by hope, knowing the Lord is sovereign and will eradicate all injustice when He comes to reign forever.
8. Followers of Christ belong to God’s kingdom above all earthly powers.
While submitted to human institutions, Christians’ ultimate citizenship is in God’s kingdom. Philippians 3:20 declares, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Believers live first for God’s approval over any earthly authority’s.
When obedient citizenship under an ungodly government conflicts with obedience to Christ, the choice is clear. The apostles proclaimed, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). No government can dictate what is right before the King of kings.
9. The church and state have different roles but can work together.
In the New Testament, Jesus distinguished the separate duties of civil government and the church. He said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17). Human government focuses on temporal public order and justice. The church proclaims spiritual salvation and moral truth.
At times, the state overreaches into spiritual affairs (as when governments persecute believers). But when possible, civil leaders and faith communities can complement each other in promoting just, free, and virtuous societies.
10. Corrupt government calls for spiritual discernment from citizens.
Fallen human nature means every government system will be imperfect. Scripture is realistic about widespread injustices, warn that “power corrupts” and exhort vigilance against tyranny. Christians must thoughtfully apply biblical wisdom when participating in the public square.
When governments promote policies clearly antithetical to biblical values or demand allegiance in opposition to God’s standards, believers must resist peacefully. This may include public appeals, protests, civil disobedience, or exploring new political solutions under God’s guidance.
At times, followers of Christ must make difficult judgments about when and how to challenge unjust laws or work to reform corrupt systems. Wisdom is needed to discern when to patiently suffer, when to appeal to moral conscience, and when courageous resistance is required.
In summary, here are some key biblical principles about government:
- All authority is delegated by God, who is sovereign over human affairs.
- Government is called to promote good and restrain evil actions.
- Citizens should respectfully obey government when its laws are just.
- Christians should model good citizenship and support moral policies.
- Leaders are accountable to God for use of power.
- God’s standards provide the ideal model for righteous governance.
- The church and state have distinct but complementary roles.
- Followers of Christ live first for God’s kingdom.
- God will one day establish perfect justice on the earth.
- Unjust government calls for spiritual discernment and conscience.
The Bible provides foundational truths guiding how citizens and leaders alike can honor God in the public square. While imperfect, government is a blessing from the Lord when it functions as He desires.