The interpretation and application of Romans 13, or Religious Liberty and Obeying the Law
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. - Romans 13:1-7
This text teaches and supports a view of obedience to civil authority.
. The scope is not limited to Christians: Though the letter itself is written to Roman Christians, Paul states, "Let EVERY SOUL be subject unto the higher powers."
. Government is authorized or appointed by God: "Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God." Government is ordained by God -- ordained in the sense "set in order", which is well within the meaning of the word, and accords with Genesis 9:5,6, et al.
. This authority spoken of bears the sword: "he beareth not the sword in vain." Government, not the church, bears the sword.
. This authority spoken of is an avenger or revenger: "...he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil." The little child of God is not an avenger, but waits on God to meet out justice: "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." (Romans 12:19)
. This authority spoken of receives tribute or taxes: "For for this cause pay ye tribute also..." This harmonizes with Jesus' instructions in Matthew 22:17-21. The church and its officers are not a taxing entity.
Other verses that speak to the subject include: Titus 3:1,2 [Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work, To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men.] and I Peter 2:13-17 [Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation. Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.].
Human government is of divine institution; anarchy is a child of the sin nature of man. In Paul's message here, obedience hinges on two main things: the external consequences of disobedience and the internal conscience.
Paul does not say that the civil government is a minister of God IF it does good, but civil government is a creature of God ordained for the general good of people. This text DOES NOT support "unconditional and uncritical subjection to any and every demand of the state." The child of God must draw the line when the choice is either obey God or the government.