Unless you’re a radical anarchist, or you lived in Portland circa the summer of “fiery but mostly peaceful protests” — rest in pieces, CHOP…or was it CHAZ? — you know that as an American citizen, you are accountable to the government. We are a nation of laws, we respect the rule of laws, we got rid of monarchs hundreds of years ago, and don’t you forget it. The highest rule in our land isn’t a king, but the Constitution.
Of course, that Constitution provides a framework for our government, both for how it functions and who fills it — elected representatives of the people. We have a system by which our legislative body, in cooperation with the executive, that is, the President, passes legislation into law (cue Schoolhouse Rock’s “I’m just a bill…and I’m sitting here on Capitol Hill”). But once “duly enacted” and presumed constitutional bills become law, they are binding on all American citizens. Then the government enforces them. We obey — or we face the consequences.
So, we are accountable to the government. But who is the government accountable to?
In Romans 13:1-7, Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, makes this very clear: Government is accountable to God. Why? Because governmental authorities, be they an emperor, king, or duly elected representatives in a constitutional republic, are God’s servants.
Look closely at Romans 13:1-4:
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (italics added).
Paul is indeed arguing that “every person” should be subject (or submit) to the government in general, but to be clear, this is not an unlimited submission — no matter what anyone told you wrongly during COVID. Just as importantly, he is clearly arguing that the government is 1) instituted by and 2) accountable to God as the highest authority.
Consider the word Paul uses here: “servant of God” or “God’s servant.” In the original Greek, it is διάκονός (diakonos), which literally means “servant” or “minister, deacon, one entrusted to serve the needs of others.” This is the same Greek word from which we derive our English word “deacon” — an office of service within the church.
What is a servant, fundamentally? A servant is someone who has a master, one who serves a higher authority. The servant isn’t the sovereign; the servant submits to the sovereign.
In the eyes of God, the government is His servant. It is both appointed by Him and accountable to Him. It’s critical for Christians to remember this for many reasons, perhaps primarily because governments so often forget it (or reject it) — and when they do, a descent into “statism” is just over the horizon.
What is statism? Reformed theologian R.C Sproul explained, “In statism, we see the suffix ‘ism,’ which indicates a philosophy or worldview…[this] happens when the government is perceived as or claims to be the ultimate reality. This reality then replaces God as the supreme entity upon which human existence depends.”
Or, as I have explained before,
“Statism is when the state tries to play God. Or tries to be God. Or goes all the way and declares that it is God. Statism is what happens when the collective hubris of modern man joins forces to resurrect the tower of Babel, except this time instead of a tower to heaven, it’s bureaucrats building a monument to two years’ worth of inerrant and inspired CDC guidelines. It’s like when Fauci said, “I am the science.” Except this is when the government just says, “I am.” It’s when the state demands your worship, your service, your all.”
Sproul (and the theologian/apologist Francis Schaeffer before him) saw statism as one of the biggest threats to the American Church. I agree. This is why we must know that the Bible teaches that all governments are ultimately responsible to God. They are His servants, not His replacement.
In his recent article, “Biblical Worldview: The Purpose of Government,” Dr. Tim Yonts, my colleague at the Freedom Center, argued,
“By fulfilling its basic function, governments operate as God’s servants on earth, carrying out vengeance on those who commit evil (vs. 4; cf. Rom. 12:19)…Essentially, governments are responsible to uphold a basic and universal moral law by restraining the evil impulses of human society. They uphold this basic moral law through civil law, which is necessary to set parameters on the power and limit of government and define proper behavior for citizens.”
James Garlow, author of Well Versed: Biblical Answers to Today’s Tough Issues, brings out another important angle of this foundational truth: Because God establishes government, and has given unto mankind certain unalienable rights, a government that rules rightly under God will respect those rights and not infringe upon them. He writes,
“Government was established by God. Our national birth certificate, the Declaration of Independence, affirms that all authority comes from God when it states that all men are ‘endowed by their Creator’ with rights—in fact unalienable rights, rights that cannot be taken away, because they were given by God!”
What happens when a nation forgets these truths? When a government forgets that it is accountable to God and slides into statism? What would that look like in the United States? First, we become Canada. Next, we become China. Then, our freedoms are gone.
Because when the government forgets that it is accountable to God, it tries to play God. Disaster and death — such as we witnessed in Germany under Hitler, in the Soviet Union under Stalin, and in Communist China under Mao — soon follow. Man-made horrors beyond comprehension come to life under governments that view themselves as God.
Therefore, just as it is important that Christians understand the purpose of government (to restrain evil and commend good), it is equally important that they understand that a biblical worldview of government begins by knowing that government is accountable to God; it is, in fact, God’s servant.
The day may come again in America when “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God,” as it was at our Founding. Today is not that day. Still, it is always a good day to remember that “the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; it is he who will save us” (Isaiah 33:22) and that “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).
In conclusion, one practical point of application for holding government accountable to God is that Christians must reject a secular, Marxist, or materialist view of government. The atheist says, “There is no God,” and then proceeds to make the government his god. Moving at what appears to be the speed of light, our secularizing society in America is also desperately trying to uproot hundreds of years of our Christian history and moral foundation of law and government in America. Wokeness isn’t just bad policy, it’s a counterfeit religion. It will replace God and hold the government accountable to DEI quotas and pronouns if it gets the chance.
We must not let them succeed in this project — whether it’s the atheists, the secularists, the Marxists, or the Woke. We must stand strong and demand that we acknowledge that the United States is, indeed, “one nation under God.”
If we are to have a future here in America worth handing down to our children we must renew that consensus, starting now. Then we must fight to remain in that humble, but hopeful, position until Christ returns.
Follow William on Twitter! @William_E_Wolfe
Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and policy? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page where we’ve published several long-form pieces that will help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.