Chapter thirteen continues with our Christian lifestyle in this world, beginning with our interaction with human government (Romans 13:1-7). Government has always been a favorite “whipping boy” for the masses and for good reason: Corrupt people with power use that power to do corrupt things. Or as Lord Acton famously said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Since we are all corrupt by nature, as Paul thoroughly taught in the early chapters, only believers have the ability to govern out of a godly nature, but even that is not guaranteed. However, human government was established by God in order to maintain peace and justice among the people. Therefore, we are subject, even to corrupt governments, to obey whatever is within their jurisdiction, including taxes, which Paul had to mention specifically, because they have never been desirable. 1
Romans 13:8 has often been used to “prove” that financial debt is a sin in Christianity, but the context is relational, not financial. We can find other passages showing the negative side of financial debt (Proverbs 6:1-5 and 22:7, for instance), but Paul was referring to fulfilling our relational obligations in loving one another (specifically our fellow believers, Romans 13:9-10). The reason this is so important is because we cannot know the timing of Jesus’ return, and we are to be working faithfully as we anticipate him (Romans 13:11-14). This includes living “decently,” which Paul means to “make no provision for the flesh to arouse its desires” (see Romans 8:5-11; Galatians 5:16-26).
- Obviously, God’s law still transcends man’s law, so when the two conflict, “We must obey God rather than people” (Acts 5:29). ↩