Do Christians Have To Obey The Law?

The right (and wrong) times for Christian civil disobedience

Posted by David Wyatt on May 25, 2020 · 4 mins read
And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, 'We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us.' But Peter and the apostles answered, 'We must obey God rather than men.' Acts 5:27-29 ESV

The concept of law has been with us since the beginning of humanity. In the Garden of Eden, God told Adam that he couldn’t eat fruit from only one tree … the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He also told Adam what would happen if he ate that fruit.

Banned action.


The first law.

In this story, God made it clear that we play an important part in seeing that laws are obeyed. God didn’t tell Eve not to eat the fruit. He left that job to Adam. This is the beginning of civil authority. We’re obligated to inform others of laws and consequences. It’s what keeps us from living in a state of anarchy.

As we read through the Old Testament, much of it was not only devoted to revealing God’s laws, but also to the establishment of societal law and order. God ordained that we should have ultimate legal authorities in society in the form of rulers, priests, and judges. Those authorities were established to interpret the law, determine when it was broken, and mete out punishment to the guilty.

Banned action.


In the New Testament, it’s clear that Christians should obey the law. Not just God’s law but man’s law, too. Paul begins Romans 13 by saying, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” Reading through the first seven verses of the chapter, Paul makes it evident that we’re to live under the authority of the earthly government. But what should we do when that authority goes against what God has said?

We live in a sinful, fallen world. The vast majority of the people around us are unsaved. That includes those in authority … those who make the laws, those who enforce the laws, and those who pass judgment on the lawbreakers. And whether they admit it or not, they are part of a rebellion. A rebellion lead by Satan against God. In 1 John 5:19, John the Evangelist wrote, “We know we are of God, and the whole world is in the power of the evil one.” When evil sits in power, evil laws are put in place and injustice often rules the day. Paul calls Satan “the god of this world.” For now, and only because God allows it. A great article that goes into detail on this topic is Bible Q&A: Who Really Has the Authority on Earth, God or Satan? by Tim Augustyn.

So are we to bow to the authority of leaders when they are in direct opposition to God’s sovereignty and Word? In a word, no. As we saw in the opening passage of this post, Christians are to obey God when there is a conflict between God’s law and the law of man. And the only way to know where those conflicts arise is through Bible study and prayer. We’ve been promised that if we seek wisdom we will find it. Once saved, we also have the guidance of the Holy Spirit within us.

Time and time again throughout the New Testament we see where followers of Christ were persecuted for obeying God rather than the authorities of this world. As Christians today, we have to be prepared to face the same things. The closer we get to Christ’s return, the more sinful the world and it’s governments will become. We are not to be anarchists, but we must stand for God, even if that means standing against the law of this world.

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