“Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.” Romans 13:1.
All authority comes from God, even if the one who holds that authority is non-Christian. Therefore all who hold authority are directly answerable to God for how they exercise that God-given authority; “…their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them…” Romans 2:15b. Therefore, as we look at Romans 13:1f., keep in mind what the Apostle Paul has already earlier stated, viz., that even non-Christians have the work of God’s Moral Law written in their hearts (Romans 2:14&15).
The Apostle, in Romans 13:2 writes: “Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.” Notice that those who rebel against governing authorities are rebelling against God. Thus God uses means, including non-Christian means, to bring about His desired purpose.
God’s purpose, as it stands at the moment, is to bring all things under subjection to the One who has been given all authority in heaven and on earth, i.e., the Lord Jesus Christ. Hence the outpoured Holy Spirit has come upon all flesh, even all the nations.
Next, notice how the governing authorities or rulers are to govern or rule. Romans 13:3f. “For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake.”
Governing authorities are to encourage their subjects to do good and are to avenge evil done by their subjects. Is, e.g., adultery, good or evil? Would a non-Christian ruler be able to answer this question correctly? And if so, how so? Surely it is because he has the work of God’s law written in his heart. Therefore, even his own conscience tells him that adultery is evil, as is the transgressing of all the rest of the Ten Commandments.
God’s Moral Law is God’s standard for all morals, even in non-Christian governors. “He is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.” What should Christians do if the governing authorities themselves are corrupt and promote things contrary to God’s Moral Law? “We ought to obey God rather than men.” Acts 5:29. Hence Christians are to pray for “…all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” Paul to Timothy in 1 Timothy 2:2.
Edmund P Clowney says:
"Nor are Christians necessarily called to suffer state persecution in silence. Jesus called Herod ‘that fox’ (Luke 13:32); John the Baptist rebuked the same notorious king for his incestuous marriage (Mk. 6:18); Paul remonstrated against illegal procedures in his hearing before the Sanhedrin – although apologized for calling the high priest a ‘whited wall’, because of the respect due to his office (Acts 23:3). The Christian may criticise, but stands before the magistrate in meekness and respect, to give the reason for the hope that is in him or her (1 Pet. 3:15)." Edmund P Clowney, The Church, IVP 1995, p. 190.
Notice (in the Clowney quote) that governing authorities are to be rebuked by Christians for any evil they do, i.e., things contrary to God’s Law. They are to be God’s ministers for good, not evil. A Christian’s conscience would bother him if he remained silent about continued evil actions of any governing authorities.
Thus by rebuking any un-Biblical practices of the governing authorities the Christian is showing respect for the office of the governing authority. Indeed he is demonstrating obedience to the authority of God from whom all authority comes. Thus the church witnesses to the nations by testifying to the truth of God’s Moral Law before the nations’ governing authorities.
The church is to proclaim outwardly what individual consciences (and the collective national conscience) testify inwardly, for this is how the Holy Spirit uses His Word to convict the nations of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment (John 16:8-11).
In the Proverbs we are taught: “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, like rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.” Proverbs 21:1. Therefore the Creator, Redeemer, and Consummator, who works all things according to His eternal purpose, has absolute sovereign control over even the most despotic of rulers.
Robert Haldane commenting on Romans thirteen puts it this way:
"Civil rulers… are the ministers of God; if so, they must be of God’s own appointment. The worst government in the country is of God, and is calculated to effect His purposes and promote His glory. Wicked rulers are necessary in God’s plans to punish wicked nations. It is not merely the form of civil government that is from God, but the governors."