During my junior year in High School, my football coach wanted to be the first team in the state of Illinois to have football practice. We were allowed to start practice with full contact on August 8th so we set practice for 12:00 am in our high school gymnasium. It was a great kick off to the football season. Following practice, I drove a few of my teammates to Denny’s for an early/late breakfast. After our meal, I was driving a few of my friends home when one of my friends yelled, “Kiehn, the cops are following you.” As a new driver, it was never a comfortable feeling to know that a police car was following, and since I was only 16, we were out past mandatory curfew for young drivers. As I turned my head over my right shoulder, my left hand went in the opposite direction causing me to swerve the car. Of course, the police officer pulled me over. This was my first experience being pulled over by the police and I was terrified.
The officer came to my door and asked for my license, but I handed him my whole wallet instead. He politely said, “Can you take the license out for me?” He could tell that I was a bit nervous. I explained about the midnight football practice and grabbing breakfast afterward. He graciously gave me a warning, but he did not have to. Police officers have the full authority to enforce the laws of the state. Our society is a better place because of the hard working men and women who enforce our laws.
Authority is essential for a well-ordered society. We will be celebrating Veteran’s Day in a few days, and our armed service men and women understand the importance of authority. Everyone in the United States Military knows that in signing up for service, they are submitting to the authority of their commanding officers. My former boss and mentor, Barry Spofford, was a career naval officer. He told me at one point in his career he was responsible for all deployments in the entire Navy. He said that many young men would come and plead with him about their upcoming deployment saying that their wives were going to leave them if they were deployed. My friend would look them in the eye and say, “You are in the Navy. You have to go.” There is no debate on following orders in the military.
Our society has an aversion to authority. We may not like the decisions of those in authority, but there are authoritative relationships that most people do not question. Parents have authority over their children. The government has authority over their citizens. Commanding officers have authority over those below them. Our society understands the authority of certain systems, but what about the church? What authority does the church have over someone’s life?
In a recent study conducted by Lifeway Research, they asked a group of self-identified evangelicals the question, “Does my local church have authority to declare that I am not a Christian?” In the study, 9 out of 10 evangelicals claimed that the church has no authority to claim someone is or is not a Christian. How would you answer that? Does your local church have authority over your profession of faith? If you start to live consistently contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ, does the church have authority to question your confession?
The question of authority is nothing new. Jesus faced people who questioned his authority during his ministry. I pray that through this text you will see the value of authority and correct your own view of those who have authority over you.
Preaching with the Authority of the Gospel of Christ
Jesus is getting close to his death on the cross. He came into the temple and called out the unrighteous practices of the worship of God. His action in correcting the temple worship was clearly an act of the Messiah where Jesus was establishing his authority. He continues to establish his authority, but through the preaching and teaching of the gospel, Luke 20:1,
One day, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up.
If you read the Gospels closely, you see that Jesus was constantly teaching and preaching the gospel to the people. Jesus even states that as his purpose, Luke 4:42-44,
And when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them, but he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea.
Jesus established his authority through his teaching ministry.
At the end of the Sermon the Mount, Jesus’ most famous sermon, this was the response of the crowd in Matthew 7:28-29,
And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.
The authority of Jesus teaching was why the people were hanging on every word at the end of Luke 19. The authority of Jesus’ ministry was built upon his teaching and preaching. And the authority of the Jesus is still built upon on teaching and preaching. Right before the Great Commission, Jesus says,
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
So Paul says in view of this same authority in 2 Timothy 4:1-2,
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. (2 Timothy 4:1-2)
The authority of Jesus Christ is established through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word.
The church must always teach and preach God’s Word so that the authority Jesus Christ is established in people’s lives. Churches that do not preach the gospel and teach God’s Word do not establish the authority of Jesus Christ in people’s lives. Churches are never about establishing their own authority, but the authority of Jesus Christ. Does the church have authority? Yes, but it is to establish God’s authority in people’s lives. So if Christians do not follow God’s Word, it is the obligation of churches to enforce God’s authority.
Protesting the Authority of the Gospel of Christ
The scribes and the chief priest did not like Jesus’ teaching, because they did not want to submit to His authority. Luke 20:1-2,
One day, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up and said to him, “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.” (Luke 20:1-2)
The leaders come to Jesus questioning his authority, “Who do you think you are? And why give you the right to do what you are doing?” The leaders could have been referring to Jesus overturning the tables in the temple, but the reference to his teaching broadens the complaint. The leaders’ reaction was in stark contrast to the reaction of the people. The people were hanging on every word and submitting to the teaching, while the leaders were protested Jesus authority. How do you respond to Jesus teaching? Are you more like the leaders or the people? Are you protesting against Jesus or submitting to his Word?
For most Christians the answers to the above questions are easy to answer. Of course we say that we trust God’s Word and listen to his teaching. Of course we say that we do not question Jesus’ authority. But is that true? Mark Lierderbach, Professor of Theology, Ethics, and Culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary shared a formula with me of how we know our real beliefs. Our stated belief minus our actual practice equals our real belief. For example, a stated belief is that water is the best drink for your body, minus my actual practice of only drinking soda and sweet tea, equals the real belief of water is that it actually is not the best drink for my body. Or maybe we can use the church. A stated belief of the church is that the gathering of the church should be a priority of one’s life, minus the actual practice of regularly missing church gatherings for sports activities and sleep, equals the real belief that the church is really not a priority in one’s life.
We do not want to pay lip-service to Jesus in regards to his authority. Jesus wants your stated belief and your actual practices based on your beliefs to be very similar. For if you do not live by the Word, then Jesus says to us, as he does to others in Luke 6:46-49,
“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.” (Luke 6:46-49)
In what areas in your life are you not listening to Jesus? Where do your stated beliefs not match up to your actual practice?
One of the most consistent ways people protest against Jesus’ authority is to protest against the church’s authority. In Matthew 16, Jesus asked them what the people were saying about him and then he turned to them and said,
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:15-19)
Peter’s confession is representative of the church. Jesus will build His church on people’s confession of the gospel. A biblical confession of the gospel is not merely stating words, but confessing with your mouth and believing in your heart that Jesus died for your sins and rose from the dead. Simply, a biblical confession is repenting of your sins and living by faith in the Jesus Christ.
Have you made a biblical confession? Have you repented of your sins and put your faith in Jesus Christ? As Christians, we do not believe that our good works save us. We all are sinners. And when we were dead in our trespasses and sin, God sent Jesus to die for us. Jesus died in the place of sinners and three days later rose from the dead offering living hope of eternal life to anyone who repents of their sins and puts their faith in Him. Christ. He is the Sovereign Lord and the King of kings Repentance is changing your mind about the identity of Jesus Christ. Repentance is living in that reality.
One sign of repentance is the submission to a local church. The church has been given the keys of the kingdom of heaven in binding and loosing. The concept of binding and loosing is one that makes judgments on people’s faith and repentance. This binding and loosing of a church is expressed through the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Baptism is the visible sign of entering into Christ’s kingdom. Baptism is church’s visibly and publicly binding of someone to Christ (i.e. opening the door with the keys of the kingdom). The Lord’s Supper is the visible sign of continuing in Christ’s Kingdom.
Remember that earlier question, “Does my local church have authority to declare that I am not a Christian?” Listen how Dr. Jonathan Leeman, the author of Church Membership and Church Disciplines answers this question,
“Church membership, made visible through the ordinances, is a public affirmation of someone’s profession of faith. Church discipline is the removal of that affirmation. The latter is not a denial that someone is a Christian; it’s the statement that the church is no longer willing to affirm someone’s profession.”
The church does not make people Christians, only God gives salvation. The church’s role is to exercise the authority of Jesus based on their stated beliefs and their actual practices. If people are not abiding or trusting in Christ, then the Church, based on the authority vested in her by Jesus Christ, removes their public affirmation of faith. The church is not fully denying that someone is a Christian, but they are saying that there is good reason to doubt it.
This may sound strange to our 21st century post-modern ears, but this is how the church has functioned for generations. Our culture is very quick to throw history under the bus, thinking that our modern minds know better. Our culture is arrogant and prideful in ignoring our rich Christian heritage. Let us not follow the cultural protest of the authority of Jesus Christ, but trust His Word and His church, who He has given authority to bind and loose things on earth as they are in heaven.
Passing Over the Authority of the Gospel of Christ
Jesus answers his critics with a question to help expose their lack of trust in his authority. What you will see is that they are not really concerned with the true authority, but in protecting their own authority. Luke 20:3-8,
He answered them, “I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet.” So they answered that they did not know where it came from. And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” (Luke 20:3-8)
Jesus asked them a question regarding the authority of John the Baptist which provides only two responses: his authority is either from heaven or from man.
The scribes and the Pharisees attempted to trap Jesus, but instead were trapped by Jesus. Jesus backed them into the corner and said choose. They all huddled up and talked over the options and decided not to choose, but just to say they didn’t know. They had to choose if Jesus had the authority of God or of man, but tried a third way. However, their decision not to choose was a choice. They passed on submitting to the authority of God because they did not want to submit. Protesting against God’s authority will eventually lead to passing on his authority. And if you do not align yourselves with God, you are aligning yourself up against Him.
Jesus is no longer physically present with us, but has left his authority with us in His Word. Last year I was at the South Carolina Baptist Convention and there was a resolution on the floor about the authoritative preaching of God’s Word. A young pastor went to the mic and asked for the word “authority” to be removed from the resolution because he did not believe that we are called to preach with authority. As he was speaking the end of Titus 2 came to my head which says,
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:8-14)
It is a beautiful presentation of the gospel how Jesus Christ gave himself for us to redeem us, but then he adds these words for pastors:
Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you. (Titus 2:15)
This is the calling of the church: to preach the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ with all authority.
The church is left with one question today: “Is the Bible from heaven or from man?” If it is from heaven, we preach it with authority, but if it is from man, it is merely a suggestion. Let us not disregard the authority of the gospel of Jesus Christ, but know His Word has come from heaven. Let us preach it with authority and receive it as our authority.
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