The violence that gripped the United States last week was a jarring reminder of the importance of authority. It seems that too many Americans—and that should probably be broadened to include the entire Western world—see themselves as above authority. The concept of respecting authority has eroded, and the result of this erosion can only be a flood of violence.
Our society prides itself on being post-Christian, and in so doing it declares that all divine truth is irrelevant. But in discarding God’s decrees about marriage, life, and morality, we also throw away a biblical concept of authority.
We forget that authority was designed by God. He invented the concept of authority. He is the one who has made “thrones, dominions, rulers, and authorities” and he made them for our good and his glory (Col 1:16).
We forget that there once was a time where there was no meted authority on earth. Between Abel’s murder and the flood, there was no government, no law-enforcement, and no taxes. There was instead unmitigated murder, sexual immorality, and rampant evil. Even the angels rebelled.
After flooding the earth, God established governments to check evil and protect life. The days of Lamech had passed, and were to be replaced with the days of law and order. It’s for this reason that the very concept of authority is a common grace. God gave authority to the world as a grace; so that we don’t fall back into the days of Noah.
Here are four truths to reclaim in your thinking, so that you guard your mind from an ungodly view of authority:
- Even ungodly authority is from God
Obviously you don’t have to be a Christian to be in a position of authority. When Paul taught the Colossians that Jesus made all authority, he was specifically referencing the ungodly authorities that put him in jail, and that would soon execute him. Jesus reminded Pilate of this truth when he said, “You would have no authority unless it had been given to you from above” (John 19:11).
Because even ungodly authority is established by God, we know it is for his glory and our good. At the very least it keeps us from the anarchy that ushered in the flood.
- Abusing authority is a serious sin
All authority comes from God because he is the only absolute authority. He is the sovereign of the universe, and answers to no one. For this reason, every other authority in the world is borrowed. From emperors to presidents, from governors to mayors, from police officers to politicians, every person in authority is only there because God allows them to temporarily borrow his authority.
Because the authority we exercise is borrowed, we will be accountable for how we used it. A law enforcement officer who turns a blind eye to injustice will ultimately be accountable to God. A police officer who abuses his shield abuses his authority, and in turn abuses God’s authority. God will avenge the wronged, and God will vindicate himself.
Whether you are a manager at work or a judge in a court, any person who abuses his authority will be dealt with severely by God.
- Rejecting authority is a serious sin
The Bible condemns those who reject authority. Not even the angels who rebelled against humanity in the days of Noah went unpunished. In the same way, God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah not only for their sexual sin, but because they rejected their authority (both Lot and Yahweh).
Jude (in verse 8) warns against those who “reject authority.” By rebelling against the law and those who enforce it, people tear the fabric of society. When a person refuses to obey the law, they are in fact pushing with all their might not only against people like Pilate, but also against the God who gave Pilate his authority.
- Jesus himself was under all authority
Despite being the author of all authority, in his humanity Jesus voluntarily placed himself under all authority. He followed the fifth commandment, obeying his parents. He respected his leaders, and paid his taxes.
Even at his arrest he was submissive. The officers who stopped him in the garden had no right to seize him. He was tried on a bogus charge in a sham trial, and even then he was submissive to the authorities. Jesus never abused his authority, but he also submitted to those who did, knowing that God will judge them and ultimately vindicate him.
Our salvation was accomplished through an innocent man who was murdered by those who abused their own authority. Our salvation was accomplished by God, who became a man and in so doing submitted to all authority. The one who made authority came under it, so that in his vindication he would regain the authority to forgive sins and right wrongs.
Certainly we live in a world where injustice reigns. And as Christians, we oppose injustice and seek to expose immoral actions as we point people to Christ. It is a travesty of history that people used appeals to authority to justify slavery and segregation. By twisting scripture, those people helped condition our current generation to think lightly of authority, which produces those who abuse it as well as those who reject it.
We ought not fall into either trap. As our society loses its esteem of authority, guard your heart. Recognize that even ungodly authority is established by God, for his glory and our good.
Jesse Johnson is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master’s Seminary Washington DC location.