Religion & Liberty Online

Is Paying Taxes a Christian Responsibility?

How-to-Understand-Federal-Tax-FormsAfter almost three decades of filling out increasing complex tax forms, you’d think I’d be used to it (or at least resigned to the onerous task). But every tax season I complain even more than I did the year before. Why do I have to do this?

Perhaps the problem, notes Daniel J. Hurst, is that I’m forgetting that it’s part of my responsibility as a Christian. “While we may have grumbled when filing our taxes this year,” says Hurst, “did we pause to think that giving the government part of our income is a way we honor the Lord and express our trust in his grand design?”

When we arrive at Paul’s words on taxes in Romans 13:6-7, we must recognize they fall within the larger teaching on God’s institution of the government’s authority and the Christian’s responsibility to live in submission to that authority. The simple principle presented in 13:6-7 is that believers in Christ are to pay their taxes, and this is regardless of what the state does with the money once it is received. We sometimes may hear the distress of concerned Christians who say that the government uses their tax dollars for all kinds of waste and even evil, such as abortion, which leads them to question whether they are complicit in such acts and should pay their taxes. While such rationale appears to come from a good motive (not using personal wealth to support acts one considers wasteful or evil), Paul says that ultimately such considerations are subservient to the principle of submitting to your governing authorities. Indeed, we can be confident that the Christian who pays such taxes does not have any need to feel guilt that they are complicit with the acts of the state. However, the Christian who refuses to pay, regardless of being well intentioned, is indeed guilty. Simply because the state misuses funds does not release one from the command to pay taxes, nor does it make one responsible for what the state does with taxes once they are paid.

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Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).