10 Things to Know about What the Bible Teaches on God and Human Government

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The following is adapted from J. Budziszewski, Evangelicals in the Public Square: Four Formative Voices on Political Thought and Action (Baker Academic, 2006).

1. God is the true sovereign.

Psalm 22:28

For kingship belongs to the LORDand he rules over the nations.

God ordained all human government for the good of man . . . 

Romans 13:1, 3–4

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. . . . 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. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.

. . . whom God made in his image.

Genesis 1:27

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

2. Although God originally chose only one nation, he desires ultimately to draw all nations into the light of his Word.

Isaiah 49:6

“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Romans 10:12

For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.

Revelation 21:23–24

And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it,
for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.
By its light will the nations walk,
and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.

3. God disciplines the nations according to their deeds.

Jeremiah 18:7–10

If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it.

Jeremiah 5:28–29

 “They have grown fat and sleek.
They know no bounds in deeds of evil;
    they judge not with justice
the cause of the fatherless, to make it prosper,
    and they do not defend the rights of the needy.
29 Shall I not punish them for these things?
declares the Lord,
    and shall I not avenge myself
    on a nation such as this?”

4. God disciplines the rulers of nations.

Daniel 2:20–21

Daniel answered and said:

“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
    to whom belong wisdom and might.
  He changes times and seasons;
    he removes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
    and knowledge to those who have understanding.”

Jeremiah 25:12

Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, declares the Lord, making the land an everlasting waste.

Daniel 4:27

“Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity.”

5. In general, disobedience to human government is disobedience to God; indeed, government deserves not only obedience but honor.

Romans 13:1–2, 7

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. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. . . . Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

6. But there are exceptions: Any governmental edict that contradicts the commands of God must be disobeyed.

Acts 5:29

Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.”

Daniel 3:18

“But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

Exodus 1:17, 20–21

But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. . . . So God dealt well with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families.

7. The just purposes of human government include

[a] the commendation of good,

[b] the punishment of evil,

[c] the maintenance of peace, and

[d] the protection of the oppressed.

1 Peter 2:13–14

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.

1 Timothy 2:1–2

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.

Isaiah 10:1–2

Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees,
and the writers who keep writing oppression,
to turn aside the needy from justice
and to rob the poor of my people of their right,
that widows may be their spoil,
and that they may make the fatherless their prey!

8. In pursuance of these purposes, God authorizes human government 

[a] to use force on his behalf and

[b] in grave cases even to take life, though never deliberately to take the life of the innocent.

Romans 13:3–4

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. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.

Genesis 9:6

Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image.

9. Yet human government cannot fully or permanently redress wrong, because it cannot uproot sin from the human heart; this can be done only by the saving grace of God through Jesus Christ.

Jeremiah 17:9

The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?

Isaiah 64:6

We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

Romans 3:22–25

The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

10. Moreover, the community of redemption is not the state but the church. No matter how much respect is due to the state, the church is never to be identified with it.

John 18:33–36

So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

Acts 20:28

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.

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