Freedom from Tyranny: Civil Disobedience?

Civil obedience


There has never been more disobedience in virtually all aspects of life than there is right now. Name-calling, lying, distrusting, and refusing to obey government authorities is at an all-time high. 

But is some disobedience warranted?

Brief History of How We Got Started

All Americans should thank the American hero, Thomas Paine, born in England and who inspired Americans to gain independence from Great Britain in his pamphlet Common Sense, which was released at the start of the year 1776. The pamphlet is acknowledged for having helped shape the Declaration of Independence and persuaded a large number of colonists to favor independence from England.

Later that year in the summer of 1776, a gathering of fifty-six men shaped the world’s greatest nation that today we call the United States of America by signing the Declaration of Independence. These men also realized that they were in real danger. Each man was aware that signing such a document could serve as a warrant for his execution.

The task of assembling a committee and penning a Declaration of Independence fell to Thomas Jefferson. Patrick Henry, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and the first governor of Virginia, famously declared, “Give me liberty or give me death.”

And on July 4, 1776, each man signed the Declaration following much discussion, disagreement, and revision. And as a result, on July 4th each year Americans celebrate Independence Day in commemoration of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.

Today’s Dangerous Times

Many argue today that we are in real danger, just like in 1776, as evidenced by the  partial collapse of the judicial system in the United States with significant discussion in recent years about civil liberties, civil rights, and following government mandates and policies. 

Civil Liberties

Civil liberties are supposed to protect citizens against unconstitutional acts by the government. The Constitution guarantees civil freedoms, including guarantees for the freedom to exercise certain rights without interference from the government. The freedom of speech, the right to privacy, and the prohibition against arbitrary searches and seizures are important examples. But we have seen these liberties erode and breached.

All Are Created Equal

The Bible teaches that all people are created with integrity and worth before God. Genesis 1:26-28 (NASB) says, “‘Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.And God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’”

The Role of Governments

Governments are set up to maintain order in society.

  • “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil. Wherefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake” (Romans 13:1-5  NASB).

How to Live Under Civil Authority 

It is the duty of Christians to live peaceful lives. We are called pray for our leaders.

  • “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:1-2 NASB).

Civil Rights

Civil rights are supposed to guarantee equal protection under the law and to shield people from discrimination, ensuring that everyone is treated equally and not subjected to discrimination on the basis of traits like race, gender, or disability. But we have also seen these rights erode and breached.

The New Testament affirms the voluntary submission of individual rights for the good of others. The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 8:9-13 (NASB):

“But take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. And thus, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, that I might not cause my brother to stumble.”

When Obedience Is Not Required

The Bible provides guidance on when obedience to the government is not required, focusing on instances where governmental commands conflict with God’s laws. Below are some of the examples we find in scripture.

Acts 5:29 (NASB): “But Peter and the apostles answered and said, “We must obey God rather than men.” 

  • This verse describes how the apostles were commanded by the authorities to stop teaching in the name of Jesus. However, they continued to preach, prioritizing God’s command over human authority. This passage underscores that when government mandates directly contradict God’s commands, believers are to obey God.

Daniel 3:16-18 (NASB): :’Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter.“If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. “But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.’” 

  • These three men refused to bow down to the golden statue as commanded by the king, choosing to remain faithful to God’s commandments against idolatry. This example highlights the refusal to comply with laws that require actions contrary to God’s explicit commandments.

Exodus 1:17 (NASB):  “But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live.” 

  • The Hebrew midwives disobeyed Pharaoh’s order to kill newborn Hebrew boys. They chose to preserve life, valuing God’s command over the king’s decree. This illustrates civil disobedience in cases where human laws mandate actions that are morally and ethically wrong.

Revelation 13:15 (NASB): “And there was given to him to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast might even speak and cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed.” 

  • In the apocalyptic vision, believers are called to resist the worship of the beast, even under threat of death. This represents a broader principle of resisting any authority that demands worship or allegiance contrary to God.

Jesus Was Not Afraid to Challenge Error.

Jesus was not afraid to challenge error when it had eternal significance.

  • Matthew 21:12-13 (NASB): “And Jesus entered the temple and cast out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who were selling doves. And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a robbers‘ den.”
  • Matthew 23:13 (NASB): “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from men; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.”
  • Luke 11:52 (NASB): “Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter in yourselves, and those who were entering in you hindered.”
  • Jesus also refused to become entangled with political, cultural, or personal disputes 
  • Luke 12:13–14 (NASB): “And someone in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But He said to him, “Man, who appointed Me a judge or arbiter over you?”
  • Luke 22:24–26 (NASB): “’And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest. And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ “But not so with you, but let him who is the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as the servant.’”

Jesus concentrated on what really mattered all the way to the cross: “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2 NASB). 

Civil Disobedience – When “Yes” Is Allowed

Christians ought to oppose a government that dictates or enforces evil and endeavor to alter a government that condones evil using peaceful means and within the confines of the law.

When laws or directives from the government directly conflict with the laws and mandates of God, civil disobedience is acceptable.

If a Christian defies a corrupt government, he should bear the consequences of his conduct, unless he is able to escape the government.

Within the bounds of established legislation, all Christians should work toward the installation of new government officials.

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