How should we relate to wicked rulers?

Last updated on February 22, 2021

How should we relate to wicked rulers?

The Bible says: “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” (Romans 13:1). There is a lot of good to be said about the Roman government, but also a lot of bad. So this verse applies both to good and to wicked rulers. As long and in as many instances as possible, we should subject ourselves to the government. It is God’s institution, even though godless people rule.

Biblical exception

There is one clear biblical exception to the command to obey the government. When the government commands something that God forbids, or forbids something that God commands, we should obey God and not the government (Acts 5:29). Our commitment to God goes deeper than our commitment to our government.

Sometimes rulers are so wicked, that they are killing their own subjects. They do not deserve to be rulers anymore. Christians have discussed what they should do in those circumstances. Many have come to the conclusion that in those cases it is legal to oust the ruler. One of the reasons for that is that in Hebrews 11 Barak, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson are all called heroes of the faith, and all of them were involved in overthrowing repressive governments. To prevent anarchy, if at all possible it should be lower authorities who take the responsibility to do this.

Contribute to the political process

In free societies, Christians have the opportunity to contribute to the political process. If this can be done in an honest, non-corrupt way, this is a good way to show society how our faith in God impacts all areas of life. However, it is a dangerous area for Christians for the following reasons:

  • Political power tends to corrupt.
  • We can get tempted to think that we can change society through laws; but in the end, change only comes when the hearts of people are changed.
  • If we push our political agenda while strongly connecting it with our faith, we make it hard for people who disagree with us politically, to respond to the Gospel.

It is great when Christians take responsibility in society. In the Old Testament we have great examples of believers who blessed a country through faithfully serving in a political position. Joseph and Daniel are examples of men who served more or less as prime ministers in heathen governments. God may still call people to positions like this.

Proclaiming the Gospel

Yet the emphasis in the New Testament is on proclaiming the Gospel. For if we really want to make this world a better place, the best way to do it is from the inside out. As people’s hearts change through the proclamation of the Gospel, their whole life will change, and this will finally impact all of society. Christians can bless society by being involved in politics. Yet our hope is not in politics, our hope is in Jesus Christ.

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