When and how to disobey authorities in a God-honoring way

working in exile May 08, 2023

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. (Matthew 5:13)

Last week, we explored the biblical call to “live such good lives” amongst our non-Christian co-workers that they have nothing credible to say against us (see 1 Peter 2:11-12). And we saw that that includes our submission to all authorities—even bosses who are antagonistic towards Christianity (see 1 Peter 2:13-22). 

But we are only obedient up to a point. In the rare instances in which an authority explicitly asks us to contradict the Lord’s commands—when they ask us to lie to a co-worker, embellish the truth to land a deal, or stop talking about Jesus—we are free and obligated to dissent. We choose to obey God, not man (see Acts 5:27-32), otherwise our “salt loses its saltiness” and “is no longer good for anything.” That brings us to our fourth principle for working in exile:

Principle #4: Christians are called to disobey directives that contradict God’s Word in a distinctly God-honoring way.

Why a “distinctly God-honoring way”? Because even when we refuse to obey an earthly authority, we can do so in ways that do and do not glorify God.

There are a number of case studies for what God-honoring disobedience looks like in the book of Daniel (see Daniel 1:5-14, Daniel 3:1-18, and Daniel 6:6-12). Here are three characteristics of godly dissension that we see in these passages.

First, we disobey respectfully. When Daniel was asked to eat defiled foods from the king’s table, he didn’t just say “no” to his boss. “He asked the chief official for permission” to abstain (Daniel 1:8). Now, we can assume that had Daniel not received “permission,” he still would have obeyed God and not man. But by asking for permission, he disobeyed respectfully.

Second, we disobey constructively. Instead of simply refusing to adhere to the Babylonian diet, Daniel offered a creative alternative aimed at blessing the very employer that was asking him to disobey the Lord (see Daniel 1:12). Daniel understood that he (and we) are called to “seek the peace and prosperity” of the non-Christians we work for and this shines through even in his disobedience (see Jeremiah 29:1-7).

Finally, Daniel and friends show us that we are called to disobey resolutely. When Daniel’s friends were asked to bow down to a golden idol, they refused in no uncertain terms saying, “we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:18). We must do the same, trusting that regardless of the consequences, God will work everything for our good and his greater glory (see Romans 8:28-29).


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