Civil Government is Subject to God


What is the nature of the conflict over Judge Moore. Is he being foolish, or is this a critical battle at a crucial juncture? Does he have a constitutional basis for what he is doing?

In the first 150 years since the Constitution was written, it used to be routine to quote the Bible in the courtroom. You may be surprised by that, but Federer, Amos, Barton and others have shown that this is clearly the case. But what has happened in the last 100 years is that the ACLU and a judiciary with an agenda have succeeded in almost completely removing God and Bible from the courtrooms of our nation. There are still many hold out courtrooms that have the ten commandments prominently displayed, but in most cases, they have become empty symbols. That is not true with the Judge Roy Moore case. He has appealed to our Constitutional documents; to the Alabama Constitution, to 200 years of court precedent, to Common Law, and to the tenth amendment. And I think he has a fantastic case, though you will probably never hear it in the newspaper. He refused to do what other Christian lawyer's have done – to argue that the display is secular and only has a historical value, and will not be displayed in a prominent place. And because he is not treating this as a mere symbol, but rather is going to the heart of the issue, some Christian judicial scholars believe that this court case is one of the most important to come along since the War Between the States. And that is one of the reasons why I have been forwarding information by email and why I am preaching on the Limits of Civil Government today. God has positioned this case to be a fantastic opportunity to make a change in our nation – perhaps to impeach several judges; and if Christians are completely silent, we are throwing away one of the best opportunities to be handed to us in the last fifty years. We cannot allow this opportunity to go by and be passively quiet. We cannot. Too much is at stake.

Many Christians do not realize the extent to which the humanistic culture wars have impacted our nation. In fact, many Christians appeal to Romans 13 as if the State can do no wrong. They take the first phrase of chapter 13 totally out of context: "let every soul be subject to the governing authorities," and claim that this passage means that we must always, without exception, obey the State, and they criticize Judge Moore for disobeying Judge Thompson. They claim that this passage teaches unquestioning obedience. And so, before I even look at the text before us I want to discuss the historical context of this debate. Well, actually, before I even get there, let me read you a couple of court cases that show how hostile the Judiciary is to the bible.

Some of you may remember the case of Aaron Patno in Sarpy county. He was a child molester who had repeatedly sodomized a child and was caught. He pleaded guilty to the evidence, and was convicted. It was a water tight case. There were no complications or technicalities that could later ruin the case – or so it looked. But when the sentencing was read by the Judge, the judge read a Bible verse to underscore the heinousness of the crime. A complaint was made that he had read a Bible verse. Now remember, Patno pled guilty, right? But a complaint was made about his having quoted the Bible. The Nebraska Supreme court stuck its nose in, reviewed the situation, and overturned the conviction, not based on any technicalities, not based on the evidence, and not based on a "not guilty" plea. Aaron pleaded guilty. The sentence was overturned solely on the basis that the Bible had been alluded to. Attorney General Don Stenberg appealed to the Supreme Court. And let me read you an old clipping of the Supreme Court's refusal to overturn.

The Supreme Court refused yesterday to review a Nebraska high court decision that overturned a child molester's prison sentence because the trial judge quoted Bible verses when imposing the man's punishment.

The justices let stand the Nebraska Supreme Court's ruling … because reasonable people might question the judge's impartiality.

If you believe in the bible, you are not impartial!!! You might be prejudiced against criminals!!! Let me give you another clipping, this one from Pennsylvania: "Convicted and sentenced by a jury for brutally clubbing to death a 71-year-old woman with an axe handle so he could steal her Social Security check, the perpetrator got his sentence overturned. Why? Because the prosecuting attorney, in a statement lasting less than 5 seconds, mentioned a Bible verse in the courtroom."

The fury that is being poured out upon Judge Moore is the fury of people who know the danger of this court case to those kinds of humanistic decisions. With state's rights issues involved, it has the potential of overturning 50 years of judicial activism.

Some Christians believe that this is just the natural outworking of our Constitution as a secular document, and that we ought not to be surprised. And if you believe that, at least you can say after this sermon that it shouldn't be that way. But the more I have studied this subject, the more I have been convinced that the Constitutional Convention did not establish a secular nation. Apologies to Gary North, but I am not convinced by his thesis. This sermon doesn't rise or fall on whether I am right and Gary's wrong, but I wanted to at least give you background information for why it is legitimate to appeal to our constitutional documents with regard to Judge Moore, and why I think we have both a Constitutional and a Biblical leg to stand on. I have written a paper summarizing my reasons for believing that, and it's on the back table. I won't cover all those arguments, but let me give you four quickies.

First, it is clear to me that the Constitution did not do away with the Declaration of Independence. In fact, the Declaration, which is a covenantal document under God (and under God's law), is the first of three Federally binding documents. The United States Annotated Code says it is binding, and no State has been able to join the union without affirming its principles. That alone makes this nation in covenant with God. As one writer said, every time a state joined the union they acknowledged God as King by acknowledging the Declaration.

Second, the Constitution upholds Common-Law as being the governing law of the land. Amendment VII "In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury shall be otherwise re-examined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law." In fact, McLellan says that you can't even understand the Constitution without reference to common law. And Common Law was the case law application of Biblical law. Now think of this: If the Constitution is the supreme law of the land, it is making common law the supreme law, and it is therefore also making Biblical law the supreme law of the land. I was only able to fit so many quotations to prove this in my paper, but let me give you another one that is not in there.

Charles Pinckney was a delegate from the South at the Constitutional Convention and one of the original signers of the Constitution. He was a lawyer, an aid to aid-de-camp to George Washington, was nominated by Washington to the US Supreme Court, even though he turned down that job. But in any case, he was recognized as a legal scholar and an expert in common-law. And if you think that Jesus was overthrown by the Constitution as the head of the State, keep in mind that the Constitution upholds even radical laws like common-law blasphemy laws. Pinckney, one of the authors of the Constitution (who ought to know what was intended by it), made this statement: "Blasphemy against the Almighty is denying his being or providence, or uttering contumelious reproaches on our Savior Christ. It is punished, at common law by fine and imprisonment, for Christianity is part of the laws of the land." His opinion is exactly how the Supreme Court interpreted the matter from the first session through the next 150 years. That's why they treated the constitution as enforcing Christianity, though not one particular denomination. James Wilson, who was appointed to the Supreme Court by George Washington, said that "Christianity is part of the common-law." He started the first law school, and his textbook affirms that Common Law is the generational application of Christianity and the Bible to society. In fact, the book was so replete with Scripture that generations later we have reports of law students like Finney who became Christians by reading the text book on law. So we cannot ignore the role of Common Law in the Constitution. The Constitution was not intended to be a stand-alone document. It merely explicated the procedure and limits of the federal government in an explicitly Christian nation. A common-law nation is a Christian nation. It's too bad that the courts don't operate according to common law anymore.

Third, though I think it was unwise, the prohibition of Congress establishing a religion and the religious test prohibition were not prohibitions of Christianity, but prohibitions of favoring one of the state-established denominations over another. They did not want the Federal government establishing a denominational viewpoint, which might be prejudiced against certain states that had a different established denomination. And so, unlike some states, the Federal government did not have oaths to uphold a Congregational or Episcopal form of Government. Instead, the Federal Government supported Christianity in general and the bible's laws. And right from the beginning, all three branches of government affirmed that. For sample quotes, you can look at my paper, though there are tons more quotes that I could refer you to. From Washington on, every Federal officer was required to take an oath with the words "so help me God." In the last part of the paper I list several such oaths. That is quite different from what the ACLU says now.

And then finally, the Northwest Ordinance prohibited any secular state from joining the union. It stated that religion was "necessary for good government." Again, the United States Code Annotated lists the Northwest Ordinance as part of America's organic law. That is a federally binding law of the land that is part of our Constitutional heritage, and it made that requirement "forever." Any state that joined in the future had to affirm that religion was necessary for good government. And in the 1700's the term "religion" referred to Christianity. That's certainly the way the courts and Congress interpreted it for many years thereafter.

But let's assume that I'm totally wrong. Then you would expect numerous attempts by George Washington to secularize politics, but he did the opposite. If Washington and the other 54 delegates did indeed foist a secular document upon our people; if they overthrew a Christian nation and substituted a secular humanistic one, then literally thousands of court cases, treaties, Congressional enactments, Presidential Proclamations; Military mandates, etc were blatantly unconstitutional. You would expect a little more consistency from these secularists. It would have been unconstitutional for example, for George Washington, our first president, to say in his inaugural address that no nation will be blessed unless it submits to the laws of God, or to say in His National Day of Thanksgiving Proclamation, "Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will…" etc., etc. For a man who was trying to secularize the nation, he made hundreds of efforts to do the exact opposite. If the constitution mandates a secular nation, then it was unconstitutional for Congress to begin its treaty of December 24, 1814 with the words, "In the name of the Most Holy and Indivisible Trinity." The national motto "In God we trust" and the pledge of Allegiance would have been unconstitutional. I just find it hard to believe that secularists who succeeded in overthrowing Christianity would not make good on their victory by immediately removing all references to Bible, Christianity, the Holy Trinity, etc. Ever since Lutz and Hyneman did their massive study of 15,000 political documents from 1760-1805, the evidence has been overwhelming that the founders intended this to be a Christian nation under the Bible, while at the same time excluding any denominational biases. Even Newsweek Magazine said, in the December 26 issue of 1982, "Now historians are discovering that the Bible perhaps even more than the Constitution is our Founding document."

It is in that context that you can see why Judge Roy Moore has no option but to assert Christ's sovereignty in the courtroom. He has pledged to uphold the Declaration of Independence, which affirms God's laws. He is sworn to uphold the Constitution, which upholds Common Law, and by implication Biblical law. He is under a nation that has always held that nothing in the state can be repugnant to the Northwest Ordinance, which clearly says that the state may not be a secular state since religion is "necessary to good government." He is sworn to uphold the Alabama Constitution. The Federal Judge said that God could not be acknowledged in the courtroom, but the Alabama Constitution invokes "the favor and guidance of Almighty God." How in the world could an Alabama court throw out part of its constitution? He is supposed to judge in terms of its constitution. Failing to acknowledge God is hardly a way to seek God's favor or seek His guidance. And Alabama's constitution has other references to the Creator who has given inalienable rights. The oath of office has the words "so help me God." The sheer hypocrisy of the Feds removing the ten commandments from the Alabama court room can be seen in the fact that the Supreme Court of the United States still has a picture of Moses holding the ten commandments, and Moses stands behind the judges when they deliberate. But eventually even this will no doubt be painted over. In this culture war it is a contest between two religions: the religion of humanism and the religion of God. Religion in government is inescapable. All authority is religious by nature, and if there is no authority above the government, then the government has declared itself to be God.

Chief Justice Roy Moore has set the stage for the true issues to come up. Other ten commandment cases that have been won have actually (at least in my opinion) been lost because they have acknowledge the legitimacy of the Lemon test, which says that there must be a secular purpose. Judge Moore has said that the Ten Commandments are not a secular trinket, but are the law by which all laws are tested. And we need to support him, encourage him, pray for him, pray against his enemies, and pray for restitution. Who knows what God is preparing him for, but over the past two years he has shown himself to be a man who is willing to make sacrifices and to take heat for principle. He is a man who can't be bought. Here is a man who understands the limits of civil power.

The only authority that the state has is a religious authority that comes from God Almighty

The nature of authority and subjection to authority (v. 1a)

So that is probably where we ought to begin this sermon: what is the nature of the authority in verse 1 and what is the nature of subjection to that authority? Some Christians have criticized Moore because they say that he violates the first phrase in verse 1: "Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities." He is disobeying a direct order from Judge Thompson. But let's think about that for a moment. Did the apostle Paul violate his own commandment when he refused to stop preaching Jesus? Why do you think he was in prison so many times? He disobeyed authorities. And yet he insisted that he was in total submission to their true authority.

If you have only been trained in humanistic concepts of authority, that may seem like a contradiction. But Biblically it is not. All the apostles disobeyed the Sanhedrin. Were they failing to submit to lawful authority when they said, "We ought to obey God rather than man?" And the answer is, "No. Of course not! The Pharisees were operating outside of their authority when they made those commands." Think of it this way: let's say that you are on the Omaha police department and one day the police chief goes senile and starts making crazy orders. He orders you to assassinate the Mayor and the Governor. Are you failing to submit to this governing authority when you refuse to do the assassinations? Most people would intuitively recognize that you should not do so, but they wouldn't know how to explain it. What they are recognizing intuitively is that the senile police chief has no authority to command things that are outside of his jurisdiction or which violate his mandate.

And that was what was happening with the apostles when they refused to obey the governing authorities who commanded them not to preach. That is what is happening with Judge Moore when he refuses to obey a command of Thompson that is outside of Thompson's legitimate jurisdiction to command. Constitutionally Thompson has no authority to command Judge Moore to remove the commandments, and certainly he has no Biblical authority to do so. In fact, since our nation is ruled by words, any time a ruler gives orders contrary to those words, courts have said that these unconstitutional commands are null and void. But more important than the constitution is the bible. The rest of the verse defines the meaning of that first phrase.

Authority that God has not delegated is not true authority (v. 1b)

Paul goes on to say, "For" [here comes his reason. "For"] "there is no authority except from God." The only interpretation of that phrase that does not put Paul in hypocritical contradiction of his own commandment is the interpretation that says that magistrates have no authority except that which has been delegated to them by God. Authority that God has not delegated is not true authority. Paul says, "there is no authority except from God." The literal Greek is even stronger. The word "except" is a translation of two Greek words "if not." So, in a Greek Interlinear, you will see that it says, "There is no authority if not from God." If it is not from God, it is not authority.

Now just in case you are having a hard time buying this, let me show how the same principle works with regard to Constitutional law. Or another way of saying it is, "How do courts treat unconstitutional laws?" In the Marbury v. Madison case of 1803, the court said, "All laws which are repugnant to the Constitution are null and void." In the Norton v. Shelby County case, the court ruled. "An unconstitutional act is not law; it confers no rights; it imposes no duties; affords no protection; it creates no office; it is in legal contemplation, as inoperative as though it had never been passed." Here's how Volume 16 of American Jurisprudence, Section 177, words it: "the general rule is that an unconstitutional statute, though having the form and name of law, is in reality no law, but is wholly void, and ineffective for any purpose; since unconstitutionality dates from the time of its enactment, and not merely from the date of the decision so branding it. No one is bound to obey an unconstitutional law and no courts are bound to enforce it." Now I bring that up to illustrate the principle of why authority that God has not delegated is not true authority. Judge Moore has a Biblical and a Constitutional right to do what he is doing. This is a revolutionary principle.

But it is revolutionary in our obedience as well. That is why the Roman Christians had to obey Nero when he made commandments consistent with God's law. They couldn't say, "Considering the source, we don't need to obey or even listen to him." No. The authority of God delegated to a ruler is not nullified because a ruler takes additional false authority to himself. We need to obey the legitimate commands of even ungodly rulers. Otherwise, verse 2 says, "Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God…" If you are in Rome and the crowds begin to riot because of Nero's tyranny, unless another magistrate calls you to arms, you need to obey his command not to riot. Your looting and stealing does not somehow become good simply because of Caesar's evil. God's laws remain God's laws no matter who administrates them. They are still God's ordinances.

On the other hand, Caesar has no authority to command you to fail to fulfill God's commands. And what is true of a citizen is also true of another magistrate. You see, Judge Moore is responsible to God for how he administers justice in his courtroom, and he cannot begin to administer humanism simply because a judge says that he should. He is a magistrate. Magistrates can interpose themselves to protect the people under their jurisdiction. That means that they can stand between a tyrant and their people and say, "This far, and no further." In fact, they have a responsibility to do so. And that is exactly what Judge Moore is doing. Unfortunately, not all of Alabama is with him. But they had an opportunity, and more may yet come of it.

Civil authority is religious authority. The word for "minister" in verse 4 is diakonos (or servant) whereas the word for "ministers" in verse 6 is leitourgoi (from which we get liturgy) and refers to a religious servant.

Point C. Civil authority is religious authority. This can be seen not only in the fact that the Greek of verse 4 calls a ruler a deacon of God or a servant of God, but in the unusual term used in verse 6. It says, "they are God's ministers," and the word used for ministers there is leitourgoi, which means a religious official. It's the word that we get liturgy from. A magistrate is every bit as much a minister of God as I am. He ministers God's Word in terms of Biblical justice in the civil sphere and I minister God's Word in the ecclesiastical sphere, but we are both religious ministers. Religion in politics is unavoidable. Either they are leitourgoi of God or they will automatically be leitourgoi of the religion of humanism. Ruling is inescapably religious. The source of law is inescapably religious. It defines the god of a nation. If there is no higher power than the Supreme Court, then the Supreme Court is the god of the land. If there is no higher power than the government operating in concert, then the government as a whole has become god. But our nation was founded by affirming that there are laws above our nation to which our governors and justices are accountable, and it is the law of God. And they must be faithful ministers of God's Word to the nation.

This word leitourgoi implies a reverence for God. David said, "He who rules over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God." This is why blasphemy was punishable by common-law in American Courts.1 This is why atheists could not take oaths in early America. Their oath could not be taken seriously. No one believed they feared God's judgments. The constitution of Mississippi said in 1817, "No person who denies the being of God or a future state of rewards and punishments shall hold any office in the civil department of the State." Why? Because he did not Biblically qualify for office. He had no fear of God. A magistrate must be a leitourgos.

Joe Morecraft points out that Romans 13 must be read in light of Romans 12:1-2. And I think he is right. All of Paul's books follow the same pattern of having doctrine in the first half and the application of the doctrine in the second half. And the pivot of those books hangs on a "therefore." Romans 12:1-2 "I beseech you therefore brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed, by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." Chapter 12 shows how citizens should yield themselves in mind and body to God and chapter 13 shows how magistrates should yield themselves in mind and body to God. They must be ministers.

Might does not make right: power must be wielded with Biblical ethics, and God alone is Lord of the conscience (v. 5)

Point D says that might does not make right. The ancient Greek philosopher Thrasymachus coined the concept that might makes right because in his secular mind there was no higher authority than the government. So in his mind it wasn't right because there were higher laws. In his mind an act is right because the government says it is, and it's got the power to back it up. But that is so contrary to biblical thought, and it is the very opposite of what the Declaration of Independence states. That document fought against that very idea. If you have never read the Declaration of Independence, you need to do so. The atrocities being perpetrated in our land are far worse than what that Declaration complained about. If there were ever a good reason for secession or revolution under a lawful magistrate, it would be now. Alas, most magistrates are just as corrupt and compromised. But when one like Judge Moore stands up, we need to stand with him.

Anyway, the point I was making in point D is found in verse 5: "Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake." Most people only relate to the government out of fear of getting into trouble with the government. But Paul was more concerned that we worry about getting into trouble with God, who alone is Lord of the Conscience. Can you see how Paul emphasizes point 1 in many different ways in the text? Point 1: the only authority that the state has is a religious authority that comes from God Almighty.

Magistrates must serve God (v. 4 – "minister" = servant), are appointed by Him (v. 1) and are accountable to Him. Keep in mind that Romans 12-16 must be read in light of Romans 12:1-2. All men, women and children must present themselves to God (12:1) and be yielded to His will (12:3) whether they are citizens or magistrates.

Point number 2. Magistrates must serve God, are appointed by Him and are accountable to Him. I have already jumped ahead and have preached on Romans 12:1-2. But I think it is obvious from the text that magistrates are not called to be tyrants who do what they want to do. They are called to be ministers (which is the Greek word for servant). Servants of God (verses 4 and 6) and servants for the people (verse 4). If they are appointed by God (verse 1) they are accountable to God and will answer to Him for how they rule. If they are God's ministers or servants (verse 4) then a servant must do what the master says. There is no getting around the idea that magistrates should acknowledge God's Lordship over them. That is the heart of what the Judge Moore case is about. Servanthood implies Lordship. And our cry should be "The Crown Rights of King Jesus!" He is the Lord of these servants.

Magistrates are responsible for implementing God's laws

Delegated authority necessitates delegated law since law is the expression of authority. If the source of authority is God (v. 1), the source of law must also be God.

Point 3. Magistrates are responsible for implementing God's laws. This may seem strange to some people today, but it was not at all strange to the founders of our republic. Our first president, George Washington said, "It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible" (p. 660). Andrew Jackson, on June 8, 1845, said in reference to the bible, "That book, Sir, is the Rock upon which our republic rests." When Judge Nathaniel Freeman instructed a grand Jury in 1802 he said, "the laws of the Christian system, as embraced in the bible, must be respected as of high authority in all our courts and it cannot be thought improper for the officers of such a government to acknowledge their obligation to be governed by its rule" (p. 430-431). Many other such quotes could be given. Magistrates are responsible to apply God's laws.

This can be seen in five ways in this passage. (The first way is a logical deduction of what we have already seen – that all authority that is legitimate authority is delegated by God to the magistrate.) But Point A says, "Delegated authority necessitates delegated law since law is the expression of authority. If the source of authority is God (which verse 1 makes clear that it is), then the source of law for a ruler must also be God." That's a simple logical deduction from verse 1, and I'm not going to even comment on it except to say that we need to apply the same logic to Judge Thompson. If the authority for his actions does not come from God, where does it come from? Some Judges have been very forthright in admitting that it is every judge's opinion. They as individuals are the source of authority, and if they can get a majority of the court to agree with them, then the court can be seen as the highest law.

Disobedience to true authority is resistance to "the ordinance of God." (v. 2) This means that God's ordinances define authority.

But we don't need to rely simply on a logical deduction from verse 1. Verse 2 makes it explicit. Verse 2 says, "therefore, whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God…" Paul is not saying that every law a king passes automatically becomes one of the ordinances or the laws of God. That was the view of King George the III and of a few earlier British rulers that the Puritans resisted. Some of those British Monarchs said, the King is Law (or in their Latin phrase, Rex Lex). Rex means king, and Lex means law. The King is law, and whatever the King says is as binding as if God says it. And they appealed to this verse to prove it. Unfortunately, this is the view Christians have been expressing on radio this past week in criticizing Judge Moore. They have argued that if the state says something, we have to obey it. Rex Lex. What the king says is law. But one of the important books that framed the thinking of our founding fathers according to studies done by Lutz & Hyneman, by Barton and others, was a book by the name of Lex Rex. It was written by a Puritan by the name of Samuel Rutherford, who argued the exact opposite. He argued that Law was King: and thus the name for his book: Lex Rex. He showed Biblically and in terms of English legal history that God's laws trumped any kings words. He argued that for a king's laws to have any authority, they must be the ordinances of God. And Rutherford argued from Christ's commands to flee arrest, or to resist obedience to the unlawful commands to not preach. He based his view that Law was above the king on the refusal of the apostles to obey unlawful commands. They said, "we ought to obey God rather than men." Ought deals with law, and God's laws trumped man's laws.

What Paul is saying in this chapter (a chapter by the way, which is describing the ideal government) is that resistance to true authority is identical to resistance to God's laws. God's ordinance is authority and authority is God's ordinance. Verse 2 is as explicit as you can get that a ruler must rule by the ordinances of God. If I resist a command that is unlawful, I am also resisting a command that has no authority. We must distinguish in our minds the difference between something that is legal and something that is lawful. Abortion is legal in America, but it is unlawful in God's eyes and it is unlawful in terms of the original intent of the constitution. And by the way, we don't have a situation with Judge Moore where what he is doing is lawful but illegal. Judge Moore's disobedience to Judge Thompson is both legal and lawful. Remember our earlier quotes of court precedent that unconstitutional directives are null and void and carry no legal weight. States have interposed themselves when something unconstitutional was done by congress. Presidents have done the same. President Andrew Jackson ignored a Supreme Court ruling. He simply went ahead and enforced the law that the Supreme Court had said was unconstitutional. He said, "It's Mr. Marshall's ruling. Let him enforce it," and of course, the Supreme Court was powerless to do anything about it. We need a president who will stand with Judge Moore. We need a Congress who will impeach the petty wickedness of judges like Thompson. We need to encourage governor Bob Riley to stand with Moore like the former governor did.

To be a terror to evil and not to good (v. 3), the magistrate must have some standard of definition. Paul indicates that this standard is God, for "he is God's minister to you for good… [and] he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil." (v. 4)

The third proof that God's laws must continue to govern nations can be found in point C, which says, "To be a terror to evil and not to good (v. 3), the magistrate must have some standard of definition. Paul indicates that this standard is God, for "he is God's minister to you for good… [and] he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil." (v. 4)" Did you get the logic of that?

We all know countries that are a terror to good works, don't we? Israel terrorized Jesus and put Him to death. Nero terrorized Christians for professing Christ and doing good works. So Romans 13 is not describing what is, but what should be. Paul is describing the ideal ruler in verse 3 who has presented his body a living sacrifice in service to God, who has not conformed to this world, but has been transformed by the renewal of his mind. It is describing the ruler who has proved what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Keep in mind that chapters 12-13 are prefaced by those two verses.

So when verse 3 says that this government terrorizes evil and praises good, you need to ask the question: "Who determines what is good and what is bad?" It can't be our minds. America's humanistic minds have called abortion, homosexuality and free sex good, and they have called putting the ten commandments into the classrooms bad. Jesus said, "No one is good but One, that is, God." (Matt. 19:17) God is the only source of good, definer of good, or standard of good. And His law alone can define good and evil. Romans 7:7 says, "I would not have known sin except through the law." God's law defines good and evil. Verse 4 does not define what a magistrate apart from God can do for good. It says, "For he is God's minister to you for good…"

The obedience reaches to the conscience (v. 5), but since God alone is Lord of the conscience, this obedience must be lawful obedience.

The fourth evidence that God's law is in view is verse 5. "therefore, you must be subject, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience sake." And we have already dealt with this issue that might does not make right. It's something that goes way beyond that and binds the conscience of every man. The reason we obey is to keep a clean conscience before God. And God alone is Lord of the conscience.

Not all taxes are lawful ("to all their due" v. 7), but only those where they serve as "God's ministers" (v. 6). We only owe what the law says we owe (v. 8)

The fifth evidence is actually the same as point number VI, so we will take them together. But it is that Scripture does not consider all taxes to be lawful. If everything a state did was automatically lawful, then any form of taxation would also be lawful. But verse 7 commands us to "Render therefore to all their due." Verse 8 uses the same Greek word for due or what is owed (It's the Greek word, opheilo) and says, "Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law." We owe nothing except love, and love is defined as fulfilling the law. The logic is that law defines what is owed. Now it cannot be by accident that verse 7 says that we are to pay any taxes that are owed and verse 8 immediately defines what is owed by the law.

And to make this point, let me ask a question? Did citizens in England who were in a tax bracket above 90% really owe that much? If they tithed 10% and gave all the taxes that the tax man wanted, rather than using every loophole they could think of, they would be owing more than they earned. R.J. Rushdoony quotes Luigi Barzini saying, "the late Luigi Einaudi, Italy's foremost economist and ex-President of the Republic, calculated that, if every tax on the statute books was fully collected, the State would absorb 110% of the national income." Which means, more than the entire nation made. Can we really say that Italians owed 110%? Impossible. So that means, even the issue of taxation needs to be thought through by a magistrate, and he must only impose those taxes that are Biblically legitimate. And I want you to notice that only two taxes are mentioned in this chapter as being owed to the government. In contrast, we have income taxes, property taxes, social security taxes, workman's compensation, inheritance taxes, value-added taxes, sales tax, corporate taxes, capital gains tax, inheritance tax and many other taxes. If any of you become magistrates, you should do everything you can to remove these unbiblical taxes.

Magistrates have very limited roles

Acting as God's servant of vengeance by terrorizing evil-doers (vv. 2-4)

Hurrying on: I want to just whiz through the rest of the material. But I want you to notice that magistrates have very limited roles. First, they act as God's servant of vengeance by terrorizing evil-doers (verse 3). They bear the sword to punish criminals and to enforce contracts. They serve citizens (verse 3 says, "God's minister to you;" "God's servant to you") by protecting life, property and liberty of law abiding citizens. They enforce God's law. They praise the law abiding and they condemn evil. Beyond that, there is no role for the government. The Bible presents a pretty limited role for government, and when it begins to take on more tyranny, Scripture describes the government as a beast. Every government in Daniel's mapping of history from his day to Christ's (with the exception of Israel) was called a Beast. They overstepped their roles in God's eyes.

Serving citizens ("God's minister to you") by protecting the life, property and liberty of the law abiding (vv. 3,4)

Enforcing Biblical law (v. 4)

Praising the law abiding (v. 3) and condemning evil (v. 2)

Magistrates have limited powers

The most they can do to promote good is to "praise" it and protect it from attack. This is not a call for a paternal state.

Point V shows that they also have very limited powers. How far can they go to promote good? Can they spend money to educate the public on the problems with smoking, caner causing agents and to run government schools? No. As much as a government might want to help good people prosper, and to keep good businesses from failing, and to prevent parents from making mistakes, the only thing this passage says that the government may do to proactively help the good people is given in verse 3: Paul tells the citizen, "Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same." That seems pitifully weak to many people. Surely the government should give more than praise?! Surely the government can at least prevent accidents on the job, prevent disease through forced vaccinations, and help good people in other ways. But Paul says that the most you should expect from a good ruler is praise for what you are doing. The onus for doing good is on the citizen, and the government is a protector against evil. This chapter is not a call for a paternal state to supply all the needs and wants of its citizens. Nowhere in this chapter can you find a justification for study grants, school loans, disaster relief, etc., etc." And no where in our constitution can you find justification for proliferation of agencies in the name of good. There are no etceteras in the text. Praise?!!! Is that all the government can do to promote good? Yes. God wants the government to have a limited role and not to be a political Messiah.

The most they can do to prevent evil is to punish evil after it has been done (vv. 3-4 "if you do evil"). This is not a call for a police state.

But on the negative side, the most they can do to prevent evil is to punish evil after it has been done. That's an important point as well. Notice the "if" in verse 4. "But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger, to execute wrath on him who practices evil." The action of the government against evil people is only after they have perpetrated the evil action. God does not authorize the government to prevent bad thoughts. God does not authorize the government to try to prevent a crime from happening. He does not authorize sting operations, or a police state that searches into homes and bedrooms and businesses to discover problems. If a business through carelessness hurts an employee, there will be compensation demanded by the state to the victim, but God nowhere authorizes OSHA or a host of other regulatory agencies that are trying to prevent evil from happening. This chapter is the very opposite of a police state.

They may collect taxes to cover the cost of praising good and punishing evil (vv. 6-7)

And then finally, they may collect legitimate taxes. And I have already dealt with that, as well as point number VI. But if they had biblically legitimate roles and power today, they wouldn't need any other taxes. In 1758 Benjamin Franklin said, "It would be thought a hard Government that should tax its People one-tenth Part of their Time, to be employed in its Service."

Citizens owe no man anything except what the law says that we owe (v. 8)

What a refreshing picture of how civil government should run. Let us pray that our country would return to the book, that it would once again become a limited government, that it would one day correct any imperfections in our Constitution and that it would acknowledge God freely as the King of America. But until that happens, our Constitution is a pretty good document and we can still press our constitutional documents to the feet of our government and light a fire that will make them feel the heat and see the light. Whether or not Judge Moore wins is not the issue. The issue is standing for principle, and standing with men who stand for principle. In the beginning of the 1900's Voltarine de Cleyre said, "So long as the people do not care to exercise their freedom, those who wish to tyrannize will do so; for tyrants are active and ardent, and will devote themselves in the name of any number of gods, religious and otherwise, to put shackles upon sleeping men." Let's make sure that we are not sleeping men, women and children. And may the Lord receive all the glory through whatever happens to Judge Roy Moore. Amen.


  1. "Christianity... is not to be maliciously and openly reviled and blasphemed against, to the annoyance of believers or the injury of the public... [the promotion of] Deism, or any other form of infidelity... is not to be presumed to exist in a Christian country..." (United States Supreme Court, 1844 unanimous verdict) [p. 596]

Civil Government is Subject to God is part of the Foundations series published on August 31, 2003

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