As a pastor, I’m constantly asked to give my opinion on very personal matters. Sometimes, through this blog, I receive e-mails from complete strangers about complicated challenges that people face in their family or personal relationships. Although I like to consider myself a relatively young pastor, as I look back on my ministry, it seems that a large percentage of problems that people face in life are connected to the issue of authority. When no king was in Israel, people were doing what seemed right in their own eyes. In our present culture, that same trap of personal autonomy and independence looms over our culture. To put it bluntly, the depraved sinful heart seeks autonomy and resists authority.
The American evangelical church has suffered greatly by resisting authority. The people who live by the motto, “land of the free and the home of the brave” don’t easily surrender to anyone’s authority. When we teach our children to be “free and brave” – that attitude rising from the soil of a depraved soul can result in teenage rebellion, disrespect for civil authority, a rogue attitude toward laws, and a hatred for boundaries. Americans have been singing the words, “I did it my way” for years, and with a sense of pride we rebel. It’s no surprise that we have teenagers walking around in the local shopping mall with t-shirts that read, “There is no authority but yourself.”
Most of the time, when a parent comes to me with problems with their child, within a few minutes I can make a connection to the issue of authority. However, this authority issue is not an independent “authority” issue, it’s really a God issue. Children rebel against their parents because they have rebelled against God. They don’t obey their parents because they have no desire to obey God.
R.C. Sproul has accurately stated, “The very word authority has within it the word author. An author is someone who creates and possesses a particular work. Insofar as God is the foundation of all authority, He exercises that foundation because He is the author and the owner of His creation. He is the foundation upon which all other authority stands or falls” (“The Divine Foundation of Authority,” Tabletalk, March, 2009, p. 6).
In Matthew 18, we see Jesus’ words concerning church discipline. This process is to be practiced in order to preserve the holiness of the church. Occasionally, a church might reach the point of excommunication, whereby the church has to revoke the membership of a member because of persistent rebellion and a refusal to repent of ongoing sin. It doesn’t matter what the specific sin might be, at the root of the whole situation is a refusal to submit to authority. First, the authority of God and His commands of holiness (1 Peter 1:16). Second, and related to the authority of God, is the refusal to submit to the church’s authority (see Matthew 18:15-20; Hebrews 13:17).
Lawbreakers roam the streets of our society. In fact, they live under our roofs. To be clear, we are all lawbreakers and rebels at heart (Ephesians 2:1-10). However, those who are rebels to God often have little restraint of conscience, disrespect for God, and a lack of submission to the laws of society (Romans 13:1-7). This lawbreaking attitude manifests itself through drugs, theft, adultery, murder, rape, a refusal to pay taxes, and various other sins.
At times, rebels to civil laws likewise have a rebellious attitude toward police officers, the very people who enforce the laws of society. Although many case studies exist and much ink has been used to explain the root cause of such behavior, the reality is – it’s all connected to a problem with authority. The rogue attitude toward civil laws is rooted in a rebellion against God’s law. This attitude is related to a deep rooted rebellion against God.
In recent days, the landmark decision of the Supreme Court has provided new perspective regarding authority. What happens when a certain percentage of the population decides that they want to break the law and get away with it? If they pressure the law makers, or in the case of same-sex marriage if the pressure the Supreme Court justices, they can merely change the law to reflect their sinful desires. It’s one thing for a teenager to have a problem with the authority of his parents. It’s quite a different thing for a nation to have a problem with the authority of God and His divine law that’s deeply rooted in creation.
It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about problems with teenage rebellion, a wife’s disrespect for the headship of her husband in marriage, a refusal to pay taxes, materialism, disconnect and disinterest in the church, drug dealers, murderers, homosexuals, thieves, and various other sins – all of these actions are rooted in a problem with authority. Rebellion against God and an unwillingness to submit to His authority leads to various other sins (see Romans 1:26-32). When people refuse to recognize God’s intended purpose of authority and seek what’s right in their own eyes, an entire multiplicity of problems will plague that individual, family, church, or nation. It’s an unfortunate reality that people want God to be everywhere except on His throne.
We can learn much from the lessons of failed leaders, judged nations, and the sinful trap of rebellion. Charles Spurgeon once said, “A sacred regard to the authority of God ought to lead us to reject an error, however old, sanctioned by whatever authority, or however generally practiced.” At the heart of the first sin was a disregard for authority – Satan disregarded the authority of God and lusted after His throne. The first sin in human history was rooted in a disregard for authority and boundaries instituted by God – Adam and Eve rebelled against God. It would be an extremely wise decision to live life in complete submission to God.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 – You are not your own,  for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.