Submission to authority is in many ways a Christian trademark. Before we were saved, Romans 8:7-8 describes our innate rebellion and resistance to God rather accurately in these words, For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
But since being saved, we turn our resistance against the devil and submit to God (Jam 4:7). Christians submit to the Father (Heb 12:9). Christians, as a Church, submit to Christ (Eph 5:24). Christians submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph 5:21). Christian wives submit to their husbands as to the Lord (Eph 5:22, 24; Col 3:18; 1 Pet 3:1). Christians submit to their elders (1 Cor 16:15-16; Heb 13:17; 1 Pet 5:5). Christian employees submit to their bosses (Tit 2:9; 1 Pet 2:18). Christians submit to their earthly governments at all levels (Rom 13:1, 5; Tit 3:1; 1 Pet 2:13-14). To be a Christian is to be in submission. The only two things a Christian does not submit to is when a lower authority contradicts a higher authority (Acts 5:29), or when anyone other than God requires additional activities for worship (Gal 2:3-5; Gal 5:1-3; Col 2:20). As far as restrictions and regulations in life in general are concerned, Christians submit.
Although at times God gives us the rationale for submission in various areas of our lives, submission is not conditional on rationale. For example, in Romans 13:1-7, God explains the reasons why we need to submit to the government, but none of those reasons are conditions for submission. We need to submit to government regulations and laws because, 1) resisting government is resisting God (Rom 13:2), 2) they are a hindrance to bad conduct (Rom 13:3), 3) they are God’s servant for our good and for our punishment (Rom 13:4), 4) our consciences need to be clear (Rom 13:5), 5) they are God’s ministers (Rom 13:6), and 6) God said so (Rom 13:7). Those are six reasons for submitting to human authorities, and not one of them is “because their laws make sense to you too”. For a Christian there are six reasons to submit to the government even if they don’t give the reason. Or, to put it a different way, “it makes sense” for a Christian to submit to government regulations that “do not make sense”. Our reasons for submitting to authorities are found in God’s rationale, not the government’s rationale, and not even our own rationale.
As a further motivation to adopt this kind of thinking, God gave us another passage in His revelation to us to motivate us as Christians in joyful, non-complaining, non-bitter, non-vindictive submission to governments who impose laws that seem unreasonable, and perhaps even oppose Christians in particular. In 1 Peter 2:13-17, we find an instruction to submit to the government in a context where the government is persecuting some Christians. Again though, it is God’s rationale that prepares our minds for submission.
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
Governors have been sent by God with a very particular task. God’s will for us, though, is a little different. God’s will for us is to “silence the ignorance of foolish people” by doing good. We need to use our freedoms as Christians to demonstrate that we are servants of Another. You see, as Christians, we have Truth that the world does not have. We have a more objective perspective on life that those who do not fear the Lord do not have. We have instructions for life from the Author of life Himself. We have an enlightened mind, a renewed heart, and a relationship with God. In other words, we have an advantage in living on this earth that unbelievers do not have. In contrast to us, there are those in the world who are described in this passage as both “ignorant” and “foolish”. God’s will for us in relation to them, is not to see ourselves as more free than them, but rather to use our freedom to show them Who our Master is. We do that by “doing good”.
Back to our original context therefore, when governors place laws and regulations over us that do not make sense to us, we do good, by submitting to those regulations, even to the point where “the ignorance of foolish people”cannot slander our Lord.
Some of the lock-down regulations seem to make no sense—we can go to a mall with a thousand strangers, but not have a prayer meeting in our living room with ten friends; we can meet at a restaurant with friends and be served a meal by strangers, but we cannot have a meal with friends at home. But such reasoning is not our concern. As Christians we have the freedom to do good nonetheless. We do not need to have a prayer meeting in our living room to be able to pray. In fact, although a prayer meeting in our living room might easily comply with all sanitising and social-distancing laws, it might, to “ignorant and foolish people” have the appearance of a social gathering which they are well aware is not yet permitted by government. We silence them, not by explaining that it was a ‘religious gathering’, but by “doing good”. We silence them by the good works of submitting to the regulations of ‘religious gatherings’ in a manner that is obvious to the world (at a church building, not a home, for example). We silence them by praying for them in private—a Christian freedom that cannot be taken away! We silence them with the neighbourly love of wearing a mask, greeting with the elbow, and speaking kindly to them. In short, we silence them, not by exploiting our freedoms, but by doing good.
For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.