Many of us can remember a time when we did not know the Lord. Whether or not we were brought up in a Christian home, some of us lived many years before we trusted Christ alone for our salvation. Like the original audience of 1 Peter, we were “conformed to the passions of our former ignorance” (1:14) and chased after the “futile ways” of our forefathers (v. 18).
However, all this changed when we were “born again to a living hope” of salvation guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus and guarded forever by the Father (vv. 3–5). This great hope in which we rejoice was eagerly anticipated by the prophets (vv. 6–12) and makes us into the true Israel of God (2:4–5). Now that we know Christ we have been fully incorporated into God’s people, and we must live lives patterned after His holiness (1:13–2:3; 2:9–10).
We live holy lives, first and foremost, by abstaining from the sinful passions of the flesh (v. 11). One of the ways in which we can obey this command is to live honorable lives among non-believers so that they may see our good works and glorify God on the day of His visitation (v. 12). Today’s passage develops this theme further by explaining how to live honorably under civil government. Christians, we read, are to subject themselves to every human institution, including the emperor and those ruling under him (vv. 13–14).
The idea that submission to the civil authority is a manifestation of holiness is clear from Peter’s explanation that we submit “for the Lord’s sake” (v. 13). We know that the ruling authorities have been set in place by the Lord to punish evil and reward goodness (v. 14; Rom. 13:1–7). When we submit to their just laws, we are in reality submitting to God since He has set them over us.
In these verses, Peter is not saying that all authorities are godly; rather, he is simply pointing out that it is the government’s role to execute justice. However, other passages tell us that some authorities can become so corrupt that they cease to fulfill their God-given roles. If the civil authority does command us to sin, then we would submit to God’s rule instead by refusing to do evil (Dan. 3).