Do we truly understand our God-given authority?
"I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way." (Ephesians 1:18-23)
Those are Paul's words to the Ephesians – particularly poignant when reflecting on them soon after Easter. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead and seated Him in heaven, above all things, is also for those of 'us who believe'. What does that mean for us today though? When we read that we have the same power and authority of Jesus how do we work that out in our everyday lives?
I have always found the 'name it claim it' approach difficult – it makes me hugely uncomfortable as it seems quite self-centred rather than humble and servant-like. I've also seen too many hurt people after circumstances haven't changed as they expected them to – or they've been told the reason things are still the same is their fault.
However, while attending a conference recently, I was faced with the question I've put in the title of this piece and it made me ponder: have I misunderstood, or unintentionally stopped standing in, and using, the authority that being in Christ has provided me with?
I am a firm advocate of taking time to really understand and 'know' deep down all the 'who I am in Christ' verses. Our lives are so bombarded with unhelpful messages that we need to fill our minds and hearts with the truth of our standing before God. So much of the ministry I am involved in is simply about gently pointing out the lies people have believed about themselves, and sharing the amazingly gentle love and grace of God with them.
There were certain scriptures that jumped out at me during the conference, as I saw them in a way I hadn't before.
Ephesians 2:4-6 says, "because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus."
Yes these verses contain amazing truths that I would say I really, truly know. It is due to God's immense love and grace that we have been given new life in Jesus. However, I've always viewed the last bit as meaning that we are given full access to God through Jesus (right and true) and that one day we would rule and reign with Him. But this verse actually says we have been raised up and seated with Christ – there's a present, active sense within the Greek words used – He's taken us together to be seated with Christ in heaven, far above everything happening on the earth.
In the Ephesians 1 verses we are told that when Christ was raised up to heaven He was placed above all authority, power and rule and all things were put under His feet. So does that mean we share in that same authority?
I know that there is a tension between the present and the future – that God's kingdom has come and yet is still to come – we see in part but will one day see in full (1 Corinthians 13). And yet I wonder if our trademark British way of understating things, and not wanting to seem pushy, has made us downplay our authority in Christ in our churches?
Ephesians 1 also tells us that we have been 'blessed in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing' (v3) and Jesus Himself told us that He had been given all authority – and then He uses the 'therefore' word. Precisely because of that authority we are now to 'go and make disciples of all nations...' (Matthew 28:18-20).
So if we are now seated with Him in the heavenlies how are we meant to live with His authority on this earth? I don't think it means we are to swagger around demanding that people and situations submit to our imperfect wills. But I do think we perhaps need to live more in the knowledge of the truth that God and His angels are more powerful than the devil and his demons.
We can too readily accept or cower at difficulties and problems, rather than seeking God's will and speaking out His authority. I know, I know, I'm sounding a little (okay, a lot) like the camp I struggle with. And, believe me, I do feel a tension and struggle with all of this as I see so much suffering around me. But I can't argue with what I believe is biblical teaching, and I also know that Jesus was 'a man of sorrows, intimately familiar with suffering' (Isaiah 53:3) – but demons still fled and people were healed when He spoke.
Interestingly, Jesus gave up His right to call on His powers while He lived on earth as a human. This morning I was reading through Matthew at the point He was arrested. When He reprimands His disciple for cutting off a guard's ear, He also says, "Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?" (Matthew 26:53).
He had submitted to the will of the Father by laying down His deity rights and walking this earth as a perfect human being. He suffered, faced all the temptations that we would, but lived as an example of how we too can live – intimate with the Father but also walking with the freedom and security of His authority.
John 5:18-30 shows us the way that Jesus lived in full submission to God, but still God's authority was revealed through Him. Time and time again in later chapters of John He states that He only says and does what the Father tells Him to. That submission reveals His faith in God's ultimate authority (see 1 Peter 2:23), which we all live under.
I was a young teenager when Frank Peretti's books This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness came out. I devoured them – and was more aware of the realm of angels (and demons) as a result. But the stories always seemed far too fantastical – not a true reflection of reality. And yet, cultures other than our modernised, Western one would recognise the presence of the supernatural realm much more readily that we perhaps do.
I wonder whether we struggle with understanding our authority in Christ, and how to walk in it in this life, because we are so often closed off to things we can't scientifically explain away and therefore don't truly understand?