The Authority of the Believer
The Authority of the Believer
There are few subjects relating to the Christian life concerning which there is so little exact knowledge as that of the authority of the believer. This is not because such authority is the property only of a few elect souls. On the contrary, it is the possession of every true child of God. It is one of the "all things" received in Christ. Its reception dates from the soul's contact with Calvary.
Probably because of the extreme importance of a correct understanding of its privileges and responsibilities, and because of the power which they confer on a militant believer, the enemy has specially sought to hold back this knowledge from God's people. He has been successful through the employment of the "blinding" tactics which he has found effective in the case of the "lost" and of those who "believe not" (2 Cor. 4:3, 4). For it is strangely true that, although its principles are set forth in a definite way in this epistle to the Ephesians, there is very little grasp majority of even spiritual believers.
That there is such authority is recognized, but it is confounded with other aspects of the life of faith, and thereby loses its distinctive value and power, Every doctrine of Scripture, while correlated closely with others of the, same class, has features peculiar to itself. Only as these are clearly understood, and held in their right relationship, can there be the fullest benefit from their reception. The constitution and laws of the spiritual world are perfectly orderly and logical, and must be adhered to and carefully obeyed if, the desired and promised results are to be gained.
In making this statement it is not intended to suggest that a logical and intelligent mind can of itself grasp spiritual values, or gain possession of spiritual blessings. Were that possible, the deepest phases of the Christian life would be the possession of the most intellectual. Whereas, it is very definitely asserted by the Spirit of God that, in the apprehension of divine truth, "the wisdom of the wise" is destroyed, and "the understanding of the prudent" brought to naught. Thank God, there is an inner spiritual understanding, conferred through the enlightenment of that same Spirit, which enables "the foolish things of the world to confound the wise" this principle being established by God "that no flesh should glory in his presence."
The authority of the believer is by some confounded with the fullness of the Spirit. It is taught that the coming of the gracious Spirit of God into the soul in His divine fullness gives authority. But the believer's authority exists before he seeks or realizes in any special way the Spirit's presence. It is certainly true that the fullness of the Spirit empowers and enlightens the believer. By this alone he is enabled to exercise authority. But the fullness is not the source of the authority, but something apart from it.
Nor can authority be regarded as some special gift conferred, whereby the recipient is endued with power, by virtue of which he performs mighty acts, such as the casting out of evil spirits. Discernment of spirits and miraculous powers are mentioned amongnd miraculous powers are mentioned among the charismata of the Holy Spirit, but they differ from authority.
By others, the authority of the believer is looked upon as nothing more than prevailing prayer. We have heard men on their knees, when under a special urge, giving thanks to God for the gift of prayer conferred at the time. But, later, there has been no result seen from the agony or enthusiasm of intercession through which they have passed. Personal blessing has resulted from the intense seeking of God's face, but a specific answer to their supplications has not been manifest.
What Authority Is
Let us, first of all, define the difference between authority" and "power." In the New Testament the translators have not been uniform in the rendering of many words, and these two words have suffered among others. One notable instance is in Luke 10:19 where "power" is twice used although there is a different Greek word in each instance. To have translated the first of these by the English word "authority" would have given a clearer idea of the meaning of the passage. Perhaps our good old English tongue is at times to blame in not providing sufficient synonyms to meet the demands of the original. But a little more uniformity in rendering the same word from the original by the same English equivalent (a thing usually, though not always, possible) would have given greater clearness of understanding although in places it might not have been so euphonious.
One stands at the crossing of two great thoroughfares. Crowds of people are surging by; multitudes of high-powered vehicles rush along. Suddenly, a man in uniform raises a hand. Instantly, the tide of traffic ceases. He beckons to the waiting hosts on the cross street, and they flow across in an irresistible wave. What is the explanation? The traffic officer has very little "power." His most strenuous efforts could not avail to hold back one of those swiftly passing cars. But he has something far better. He is invested with the "authority" of the corporation whose servant he is. The moving crowds recognize this authority and obey it.
Authority, then, is delegated power. Its value depends upon the force behind the user. There is a story told of the Right Honorable W. E. Gladstone, when he served as Prime Minister of Great Britain. On one occasion, he brought in to Queen Victoria, an important measure for her signature, in order that it might become law. The queen objected to it, and after some discussion, refused to sign. The Minister of the Crown was unusually urgent: "Your Majesty," he said, respectfully but firmly, "you must sign this Bill." She turned on him haughtily: "Sir, I am the Queen of England." Unmoved, the statesman answered quietly: "Your Majesty, I am the people of England." After a little thought, she accepted the situation, and affixed her signature to the document.
This story may be apocryphal, but it illustrates the question of authorrity when two opposing powers are in conflict. The believer, who is fully conscious of divine Power behind him, and of his own authority thereby, can face the enemy without fear or hesitation. Those who confront him bear the specific names of power and authority: 11 we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities [archas, the first or preeminent ones], against powers [exousias, the authorities]." But, behind the "authority" possessed by the believer, there is a "Power" infinitely greater than that which backs his enemies, and which they are compelled to recognize.
The Source of Authority In the beginning of this article, we made the statement that the soul's authority dates from its contact with Calvary. Let us now point out the meaning and the depth of this truth. When the Lord Jesus, the Captain (Archegon, Prince-Leader) of our salvation, was raised from the dead, the act of resurrection was accomplished through "the exceeding greatness of His [God's] power [dunameos], to usward who believe, according to that working [energeian] of the strength [kratous] of His might [ischuos]." In this working there was such a putting forth of the divine omnipotence that the Holy Spirit, through the apostle, requires four words of special significance to bring out the thought. We shall not enter into the expressive meaning and grouping of these words further than to say that their combination signifies that behind the fact of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus there lay the mightiest working recorded in the Word of God.
Having been thus raised from among the dead, Christ Jesus was exalted by God to His own right hand in the heavenlies. Then was seen the reason of such mighty working. The resurrection had been opposed by the tremendous "powers of the air": "all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world [aioni, age] but also in that which is to come." The evil forces of the "age to come" had been arrayed against the purpose of God. They had, however, been baffled and overthrown, and the risen Lord had been enthroned "far above" them, ruling with the authority of the Most High.
The Conferring of Authority
In calling attention to the 11 exceeding greatness of his [God's] power," we passed over without comment four words. These are: "to usward who believe." All the demonstration of the glory of God, shown in the manifestation of His omnipotence-, pointed manward. The cross of Christ, with what it revealed of obedience to God, of atonement for sin, of crushing defeat of the foes of divine authority, shows us a representative Man overcoming for mankind and preparing, through His own incumbency, a throne and a heavenly ministry for those who should overcome through Him.
Observe in this connection the identification of Christ's people with Himself, in this crisis of the resurrection. In the first verse of chapter two, the words read literally: "And you, being dead in trespasses and sins," or, perhaps, to bring out better the thought: "And you, when ye were dead in trespasses and sins." It will be noticed that we have left out the verb "hath He quickened" which appears in our Bibles. This verb is not in the original; the sentence is incomplete, "being left unfinished," says one expositor, "in the rapidity of dictation." We do not accept this as the explanation of the omission, for we believe that the Holy Spirit so arranged the structure of the whole passage, that the fact might be emphasized that Christ and His people were raised together.
Where, then, do we find the verb that controls this passage? It will be seen in verse 20 of chapter 1: "According to that working of the strength of His might when He raised HIM from the dead...[then, putting a parenthesis around the words to the end of the chapter]...and YOU when ye were dead." The same verb which expresses the reviving of Christ expresses also the reviving of His people. That is to say the very act of God which raised the Lord from among the dead, raised also His body. Head and body are naturally raised together: Christ, the Head; His body, the Church (ho ekklesia, the assembly of believers in Him). This is a most important statement, and one of which the definite significance cannot be overestimated.
The same thought, in another form, is developed by the apostle in Romans 6, where the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus are shown to also include His people. The passage in Romans sets forth (1) the death to sin of the believer with the crucified Christ, and (2) the consequent annulling of the power of sin over him though the impartation of the life of the resurrected Christ. The believer is thus made a full partaker of Christ's righteousness. But Ephesians lifts (3) the believer with the ascended Christ to the heavenlies where he is made a partaker of Christ's throne. In this enthronement, there is an anticipation of that future union in the government of the nations which he shall share with his Lord, ruling them with a rod of iron and breaking them in pieces like a potter's vessel (Rev. 2:26, 27).
The Location of Authority
That there may be no misunderstanding of the Holy Spirit's meaning in this presentation of the truth of the elevation of the Lord's people with their Head, He gives it a second time in chapter 2:4-6. They are made to sit with Christ "in the heavenlies." Christ's session is at the right hand of God. His people, therefore, occupy "with him" the same august position. This honor is not to a chosen few, but is the portion of all those who share the resurrection of the Son of God. It is the birthright of every true believer, of every born-again child of God.
When the Master foregathered with the eleven on the Galilean mountain, at some time during the forty days of His manifestation after His passion, He said to them: "All authority is given unto me in heaven and in earth." His formal assumption of that authority took place when He sat down "on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens" (Heb. 8:1). The right hand of the throne of God is the center of power of the whole universe, and the exercising of the power of the throne was committed unto the ascended Lord. He is still there in full possession of His rights, awaiting the Father's time when His enemies shall be made the footstool of His feet.
The elevation of His people with Him to the heavenlies has no other meaning than that they are made sharers, potentially for the present, of the authority which is His. They are made to sit with Him; that is, they share His throne. To share a throne means without question to partake of the authority which it represents. Indeed, they have been thus elevated, in the plan of God, for this very purpose, that they may even now exercise, to the extent of their spiritual apprehension, authority over the powers of the air, and over the conditions which those powers have brought about on the earth and are still creating through their ceaseless manipulations of the minds and circumstances of mankind.
The Rebel Holders of This Authority
It is necessary here to state, what is commonly understood by those who study carefully the Word, that the kingdoms of this world are under the control and leadership of satanic principalities. The great head of these is, in the Gospel of John, three times acknowledged as "Prince of this World" by our Lord Himself. His asserted claim to the suzerainty of the world kingdoms, made in the presence of the Lord Jesus (Luke 4:6), was not denied by Christ. Although a rebel against the Most High, and now under judgment of dispossession (John 12:31), he is still at large, and as the masses of mankind are also rebels, he maintains over them an unquestioned, because unsuspected, rule, their eyes being blinded to his dominance (2 Cor. 4:4).
The whole rebellious system is divided into heavenly and earthly sections (Isa. 24:21). These are "the host of the high ones on high" (the unseen - powers of the air) and "the kings of the earth upon the earth" (the rulers of mankind and their subjects). Both, the prophet tells us, will be judged in that day when "Jehovah cometh forth out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity" (Isa. 26:21), and "with his hard and great and strong sword will punish leviathan the swift serpent [the antichrist], and leviathan the crooked serpent [the false prophet); and he will slay the monster that is in the sea [the dragon]" (Isa. 27:1), Before these acts of judgment occur, the Lord's people will be caught up in the rapture. As Isaiah's eyes were holden to the mystery of the of Church, he does not mention it, but he does speak of the hiding of the Jewish remnant from the wrath of the dragon: "Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee; hide thyself for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast" (Isa. 26:20).
The "host of the high ones on high" is carefully divided in our epistle (6:12). There are first the 11 principalities and powers." The first-named are mighty princes, whose principalities include large areas of the earth, with authority over the nations included in them. The "powers" are difficult to distinguish from them, although attempts have been made to state the difference; they are inferior in position, probably as ministers associated in government.
Following come "the world-rulers of the dark ness of this age." This name would suggest a ministry of deception, the keeping in darkness of the minds of men, and especially of the leaders a thought.
Finally, there are "the hosts of wicked spirits in the heavenlies" an innumerable body of demons to whose close connection with mankind is due the grosser sins and deceptions, the stirring up of the animal passions, and the incitement to all manner of sensual and sensuous desires. These are the beings that are present in the spiritist seance, impersonating and deceiving people of strong intelligence, like the well-known leaders connected with the cult today.
These beings are also at hand in religious gatherings, and are a source of peculiar danger, especially when the emotions are deeply stirred. Many earnest souls, who have been urged to entire surrender, open their beings with the utmost abandon to whatever spiritual force approaches them, unaware of the peril of so doing. Such yielding often provides an opening for the entrance of demons, who under some pretext gain control of the will. To dislodge them, and to once more free the victim, is usually a very difficult task.
The "kings of the earth upon the earth" comprise human world rulers and their subjects, all unregenerate men. An earthly ruler individually may be a Christian, but he is, by virtue of his office, a member of the great world system which has not yet come under the dominion of the King of kings. All natural men are members by birth also of this system, and so must be "delivered out Of the power [exousios, authority] of darkness, and translated into the kingdom of his dear Son" (Col. 1:13).
The seats of authority of these rebellious spiritual rulers are also in the heavenlies. From there they have dominated the human race since its fall. There they will remain until the divine "purpose of the ages" is complete.