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5 Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake.  


5 Therefore

The word “therefore” draws a conclusion to the state as God’s minister demonstrating wrath against law-breakers.

you must be subject, not only because of wrath

There are two reasons why Christians should subject themselves to government:

1.     Externally, because of the threat of punishment from government (personal preservation)

2.     Internally, because of conscience

“Wrath” here is judicial punishment. To defy the state is to invite death or severe judgment such as jail.

but also for conscience’ sake.

The word “conscience” comes from two words: know and with. The person who lets his conscience speak to him measures his personal standards against something he is trying to determine as being good or bad. This measuring assumes responsible awareness of our ultimate basis of right and wrong. Conscience normally convicts us in ordinary ways.

The conscience pricks the conviction of a Christian, alerting him that God has divinely ordered government as the maintainer of peace in society. There is a sense of responsibility in this. The conscience’s sense of morality motivates the believer to obey government with cooperation. The Christian should have a higher sense of duty to state than do non-Christians.

Following the conscience in submitting to the state does not mean slavishly obeying without any sense of personal judgment. The Christian must always operate, even in relation to the law of the state, by biblical principles. There is a limit to obedience to the state.


The conscience is a higher standard for obeying government than fear of punishment by the state.


Mature Christians recognize the need for government to maintain the social order. Responsible moral agents act on a higher plane than simple fear of punishment.

We must be careful with the conscience because it is not an infallible guide to decision making. It is possible for our conscience to be clear of guilt but not be innocent.

1 Co 4:4, For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord.

However, it is a guide, just not an infallible guide. We take notice if our conscience pricks us about something. This is particularly true when it comes to submitting our taxes each year.

There is such a thing as a “weak” conscience (1 Co 8:7, 10, 12). Conscience can condemn us for something not true to God’s standards. We need to keep our conscience clear before God (Acts 24:16). There are those with a “good” conscience (1 Ti 1:5, 19) and a “clear” conscience (1 Ti 3:9; 2 Ti 1:3). Paul himself had a “good” conscience (Ac 23:1).

2 Co 4:2, But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.

We cannot justify illegal actions by claiming, “Everyone is doing it. Those laws are not right in any case.” If Christians obey civil law, they contribute to stable government. Popularity, convenience, or the question of whether it is advantageous are not proper standards of conscience. Those values are from a warped conscience.  

The Biblical Doctrine of the State: