When I studied in Paris many years ago, I was with a group of classmates when someone brought out a joint to smoke. Since marijuana was illegal in France, my roommate at the time chose not to smoke. However, when we went to Amsterdam, he smoked marijuana because it was legal there. Today, in the United States, the use of recreational marijuana is legal in 19 states, including Washington, D.C., and Guam.

17 countries in the world have legalized prostitution. In the United States, only the state of Nevada has legalized prostitution. By 1962, all 50 states had declared same-sex activity illegal in the United States. Yet, by 2003, same-sex activity was no longer illegal. I could on with statistics about various practices that were once illegal and are now legal and of other practices that were once legal but are now illegal, but that’s not the point.

It’s a fact of life that laws change because people change. What does this mean to the Christian? Should we behave like my old roommate, whose behavior varied depending on the law of the land? In his letter to the Romans, Paul says this about following authority.

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

Romans 13:1 (NIV)

In Romans 12:18, Paul also said, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (NIV). This is similar to what was written in Hebrews.

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.

Hebrews 12:14 (NIV)

Even the Apostle Peter had something to say about submitting to authority.

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.

1 Peter 2:13-14 (NIV)

This is the same Peter who said to the religious rulers in Acts, “We must obey God rather than human beings!” Acts 5:29 (NIV)

When the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus about following the law (of men), they presented him with a situation.

They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax a to Caesar or not?”

Matthew 22:16-17 (NIV)

To wit, Jesus famously replied, “give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21 NIV).

Whenever the Bible tells us to follow the laws of the land, it’s not telling us to stop following God’s law. In 1 Corinthians 10:23, when discussing the Believer’s freedom, Paul comments on behavior, “”I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive” (NIV).
While this doesn’t directly relate to following human law, we can apply the principle that “everything is not beneficial” (NLT).

Indeed, we could follow human laws and do those things which are legal in one place and illegal somewhere else, but the law of God is higher. Revelation 21 gives us this insight.

“But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

Revelation 21:8 (NIV)

This is why Peter said he must obey God instead of human beings. This is why Jesus paid taxes, giving unto Caesar what was his and to God what was his. As Christians, we are to submit to governing authorities and follow the laws of the land. However, if following those laws is against God, we must follow Christ. We see an example of this in the book of Daniel when King Darius was tricked into making a law that said people couldn’t pray to anyone else but him. When the king was told that Daniel prayed to the Lord, thus breaking the law, Darius felt compelled to follow the law and throw Daniel into the lion’s den. Yet, the next morning when the king rushed to see if Daniel was okay, Daniel gave him this insight.

My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, Your Majesty.”

Daniel 6:22 (NIV)

Although the law had been passed and Daniel broke it, the law was unjust in God’s eyes, so Daniel was spared. I am reminded of something Martin Luther King, Jr. said about following the law.

“One has not only a legal, but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”

Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from the Birmingham Jail

The morality here is not a social morality, but the sense of morality God has deposited into our hearts.