You could say that our culture has an authority problem. Fifty years ago, respect for authority was the rule rather than the exception. Job titles like president, senator, general, or reverend used to be enough to demand people be treated with authority. The reasoning was simple: Somebody thought enough of those people to put them in positions of authority so they could be respected and trusted.
Respect for authority has eroded in the span of a few decades because of a lack of trust. People used to trust their authorities, then their authorities betrayed them (at least in popular opinion). In addition to the trust issue, we tend to see authority as an encroachment on our freedom to do what we want, when we want. If someone has authority, it means he or she is in a position to wield power and command over things, but we don’t like anyone–or anything, for that matter–to have power over us.
Authority is a word that comes up frequently when people talk about Scripture. When we say the Bible has authority in our lives, we mean what’s written in it establishes truth and determines how we are to live as Christians.
But how can the Bible do that? And how do we not allow our personal authority issues to conflict with the role God’s Word is supposed to play in our lives?
At the root of our objections to authority is our sense of entitlement. We believe we have the right to do anything we want to do, and we’re ready to cry “foul” the moment someone or something infringes on those rights. We’re kidding ourselves if we think that’s true. We were purposefully imagined and crafted into being by the God of the universe. He’s the One who made us, so His is the ultimate authority in our lives.
When being sentenced to death, Jesus reminded Pilate of God’s authority over everything, even Pilate’s governance:
Pilate said to Him, ‘You’re not talking to me? Don’t You know that I have the authority to release You and the authority to crucify You? ‘You would have no authority over Me at all,’ Jesus answered him, ‘if it hadn’t been given you from above. This is why the one who handed Me over to you has the greater sin’ (John 19:10-11).
As the One who made everything, God is really the only being in all the universe who can rightly claim “rights.” He’s the One with all the authority, and the Bible, as God’s Word, carries that authority in its pages.
That means the Bible isn’t just a book. It’s not like Poor Richard’s Almanac or another book of wise sayings. It doesn’t contain merely suggestions or advice. To say the Bible has authority is to recognize its great differences from other books. Hebrews 4:12-13 points this fact out:
For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating as far as to divide the soul, spirit, joints, and marrow; it is a judge of the ideas and thoughts of the heart. No creature is hidden from Him, but all things are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account.
Paul also applied the sword imagery to God’s Word when he described the metaphorical armor Christians should be clothed in to fight off the false authorities–the devil and “the spiritual forces of evil”–at work in the world:
Take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand. Stand, therefore, with truth like a belt around your waist, righteousness like armor on your chest, and your feet sandaled with readiness for the gospel of peace. In every situation take the shield of faith, and with it you will be able to extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word (Ephesians 6:13-17).
That’s pretty vivid imagery, but anyone who has spent time digging into Scripture knows it’s true. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we find that when we go to the Bible to read it, it actually reads us. We see ourselves measured against its commands. Our true motivations are revealed in its characters. And the goodness and grace of the gospel drips off its pages.
Explore the Bible: Young Adults seeks to help young adults understand the authority of Scripture. Preview the first four sessions of the Hebrews study by clicking HERE.