When is it okay, if ever, for Christians to break the law? Scripture makes it clear that Christians are to follow the governing authorities that God has placed over them. The Bible says, “Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.” So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience. Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do. Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them, and give respect and honor to those who are in authority” (Romans 13:1-8 NLT).
God has placed governing authorities in our lives to establish order, punish evil and promote justice. When we rebel against the authorities God has placed in our lives, we disobey God and will receive our just punishment. It is interesting that the Apostle Paul wrote this letter to the Romans in approximately A.D. 57 when he was under Roman Emperor Nero, who ruled from A.D.54-68. According to Josephus, a Jewish historian during the time of the Apostle Paul and Nero, Nero was a “barbarous individual” (Bible.org). Yet, the Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, told fellow believers to submit to the governing authorities over them. And, it should be no different in our day!
A modern day example of not following the governing laws of our country happened in Cleveland, Ohio recently. According to News Channel Five reporter Mike Waterhouse, “The senior pastor of a Cleveland church is facing federal charges for allegedly not paying more than $90,000 in income taxes…” The article went on to say, “The information alleged that while Mt. Sinai deducted and collected the required income tax and FICA withholdings from the total taxable wages of its employees, Matthews ‘willfully failed to report and pay over to the Internal Revenue Service those withheld taxes.’ Prosecutors alleged Matthews instead ’caused those funds to be used for other purposes including transfers into the pastor’s account for his own personal use.'” Even though churches are tax exempt by government law, individual employees of the church have to pay personal income taxes. This pastor was accused of trying to get away with avoiding paying them and was being charged for it.
Christians should follow governing authorities as mentioned in Romans. However, there are times when believers in Christ should break the law made by governing bodies. A Christian should only break the law of the land or any other God-given authority when that authority contradicts the law of God, the Bible, and would cause a believer to sin. The book of Acts mentions a specific instance when the governing authorities of the day told the apostles to not share their faith with others. The apostles simply told the authorities they could not disobey God on account of them. “Then they brought the apostles before the high council, where the high priest confronted them. ‘Didn’t we tell you never again to teach in this man’s name?’ he demanded. ‘Instead, you have filled all Jerusalem with your teaching about him, and you want to make us responsible for his death!’ But Peter and the apostles replied, ‘We must obey God rather than any human authority'” (Acts 5:27-29 NLT). “…They called in the apostles and had them flogged. Then they ordered them never again to speak in the name of Jesus, and they let them go. The apostles left the high council rejoicing that God had counted them worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus. And every day, in the Temple and from house to house, they continued to teach and preach this message: ‘Jesus is the Messiah'” (Acts 5:40-41 NLT).
The apostles were commanded by the high council to stop sharing the name of Jesus with people, but the apostles understood that they answered to a higher authority – God. If they stopped sharing Jesus Christ with others, they would have sinned against God on the account of pleasing man.
Christians were not only persecuted in biblical times for accepting and sharing their faith, but they are being persecuted by governing authorities in our world today. One young man is being sentenced to death for converting from Islam to Christianity in Iran. According to FoxNews.com, “Youcef Nadarkhani, a 32-year-old pastor, was arrested in October 2009 and later sentenced to death for converting to Christianity.” “His attorney, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, and religious rights organizations say Nadarkhani is facing possible execution for apostasy and for refusing to renounce his religion…” The article continued, “The case reportedly had been referred to Iran’s supreme leader, a move some say shows the Islamic republic is feeling pressure in the face of growing international support. Dadkhah told AFP on Monday that an Iranian court has decided to seek the opinion of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – the Islamic republic’s spiritual leader and highest authority. Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, a Washington-based organization that is monitoring Nadarkhani’s case, told FoxNews.com that the move was unusual and is part of the ‘secretive process’ within the Iranian judicial system” (Published October 11, 2011). The Iranian government practices Sharia or Islamic Law, which does not allow individuals to convert from Islam to any other religion, nor does it allow for anyone to share their faith with a Muslim. If they do, they can be arrested, imprisoned or even put to death! In this example, God wants Christians to share their faith with other people regardless if the government condemns it. Jesus gives believers a command to share the gospel so that others have the freedom to choose Him by faith! The Bible says, “But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good News” (Romans 10:14-15 NLT).
This is one of many examples where authority has gone against what the Word of God teaches and therefore, Christians have a responsibility to obey God over the governing authority.
Ask God for wisdom on how to approach each situation in question. The Holy Spirit wants to lead you into all truth and He will guide you to make solid decisions when faced with difficult scenarios.