Let's look quickly at the two passages before us in Paul's epistles. Let us rightly divide them. The oft-referenced passage in Romans 13 needs to be carefully dissected.
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: for he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.
We read these directions in light of the Acts Age. The Apostles had the authority to subject believers under their authority (1 Cor 4:21). There is an assumption in this passage that the rulers that are addressed are ruling righteously. Whether temporal or spiritual, leaders are subject to God's standards.
Believers are given a clear command in Acts 5:29, "Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men." There is no ambiguity here. Even in an earthly context, the spiritual (that which comes from God) holds both civil authority and believer in submission to the will of God. When the civil authority acts in accordance with the will of God, such action is to be recognized and honored.
If I commit a robbery, the state is the vessel charged with administering some form of justice. In doing so, they act in accordance with the will of God. The spiritual powers should also act accordingly in their sphere. In both instances, to be in the will of God, the punishment must be consistent with justice (not too harsh, not too lenient).The Apostles did not carry the sword. They did not mete out the death penalty, etc. Paul is telling the Romans that their faith is no excuse for wicked actions and does not annul the right of the state to mete out justice, even the penalty of death if it is warranted. As we will see, Paul refers back to the earthly law of God in the Ten Commandments as a guide.
'By Me kings reign, and princes decree justice. By Me princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth'
By me, kings reign,
And potentates legislate justice.
By me princes rule, and leaders
All those who administer justice.
Civil authorities are to "legislate" and "administer" JUSTICE, Hebrew "tsedeq," often translated righteousness in regard to the Lord. We also note that the powers on the earth are connected to the principalities and powers in the heavens. They can be tools of injustice as well as tools of justice. This is an important distinction we must make when speaking of obeying authorities.
'The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me one and twenty days: but, lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me; and I remained there with the kings of Persia'. 'And now will I return to fight with the prince of Persia: and when I am gone forth, lo, the prince of Grecia shall come ... there is none that holdeth with me in these things, but Michael your prince'
I'll pause here and defer to a mind much wiser than my own:
'The idea of sinister world powers and their subjugation by Christ, is built into the very fabric of Paul's thought, and some mention of them is found in every epistle except Philemon. There is the Satan who is constantly frustrating Paul's missionary work (1 Thess. 2:18; 2 Cor. 12:7). There is the mystery of lawlessness which Paul at one time believed to be on the point of open rebellion against God (2 Thess. 2:7). There are the elemental spirits of the world by which both Jew and Gentile were held in bondage, and which appear to have close links with the law on the one hand and with astrology on the other (Gal. 4:3; Col. 2:8,20). There is the god of this age who "has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not behold the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ" (2 Cor. 4:4). There is the ruler of the authority of the air who is also described as the spirit now at work among the sons of disobedience (Eph. 2:2). There are the rulers of this age who crucified the Lord of Glory and thereby compassed their own downfall (1 Cor. 2:6). There are the principalities and authorities over which Christ celebrated His triumph on the Cross (Col. 2:15). In spite of this defeat, the world-rulers of this darkness are still operative, and the Christian must wrestle with them (Eph. 6:12); they still hold the whole creation in bondage to futility, though they cannot separate the Christian from the love of God (Rom. 8:20,38). But the day must come when every principality and every authority and power will yield to Christ, since "He must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet" (1 Cor. 15:25). This, however, is not Paul's last word concerning the destiny of the powers, for he came to believe that they were created beings, created in and for Christ, whether thrones or lordships or principalities or authorities (Col. 1:16; 2:10), and that it was God's purpose that they should be reconciled to Him by the blood of the Cross (Col. 1:20), that angelic as well as human tongues should confess Jesus as Lord, that to the principalities and authorities in the heavenly places there might now be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God' (Eph. 3:10).
-Principalities and Powers by G. B. Baird
For this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand...-Romans 13:6-12a
And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them. And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man. And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost.-Acts 12:21-23
If you are reproached for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or a wrongdoer, or a mischief-maker; yet if one suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name let him glorify God.
-1 Peter 4:14-16
Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior...
-1 Timothy 2:1-3
As Paul directed me, I pray for those in the authority for the expressed purpose that I might live a quiet and peaceable life. That in no way requires me to submit to their wicked decrees. Obey the speed limit? Sure. No problem. Turn in my neighbor for having a Bible or a gun (that day will come), nope. Not gonna obey that.
"Have you any dissenters in your basement? The law requires you tell us!"
"Nope. Nobody here but us peasants, sir."
Part of my prayer should be that God guide them despite their own hearts.
We should be ready to die in defense of the will of God. I'm not suggesting you disagree with that. I'm just summing up the position that defiance is often the will of God. Serving the state is easier than serving God. Delayed reward is harder to seek than immediate relief. We must focus on things above and seek to please the Lord first. Just as we do all things before his eyes (Col 3:22-23), we will be judged for our obedience to him above obedience to the state.
Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness.
This is short-sighted, carnal thinking. It was the better choice for the children of Israel that they did not submit to Pharaoh's army and commands and instead trusted in the stated will of God. Fortunately, the faithful followed Moses as God had commanded. We stop only to encourage the reader to seek out the word "better" in the Book of Hebrews. Often getting "better" things comes with patience and a focus on the will of God despite what is happening around us. Delayed blessings, as it were.