Every child will look to an authority to determine truth. The authority the child chooses will determine what the child believes and how the child lives. To choose the Bible as authority means that a person believes the Bible has the right to decide what is good and bad, right and wrong, true and false and to direct how he or she lives.
Authority is not a popular concept. We like to have authority, but not to be under authority. Man in his depravity will continue to rebel against the Bible as truth and God as the ultimate authority. The Apostle Paul tells us that rebellion against God and his Word is natural since man is born spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1; Rom. 3:10-18), blind in his understanding (Eph. 4:18), and unable to accept the things of God because they can only be understood spiritually (1 Cor. 2:14). Only redemption by the Holy Spirit making the sinner spiritually alive can change this reality (Eph. 2:4-5). Newness of life results in illumination of the Bible. The new believer can now understand that the Bible is the Word of God (1 John 2:20). Those who do not have God as their Lord will not have His Word as their authority.
Young people often believe the lie that freedom is acquired by being their own authority. Freedom is not found in the absence of authority, rather it is experienced by submitting to God’s authority and living within His boundaries. The commandments of God in the Bible are a means of liberation and the wisdom of the Bible is a path to blessing. Whenever we put happiness before obedience, we will be destined for misery. Those who place themselves under the authority of God’s Word will experience joy.
God is the source of all authority. The Bible gives absolute authority to God over all his creation. God is the all-powerful creator all things (Gen. 1-2) and owns the earth (Ps. 24:1). Psalm 62:11 states, “power belongs to God.” Jesus claims, “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18). The titles “Lord” and “God Almighty” declare that God has authority over all the earth.
The Bible is our ultimate authority because it is from God. We do not give the Bible its authority. The Bible is authoritative regardless of what we believe about it. We must decide if the Bible will have functional authority in our life or if we will live according to a different authority. The Bible is our authority when we acknowledge it is true, embrace it, submit to it, and walk in obedience to God’s Word. The supreme authority of the universe has given us His Word; therefore, it must have authority over us.
Many Christians claim the Bible is their authority only to choose a different authority by their actions. Christians look to many other sources for authority. Here are three of the most common that I’ve observed.
Three categories of illegitimate authority
Secular voices have convinced many Christians that the Bible is unsophisticated, outdated, superstitious, and unscientific. Andy Stanley, Pastor of North Point Community Church, stated “When religion and science conflict, at the end of the day if you are an honest person, science must win!” Maybe you’ve heard someone say, “I know what the Bible says, but you can’t deny science.” In reality, nothing could be more absurd than thinking human ideas are a more reliable source of authority than God’s Word in the Bible. Science is servant to Scripture, not the other way around.
Science becomes an illegitimate source when authority is deferred to human experts. What is science? Science means knowledge. Science is a means to learn about the world God created. The Bible is God’s book of science. It contains the foundational truth about biology, history, geology, anthropology, and astronomy. The Bible is an infallible science book. When we create and discover, we are using the laws of physics and chemistry that God has put in place. The laws of science exist because God created an orderly world. The Bible is our scientific authority because the Word of God tells us how God created the world and how the world works.
Pragmatism is an approach that determines actions by the results one desires. It first determines what results are preferred, then decides the actions to achieve the desired outcome. Without realizing it we have become answerable to what works. If giving a reward results in a well behaved child, wonderful, but if not, threats or ignoring negative behavior may be more effective. If teaching the Bible will attract children to our school or church, great, but if not, focusing on academic rigor or entertainment may be a more effective strategy.
Pragmatism becomes an illegitimate source when authority is determined by personal experience. Pragmatism occurs when we look to our personal experience for direction rather than God’s Word. Pay attention to the question, “Does it work?” When this phrase becomes the justification for a decision, you know pragmatism is occurring. Ultimately, pragmatism is the result of biblical ignorance or a lack of confidence in the power of Scripture to do what it promises.
For example, let’s consider evangelism. When we look to artificial methods to stimulate conversion or manipulate emotions to get to a desired end, we know that pragmatism is at work. God does not need us to make the Gospel relevant. There is not a single creative idea that will bring the spiritually dead to life or contribute to a person’s salvation. Paul tells us what brings about salvation, “How from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15). The Bible is able to bring about salvation because it brings us into contact with Jesus.
- Man’s Word
The Bible is often replaced by man’s authority, which can take many forms. I worked with a pastor who always wanted to make decisions by surveying the congregation rather than applying the wisdom of the Bible. Christians often turn to psychology to solve their relational, marital, or emotional problems rather than the provision that God offers in His word. The church has even attempted to replace God’s Word by declaring itself as the ultimate authority.
Historically, there have been times when the Word of God has been placed under the authority of the church with priority given to its creeds, counsels, articles, and tradition. The Roman Catholic Church is founded on this principle. In their view, the Bible is the Word of God because they have decreed it to be so and confirmed this reality in numerous infallible church councils. There is a major problem with this view. Who authorized the church to make this kind of decision? What is the source of authority to do so? The church can affirm the authority of Scripture, but it is not the source for it. Mark 7:8 points out what is happening, “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.”
Martin Luther argued that the Catholic Church and the Pope did not trump Scripture. Luther was brought before the Diet of Worms in April 1521 and was ordered to recant his beliefs about justification as well as ecclesiastical and biblical authority. His reply left no doubt about his source of authority:
“Since then Your Majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns and without teeth. Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.”
Ultimate authority belongs to God and God alone. The Bible is to be the foundation for every area of life. Like Luther, we are to be captive to the Word of God. Far too many Christians have a diminished confidence in the Bible. Jeremiah 5:30-31 states, “An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land. The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule on their own authority.” An appalling and horrible thing has happened in my homes, churches, and schools – man’s word has become the authority. The Bible is God’s Words of truth that determines how we live, not surveys, psychology, or even the church.
How does the Bible have functional authority in our life?
It is one thing to say the Bible is our authority, it is another to submit to the Bible as our authority. We must come to the settled conviction that the only authority we have comes from the Word of God. Here are four functional ways the Bible has authority in our life.
Turn to God’s Word for guidance. We must develop the pattern of looking to God’s word for answers and guidance. Psalm 24:4-5 can be our prayer, “Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your path. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.”
Test thoughts and ideas with God’s Word. We must learn to cultivate the habit of the mind that filters everything through God’s Word. Paul exhorts us to “Test everything, hold fast to what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21).
Take every thought captive with the Bible. We must critique arguments from a biblical perspective and discipline our mind not to allow ungodly ideas to take residence. 2 Corinthians 10:5 tells us how to do that, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
Teach the Bible. We must communicate the whole counsel of the Bible to young people. The Apostle Paul gives Titus this assignment, “These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you” (Titus 2:15). Titus is given the responsibility to speak with authority, which comes from the Word of God. Our teaching is not to be occupied with object lessons, good suggestions, or pithy axioms, but God’s Words from the Bible.
Our authority as parents, grandparents, pastors, and educators comes when we teach and preach the Word of God. This is your responsibility. The Bible is to be your content and curriculum. Titus 2:15 gives three methods to teach the Bible: “speak, exhort, reprove.” Speak the Bible so a young person hears and understands it. Exhort so that you persuade a young person to believe and apply God’s Word. Reprove by holding a young person responsible to obey and submit to the Bible. We do not invent the message. It is our responsibility to deliver it with faithful interpretation and passionate proclamation so that they understand, believe, and obey God’s Word.
Jesus is our example. He taught authoritatively. In Mark 11:28, Jesus was confronted by the Chief priest, the scribes, and elders who were troubled by Jesus authority and asked Him, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” Jesus did not quote rabbis, rely upon the latest research, point to his title or educational degrees, or suggest it was his extensive ministry experience or communication skill that gave him authority. Jesus tells the religious leaders, “My teaching is not mine, but His who sent Me” (John 7:16).
If I walk into your home, your church, or your school will I hear the Word of God taught, read, discussed, sung, prayed, and proclaimed? Or will I hear a different authority? Will I find that you turn to God’s Word for decisions or has an illegitimate authority usurped God’s Word when you need direction? Is your confidence in God’s Word is high or low?
The Bible is to be your authority. It was given by God to parents, grandparents, and pastors to instruct children and grandchildren (Deut. 4:9, Deut. 6:6-7). The Bible is able to bring every child to saving faith (2 Tim. 3:14-15). Paul wrote that all Scripture is from God and is useful for teaching, conviction, correction, and training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The Bible is to be your authority for parenting, grandparenting, and ministry to children.