Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men—as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God (1 Peter 2:13-16).
In verse 16, Peter makes the astounding statement that we are free. Paul speaks to this freedom in Romans 6:18, “and having been set free from sin,” and again in Romans 6:22, “but now having been set free from sin.” Sin and its wages bound man (Romans 6:23). Romans 8:1-4 explains that through Christ Jesus we are able to overcome the flesh and walk according to righteousness in God’s perfect law of liberty. We are free indeed!
In Romans 8:14, Paul explains that, “as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” God gave us His Spirit as a guarantee that we are adopted and thus are joint heirs with his Son (Ephesians 1:13-14). This same concept is used in Philippians 3:20, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Paul tells us in Romans that we are adopted into the family of God and in Philippians that we are citizens in heaven. The family of God is a nation of people, a kingdom which “shall stand forever” (Daniel 2:44). We belong to a kingdom which breaks down physical barriers. Ephesians 2:6 goes so far as to say that we already sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. We dwell in a spiritual habitation which cannot be bound by family or nation. There is no race, no nationality, and no language to distinguish one from another for, “Christ is all and in all” (Colossians 3:11). In the only kingdom which will stand forever, it does not matter whether one is American, Asian, African, European, or Australian. All, through the Spirit of God, are one family and one nation under one perfect law which liberates us from sin and death.
Peter, however, reminds us that liberty is not for vice. Have you heard children say they cannot wait to grow up so they can do whatever they want and then 10 years later they are pining for the simplicities of childhood? Liberty does not come without responsibility. Our freedom from sin means we are bound by the responsibility to do what is right. Romans 6:18 states, “And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” We don’t say, “Oh boy, I’m free in Christ, therefore I’ll have a good time in this life, because He will have to forgive me.” Rather we say the opposite. Because of our freedom, we make it our aim to be pleasing to him.
As Peter explains, we are to set aside our rightful liberty to obey the commandments and ordinances of man. Though we are free in regard to earthly bounds, dwelling in a spiritual kingdom, we acknowledge God’s goodness and put to silence the ignorance of foolish men by submitting ourselves to earthly kings (1 Peter 2:15). Verse 13 is very clear that this is “for the Lord’s sake.” Consider this example: how many enjoy paying taxes? I’m certainly thankful to have earned a living, but paying and filing the resulting taxes are not a real thrill. According to Peter, we pay our taxes not for our own sake (for keeping us out of the courts or saving our reputation), but for the Lord. Romans 13:1-2 go even further, suggesting that governing authorities are authorized by God. This suggests that our submission to governing authorities is evidence of our obedience to God. We might be free from physical bonds, but we must remain subject to the physical institutions God set up.
For many, this may be troubling, because we see governments continuing to pursue policies accepting evil as good. Let us not forget we are free from that progression toward evil. We dwell in a kingdom of righteousness and truth. Regardless of man’s opinions, God’s kingdom will still uphold truth. Therefore, we are not free to speak ill or refuse to submit to the governing authorities, even when they tarnish righteousness.
Consider the circumstances under which Paul and Peter wrote. Nero was emperor, and he led the empire as a glutton for sexual impulse, a soul devoid of love, and a pagan. History writes that he committed incest, kicked his pregnant wife to kill their unborn child, married men, and committed rape. More notably, Nero is said to have blamed Christians for a fire in Rome. Rumors spread that Nero set fire to the city for his own amusement. To get the heat off, Nero directed the masses to the Christians, enacting the first government enforced persecution against the followers of Christ. One would be quite hard pressed to find much good to say about Nero. Yet that very bleak backdrop was not justification, according to both Peter and Paul, to forego submission to the governing authorities. Even Nero received his authority from God (John 19:11).
Our ruling bodies receive their power from above. Whether they recognize where their authority comes from or not does not matter. Therefore, we must submit ourselves to them, and speak no evil of them. Not for their sake. Not for our sake. But for the Lord’s sake.
In a world that is ever decaying and decomposing, we have hope (Romans 8:18-21). We are free from this world. The rulers of our day may make decisions contrary to the law of God, but they cannot destroy the law of God. God’s perfect law of liberty will stand firm forever. We must submit ourselves to governing authorities knowing they are appointed by God, and our submission is well pleasing to Him.