Relating to Secular Authority

“Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work.”

- Titus 3:1

Jesus is Lord” is an affirmation that is difficult for human beings to hear and truly believe. In confessing the lordship of Christ we are denying human autonomy, the idea that we are a law unto ourselves and are not subject to any higher authority. To bow the knee to Jesus is also to admit that no human government is absolute, that we will always follow our Savior’s demands when they are contrary to the demands of the state (Acts 5:27–29).

But the fact that no earthly government has final authority does not therefore mean that the state lacks authority altogether. In fact, God Himself has given the power of the sword to rulers and other governing bodies as a providential means by which He restrains evil (Rom. 13:1–7). Insofar as the state does not forbid what our Lord commands and command what our Lord forbids, submission to human laws is not incompatible with Christian faith. Submission to laws like these is not only compatible with Christianity, it is in fact demanded of the believer by God Almighty. This is Paul’s point in Titus 3:1.

During the present age, God establishes His kingdom as a society that must live within the kingdoms of this world. Many who are now citizens of these earthly dominions have been chosen before the foundation of the world to be citizens of the heavenly kingdom as well. As we submit to secular laws we show that faith in Jesus does not produce lawlessness, and the Spirit can use our witness to make His kingdom attractive to those who are elect but have not yet come to faith in Christ. This is apparently one of the means the Lord used to convert the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:25–34), and He can do the same today as we obey laws that do not force us to compromise our faith, even if some of these laws are burdensome. Disobedience is not permitted merely because we find regulations foolish or do not like the people in power.

Jeremiah 29:7 calls us to seek the welfare of the city in which we are exiled. We are not of this world, but we do not turn our backs on this world. As we obey the state and do good to all people (Titus 3:1), we illumine the way that leads to life eternal (Matt. 5:14–16).

Coram Deo

It is important that we never confuse the kingdoms of this world with the kingdom of God. We do not submit to earthly authorities because they have an inherent right to lead but because the Creator has established them for our welfare. Are you thankful that the Lord uses the state to restrain anarchy even when you do not like the rulers in office? Let us strive to be grateful that the world has not devolved into utter lawlessness by seeking to uphold the law.

Passages for Further Study

Ezra 6:1–9
Proverbs 14:35
Mark 12:13–17
1 Peter 2:13–17

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.