Authority – How Important is it to God?
In the course of studying with people about the need for Biblical authority in all religious matters, I have had people not only say they see no need for authority from God to act, but even ridicule the idea of our desire to establish authority from God’s word for all of our teachings and practices. A lack of respect for God’s authority is viewed as a small thing in man’s eyes, but what about God’s view in this matter?
Adam and Eve’s Unauthorized Act
From the very beginning of creation, we see God asserting His right to rule or govern (the meaning of authority) mankind. “And the Lord God commanded the man saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’.” (Genesis 2:16-17). God gave Adam and Eve the right to act (additional meaning of authority) with regard to eating of all the trees of the garden, with one exception. God did not give them the right to act as far as eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, they did so without God’s authority.
We see the seriousness of Adam and Eve’s disrespect for God’s authority by the consequences of their disobedience. The moment they acted against God’s will they died spiritually, they became separated from God because of their sin. And God took away their access to the tree of life; the consequence: Adam and Eve would suffer physical death, and all of their posterity would suffer physical death. Such tremendous consequences!!! Yet Satan deceived Eve into thinking that there would be no consequences in disrespecting God’s authority; and Satan has continued throughout the annals of time to deceive many, successfully causing most of the religious world to reject and even despise God’s authority.
Nadab and Abihu’s Unauthorized Fire
“Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire (several versions read: “unauthorized fire”) before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. So fire went out from the Lord and devoured them, and they died before the Lord” (Leviticus 10:1-2). God possessed the ultimate authority to rule and command the priest’s responsibilities; Nadab and Abihua had no right to act without God’s authority, and therefore they had no authority to offer any fire which God “had not commanded them.” Did they think, as many contend today, that they did not need authority from God to offer the fire that they chose? The consequences they suffered, immediate death, shows the seriousness of this matter of having authority from God to be pleasing to Him.
King Uzziah’s Unauthorized Worship
During the initial time of King Uzziah’s reign he was noted for doing “what was right in the sight of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 26:4), but he later became puffed up with pride. “But when he was strong his heart was lifted up to his destruction, for he transgressed against the Lord his God by entering the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense. So Azariah the priest went in after him, and with him were eighty priests of the Lord—valiant men. And they withstood King Uzziah, and said to him, ‘It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have trespassed? You shall have no honor from the Lord God’” (2 Chronicles 26:16-18). As a consequence of Uzziah’s disregard for God’s authority, the Lord struck him with leprosy for the rest of his life.
It is instructive to note that God had authorized His priests to burn incense on the altar (see Exodus 30:1-10); so offering incense in worship to God was a “good work” in and of itself. But God did not authorize anyone other than His priests to offer incense on the altar of incense; as Azariah said to Uzziah, “it is not for you…to burn incense to the Lord.” Uzziah may have reasoned: “But God never said I couldn’t offer incense.” Uzziah should have understood that when God commanded the priests to offer incense and then stated elsewhere in His law, “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you” (Deuteronomy 4:2), that authority to burn incense on the altar was only granted by God to His priests.
Unauthorized Practices Today
Some reason that the above examples only show how strict God was in Old Testament times; things are different now during the age of grace. Jesus says: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:21-23). “Lawlessness” is “the condition of one without law” (Thayer, p.48). The title “Lord” identifies Jesus as the One who is supreme in authority and has the right to rule, the right to command what we teach and practice. The only way to truly accept Jesus as our Lord is to follow God’s law; Jesus is not our Lord if we claim to do things in His name (by His authority) when in reality we are practicing lawlessness (actually have no law or authority from Him for our practice).
Notice closely here: it is not a matter of whether or not prophesying, casting out demons, and doing many wonders are “good works;” these were “good works” that God had authorized the apostles, the seventy disciples, and other early disciples to do. But on the final Day of Judgment “many” people will sadly find out that they had no authority from God to even claim to practice these things with Jesus’ approval.
The consequences of disrespecting God’s authority impact our present relationship with Jesus (“I never knew you”), and the consequences are eternal (“Depart from Me”). “The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:41-42).