Summary: Biblical teaching about government authority and capital punishment.

“I Don’t Like None of ‘Em!”


Romans 13:1-7

Grant Lovejoy, one time pastor of this church, was also my preaching professor at SWBTS. He cautioned us that there are 2 topics you never want to discuss from the pulpit: sex & politics. So let me just say, “I think that women politicians are sexier than male politicians.”

READ Romans 13:1-7

Some of you may have never realized that God’s Word speaks about government and capital punishment in the way it does.

Submit To Government (1-5)

In the passage we just read, God’s word tells us to submit to government. God’s word says, “If you’re going to claim to be a Christian, you’re going to be a good citizen.” There are some people who are good citizens who are not Christians. I understand that.

However, there are people who are good model citizens who don’t know the Lord Jesus Christ. But if you’re going to name the name of Jesus, and you’re going to claim to be a Christian, the Bible says you ought to submit to your government and you ought to be a good citizen as well.

Now why do you suppose that is? In this passage, there are at least three reasons to submit to government:

1. A spiritual reason: God instituted law and order.

It is God who set up governments. He instituted law and order. Did you know God is a God of law? That’s why He gave all the laws in the Bible. Also God is a law of order.

He doesn’t want chaos; he wants order. You can write down this reference. I Corinthians 14:33, the Bible says, “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” God likes everything to be in order.

Now, notice the word instituted there? In our world, God has set up several important institutions. For instance, He set up the institution of the family. In the family, he has established some lines of authority. The husband is the head of the family. The parents are to have authority over the children. When those lines of authority are broken, then chaos and dysfunction occurs in a family. You know why families today are falling apart? Because God’s line of authority is not being observed.

God also established the institution of the church. And in the church, according to the NT, He has given us spiritual leaders who are to lead by serving. In churches where they don’t recognize their spiritual leaders, those churches are splitting up and having all kinds of problems.

But also, God instituted human government. If we don’t obey these lines of authority God has established, then chaos results in our society. God wants our society to have peace and order, and that’s why he established governments. You may find this hard to believe, but the Bible says it is God who puts people in roles of leadership within governments. In Daniel 2:22, Daniel says, “God sets up kings and he removes kings.”

You may find it hard to believe, but throughout history God has been behind the scenes orchestrating events so everything will happen the way God wants it to happen.

Let me give you one example. Why do you think Caesar Augustus declared a census to be taken so everyone could be taxed? I’ll tell you why. God needed a way to get Joseph and Mary out of Nazareth and into Bethlehem, the home of their ancestors. The Bible predicted the Messiah was not going to be born in Nazareth but in Bethlehem. It was predicted 500 years before it happened. Who gave Caesar Augustus the idea to have everyone go to his or her hometown to be taxed at just perfect time? God was behind that. Are you trying to tell me, pastor, God put Hitler where he was? Yes, he did. Are you trying to tell me God put Saddam Hussein where he was? That’s right. God has also put good leaders where they have been through the years.

I know some of you are thinking, “Pastor, did God put our president in the White House? I thought we went to the polls and voted for him ourselves.” The Bible says,

“God puts leaders in places of authority.”

Concerning Washington, some of you are wondering, “Why in the world have we had men up there, who have the morals of an alley cat?” Listen to me, please. Immoral leaders are God’s punishment for an immoral culture. Wicked leaders are simply God’s punishment for a wicked culture.

Ladies and gentlemen, you may not agree with me, but for the last 30 years, America has departed from the moral standards that made us great and we’re going down, down, down, down morally. So are you surprised our government leaders both in the White House and legislature are living lives reflecting our culture? God is the one who sets up governments. He institutes governmental leaders. He said, “Because I do that, you need to submit to them.” “Even to the leaders aren’t the greatest leaders?” Yes. When Paul wrote these words, Nero was the Emperor of Rome. If you study Nero a little, you will discover he was a sadistic, cruel, wicked man. Compared to him, the worst president we ever had is on par with the pope. Nero was terribly wicked. Yet Paul is writing this word and says we’re to submit to the government authorities. You may be wondering, “Pastor, what about if our government tells you to do something forbidden in the word of God? What if our government tells us we can’t do something the Bible says we can do? Who are we to obey?” Are you ready for this? You obey God rather than man on the rare occasions it happens. Civil disobedience is right, when there is a clear conflict, between man’s law and God’s law. Sometimes Christians must commit civil disobedience and be willing to face the consequences of civil disobedience.

Let me give you some examples from history. Do you remember when Pharaoh issued the edict ordering all the boy babies in Egypt born to the Hebrews slaughtered? There were some brave midwives and mothers who committed civil disobedience. They said, “No, we’re going to break the law. We’re going to let these little baby boys live.” One of them was Moses.

When Daniel went to Babylon—and he was prime minister—he submitted to the authority of the emperor. When they issued a law stating for 30 days you could not pray to anyone except Darius, the emperor, Daniel said, “I’m not going to do it.” He opened up the windows of his room, as he did every day, he faced Jerusalem, fell on his face and prayed to the God of heaven. He was arrested and thrown into a den of lions.

Do the names Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah sound familiar? How about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego? When the law said every time a certain song is played, you have to fall down and worship this statue, they said, “No, we’re not going to do it.”

And so when everybody else was on his face worshipping the statue, these three Hebrew boys were outstanding in their field, because they were the only ones out standing in the field. Everyone else was on his face. They were arrested and thrown into a fiery furnace. Sometimes we are called upon to obey God rather than men. When we do obey, we may face a den of lions. We may face a fiery furnace. But I assure you, God will be with you if you’re true to Him and honor Him. Hear me this morning, when our government tells us we cannot pray in public, I don’t know about you, but I’m going to pray in public. When our government tells us we cannot preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in a public setting, I don’t know about you, but I’m going to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. And I do it humbly and I do it sincerely, realizing I may have to face the consequences, and you may have to face the consequences of that.

If you want to know how the early disciples did it, take a moment and read Acts 4-5.

They told Peter and John, “Stop preaching about Jesus.” And they said, “We’re sorry. We’re not making fun of you. We’re here before you to listen to you, but sorry, we must obey God rather than men.” They preached, they were arrested, and they were beaten. But the Bible says Peter, John and the disciples left rejoicing because they had the privilege of suffering for Jesus sake.

Dr. Charles Ryrie is a very wise professor who serves at Dallas Theological Seminary.

Let me read to you what he writes about civil disobedience: When civil law and God’s law are in opposition, the Bible obligates Christians to protest or disobey.

But when a Christian feels he should disobey his government, he must be sure it is not because the government has denied him his person rights, but because it has denied him God’s rights. You see, all power of every government authority has come from God.

Do you remember when Jesus was standing before Pontius Pilate? Pontius Pilate asked him all kinds of questions and Jesus didn’t say anything. He was like a lamb, dumb before its shearers. Finally Pilate said, “Hey! You better speak up. Don’t you know I have power to kill you or save you?” I love the reply of Jesus. I believe he stared at Pilate with eyes like blazing fire and said in a voice cool enough to freeze over hell, “You don’t have any power except the power that is given to you from above.” That’s where government gets its power. There is a spiritual reason we ought to obey government, because God instituted it.

There’s another reason we ought to submit to government. It is:

2. An external reason: It is because God entrusted punishment to the State (the government).

God has said, “The way I’m going to get revenge against wrongdoers (those who break the law) I have given government the authority and the power to execute judgment.” This means you don’t break the laws of the land, because you know if you do break the law, you’re going to be punished.

If you rip off something from somebody’s house and you get caught; you’re going to face the law. If you do something wrong, you face punishment. That’s what it says here. “Government has the authority to punish.” That’s why I firmly believe with all my heart our law enforcement officers are not “pigs,” they’re God’s servants to execute law enforcement. That’s why I believe our judges are not selfish people doing things out of their own motives, but are placed there by God as it says, as God’s servant to make sure punishment is given out when a crime is committed.

I don’t know about you, but every time I see somebody without a handicapped sticker park in a handicapped parking place, it angers me. You know what I really want to do? I want to bust their windshield in and slash their tires. That’s what I want to do.

It just burns me up. But you know what? It’s not my job to execute punishment for them. That’s not a personal thing I’m to do. God has set up our government and our law enforcement to do that.

By the way, if you’re a Christian, you ought to obey the laws and shame on you

if you ever even think about parking in a handicapped place if you don’t have a handicapped sticker. Boy, it’s easy to talk about those people who park without handicap stickers. What about driving over the speed limit? I’ve quit preaching and gone to meddling, right? I’m convinced the last part of my body to get saved is my right foot. But God and Patty, in that order, are working on me about that. I’ve been brought under conviction about it. I hope you are brought under conviction about it, too. It is a spiritual matter. We are to obey the laws of the land.

Let me ask you, when you’re driving along over the speed limit and you see a state trooper parked there or policeman, what do you do? Screech! You slow down. Why?

Because you don’t want to get a ticket. You don’t want to pay a fine. That’s what this is talking about.

This is an external reason you obey the law: To avoid punishment. You don’t rob a bank because you know you’ll serve time for that. You don’t take another person’s life because you know you’ll be arrested and convicted for that. Now this is the point at which I want to introduce a subject a lot of you may be confused about.

What does the Bible say about capital punishment?

Every time the State of Texas executes a prisoner on death row by lethal injection,

people protesting the death sentence surround the prison. Most of these people claim to be Christians and claim to be making their protest based on the Bible. And the verse they always use is one of the Ten Commandments, the Sixth Commandment says, “You shall not kill.” Now is that what verse is talking about? Does the Sixth Commandment say you can’t even kill a criminal who’s killed another person? Some people think the Sixth Commandment means you can’t kill a fish and eat it, and they don’t. Some think the Sixth Commandment says you can’t kill a mosquito if it lands on you. They take it literally. Some of them take the Sixth Commandment to mean you can’t go into battle for your country and kill the enemy.

But can I tell you the verse in Exodus 20, the Sixth Commandment literally says, “You shall not commit personal murder.”

There’s another word in Hebrew for general killing. It’s not talking about personal murder. While murder is wrong, in certain cases, taking another one’s life on the basis of your state, your government, is justified. Would you look there at verse 4 again? Romans 13:4 halfway in verse it says, “But if you do what is evil, be afraid;

for it does not bear the. . . “ What’s the next word? Sword. He didn’t say, “Bear the whip or the lash or the jail sentence.” He said the sword. Do you know what the Romans used a sword for? It was for one thing and one thing only—to behead a criminal. That’s what Paul was talking about.

The State, not an individual, but the government has the authority and the right to take another person’s life. In fact, it’s almost ironic to me to think about three decades after Paul wrote this letter to the church at Rome, he himself would have an intimate exposure to a Roman’s sword when it separated his head from his body. He knew what he was talking about. That’s what they use the sword for. And if you want to translate verse into our modern vernacular, we would read it this way, “For the government does not have lethal injection or the gas chamber or the electric chair for nothing.” Keep reading. “The government is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”

Now, the Sixth Commandment says you are not to commit personal murder but if you kill another person in the course of a war for your country, it’s not murder. There are some of you in this room right now who may be carrying a load of guilt because you killed an enemy in a war. Maybe you thought all along, “Boy, this is terrible. I’ve killed somebody. I’ve broken the Sixth Commandment.” No, you haven’t, because you were representing your government who has the power to bear the sword.

I’ll give you a great example from the Bible. When David was fighting for the Israelites

and killed Goliath, it wasn’t murder. It was part of a battle. But later in his life when David ordered Uriah the Hittite killed for personal motives, because he committed adultery with his wife and wanted to get him out of the way. That was murder, even though he was killed in a battle, because the motive behind it was personal in nature.

Do you see the difference? So if there are some of you who fought for our country and you’ve killed another man, I don’t want you to let the devil make you feel guilty about that.

By the same token, our government, I believe, does have the right for capital punishment. Look at what it says in Genesis 9:6. “Whoever sheds man's blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man.” Do I have to tell you crime is increasing in America? There’s a book by Dr. Gordon Talbot titled,

The Breakdown of Authority. He points out that in America a felony is committed every 20 seconds. Every 20 seconds a felony is committed. And over the last 30 years, church attendance in America has increased 3 percent, while the rate of illegitimate births have increased 300 percent.

Sometimes we think, “Why are we spending all this money for the Lord’s work and on churches?” He points out in his book that for every $1 spent in America on and by churches, $12,000 is spent for crime. $1 to $12,000. Do you know when his book was published? 1976. I wonder what the ratio is today?

I don’t mind telling you I believe the Bible says capital punishment is justified in the word of God. In fact, I want to read you a quote from Dr. Charles Swindoll. Many of you respect Charles Swindoll as I do. Even though this position may seem a little extreme, I tend to agree with him. Charles Swindoll says: I believe if crime is going to reach the media and television, so should capital punishment, and I do not say out of sadism. If the criminal is going to come out on top and we witness his work, we should witness the end result, and is his death. If the dead lie in the street in a pool of their own blood, and the television cameras scan for all the world to see, I’m of the opinion the walls of the penitentiary should be open to the television camera.

And on the day the criminal is put to death, should be televised as well. I know it is a severe position, but the Bible says government does not bear the sword for nothing.

All I know is that at my house when I was growing up, it worked at my house when my dad spanked my brother. Do you know how? I saw and I said, “I’m going to do better.” I behaved for quite awhile after that.

There’s a third reason we ought to submit to our government.

There is a spiritual reason; God set them up. There is an external reason and then.

There is:

3. An internal reason: Keep a clear conscience

Look at verse 5. There are two reasons you obey the government, according to verse 5. One of them is because of possible punishment; we’ve already talked about that, but also because of conscience.

The best reason to obey the government is not because if you don’t do it, you’ll be punished. The better reason, the higher motive, is to do it is because it’s right to do.

Your conscience says, “Do what’s right.”

God has given every one of us a conscience and your conscience is the part of you

when you think about doing something wrong or you do something wrong, your conscience screams out from inside, “Don’t do that!” Can you let your conscience be your guide, as some people say? No, not really, because the Bible also says there are some people who become so hardhearted, their consciences have been seared

like with a hot iron. You know what means? It’s like skin has been burned to the point where the nerve endings have been deadened. There are some people who can commit all kinds of atrocious acts and they’re morally numb. They have been desensitized to evil, and they do all kinds of terrible things and their conscious doesn’t say anything. And the sad thing is there may be some of you in this room can do that. If that’s where you are, what a terrible place to be in. You can’t let your conscience be your guide, you let the Holy Spirit be your guide, but you surrender your conscience to Jesus.

Look at what I Timothy 1:5 says. Paul writes to Timothy and says, But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Now, if you’re driving down the road and there’s a state trooper in your rearview mirror, you’re going to drive the speed limit. You know why? You don’t want punishment. But it’s a whole lot better if you’re driving down the road and there’s not a policeman in sight and you’re driving the speed limit. You know why? Because your conscience says, “Hey, that’s the right thing to do. I feel good about that.” You’re not facing a moral dilemma.

A pastor was driving to a meeting in another county. He was late and he was supposed to head up the meeting. He was driving about 20 over the speed limit, when suddenly he remembered he had a Christian bumper sticker on his car. Suddenly, his conscience started giving him fits, saying, “What do these people think about you

when you whip past them doing 20 mph over the speed limit?” So he faced this moral dilemma. He decided what to do. He pulled off the road, ripped off bumper sticker, got back in and kept speeding. That’s what he did. By the way, have you noticed I don’t have a Christian bumper sticker on my car? At least his conscience was operating and he felt guilty about that.

I want to ask you this. Do you feel guilty about breaking the law of man, being a Christian? Not because you’re going to be punished, but because it’s the right thing to do.

How about lying? Do you lie to make yourself look good in front of other people? And can you do it without being bothered by your conscience? What about cheating on your income tax? Some would never think of robbing a bank, but when it comes to giving God back what’s His, you rationalize and say, “I can’t afford to tithe.” But, God is not the one who set your standard of living, you are. Can you rationalize your robbing of God? Let me just end with Matthew 22:21. Jesus said, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God the things that are God's.”

The Bible says, “Listen to your conscience, but only if your conscience is surrendered to God.”