What does Romans 13 mean?
Chapter Commentary:
Romans 13 is a short chapter that continues the theme of Romans 12. How do those in Christ live, now that we have received God's great mercy for us? Paul began Romans 12 by declaring that the only reasonable response is to become living sacrifices in service to God. Romans 13 continues to describe what that Christlike sacrifice looks like. This includes some specific applications.

Paul's instructions take a surprising turn in the first half of the chapter. Those in Christ must be "submissive" or "subject to" human authorities in the government. In other words, one's place in God's kingdom does not allow us to ignore those in charge of whatever earthly kingdom we occupy. This is not just about keeping the peace. Christians are to submit to earthly authorities because God put them there. In fact, Paul says that every position of government authority on earth was, ultimately, filled by God Himself for His purposes. To improperly resist authority, then, is to resist God (Romans 13:1–2).

That rejection of authority brings painful judgment. God's intention for authorities in human governments, in part, is to use them to bring judgment on people who do bad things. If you're doing good things, Paul writes, you should have nothing to fear from those in authority. If you're doing bad things, though, you should be afraid. Governments, broadly speaking, are there to rein in and punish evildoers on God's behalf. The punishment a criminal receives from the government is also from God (Romans 13:3–4).

We should not submit to our human government only out of fear, though, but also because it's the right thing to do. For that same reason, Christians must pay their taxes as a way of supporting the structure God has set up to accomplish His will on earth. In fact, in addition to taxes, we also owe to our human governments respect and honor (Romans 13:5–7).

Paul chooses not to address in this section something he faced in his own life: What do you do when a human government tells you to do something that contradicts God's commands? Or when the government is not acting fairly, or morally, or in good faith? In that case, a believer must defy ungodly commands and willingly face the consequences (Acts 5:27–29). Paul's instruction here speaks of subjection and submission, but not necessarily of obedience. This distinction was lived out by Jesus' closest followers. Nearly all the apostles were eventually killed by government authorities for preaching the gospel: they refused to obey when told to be silent, but they submitted to the punishment and authority of the government.

Paul transitioned to the idea that Jesus-followers should pay all their debts. The only debt that will never be fully repaid is the obligation to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. When that command is obeyed, it fulfills the entire law, Paul writes. After all, love itself never harms anyone, making all the other relationship commands unnecessary (Romans 13:8–10).

Wrapping up this set of instructions, Paul urges Christians to be urgent about the time. He writes that the night is gone, and the day is almost here, suggesting that the day of the Lord, a reference to mankind's ultimate judgment, will arrive at that metaphorical daybreak. That moment draws nearer every day. That's why Christians must throw off any works of darkness we have been participating in. This includes lifestyles of drunken partying, sexual immorality, fighting, and jealousy. Instead, Christians must suit up in armor of light. That is, instead of joining in the darkness, we must take defensive positions against it. In fact, we must put on Christ Himself instead of arranging our lives to gratify our own desires (Romans 13:11–14).
Verse Context:
Romans 13:1–7 describes the responsibility for Christians to live in submission to the human authorities in government. The reason given is that every government leader has ultimately been established by God for His own purposes. Generally speaking, human government serves to rein in and punish those who do evil. Governments do this on God's behalf. Christians must pay their taxes to support this work God is doing. In addition, those in Christ owe respect and honor to the authorities that God has put in place. Other Scriptures, such as Acts 5:27–29, distinguish between ''submission'' and ''obedience.''
Romans 13:8–14 describes the Christian obligation to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. To do this is to fulfill the law of Moses, because love itself never hurts anyone. The time has come for believers to cast off any works of darkness, including drunkenness, immorality, and jealousy. Instead, we should live as people who walk in the light, taking on the spiritual armor of light and Christ Himself.
Chapter Summary:
Romans 13 tackles three big areas that living-sacrifice Christians must address. First, since God puts every human authority in place to serve His purposes, Christians must submit to them; this idea comes with a particular context. Second, we must love our neighbors as ourselves. Third, we are called to live as people of the light and throw off works of darkness like drunkenness, sexual immorality, and jealousy. We are to take on the armor of light against the darkness and, in fact, take on Christ Himself instead of serving our own desires.
Chapter Context:
The prior chapter described the ideas of becoming a living sacrifice for Christ and being transformed by that relationship. In chapter 12, Paul gives certain applications of what this looks like for Christians who have received God's great mercy. Paul instructs believers to live in submission to human authorities in government because God has put them there for His purposes. Loving our neighbors as we love ourselves is the ongoing obligation of every Christian. Finally, we must throw off any works of darkness we have been taking part in and take defensive positions against the darkness in spiritual armor of light. The time has come to take on Christ and stop arranging our lives to serve our own desires.
Book Summary:
The book of Romans is the New Testament's longest, most structured, and most detailed description of Christian theology. Paul lays out the core of the gospel message: salvation by grace alone through faith alone. His intent is to explain the good news of Jesus Christ in accurate and clear terms. As part of this effort, Paul addresses the conflicts between law and grace, between Jews and Gentiles, and between sin and righteousness. As is common in his writing, Paul closes out his letter with a series of practical applications.
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