The Consequences of Civil Disobedience or Non-Compliance
The Bible contains stories of real people doing good and evil; a solid historical context, divine recommendations for godly living, relationship building tools, etc. The Bible also contains actual logos from the mouth of the Almighty through Jesus and the prophets. So the Bible is God’s communication tool to help human beings understand:
- His intents and purposes for humanity.
- Knowledge about the angelic realm.
- What His nature is like.
- The problems on earth due to sin and the kingdom of darkness.
- Our part in all of this.
- His mission to rescue humankind from bondage to sin.
- Information about realms, times, and seasons.
When reading the Bible, I’ve been asking myself these questions:
1) Should the epistles first be read through the lens of what Jesus said and did in the Gospels and Act 1 versus stand alone NT documents?
2) What scriptures must be understood based on: Old Covenant vs New Covenant standing, or Jesus’ appropriation of sin: Pre-Cross vs Post-Cross?
3) What scriptures reveal an unchanging principle of God’s intent for how we govern ourselves despite the situation?
When it comes to obeying manmade laws, I have used these three questions to analyze whether Scripture supports civil disobedience under certain conditions.
Civil Law vs Natural Law
The American Heritage Dictionary defines civil law: “The body of law of a state or nation governing the behavior of individuals and corporations”.
History is a great teacher as long as it’s not revised or miscontrued. Many governments throughout time have imposed restrictions upon its citizens that have robbed them of their God-given rights. Whole people groups have been subjected to injustices due to manmade secular or religious laws.
The Webster’s Dictionary defines natural law: “A body of law or a specific principle of law that is held to be derived from nature and binding upon human society in the absence of or in addition to positive law.” (Read about the origin of the concept of positive law My takeaway is that positive law is manmade, a lesser law than that laws of nature and nature’s God.) When we look at the natural world, we see that animals and even some plants have a proclivity to protect themselves and their offspring from predators and even the environment when necessary. Human beings are created with this same constitution.
As I was finishing this final part of the series, I came across this:
“Nothing in the initial grant of civil power, or the creation of nations and the formation of civil governments, nullified, superseded, or altered the authority which God previously gave to individuals and to families (i.e., the private sector). That which is most important, is that which God gave first. In the beginning, God gave mankind everything people need to survive and thrive. The addition of nations and civil government into the mix of human society was not a culmination point, but an additional support mechanism designed to help people overcome their abject failure in exercising self-government up to that point.” https://lonang.com/commentaries/foundation/romans-13-a-short-primer/
I encourage anyone wondering about the limitations of the jurisdiction of civil government to read that article. Reading it has encouraged me. Writing a series like this and challenging specific views of scripture is not easy. I believe my challenge regarding how I was always taught about Romans 13 has been justified.
My conclusion: When a rule encroaches on our God-given propensity to protect ourselves or our offspring from predatorial and life-stealing forces, we honor God by opposing this rule.
In Part 1, you’ll remember that I presented Paul’s teaching about submission to civil authority as an instruction that we follow through the lens of Jesus’ point about about rendering. (Matthew 22:21) Here is an excerpt:
I believe that Jesus was teaching that human beings belong to God alone, not to the state…“Caesar” (a government) has no right to subjugate human beings to do anything that would affect our ability to be an imager of God. In other words, if civil government demands us to do something that would not reflect the One whose image we bear, we must answer or render to God first. Jesus was teaching that civil government needs to recognize the authority of God and that His authority trumps their authority.
In Part 1, I later wrote: While honor and respect is something that God expects of us, if a husband tells a wife to do something sinful, she must refuse and render to God’s ways – the care of her spirit, soul, and body, because she belongs to God first.
(This applies if any person in authority tells someone to do something that is sinful–out of alignment with God’s virtues, intent and purposes).
The Bible contains critical lessons that we must discern how to apply. As I’ve pondered this topic and others, I’ve come to give the teaching and demonstration of Jesus more weight than the instructions in Paul’s epistles. So again, I propose that every lesson, story, encounter, letter in both Testaments must be held under the light of what Jesus said and did in order for us to rightly apply the verse in our lives. e.g. His response to women in that culture.
The Jews had their own religious leaders that also assumed the function of what we would call local civil leaders. They were a autonomous nation of people whose land had been taken over by the Roman empire. The religious leaders: chief priests, elders, scribes assumed not just spiritual authority, but civil authority over every aspect of Jewish life. This was wrong and Jesus refused to comply. He allowed his disciples to pick grain to eat despite the Sabbath laws, Jesus healed on the Sabbath although the Pharisees taught that this was “work”, and frequently Jesus pointed out the hypocrisy in religious leadership (Matthew 21: 23-27; Matthew 23).
Based on Paul’s instructions in Romans 13:1, it would seem that Jesus wasn’t doing what Paul suggested: “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God” but as my husband and I always say, “sometimes there’s more to a verse than meets the eye”. There are scriptures that we will not understand with a cursory reading.
As I have stated previously, Jesus’ interaction with the Roman civil government was limited. Besides Matthew 22:21, we see Jesus before Pilate in Mark 15. It is noteworthy that Pilate wasn’t seeking to interfere with the Jewish community as a group. He and his leaders weren’t telling the Jews to end their worship practices or teach their children Roman ideas. The only reason John the Baptist got beheaded by the Roman civil authorities was because Herodias (Herod’s brother’s wife whom he was intimate with) wanted revenge. Matthew 14 says “And the king was sorry; nevertheless, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he commanded it to be given to her.”
Passages in the Gospels convey that Rome wasn’t interested in how the Jews lived their lives. The Roman civil government didn’t micro-manage, they just wanted bragging rights over the region. Read below how Pilate leaves the decision about Jesus’ demise up to the Jewish authorities. Pilate was a people pleaser; it was all about his image.
11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd, so that he should rather release Barabbas to them. 12 Pilate answered and said to them again, “What then do you want me to do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?”
13 So they cried out again, “Crucify Him!”
14 Then Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has He done?”
But they cried out all the more, “Crucify Him!”
15 So Pilate, wanting to gratify the crowd, released Barabbas to them; and he delivered Jesus, after he had scourged Him, to be crucified.”
Rome killed Jesus because the Jewish leaders wanted them to. And we know that the time had come. He submitted to his arrest and crucifixion because His mission was to die an unjust death. Although he broke the hypocritical and unjust laws of the Jewish authorities, breaking these laws was no sin.
So before reading the rest of this last part, pray and ask God this question: How are Paul’s teachings about submission to authority to be applied? Considering the words and actions of Jesus, is there a context for submission and a context for civil disobedience or noncompliance?
We have to make the right connection with Jesus’ statement about our image. Remember what Jesus said about the coin? (Read Part 1 of this series). Who is the image of God? Human beings. So while looking at the Roman coin, Jesus is saying that human beings have a higher value than what rulers and their governments may give them. God created each individual to reflect Him and He is a God of freedom, not bondage.
Our image-bearing identity has great significance, (Christian or non-Christian). Our distinct personhood –our individuality is its own jurisdiction and a higher jurisdiction than that of civil government. Take note that our jurisdiction as individuals falls under the authority of God. We are the created, He is the Creator.
We must understand our divine significance as imagers and His application of levels of authority. Here’s an excellent explanation that ties in natural law.
...Rom. 13 is not a command to obey all purported authorities that people have created – it only applies to authorities instituted by God. And there is no presumption that merely because some form of human government exists, it was made (or put there) by God. It is the laws of God, which define and restrict all institutions of human authority, that people are to obey and respect.
Even the defenders of the so-called divine right of kings back in the 17th century, never made the argument which people now commonly ascribe to Romans 13 – “the mere fact I am king necessarily proves that God put me here.” You see, the English kings knew that such a claim is easily refuted – all one has to do is assassinate the king and install a successor. Then the new king can claim “it must have been God’s will, because He allowed it to happen.” There isn’t a whole lot of security in that argument.
It’s funny that people today gravitate towards a line of reasoning that at the time, when the divine right of kings was popular, was known to be impractical and foolish. Oh, how far we have fallen!
Which leaves us with a terrible irony. Jesus came to bring liberty (Lk. 4:18) and God intended that civil rulers would be for our good. Yet, the way many people read Romans 13, it brings only bondage and evil. Shame on us! The solution? Change the way we understand the scriptures. And if your pastor or teacher is leading you into submission and subjection as a way of life instead of freedom and liberty, don’t just sit there like a dummy. https://lonang.com/
Here’s a conclusion on obedience: obey God’s intents and purposes as delegated through human beings: our parents, teachers, civil government, unless what they tell us to do is sin or will undermine the godly stewardship of our personhood, which includes freedoms (see below).
Should we be law-abiding citizens? YES! Submit unless there is a law or decree or mandate that in some way affects the godly stewardship of your personhood (spirit, soul, and body). Allowing yourself to be put in bondage is not good stewardship of your personhood.
Noncompliance/civil disobedience guards us from tyranny. It is an offensive posture to restrain injustice from another jurisdiction. Again, If any person: elected official, parent, spouse, boss, pastor, or system wants you to do something that would impair your ability to function as an imager of God (freedom to protect yourself, your family and your belongings, freedom to speak and make known your views, freedom to worship, freedom to gather and move freely across God’s earth) then we don’t have “to render to Caesar”.
There are many civil laws that actually encourage me to steward my personhood, like driving the speed limit, not trespassing on someone else’s property, and not stealing. I should by all means obey these and others like them!
There is an important caveat to civil disobedience. MLK was prepared to go to jail in his protest of unjust laws. His ultimate hope was to get hearts and laws changed and it came at a cost. American colonists protested and eventually a war ensued. Many lost their lives.
Even an abolitionist who ignored the law and harbored a runaway slave knew that if they were caught, they and their families could face a penalty. However, overturning a law that hindered the personhood of another human being was more important than their personal comfort.
Look at those in power today, will you comply?