Is Submitting to Government Part of Our Christian Duty?

John Stange

Published Jul 08, 2024
Is Submitting to Government Part of Our Christian Duty?
Brought to you by

There has never been a time in my life when I can’t remember someone complaining about paying taxes.  As a child, I remember my father, grandfather, and uncles talking about the subject.  As an adult, it’s a subject I bring up regularly.  It’s also a subject that’s brought to my attention through articles, news reports, and online commentary more often than I want to think about it.

For example, earlier this week, our township supervisors sent us a notice that the taxes we pay for trash collection are about to increase by roughly 70%.  I can honestly say I wasn’t thrilled to hear that.  Several months ago, when I filed my annual income tax, I paid more than any year prior.  That can be a real sore spot particularly if you aren’t crazy about how your taxes are being spent or if it feels like the rate you’re being charged is unfair or inconsistent.

Just a few days ago, I made an appointment with a tax professional to get her advice on how I might be able to reduce my tax burden.  I’m optimistic that she will be able to help me save money in the long run.

Our generation isn’t the first generation to wrestle with the subject of taxation.  It’s never been a popular subject.  Such was the case during the days of Christ’s earthly ministry as well.  Many of the people of Israel despised paying taxes to the Roman government because they resented Roman occupation and oversight of their land.

Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Amanda Wayne

Tax forms; what does the Bible say about taxes?

What Does the Bible Say about Paying Taxes?

This was also a subject that the religious leaders wanted Jesus to weigh in on, not because they were interested in hearing His insights, but because they believed forcing Him to comment on the subject was a great way to create conflict for Him with the people of Israel, the Roman government, or both.

"And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. And they came and said to him, 'Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone's opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?'” - Mark 12:13-14

Beware of anyone who flatters you. Flattery is a form of manipulation that should put you on guard the second your ears hear it. Odds are, when you’re being flattered, the person doing the flattering is trying to get something from you or set you up for something unwise or unholy.

The Pharisees and Herodians who were sent to Jesus came on a mission to trap Him in His words. They didn’t like Him, trust Him, or worship Him. They rejected Him and wanted to make Him look bad in front of others. They sought to rob Him of His influence and authority, and they mistakenly believed flattery might help them achieve their goal.

Scripture tells us that they chose to flatter Jesus by acknowledging that He spoke the truth and wasn’t swayed by the opinions of others. They even had the audacity to applaud Him for teaching the way of God, even though they didn’t really believe what He said.

With their flattery out of the way, these leaders got to the crux of their question and asked Jesus if it was lawful for the people of Israel to pay taxes to Caesar. They wanted Jesus to take a public position on this contentious issue because they believed His answer was certain to upset someone.

Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Photography by Phillip Rubino

Man with his fingers crossed behind his back; how did Jesus handle hypocrites?

How Did Jesus Handle Hypocrisy?

As a patriotic American, just imagine how it would feel to be forced to pay property taxes or poll taxes to a foreign nation that was occupying our nation by force. How would you feel about doing that? Would you be tempted to protest that arrangement? 

This, by the way, was one of the major areas of conflict that prompted the fathers of our nation to seek independence from British rule several hundred years ago. Does that make you at least a little sympathetic to how the average person in Israel at the time might have felt toward the Romans? If you lived during that era, how would you have answered the question that was posed to Jesus?

"But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “'Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.'” - Mark 12:15

Jesus knows the hearts of all men. Our inner motives are clear to Him even when we try to keep them hidden. Jesus was highly aware of the hypocrisy of those He was speaking to. He saw right through their impure motives and was about to school them yet again by exposing their hidden desires.

As He prepared to answer their question, Jesus instructed them to bring him a denarius so He could look at it closely and make a few comments. Like all currencies, the value of a denarius would fluctuate, but a denarius was generally considered to be worth about one day’s wages at the time. And like most coined currencies throughout the centuries, it bore the image of a governing authority. In our tradition, we typically put the image of former presidents or influential historical leaders on our currency. The Romans followed a similar pattern.

"And they brought one. And he said to them, 'Whose likeness and inscription is this?'They said to him, 'Caesar's.' Jesus said to them, 'Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.' And they marveled at him." - Mark 12:16-17

Jesus asked these men whose image was on the coin. They acknowledged that Caesar’s image was stamped into the denarius. That being the case, Jesus encouraged them to render or pay to Caesar what belonged to him and render to God the things that belong to God. This was not the answer they expected, but it was certainly hard to argue with.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/ChesiireCat

Bible and coins; what does it mean to give Caesar what is his?

What Does it Mean to “Render to Caesar the Things That Are Caesar’s, and to God the Things That Are God’s?”

In practical terms, what does it mean to do what Jesus instructed? What does it mean to “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s?” Christians continue to debate this right up to the present day. This was also a Scripture that many pastors and church leaders were forced to wrestle with in recent years when world governments began mandating things that conflicted with the normal ebb and flow of church worship and public gatherings.

According to God’s word, governments have a divinely ordained role. In simple terms, they’re a useful tool to restrain man’s sin. Without some form of governmental authority, humanity would drift toward violence and all manner of abuse. God has given us government as a gift to reduce sinful activity and reward good behavior.

"Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God." - Romans 13:1

"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." -1 Peter 2:13-14

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Marinela Malcheva

Capitol Building; the need for accountability in government.

The Imperfection of Governments and the Need for Accountability

The problem that often arises, however, is that human governments aren’t perfect. They’re led by sinful people who are prone to make sinful decisions. Sometimes they overstep their agreed-upon authority. Other times they take advantage of their citizens and apply laws unfairly. Just as we need accountability as individuals, governments need accountability as well. I’m grateful for the accountability structures that exist within our form of government because our leaders frequently remind us just how much accountability is needed.

 Sometimes as Christians, we may find ourselves deeply conflicted about our desire to remain faithful citizens within our government structure while also honoring Jesus who is the governing head of the church. 

“And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.” - Colossians 1:18

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Muni Yogeshwaran

a woman standing at the entrance of a church sanctuary; how should Christians balance obedience to God and the government?

How Should Christians Balance Obedience to Government and God?

This was an area of tension I will always remember our church elders discussing when we had to make decisions for our church several years ago in the wake of various government mandates. In many respects, this was the first time we had been put to a test like this and it wasn’t comfortable. Scripture clearly tells us to honor our governing authorities. Scripture also instructs us to faithfully gather together, in person, for worship and accountability (Heb. 10:24-25). The American Constitution also states that the free exercise of religion should not be hindered by the government.

In the end, we decided to respectfully render unto the government what belongs to the government and render unto God what belongs to God, just as Jesus instructs us in Mark 12:17. And since Christ is the head of the church, we did our best to honor the instructions He has given us in His word as to how the church is to operate. We gathered for worship and accountability knowing that we were operating in obedience to the clear direction of God’s word as well as the laws of our nation as they’re clearly articulated in our founding documents.

The words Jesus spoke in Mark 12:13-17 continue to be discussed in our day because we live in the midst of the tension of two kingdoms. At present, we live as citizens who are subject to earthly kingdoms and earthly leaders. But we do so knowing that we’re actually part of a permanent and eternal kingdom led by Jesus. We live as citizens of that heavenly kingdom who are essentially just visiting the kingdoms of this earth that we’re presently subject to.

“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,” - Philippians 3:20

“But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” - Hebrews 11:16

Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/AJ Watt

A man in USA hat and glasses; is it possible to be a patriotic Christian?

Is it Possible to Be a Patriotic Christian?

I don’t know if any of my words have sounded critical, but the observations I’m making about earthly and heavenly kingdoms aren’t meant to be. The truth of the matter is that I’m extremely grateful to the Lord to live where I live, when I live, with the blessings and privileges that have been granted to me during the few short decades I’m blessed with on this planet. Even though there are several things I would love to improve about the operation of our present-day government, there isn’t another earthly option I would trade it for.

 I fly an American flag outside the front door of my house. I vote (without social media companies having to pester me to do so). I taught my children the history and distinctives of our nation from the time they were little, and I regularly pray for our leaders (especially the ones who need their consciences awakened to the gospel). 

My family knows that if they want to watch me get emotional during a movie, all they have to do is put something on that reminds me of the sacrificial bravery of the generations of young people who shed their blood so I could live as a free man. I wish more people truly appreciated the blessings we’ve been granted through the tool of imperfect human governments that our perfect Lord somehow chooses to use for our overall benefit and protection.

 But as faithful, temporary citizens of this kingdom, we’re called to remember where our eternal citizenship remains. Through faith in Jesus, we have been adopted into His family, granted an inheritance, and assured of a place in His everlasting kingdom. As stewards of the life and blessings we’ve been entrusted with, we are called to respectfully render unto our governing authorities what the Lord has entrusted to them while faithfully submitting unto Jesus what only belongs to Him.

© John Stange, 2024
Originally published on Bible Study Headquarters. Used with permission.
Photo Credit: Heidi Walley/Unsplash

This article originally appeared on For more faith-building resources, visit

John Stange

John Stange is the Lead Pastor at Core Creek Community Church and a professor at Cairn University where he leads the Digital Media and Communication program.  He also leads an online community called Platform Launchers where he helps people build message-based online platforms.

 John has authored over 30 books and presently hosts several podcasts on the LifeAudio podcast network.  His shows have been downloaded millions of times by listeners throughout the world.

You can learn more about John’s ministry, books, and podcasts at

Listen to Pastor Stange's Chapter-A-Day Audio Bible Podcast!

Originally published Wednesday, 17 July 2024.