Identifying Our Functional Authority

When speaking about authority, there can be a variety of emotions that rise up in our hearts and minds. Depending on our present circumstances, our thoughts could embrace or reject the idea of authority, and its implications in and over our lives. Yet, the truth is, we all make daily decisions, develop personal convictions, and operate our lives based upon what we believe is or desire to be the authority that governs over us. I call this our functional authority. In other words, what we say is our supreme authority may or may not match the authority that is expressed in the way we live our lives, and I think it is important that we see and recognize that reality.

Regardless of our situation, we sometimes have authority over others, and we are always under the authority of someone else. Parents have authority over their children. Bosses have authority over their employees. Governments have authority over their citizens. Store owners have authority over clients while in their businesses. Coaches have authority over their athletes. Principals and teachers have authority over their students. Pastors have authority over their church members. So, whether we like it or not, or whether we admit it or not, we are governed by someone, or we are responsible to exercise proper authority over others. This is an idea that we cannot escape. And the truth is, often, those who govern, including you and I, do not do so effectively, responsibly, ethically, or morally. Due to our world being constantly inodiated by media outlets (including social media) we frequently hear of situations of abuse and neglect by certain people who have governing power. These can spark an emotion of frustration, anger, and even rage to the point that sometimes we feel like that we cannot trust any authority but ourselves. While these emotions can be sometimes justified, these continuous stories that bombard our news feeds can lead us to reject those that govern us for our good.

The truth is, we are all rebellious and we all make errors in the appropriating the authority that we ourselves have. Whether it is following the speed limit, paying taxes, obeying parents, manipulating children, not doing what the boss says, corporate crime, political corruption, clerical abuse, and I could go on and on, we all fail as leaders and followers. But I would argue that this reality is not a legitimate reason to rebel against all authority, nor reject the idea that it can be good for us in most situations. The last thing we, and our society, need is anarchy where everyone just does what they want, when they want, how they want, with no respect for those that govern us. This would simply result in chaos and the destruction of our personal lives and culture. So, how should we look at the issue of authority?

The first words of the Bible say, “In the beginning, God…”. In those first four words, it is clear that everything that came into being did so because God caused it to happen. This truth is confirmed when we look at passages like Psalm 90:2, John 1:1-3 and Colossians 1:16-17. Let us take a look at them:

Psalm 90:2 (ESV)

Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

John 1:1-3 (ESV)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.

Colossians 1:16-17 (ESV)

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 

What do these verses show us? They demonstrate that everything we see, including ourselves, was created by God and for God. This clearly establishes Him as the ultimate authority over all things. By understanding this properly, we begin to understand that every authority that exists in this world (in the home, school, work, governmental, church), while they do have certain powers of governance, come under, and must submit to, the One who is over all things, the Lord Almighty. The apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the church in Rome, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1). This should automatically cause every person to stop in their tracks and ask themselves two important questions. 1. Am I seeking to respect and submit to the authorities that are over me in such a way that it honors God and His word? 2. Am I leading and using the authority that I have over others in such a way that seeks to honor God and His word? In other words, am I living in such a way, as it has to do with the issue of authority, that acknowledges that the supreme authority that is over all things is God, and that I will be held accountable to Him in the way that operate my life under the authorities He has established and the way I manage the authority I have over others? I am not sure the average person asks those questions.

Now, I can guess some reading this are ready to argue the point that there are exceptions to this command by God to submit to the governing authorities. And yes, it is a command. Are there exceptions? Is there ever a time where not submitting is the right thing to do? Before I attempt to answer that, something obvious needs to be pointed out. Our (humanity’s) biggest challenge and failure, when it comes to the subject of authority, is not determining the exceptions. It is having a heart that is willing to trust and believe what God has said and submit to those that have authority over us as a matter of faith. Here is a small test for us to take. Reread the verse from Romans 13:1 above. Then, ask yourself if the first thought that comes to mind is, “yes, amen” or “yes, but”. If you took the test, then I think I made my point. Our hearts do not like, nor want to submit to anyone other than ourselves. And that is a major point I desire to highlight in this article. While many people would profess verbally that the authority that governs their lives is God, their actions profess another authority that determines how they function their lives. We love to say, “yes, but”. For we always have a better way to do things than the way God has said for us to do them. This desire is rooted in the fall in Genesis 3, not in the new life one has in Christ described in the New Testament.

Exceptions. Yes, an exception exists. It is when those that govern over us tell us to think or do things that are contrary to what the authority over them (God) has said. Again, we need to be clear. The exception is for when we are asked to do something that goes against God’s word, not things that necessarily go against our own personal preferences or convictions, though they may be good and strongly held. That is hard to except, even for me. I have strong convictions on certain things. Personally, I do not like certain things that the government I live under says and does. My hope is that things will change at the next election. I think it can be a good thing to lawfully and respectfully protest certain issues that we have strong convictions about. But, unless they demand that I violate what God has said, I should, whether I like it or not, obey, and do so as one who fears the Lord (Colossians 3:22).

The truth is, one day, every established authority that has ever existed will be held accountable to God. They will be held accountable as to whether they exercised their authority in such a way that acknowledges and honors the Lord as their ultimate master. So, we can have faith that every evil regime that has ever existed will be judged justly by God Himself. At the same time, we must be conscious of the fact that we (all human beings) will also be held accountable to God as to whether we have respected the authorities that God has allowed to be placed over us. For every person (that includes you and I) will one day stand before God Almighty and be judged justly for the way we trusted in His word when it comes to the issue of obeying authority. This, I admit, is a hard truth to swallow, for I know in my heart that I only want to submit to those authorities that serve my own personal purposes or those that support and/or hold my own personal convictions. And in my heart, I feel justified to reject all other people and/or organizations that do not agree with me and my ideas. There is only one problem with that thinking. It seeks to replace God with myself as the ultimate authority and is an act of rebellion against Him, even if my rejection of a certain worldly authority is an evil person. It is important to note that when the apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Roman church, Rome was not under a ruler that would have been considered Christian-friendly or even moral. That helps us put into perspective how to apply that truth in our day. God, the One who created all things and established all things has spoken from His throne in heaven and ordered all authorities to honor Him, and all people to be subject to those that govern them as an act in honoring Him. Now, the question is whether we trust Him enough to obey what He has said. Our answer reveals our functional authority.

In the moment of decision making, who or what we believe is our ultimate authority will be expressed through our actions, whether it be God, ourselves (our personal convictions and preferences), our family, tradition, or popular culture. With all the political and social division that currently reigns in our world right now, I do realize that this subject may not be one that makes us feel warm and fuzzy inside. Yet, I do believe, for several reasons, that it is a crucial subject that needs to be discussed. I will end this article by stating these reasons:

  1. Everyone, including myself, needs to clearly see that God is the ruler of all, and that one day every knee, whether willingly or not, will bow to Him. We must see that the buck stops with Him, and Him alone. Knowing, seeing, and even feeling this is vital for us today. For, it changes how we live. Eternal salvation begins with acknowledging this truth and embracing it. Therefore, until one rightly fears the Lord, they will never look to His Son Jesus and be saved. There is coming a day when God’s offer to be forgiven and saved from our sin against Him will expire. As long as we think and live as though His authority over us does not matter, we prohibit ourselves from receiving His amazing gift of eternal salvation with Him forever. It truly is pride that leads one to hell.
  2. There are many Christians that proclaim an allegiance to Jesus yet function their lives contrary to His rule. While all Christians do this from time to time, some live habitually in this state of mind. Some have believed in a Jesus that they think does not care how they live, has nothing to say about it, or at least will do nothing about it. Jesus’s words in the gospel of Luke speak brutally honest about the reality of this kind of rebellious functional authority, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46). In the verses that follow this one, Jesus goes on to say that those who live this way, when it comes time for the judgment, will not stand, for they said one thing and did another, thus showing that their heart was never really given over to the Lord.
  3. Lastly, there are many Christians who deeply desire that their lives shine the glory of God to others around them. I would argue that a constant rebellious attitude against the authorities that govern over us hurt our gospel witness as well as our growth in our life with God, for the only light we will shine is our personal preferences, not Jesus. This hurts us as well as those around us, for the attention is taken of Christ and placed on ourselves, what we want, and on our agendas. Now, this does not mean (at least in my opinion) that it is wrong to speak out against things that we disagree with. I do believe that there is a place for this, and it is even necessary in order for ideas to be discussed and to see possible change. But there is an attitude that refuses to obey certain authorities (especially political ones) until they bow to our demands, and this attitude does not promote godliness, rather it mirrors the attitude found in Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve sought to be their own authority. Unless the objection clearly stands upon upholding God’s word, this attitude is in violation of what God has commanded, and it works against the mission Jesus gave His church before He ascended into heaven (Matthew 28:18-20). In order for the church to be salt and light in the world and seek to fulfill His mission that He has given us, we must be different, and one of those differences is seen in the way we respond to the authorities that govern us. Faith in God’s word, not rebellion, is what shines to His glory.

May we fear the Lord above all things, for in doing so we can begin to see clearly, make wise choices, and function properly under His authority (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10).

Soli Deo Gloria

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: