The Bible Speaks on Christian Citizenship

By Staff
Jan 24, 2006

Politics is the business of deciding who gets what, when, and where. Christians must not leave such important business to unbelievers. In these times, no one can be an obedient Christian who is not also a good citizen. The Christian faith demands responsible citizenship.


Democracy, by its very nature, requires citizen participation in the processes of government at every level—local, state, and national. The Bible, moreover, explicitly calls for Christian citizenship.

The Nature of Government

Bible principles concerning the nature of government are as valid today as when they were first given.

  • Civil government is of divine appointment. Civil government is a part of God’s purpose for this kind of world. God’s people have lived under many different forms of government. While no one form of government is divinely chosen, government itself is ordained of God.

    “Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God. So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves” (Romans 13:1-2).

  • Government leaders are servants of God. The Old Testament describes the desired character of a civil ruler.

    “God, give Your justice to the king and Your righteousness to the king’s son. He will judge Your people with righteousness and Your afflicted ones with justice… For he will rescue the poor who cry out and the afflicted who have no helper. He will have pity on the poor and helpless and save the lives of the poor. He will redeem them from oppression and violence, for their lives are precious in his sight” (Psalm 72:1-2, 12-14).

    The New Testament identifies public officials as representatives of God’s authority, worthy of respect and honor.

    “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do good and you will have its approval. For government is God’s servant to you for good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For government is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong. Therefore, you must submit, not only because of wrath, but also because of your conscience” (Romans 13:3-5).

  • Civil government is temporal. No human form of government will last through eternity. All will eventually end. Only the kingdom of God will endure forever.

    “Then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when He abolishes all rule and all authority and power” (1 Corinthians 15:24).

The Call to Citizenship

God’s people are concerned not only about the world to come but also about the world in which we now live.

  • Christians are citizens of two worlds. Though these two worlds are never to be confused, faithful citizenship in the kingdom of God makes demands upon the believer's citizenship in the community, the state, and the nation.

    “…but our citizenship is in heaven…” (Philippians 3:20).

    “…give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (Luke 20:25).

    “I am not praying that You take them out of the world but that You protect them from the evil one” (John 17:15).

  • Christians are called to transform this world. Obedience or disobedience to the Roman government were basically the only options available for New Testament Christians and their fellow citizens. We live in an open political system, however, which allows for much more influential participation in the processes of government.

    “You are the salt of the earth…” (Matthew 5:13).

    “You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden… let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14, 16).

Responsibilities of a Christian Citizen

No single passage of Scripture lists all the duties of a Christian citizen. Insights into what is expected of responsible citizens, however, are to be found throughout the Bible.

  • Give primary obedience to God. God alone deserves to have unquestioning obedience. Christians must exercise moral discernment in their support of government.

    “…‘We must obey God rather than men’” (Acts 5:29).

    “…you have one Master, the Messiah” (Matthew 23:10).

    “You as king have issued a decree that everyone… must fall down and worship the gold statue. Whoever does not fall down and worship will be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire… Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied to the king, ‘Nebuchadnezzar, we don’t need to give you an answer to this question. If the God we serve exists, then He can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and He can rescue us from the power of you, the king. But even if He does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up’” (Daniel 3:10-11, 16-18).

  • Obey the law. Ideally, laws exist to restrain evil, preserve social order, and promote the general welfare. They are to be respected and obeyed in the context of Christian responsibility.

    “Therefore, you must submit, not only because of wrath, but also because of your conscience” (Romans 13:5).

    “Submit to every human institution because of the Lord, whether to the Emperor as the supreme authority, or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (1 Peter 2:13-14).

    “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work…” (Titus 3:1).

  • Pray for public officials. Prayer to God on behalf of government leaders properly complements active political involvement. Christians should pray for
    government leaders without attempting to make prayer a substitute for active political involvement, or vice versa.

    “First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

  • Pay taxes.

    “…give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (Luke 20:25).

    “Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honor” (Romans 13:7).

    “He has told you men what is good and what it is the Lord requires of you: Only to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

  • Support, preserve, and protect freedom. That form of government is best in which personal and religious freedom are guaranteed. One function of government should be to guarantee personal and religious freedom. Christian citizens should be eternally vigilant in the preservation of liberty.

    “Christ has liberated us into freedom. Therefore stand firm and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

    “As God’s slaves, [live] as free people, but don’t use your freedom as a way to conceal evil” (1 Peter 2:16).

Conclusion

Obedient Christians will be good citizens. In Philippians 1:27, Paul uses a word from which our word “politics” is derived. Translated “manner of life” (RSV and TEV), “conduct” (NEB), “conversation” (KJV), and “everyday life” (Phillips), the word is politeuesthe. The point made is a very important one. Paul is saying, “Let your citizenship be worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

All Scripture is from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.

Further Learning

Learn more about: Citizenship, Christian Citizenship,

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