The Authority of Believers
We saw in previous chapters the awesome authority of our Lord Jesus Christ over sickness and infirmities, over nature and the kingdom of darkness and even death, the final enemy in this sin cursed world. Pondering such wonderful authority in our Lord and Savior strengthens our faith and hope, especially in times of tribulation, and inspires in us a labor of love that perseveres. But there is much more than that God wants to speak to us about authority. Every king transfers authority to officials, ambassadors and governors to accomplish the work of the king. So too with our King Jesus- He has transferred amazing authority to His children. In the midst of the powerful visible kingdoms of this world, King Jesus uses meek Christians to display His incredible power, love and grace.
The Authority of Believers in Prayer
Paul prayed for the Ephesians a prayer that applies to all of us regarding these things- that God “may give you…understanding…that you may know the hope of His calling…what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe…far above all rule and authority, and power and dominion.” (Eph 1:15-21). This authority is empowered though our relationship with Him through prayer. “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you…whatever you ask the Father in My name [by My authority] He will give you.” (Jn 15:7, 16, cf 16:23-24, 26, 1 Jn 3:22, 5:14) Jesus told Peter this regarding prayer, words He would repeat to the other disciples, and by extension to all believers, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matt 16:18-19, cf 18:17-20). The authority of all believers is seen throughout the New Testament church. One example of this is discipline. Jesus urged all of us to win over a brother who is in sin. First one person is to “go and tell him his fault between you and him alone,” (Matt 18:15) seeking to win him over to repentance. If that doesn’t work, 2-3 witnesses are taken, and if that doesn’t work, the matter is brought before the entire gathering of the believers (Matt 18:17), for “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven…again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For wherever two or three are gathered in My name [By My authority], I am there in the midst of them.” (Matt 18:18-20). Thus the authority of every believer is established, not through some apostolic succession or church hierarchy, but at the very fundamental building block of fellowship- two or three gathered in His name. With the faith of a mustard seed coupled with Christ’s authority, mountains are moved, lives are transformed and the Kingdom of God multiplies.
Authority of Believers Over Sickness and the Kingdom of Darkness
As Christ had authority over sickness, disease and the powers of darkness, so He has transferred that authority to us. “When He called His twelve disciples to Him, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and disease.” (Matt 10:1, cf 10:7-8, Mk 3:14-15, 6:7, 13, 16:17-18, Lu 9:1-2, 10:9) This authority wasn’t just for the twelve disciples. When Philip preached in Samaria, “Unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed.” (Acts 8:7) One particular instance served as a great teacher about the authority of believers: “Some Jewish exorcists took it upon themselves to call the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, ‘We exorcise you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.’” (Acts 19:13). They weren’t believers, but were using Jesus’ and Paul’s names and the authority behind the names as a formula for casting out demons. “The evil spirit answered and said, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?’ Then the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, so they fled out of that house naked and wounded.” (Acts 19:15-16). Demons know Jesus is Lord, and they see the light of Jesus in believers and recognize our authority over them, but unbelievers are sons of the prince of the power of the air, the devil (Eph 2:2) and have no authority over the kingdom of darkness, but rather are enslaved to it.
The authority believers have over the kingdom of darkness is frequently under-emphasized or overemphasized today. Yet when the 70 disciples returned from a successful missionary journey to neighboring towns where they were commissioned to preach the gospel, heal the sick and cast out demons, they “Returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.’ And [Jesus] said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I give you authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because you names are written in heaven..’” (Lu 10:17-20) Jesus revealed to us the proper emphasis on the kingdom of heaven while not ignoring our battle with the kingdom of darkness which we have authority over. John gave this great summary of Christ’s authority in us over the kingdom of darkness, “You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (1 Jn 4:3-5, cf 5:4-5, Rev 9:4, 11:3)
Kingdom Multiplication- Advancing, Unstoppable Authority
The Kingdom of God arrived on the scene, inaugurated by its King Jesus! (Matt 3:2, Mk 1:15), “the Kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:20-21, cf 16:16). Earthly kingdoms came with great pomp and fanfare, shows of marching soldiers and military might, but God’s Kingdom was in invisible kingdom pictured as seed rapidly multiplying in an unperceivable way one heart at a time. It had small, humble beginnings as Jesus’ teaching bore fruit in a small number of disciples, “the Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make its nest in its branches…the kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till all was leavened.” (Matt 13:31-33, Mk 4:30-32). The Kingdom of God is an invisible, unstoppable quietly advancing Kingdom, “the Kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” (Mk 4:26-29). God’s work is often invisible and quiet, automatically bearing fruit for His unstoppable, advancing Kingdom. It is by outward appearances completely unimpressive. As laborers in the Lord’s harvest field, we are to spread much seed of the gospel and trust that He will cause it to automatically grow and bear fruit.
The reality is that much seed will land on unproductive soil- it will either be snatched away by Satan before it takes root (Mk 4:15, Matt 13:19), or it will take root in hearts and appear to be growing, but it will bear no fruit (Matt 13:20-22, Mk 4:16-19). These are people who appear to embrace the Kingdom but when tribulation and persecution for the Kingdom come to them, or the world and its lusts allure them, they end up abandoning the Kingdom instead of enduring. But this invisible Kingdom seed of the gospel planted on good soil bears tremendous fruit among the few, who embrace the Kingdom and bear 30, 60 or 100 times the fruit. This is seen in seed all over in nature. From one healthy apple tree is enough seed to give birth to an entire orchard!
- Look back over your life. Is the fruit of King Jesus and His Kingdom apparent in your life? Has the King of Kings planted that seed in your heart and is it growing? If not, forsake all other kingdoms and pursue King Jesus, your Lord and Savior, seek first His Kingdom (Matt 6:33). If you are bearing fruit, take heart- He will continue His invisible Kingdom work in and through you, whether you perceive it or not, in the midst of the tribulations and temptations of life. You cooperate with His work through humility, brokenness, repentance, prayer, reconciliation with all people and first and foremost pursuit of the King of Kings. Feed yourself on His kingdom promises and obey His kingdom laws. Step out in faith in every act of obedience He calls you to, and the invisible work of the Kingdom will bear fruit as He automatically works through you as His vessel.
- When sharing the good news of the Kingdom of God with others, remember, God’s word doesn’t usually come with much fanfare or physical wonders- it is mainly an invisible work that quietly produces a great harvest. So sow many seeds, water the seeds and fledgling plants- be faithful one person at a time and watch God work amazing wonders in those seeds that find good soil. Just as with the early church, the good soil will multiply itself automatically- good seed on good soil bears more good seed. Don’t be concerned about numbers or rapid fire conversions. Don’t be disheartened by the many who are bad soil. Sow much seed everywhere and some will fall on good soil, to be sure! Don’t judge the soil, that’s God’s job. Sow seed- that’s your job- sow it everywhere, despite how you may perceive the soil. Water the seeds that have become plants that have taken root in good soil and pour into them God’s word to the extent that they are ready to receive- in evangelism and in discipleship; “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.” (1 Cor 3:5-7) Teach them kingdom basics that they may feed themselves from God’s word, fellowship with believers, engage in prayer and share with others what God has taught them. Paul told Timothy who was good soil and whom Paul poured into, “What you have heard from me…entrust to reliable men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Tim 2:2) Seeds multiplying- it is the foundational principle of kingdom growth.
Great Commission Authority
Souls entering the Kingdom of Jesus and growing in relationship to their King Jesus is what the Kingdom of God is all about. Jesus has passed on to every believer His authority to partner with Him in this great work. On one resurrection appearance, Jesus breathed the Spirit of life on His disciples and they received His Holy Spirit. The church was born. “Jesus said to [His disciples], ‘…As the Father has sent Me, so I also send you…if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’” (John 20:21-23). This is an incredible statement of partnership that we have with the King of Kings regarding salvation of souls! Jesus gave us authority to preach the gospel and see God’s power and authority through us save some and see others continue in unbelief, leading to damnation. This should both sober us up and send tingles of excitement through our being, knowing this incredible power and authority from the Lord of the Harvest. We should wonder in amazement, “Who, Lord, little old me?” and Jesus says, “Yes, you, by My authority and through My power, the Kingdom of Heaven will be multiplied through you!”
Before ascending into heaven, Jesus’ last words were spoken to 500 believers (1 Cor 15:6) of His authority and commission to them and to all of us, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) The other gospels expand on this Great Commission, with Matthew’s gospel providing us the key to what Christ has called us to and more detailed instructions summarizing how we are to fulfill it: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of [by the authority of] the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all things I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:18-20)
The declaration of King Jesus’ authority is the foundation of making disciples and the Kingdom of God spreading throughout the earth to every people group. Of the imperatives given in the Great Commission, the emphasis in the Greek is on making disciples… this is simply “making more of you”- every disciple is called to make “more of you”. This Great Commission is the commission of EVERY BELIEVER, not a generic commission of the whole church, where the church has certain specialists that perform the commission and the rest of us observe and pray and be cheer-leaders. We all are to make disciples, according to this Great Commission, by:
- Going. It should be obvious that to “go” means to preach the gospel where sinners are, not to invite them to come where we are. We are to go to the “highways and byways and compel them to come in” (Luke 14:23) to God’s Kingdom. In Luke the commission of evangelism Jesus gave was, “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, then the end will come.” (Lu 24:47). In Mark, the commission is to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15) It cannot be emphasized enough that we can’t be about the work of discipleship if there are no brand new believers to disciple due to no evangelism!
- All believers are called, not only to preach the gospel, but to be baptizers, baptizing those who get saved through their evangelism! It is a mistake of today’s traditional church to separate baptism into a “clergy” and “laity” issue, when Jesus commanded all of us in the Great Commission to be baptizers- it is an important step in a new believer’s life, and in the life of the one who led him/her to the Lord, as they learn to grow in making disciples “hands on”. It is interesting that Jesus didn’t do any baptisms, but rather had his disciples do them (Jn 4:2) and Paul pointedly told the Corinthians that he only baptized a couple of them, for Christ didn’t send him to baptize, but to preach the gospel (1 Cor 1:14-17). It is also a misplaced tradition of many of today’s churches to wait before baptizing, when scripture’s example is to baptize quickly those who are sure they want to follow Christ. Reviewing the dozen instances of baptism in Acts, every one got baptized immediately after believing on the Lord Jesus Christ. The call of the Great Commission is also a call to be baptizers! Three words are a helpful way to remember the purpose of baptism: Obey, Portray and Display:
a. Obey: It is a line drawn in the sand saying to the rest of the believers and the world, “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back!” This public statement is used by the Lord to firm up commitment and help a new born believer to put his/her “hands to the plow” and not look back.
b. Portray: In being baptized, we’re portraying Christ’s death and resurrection, and our own death to self and resurrection to a new life. We plunge into the water, (death and burial) and then come up (resurrection). “As many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Rom 6:2-4)
c. Display: Baptism has been likened to a wedding ring- a public symbol and statement of the internal reality of a soul making a public commitment to Christ.
Church planters Ying Kai and Steve Smith wrote this about baptism in their book, “T4T: A Discipleship ReRevolution”: “The role of baptism is sometimes downplayed for fear of offending the new believer or the culture he lives in. Sometimes we press for a decision, but not a disciple. Dismissing baptism or devaluing baptism creates a huge disservice to those professing faith. This violates the kingdom principle of the treasure hidden in the field and the pearl of great price: people will joyfully give all they have to follow Jesus if they see the value of the King and the kingdom life. Baptism initiates the discipleship re-revolution of kingdom disciples walking in a life of obedience and joy. It helps them consider the value of the King and count the cost of following Him- which is the essential first step to the King’s reign.”
“Some people believe that baptism should be delayed until there is clear evidence that the person is really a follower of Jesus…the intention is good: making sure people are growing in Christlikeness. However, delaying baptism is not a biblical approach. Baptism is a sign that you are sure, not mature in your faith. It is the sign to the new believer and to others around him that he is sure that he wants to follow Jesus. The sign of maturity is the fruit of the Spirit, which will develop over time. If you can remember this one principle, you will rush to baptism rather than delay baptism. In fact, baptism is a solidifying decision that helps ensure that the new believer will lay his old life down and begin walking in a new path of conformity to Christ. By delaying baptism, we delay the means Jesus gave us for effecting firm commitment.
- Finally, the authority passed on by the Great Commission to EVERY BELIEVER is that we all are called to be “teaching them to obey all things I have commanded you.” All believers are called to learn God’s word and live it and pass it on- and they naturally are discipling those who have been saved through their evangelism. In today’s institutional church, it is typical that nearly all teaching is done by a few pastors, elders and possibly some small group leaders, but Jesus’ call is for all of us to make disciples through “teaching them to obey all things I have commanded you.” This puts the onus on every believer to be a disciple, not a passive pew potato.
The Authority of the Body of Christ
One main metaphor of the church is that of a body, with Christ as the Head. As the body has one organ, the brain (i.e., the Head represents this in scripture), that is the command center for the rest of the body, so too in Christ’s church. The world has a certain pattern it uses for leadership. In and of itself it isn’t evil- but it is the way of the world- whether it is in business or government or even in most religious institutions. It is a top-down pecking order. Jesus and the Apostles frequently had to correct believer’s understanding that the way the world governs is not how things work in the Kingdom of God, for how a church is governed will play a very significant role in whether it is filled with active and empowered believers who are making and multiplying disciples, or passive pew potatoes expecting leadership to carry on the task of making disciples.
Jesus had much to say about leadership in His church. Shamefully, Peter and James had their mother ask Jesus to have her two sons sit at the head of the kingdom in a hierarchy over everyone else in the kingdom. When the other disciples heard it they were “greatly displeased.” It became a prime teaching moment for Jesus to speak on church authority and governance, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you.” (Matt 20:20-28) In the governance of the world, one or several people are set up as head of an organization. They set vision, give directives and commands and there is a pecking order or chain of command. Yet Jesus said, “not so” in His body! There is only one Head, Jesus Christ, and the rest of the body willingly submits to one Head. Jesus then explained how leadership would look in His kingdom. “But whoever desires to be great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave- just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” (Matt 20:20-28). It’s difficult for a slave to lead by pecking order! Jesus led by example- His authority over His disciples came by His incredible life and teaching that were one, leading by example. Leadership was meant to arise in the church organically as believers see a mature disciple of Christ they long to imitate and it is natural to seek out a mentoring relationship.
In the Old Testament there was a rank to religious authority with the Levites as the priestly tribe and a high priestly family and the high priest himself. In the church, Peter in wonderment proclaims of all believers, “You are a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” (1 Pet 2:9, cf. 2:5, Rev 1:6, 5:10). In contrast, Jesus pointed out the example of the Pharisees to avoid, “They love the places of honor in the synagogues, greetings in the market places, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, rabbi.’ But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your Father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matt 23:6-12) When believers see a fellow believer living for Christ and humbly going and winning people to Christ, serving them, loving them, baptizing them and mentoring/discipling those who long for his or her wisdom, seeing it played out in their lives, then disciples are made, churches grow organically at the grass roots level and new churches are multiplied- that’s servant leadership.
Paul had many admonishments for the Corinthian church that was using worldly models of leadership which caused divisions. They were dividing into schisms (1 Cor 1:10) as people looked to Paul, to Apollos, to Peter or to Christ as leaders (1 Cor 1:11-16). Paul asked, “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Cor 1:11-16). There is One Head- Christ. Everyone else is a disciple on equal footing. Paul used 4 chapters, 1 Corinthians 11-14, to correct their understanding of body life in their gatherings. In Chapter twelve, the message can be summarized: you are all the body of Christ. You are all ministers of the gospel. Jesus is the Head of the church and He gifts everyone with the Holy Spirit to build up the body- so stop the pecking order and (Chapter 13)- start loving one another, and (Chapter 14) stop exalting one gift over another, whether tongues or pastoring or teaching or apostleship.
The letter of 1 Corinthians has more corrections of a church than any epistle, yet amazingly, Paul doesn’t single out the church leadership in addressing these issues. In chapter five Paul chastened the entire body for not exercising authority in disciplining a sexually immoral man. Paul wrote, “In the name of [authority of] our Lord Jesus Christ [who is Head of the church], when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved.” (1 Cor 5:4-5, cf 2 Cor 10:8, 13:10). As a body of believers gathered wherever “two or three are gathered in My name”) there is the authority of the believers- we are a royal priesthood! Jesus has given every believer attached to a gathering of believers the authority to correct others in the body of believers and to purge the body of leaven, that the body may not be filled with sin (1 Cor 5:6-7), and that the person so disciplined may return to the Lord and to the body in repentance. When every believer sees his/her role as a priest, then the whole body matures.
So what is the role of church leadership? Christ’s way for church leadership is one of empowerment, by freeing up leaders as every member of the body does his or her part. Ephesians 4:11-16 summarizes well the role of various leaders in the body. Let us first remind ourselves again regarding every believer’s role in the Great Commission: we all are to make disciples by:
- Going- preaching the gospel
- Baptizing those make a profession of faith
- Teaching them all things Christ has commanded
Jesus “gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry.” (Eph 4:11) A leader is helping believers become disciple-makers. Some of those disciple-makers in turn will grow in maturity, becoming leaders organically (not through some outside institution such as a seminary, but within the body as they are making disciples- this is not to say there is no value in seminary in education- but to recognize that it has limitations in its ability as an institution to train up leaders, for it is outside of the local church). This is how the kingdom of God expands exponentially. In the parable of the sower and the seed, the good soil represents believers- it is natural (supernatural) for a believer to produce a crop through making disciples, a multiplication of 30, 60, 100 fold. Every believer is a disciple maker! The result of such proper shepherding of believers, with Christ as Head, and leaders as mentor-servants is that the body “may grow up into all things into Him who is the Head- Christ- from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” (Eph 4:15-16)
I have heard more than one pastor of a traditional model of discipleship, centered on pulpit preaching, mourn, “10% of the congregation is doing 90% of the work.” Dear pastor, are you modeling and teaching your congregation how to be disciple-makers, that they in turn may:
- Teach those who get saved all things Christ has commanded?
Einstein wrote: “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Insanity in the church is a top-down structure that exists in most of today’s Western traditional churches which depend on discipleship through pulpit preaching once or twice a week (and possibly small group leaders) to do all the work of discipleship. This method finds its roots, not in the Bible, but in St. Thomas Aquinas and the University approach to learning (which in turn found its roots in the ancient Greek way of learning). The end result is 10% or less of the congregation doing 90% of the work, and 90% being passive pew potatoes. Remember, Jesus said, “ALL authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go (all of you!) and make disciples.” The early church obeyed, and within a few generations, nearly 10% of the people in the Roman Empire were followers of Christ.
In 2010 the Lord had me focus on one nation where the gospel has spread more rapidly than any other the last 70 years: China. I read 3 biographies during that time that inspired me that there is another model of discipleship in the 3rd world that looks quite different from the western traditional model:
- Hudson Taylor, who in the 1800s brought the gospel to China
- Watchman Nee, who in the late 1930s onward spawned a rapid expansion of the underground church that equipped every believer to be a disciple-maker
- Brother Yun (and the book, “The Heavenly Man”), who saw China’s church expand from less than a million in the 1930’s to well over 100 million in 2000 as empowered disciple makers made disciples everywhere, without church buildings, clergy on salaries and Western traditional styles of discipleship.
Finally, in 2012, I was introduced to a book that rocked my world regarding discipleship written by Ying Kai. In 2001 a missionary, Ying Kai and his wife decided to take an assignment to be church planters to an unreached people group of 20 million people in a country in the Far East. For the five years prior to this new assignment, he had been effective in Hong Kong in planting one new church per year, and personally discipling about 60 people per year. He was receiving accolades for his effectiveness as a missionary. But as he considered the overwhelming responsibility of trying to have an impact on 20 million people, he realized that if he kept doing what he had been doing he would never make a dent in reaching these unreached people. As he turned to the Lord in prayer and meditated on the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), the Lord’s instructions for pursuing his new assignment were there. The Great Commission instructs that we are to go, not invite them to come to us; that everyone is to be engaged in attempting to reach everyone, everywhere; and we are to make disciples, not church members or converts.
With these new marching orders, Ying Kai began by teaching a group of 30 Christians how to make disciples who would know how to make disciples. During the next 10 years, he was used by God to begin a movement that planted more than 158,000 churches and baptized 1.7 million people. (“T4T: A Discipleship ReRevolution” www.T4Tonline.org).
My brother and sister in Christ: all authority has been given you by Jesus Christ- go and make disciples, who make disciples. Paul wrote Timothy, “The things you have learned from me, entrust to reliable men who will teach others”(2 Timothy 2:2)- and so the multiplication went on from generation after generation, as the kingdom of God exploded. Jesus is with you always, even to the end of this age. Stop shifting the responsibility to obey the Great Commission (evangelism, baptism and teaching) to others- you go- Christ has commissioned you to be a disciple-maker!