Romans 13 says Christians should be subject to the governing authorities. But, we know that Paul and the other apostles said that it was better to obey God than men. Their actions also showed this. So, what does it look like to be subject to the governing authorities but be holy before God?
I think Daniel 1-6 provides some insight. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were strangers in the strange land of Babylon. They were in exile, sojourning in the land. They were forced to study the ways, languages, and cultures of Babylon and forced to serve the king. While they were subject to the king as the governing authority, every story in the first six chapters of Daniel is one where the four men either disobeyed the king or spoke a word against his kingdom.
The four would not eat the kings meat because it was offered to idols. The four men refused to defile themselves with it.
Daniel interpreted the kings dream of the statue made of metals that declined in value through time and the changing of power of the kingdoms of the world. Ultimately, the kingdoms of the world would be crushed by a stone not cut with human hands, Jesus, and that stone would become the kingdom of the world. It was not exactly a favorable interpretation. Daniel put his life at risk to preach the truth of God to the king even though he was in exile in a foreign land and subject to the king.
The king made an image of gold, an idol, and said that whenever the music was played everyone must bow down to the idol. If you did not, then you would be cast into the fiery furnace – killed for failing to worship the king. Of course Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down to the idol and worship when the music was played. But, when they were thrown into the fiery furnace, one “like the son of the gods” appeared in the fire with them to save them. I think this story, in particular, is interesting in light of the national anthem protests today in the U.S. The anger and vitriol in response a refusal to stand at attention to a flag when the music is played reveals that the flag is an idol and standing for it during the music is an act of worship to the human government of the land. After the three men refused to bow down to the idol during the music, the king changed the law and said that the Most High God, the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, should be worshiped.
Then the king has another dream about a great tree that reached to heaven. The tree was cut down because of the pride of the king. The king would be made a beast because of his pride as well. But, when he repented his life and kingdom would be restored. Once again, Daniel interpreted a dream in a way not favorable to the king. He spoke the truth of what God said at the risk of his own life. The result was that the king praised and honored the King of Heaven.
The new king used the vessels of God’s temples to drink wine at his party. The hand of God wrote on the wall. Again Daniel gave an interpretation not favorable to the king, but it was the truth of God.
Finally, a law was passed in the land that no one was to pray to any god or man for 30 days. Once Daniel knew the law was passed, he prayed three times a day from his house with the window open so that he could be heard. He was going to serve his God no matter what the law of the land was. Because he broke the law, the king through Daniel into the lion’s den. But, God sent an angel to protect Daniel through the night. The result was that the king put the men and their families who had accused Daniel into the lion’s den and they were killed. And, the king made a decree that everyone should tremble and fear before the God of Daniel.
Again, every story was about disobedience to the king or preaching the truth of God to the king, both always done at the risk of one’s own life. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah never sought out status or position in the foreign land. They never sought power. They refused to give worship to anything in the foreign land except their God. They never sought or tried to change the laws of the foreign land. Rather, the king changed the laws of the land because of their lifestyles. They lived holy and refused to give their worship to anything other than their God in the foreign land.
As Christians, we are strangers in a strange land, aliens, foreigners, exiles, in the world and not of it. We should live like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah – subject to the governing authorities, not seeking to change the law of the land, but living holy and never giving our worship to anything but God because that example will change the kingdom we are in but not of.