I have heard recently about some people who have decided they have a right to declare themselves “sovereign citizens” who are not subject to the same laws as the rest of us. They did not buy into the social contract, and have decided to abstain from government control. Wikipedia, the fountain of knowledge that it is, defines “sovereign citizen” in the following way.

The sovereign citizen movement is a loose grouping of American litigants, commentators, and financial scheme promoters. Self-described sovereign citizens take the position that they are answerable only to common law and are not subject to any statutes or proceedings at the federal, state or municipal levels, or that they do not recognize U.S. currency and that they are “free of any legal constraints”. They especially reject most forms of taxation as illegitimate. Participants in the movement argue this concept in opposition to “federal citizens” who, they say, have unknowingly forfeited their rights by accepting some aspect of federal law.

What I want to address right now, is not the legal ramifications of such a position, but rather, the question of whether or not a Christian has the liberty to take this course of action. Because in the final analysis, God’s opinion is the only one that matters on any subject! I want to look at the applicable passages with minimal commentary and then draw our conclusions from them.

As our foundation, let’s see what Jesus says about paying taxes to the government,

Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the tax money.” So they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left Him and went their way. (Matthew 22:17-22 NKJV)

And here is what Jesus said about paying temple taxes to the religious leaders who were plotting to kill Him.
When they had come to Capernaum, those who received the temple tax came to Peter and said,

“Does your Teacher not pay the temple tax?” He said, “Yes.” And when he had come into the house, Jesus anticipated him, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?” Peter said to Him, “From strangers.” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. Nevertheless, lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money; take that and give it to them for Me and you.” (Matthew 17:24-27 NKJV)

In his letter to the Romans, Paul expounds upon our responsibility to civil governments.

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. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. 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. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor. (Romans 13:1-7 NKJV)

Another inspired writer, the apostle Peter, addressed the matter as well.

Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men— as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king. (I Peter 2:13-17 NKJV)

Based on these passages, I truly do not see any way a Christian to declare themselves to be “sovereign citizens”. Keep in mind, that in all of these verses dealing with the submitting, taxes and tribute, they were talking about the Roman government. The Romans had a term for those who declared themselves free of the obligation to submit to the edicts of Caesar — “dead”. In fact, despite the violence and corruption that was rife within the roman system, Paul uses his citizenship as a way to forward the gospel. He also submitted in order to be a good witness for Christ. Even Jesus paid the temple tax in order not to cause offense. I believe there is even scriptural authority in these passages to say that declaring yourself a sovereign citizen is an act of rebellion to God!

I know this will anger some, and there will be those who believe it is justified anyway. But the plain teaching of scripture is that your need to be a good witness for Christ trumps any perceived right to defy the government. Your only exception is if you are told to disobey God. At that time, the only faithful response is “we must obey God rather than men”. But if Jesus, Peter, and Paul can submit to the oppressors as wicked as the Romans, we can submit to our government, too. In fact, Paul spoke of that very government when he wrote the following by direction of the Holy Spirit:

Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, (I Timothy 2:1-3 NKJV)

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