Question: "What is the authority of the believer?"
Answer: The authority of the believer rests on the believer’s mandate to serve the Lord. When we are in God’s will, we can move with confidence that we are doing what is right and that the Holy Spirit’s power is at work within and through us. Some ministries emphasize the authority of the believer to an unhealthy and unbiblical extent. It’s better to remember the meekness to which we are called (Titus 3:1–2; James 3:13). Even Paul, who as an apostle had genuine authority over the church, did not always exert his authority: “Although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love” (Philemon 1:8–9).
Before we start enumerating the things that fall under the authority of the believer, we must acknowledge that, first and foremost, the believer is under authority. “God [is] the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 6:15). And our Lord Jesus reminds us, “You also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’” (Luke 17:10). The believer’s life is one of total dependence on God, as modeled by the Son of Man (see Luke 22:42 and John 5:30).
God has appointed lesser authorities in this world to rule under Him. Parents have authority over their children (Ephesians 6:1). Husbands have authority over their wives (Ephesians 5:22–24). Kings have authority over their subjects (Romans 13:1–7). The apostles had authority over the church (Acts 4:34–35; Philemon 1:3).
Some people use the Great Commission to teach the authority of the believer: “Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you’” (Matthew 28:18–20). But the authority in the passage clearly belongs to Jesus. He claims “all authority” and then tells those who fall under His authority what to do. Based on the Great Commission, the only “authority” believers possess is the authority to go into all the world, the authority to make disciples, the authority to baptize in the name of the Triune God, and the authority to teach Jesus’ commands. In the exercise of this authority, the believer is simply obeying orders.
Besides the authority to share the gospel, the authority of the believer includes the right to be called a child of God (John 1:12) and the authority to “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence” (Hebrews 4:16). In all things, we remember that Christ is the Lord. “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord” (2 Corinthians 10:17).
Some Christians get mixed up about the authority of the believer because they take verses out of context. Matthew 10:1, for example, says, “Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.” Some people claim authority over demons and sickness based on this verse, overlooking the fact that Jesus was speaking to a particular group of people (“his twelve disciples”) for a particular time of ministry. Others assert they possess apostolic gifts, claiming for themselves the same authority as Peter or Paul. Some people claim authority for the believer based on Old Testament promises to Joshua (Joshua 1:3), Gideon (Judges 6:23), or Israel (Deuteronomy 8:18; Malachi 3:10)—again, taking verses out of context. Other believers claim authority based on Mark 16:17–18, even though that portion of Mark’s gospel is a late addition and not original.
Paul exhorted Titus to teach the Scripture boldly, with authority (Titus 2:15). As believers serve each other and the Lord, they should do so with confidence and the authority that comes with knowing they are doing God’s work: “If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:11).
The authority of the believer comes from God and from God’s Word. As we are God’s ambassadors, we can speak with His authority as we share His Word, appealing to the world on behalf of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). We wield the sword of the Spirit, a mighty weapon forged by God for our use (Ephesians 6:17).