Submitting to Authority

The concept of authority is absolutely critical in understanding the message of Jesus Christ as explained to us in the Scriptures. The message of the Gospel rests on the fundamental principle that Christ has all authority and that we must submit to Him.

Unfortunately, the concept of authority in this world, especially in the United States, is not properly understood. We have been raised imbued with the democratic ideal: the authority rests in the people. The people elect their leader who does what they deem fit. While this ideal is rarely realized, Americans have surely accepted it as fact, even taking this form of attitude to spiritual matters.

Further, modern philosophies also undermine authority by attempting to relativize all belief systems. In modern viewpoints, there is no one right way, but multiple paths to the same end. “My” viewpoint is no better or worse than “your” viewpoint, and “your” god is no more or less valid or invalid than “my” god. It is no wonder that the concept of authority as explained in the Scriptures is not understood in these times!

We must not let these modern philosophies divert us from the truth of the Gospel of our Lord. Let us examine the Scriptures to see what we may learn about authority:

  • Christ has authority. We read in Matthew 28:18:

    And Jesus came to them and spake unto them, saying, “All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth.”

    If all authority has been given to Christ, how much authority has been left to us, especially in religious matters? Absolutely none.

  • Since Christ has authority, we must give obeisance to Him. Paul says the following in Philippians 2:9-11:

    Wherefore also God highly exalted him, and gave unto him the name which is above every name; that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

    There is no room to exult or proclaim any other than Jesus Christ, and all will have to at some point give praise to Him.

  • Since we are under Christ’s authority, we must be subject to Christ. Ephesians 5:24:

    But as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives also be to their husbands in everything.

    If we are of Christ, we are a part of His Church (Ephesians 1:23, 1 Corinthians 12), and therefore we must be subject to Christ.

  • If we are truly Christ’s, we must do all things we do by His authority. Colossians 3:17:

    And whatsoever ye do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

    “In the name of the Lord Jesus” is recognized as meaning that we must do all things by the authority of Christ, and such deeds are found in His Word.

It ought to be evident to every Christian that his life must be conformed to the will of Christ Jesus since He has been given all authority. There is no room for man to assert any “right” that he may believe he has to add to or take away from the words of our Lord Jesus; if He has all authority, that means that we have no authority in and of ourselves. If we desire to be saved and to live in Heaven with Him, we must fully submit to His authority and live by His precepts. There is no other way.


5 thoughts on “Submitting to Authority

  1. Ethan –

    Very good article regarding authority, but I think you miss the boat when you say that, “‘In the name of the Lord Jesus’ is recognized as meaning that we must do all things by the authority of Christ, and such deeds are found in His Word.” This smacks of legalism, which the NT is completely against.

    I have looked at a few commentaries in my library, and none of them give your offering as the primary interpretation of “in the name . . .” In fact, only one mentions it, and it says that it is not the “preferred” interpretation. Rather, it says that the “preferred” interpretation is to take it as meaning “as followers of the Lord Jesus.” This understanding “reflects the thought that to act in the name of a person is to act as his representative.” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Colossians, p. 216). This source goes on to cite F. F. Bruce, saying that “Bruce appropriately points out that ‘the NT does not contain a detailed code of rules for the Christian . . . . Codes of rules, as Paul explains elsewhere, are suited to the period of immaturity when he and his readers were still under guardians. . . . What the NT does provide is those basic principles of Christian living which may be applied to all situations of life as they arise.'” (216-217)

    The legalism which you seem to espouse negates the grace of God, making salvation “of works” – an idea completely foreign to Scripture. There is a certain amount of freedom Christians have; and before you give me some ridiculous examples of what this “freedom” would allow into the Church, let me say that such freedom must be exercised with the idea in mind that we must use discretion – only those things which are becoming the Christian and the Church should be considered; after all, we are truly Christ’s representatives on this earth!

    I think Barclay says it well: he says that here “Paul gives the great principle for living that everything we do or say should be done and said in the name of Jesus. One of the best tests of any action is: ‘Can we do it, calling upon the name of Jesus? Can we do it, asking for His help?’ . . . If a man brings every word and deed to the test of the presence of Jesus Christ, he will not go wrong.” (The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, p. 191).

    1. If we are acting as Christ’s representatives, and He remains Lord, should not our actions be within the realm of His authority? On what basis would we say that it would be justified to do anything that is contrary to His authority? If our actions are all to be within the realm of His authority and what He has authorized, what’s the substantive difference between understanding “in the name of” as “by the authority of” and “as the representative of”?

  2. Do you not understand that “authority” is inherent in the legalism of your theology? You DO (or don’t do) certain things because you are bound by the legality/authority issue. I DO (or don’t do) those very same things because i have the freedom in Christ to either chose to follow or not follow Him. Does God DICTATE every little thing we as Christians are to do, believe, etc.?? I think not – else where is the free will He gives us? We become nothing more than puppets, doing (or not doing) what the Puppet Master wills. That’s not the God I know!

    1. I don’t know many people who would say that God dictates “every little thing” that we do. Nevertheless, the consistent Biblical imagery of being God’s servants and followers of Jesus the Lord would show that there is certainly nothing wrong with making sure that there is authority for doing what we do, and much to commend it. Much is left as liberty. But there ought to be great respect for that which God has commanded us, and we ought to seek to live according to His principles. Leaving man alone in his free will has led to sin and error, not righteousness and truth.

  3. I would agree with you that as followers of Jesus we should take care in what we do. I do not, however, agree with the idea that we must have “authority” for everything we do. As I have said before (elsewhere?) in those things which are not salvation issues – such as the use of instruments in the church – there must be room for differing opinions.

    You say, “Much is left as liberty” – but I don’t see any such liberty in any of the coC materials I have read! It’s always, “If you don’t believe exactly as we do on all points of doctrine, then you are damned and going to hell. You must be a member of the coC and not some other denomination, or you’re lost.” Does this sound like there is “liberty” to you?

    Church of Christ people continually call it “the Lord’s Church” – to the exclusion of all other denominations. In this, the coC is no different than the Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses or any other cult* – all claim the same thing; they alone are “the Lord’s one true Church.” I don’t see other denominations making such a bold claim! Yes, we see things differently, but the differences are in the area of “non-essentials” and we leave room for our differences without making them tests of fellowship.

    *(Just for the record, if you remember I did call you to task on your “Study of Denominations” for including cults with Christian denominations. I see you haven’t changed that. Your answer to me basically was that they should be included because they claimed to follow Jesus. My challenge to you is to do some study on just who the “Jesus” of the cults is! You’ll find it is not the Jesus of the Bible or the Jesus of Christianity.)

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