What is it that causes a person to submit to the government? Is there something inherent in every person that leads him or her to recognize authority, or is it something that is conditioned into each person as he or she is raised under a specific authority structure?
Those who hold to what is called the “sovereign citizen  movement” would argue that there is nothing inherent that should cause someone to submit to authority. Proponents of this view hold that they are answerable only to their particular interpretation of the law and are not subject to any statutes or taxation by federal or state governments. They often don’t have a license and don’t pay taxes. If a certain aspect of the law is burdensome, it can be disregarded as illegitimate, they say.
It is estimated that between 100,000 and 300,000 Americans are part of this movement. But is this a biblical worldview? Would God approve of this sovereign citizen view of government?
The Apostle Paul wrote a section of instruction to the church in Rome that might as well have been addressed to sovereign citizen proponents. He begins in chapter 13 of the letter to the Romans by saying, “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” (13:1). Paul begins by recognizing that people will be tempted to rebel against governing authorities, and he reminds the people that God is the one who establishes authority; therefore, submitting to authority is a form of submitting to God.
Paul goes on and says, “Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (13:2). Paul takes it a step further and says that resisting authority is to resist what God has established and is an act that will incur judgment from God. Because judgment is the consequence of sin, Paul is obviously saying the rejecting of authority is sinful.
Next, Paul says, “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” (13:3-4).
In other words, to resist the government is to resist God, and to obey the government is to follow God’s commands (so long as the government’s laws do not conflict with the Bible). When the government punishes, it is doing the very thing it was appointed to do.
Paul ends this section by saying, “Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (13:5-7). Just as one would respect, honor, and obey God due to his position and authority, one should also respect the governing authorities based on their position and authority.
The belief that individuals are sovereign goes against the very nature of our humanity. We were created by God and are commanded to submit to God (James 4:7). To say that we are sovereign unto ourselves betrays the notion of submitting to a higher authority, namely God. It is the same with the governing authorities: We are to submit to them as an extension of the rule and reign of God. If the authorities misuse that power, God himself will hold them accountable for it. If the government asks a believer to do that which goes against God’s commands, then the believer is obligated to say no. However, if the government is not opposing Scripture, then the believer is obligated to submit, as this is right before God.
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