Challenges to Humanity

God and Lesser Authorities Part 2: Why Are We to Submit?

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Editor's Note

This article is part of a series called, “God and Lesser Authorities: The Who’s, When’s, Why’s, and How’s of Institutional Submission." Read part 1.

In our previous post in this series, we said that God calls us to submit to every lawful human institution—whether a school, government, or church. And we said that God calls us to obey institutional authorities as long as they act within their jurisdiction and do not order us to disobey God.

In this post, we are going to explore why God commands us to “be subject to every human institution” (1 Peter 2:13). Why is it considered fundamentally good to be submissive to institutions that are fallible and so often corrupt? In short, we are to be subject to human institutions for the honor of God’s name, the good of the community, winning unbelievers to Christ, and our eternal benefit.

God’s Glory?

Peter writes, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution” (1 Peter 2:13, emphasis added). Here’s another way to say that: live so that the world will thank God for the church, without the “thank you” being sarcastic. When God’s people don’t act godly, God’s name gets a bad rap. When they act godly, God’s name gets a good rap (generally speaking). Rightly or wrongly, God is associated with the behavior of His people. God’s name will be dishonored if Christians are known for being unruly citizens, employees, and spouses. As you know, if you’ve ever had bad service, the behavior of one person can reflect poorly on a whole organization.

God’s reputation should be enhanced, not diminished, by His representatives.  If “there is no authority except from God” (Romans 13:1), and we are God’s people, then the world should be able to look at us and see how God intends for society to function in relation to institutional authorities. Christians should make for the best citizens, employees, spouses, etc., because everything we do is to be done for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31) and the love of our neighbor (Mark 12:31).

The Common Good?

In addition to submitting for the glory of God, we are to submit to institutional authorities for “the welfare of the city” in which we live (Jeremiah 29:7). The common good is hindered if our conduct among our unbelieving neighbors is dishonorable and disorderly (1 Peter 2:12-14). The common good is helped if, even when we suffer for it, our conduct is good and orderly (1 Peter 2:20-21). Like a classroom, a city can’t function well if its “students” are unsubmissive to authorities.

God’s children, like God, are to be agents of order, not chaos and disruption (we could all probably benefit from remembering that next time we are on the highway). Christians are to help preserve civil society, not contribute to its deterioration (Matthew 5:13). We should be those who help bring harmony, not dissonance, to the functioning of society. As Paul instructs Christians regarding worship services: “All things should be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40). Why? Because the proper function and flourishing of every human institution depends on it (1 Corinthians 12:7-26).

God’s reputation should be enhanced, not diminished, by His representatives.

Submission as an Aid to Mission?

Peter is clear that another reason Christians are to be subject to human institutions is so that unbelievers will see our good behavior “and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12). In other words, an aim of submission is the salvation of the lost!

Peter further makes this evident when he tells Christian women to be submissive to their husbands “so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives” (1 Peter 3:1).

Presumably, the logic here is that our submission to God and lesser authorities will result in a cause to give “a reason for the hope that is in [us]” (1 Peter 3:15). Whether it is our humble obedience to human institutions or our submission to God resulting in unjust persecution at the hands of human institutions, Christian conduct opens a path for and adds credibility to our message.

For example, Justin Martyr, a first-century pagan living in the Roman Empire, became a Christian shortly after watching Christians die with dignity and hope for their faith. Unlike others, Christian martyrs didn’t call down curses on their captors or beg for their lives. They were confident in the face of death, pleased to obey God rather than men. Justin had to know what the Christians valued more than their lives. Of course, he discovered Jesus and his promises motivated their obedience.

We will discuss when and how we are to submit to unjust institutions in the third installment of this series, but for now, please note that we aren’t called to seek out persecution or submit to it without first exhausting all legal options (e.g., Paul “appealing to Caesar”). The point is simply that because Christ submitted to unjust suffering to bring us to God, we should, if necessary, submit to unjust suffering to help bring others to God (1 Peter 2:19-21; 3:17-18).

Eternal Benefit?

Finally, the Apostles say that our submission to God and lesser authorities redounds to our eternal benefit. We are to conduct ourselves as instructed by God so that “we may obtain a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9). Peter says that our enduring faith in God will “result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7). Paul says that those who are patient in doing good will receive “glory and honor and peace” (Romans 2:6-10) at Christ’s return.

Of course, we must keep in mind that, as J.I. Packer writes, “when God rewards our works, he is crowning His own gifts, for it was only by grace that those works were done.”[1] It’s only because of Christ that we will “receive the crown of life” (James 1:12). Christ is the only foundation of our spiritual life. However, how we build upon that foundation matters, as it determines whether we will suffer loss or receive a reward (1 Corinthians 3:11-15).

In brief, we should submit to God and lesser authorities because it is good for us, now and at Christ’s return (and not doing so is bad for us).

In the next post in this series, we will explore how we are to be submissive to God and lesser authorities, such as the government.

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[1] J.I. Packer, Concise Theology (Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 1993).

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Jonathan Darville

Jono Darville is a former Global Master Trainer with The Center for Leadership Studies and Co-Leader of the New York branch of Models for Christ (an international non-profit bringing the gospel to the fashion industry). Due to a decade-plus long battle with chronic illness, Jono almost lost his life in 2017. After spending a number of years bed-bound, God graciously intervened in 2020, using UNC Hospital to restore Jono’s health. Jono is now finishing an M.A. in the Philosophy of Religion at SEBTS, while serving as a Ruling Elder and Youth Director at Peace Church in Cary, NC. He and his wife, Jillian, have one son, Jono Jr.

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