God – the Author of Authority
Part 2 – Authority over self
You will remember 2 weeks ago, that we began to look at how God as a God of order – ordered His universe, and set structures of authority in the social arrangement of mankind.
Having seen how it is God is a God of order, and how in His absolute authority He sets up these spheres (or CIRCLES) of authority in the world, I want to come back to a most vital area. Where a problem with God’s direct authority over us and our abdication of an authority He delegated to us most often arises, and, look at the destruction those failures bring:
The Sphere of self-authority or self-control.
In truth, the one lacking self-authority or self-control, will always prove to be the one least qualified to exercise proper authority in the other circles, and most likely to abuse any other authority they might be given. We’ll see what that looks like in a few minutes.
We get a startling insight into this dynamic in Numbers 12:1–3 where Moses’ authority is challenged by his own sister and brother.
“Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman. And they said, “Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” And the LORD heard it. Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth.”
Now what was the quality God notes here in Moses in terms of his leadership?
Not his eloquence. Not his ability to bark orders. Not his heavy handedness. Not his organizational skills.
Not even his spirituality – or religious scruples.
NO – He was “very meek”, MORE MEEK THAN ALL THE PEOPLE WHO WERE ON THE FACE OF THE EARTH.
i.e. He was a man who could easily submit to authority, and it was this which was central to his being able to act in a position of authority well.
We get another insight into this dynamic in the life of Jesus: Matthew 8:5–9 “When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
The Centurion recognized not just that Jesus HAD authority to perform what He was being asked to do – but that He had this authority because He too was UNDER authority.
John 5:19–23 “So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.”
In Matt. 28:18 Jesus could say: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
ALL AUTHORITY! And yet – He did not act as a wholly independent agent, but came to do The Father’s will.
So here we see order, even among the members of the Triune Godhead – among perfect equals.
But I return to our current concern: – If we are not men and women who have some sound sense of authority over ourselves – then we are truly pitiful agents of carrying out God’s authority in the other areas of life we occupy – not least of all in the home!
The word “godliness” is used quite often in the Bible (35 X’s?)- 2 Peter 3:11–12 asks “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!”
What does a life lived in holiness and godliness look like?
We get a hint from the word itself. The word godliness itself carries with it the idea of piety or reverence which is applied in being in a right and proper relationship with God and with parents – or others in authority.
In our context today, when God created the physical universe, He did so as to bring everything into a certain order – an order which demonstrates proper relationship between things higher, things lower, and things equal.
You will remember the account in Gen. 4 where Cain and Abel brought their respective sacrifices before God. The text says: “In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”
Sin – our inward fallen condition is ever at the door – but we are to “rule over it.”
Authority over indwelling sin as it makes its claims on us – authority over self not to submit, but to rule.
So what is this supposed to look like in our lives?
1st – Let’s see it in the negative: Romans 1:18–32 “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.”
Don’t miss the progression here – or more accurately the DI-gression.
And then, the triple repetition of “God gave them up!”
John Newton: “Every additional guilt tends to increase the stupidity of the human soul; and every increase of this increases, in the same proportion, the natural indisposition for the practice or the love of virtue; makes the soul more blind to consequences, more base in its pursuits, and thus become a more willing and assiduous servant of iniquity”.
The wrath of God against mankind refusing to live under God’s authority – results in the giving over of the individual to uncontrollable sexual desire – and then the loss of self-control in all manner of areas.
It is in salvation that God works to bring us BACK to right relationship to His authority – and thus a restored self-control or proper authority over self and our sinful desires.
In fact, loss of self-control in the area of sexuality is one of the most primary ways of indicating humankind’s lost condition.
No wonder then a return to authority over our sexuality becomes central to understanding the restoring power of salvation.
So much is this true Paul can write by the Spirit: Eph. 5:3-5: “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”
In our day of rampant sexual freedom, and the proliferation of pornography in our culture – and how that has impacted men in the Church – I can think of no indication more central to our recovering the authority over ourselves that salvation is meant to bring – than this one. Or perhaps as a close second, anger, then narcissism and materialism. No authority over our emotions.
Self-authority is expressed 19x’s in the NT by “self-control.”
2 words – which together round out the subject very well:
- “to keep one’s emotions, impulses, or desires under control”
The ability to say no to yourself
- “soundness of mind, reasonableness, rationality”
Together they indicate: The opposite of one who’s thoughts or emotions run away with them.
In all of our spheres of authority, the great call is to control ourselves, not others.
Titus 2:11-13 “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”
So the great question is: How do we recover what has gotten out of control? – Self.
Steven Covey – 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Psalm 50 – The 4 Habits of Biblical Self-control. The restoration of self-authority
Ps. 50 is especially pertinent here, since God is contending with His own people in it. People who profess faith and profess to serve God, who at the same time demonstrate lives incompatible with people living under God’s authority – and thus are out of control themselves.
Vss. 17-20 Open up the indicators that they need help:
Psalm 50:17–20 – For you hate discipline [No appetite to reign in self]
and you cast my words behind you. [Disregard for God’s Word as authoritative]
If you see a thief, you are pleased with him, [Skewed morality – making anti-heros heros]
and you keep company with adulterers. [Loss of sexual judgment]
“You give your mouth free rein for evil, and your tongue frames deceit. [Unguarded communication]
You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother’s son. [Verbal vitriol – can’t keep a civil tongue]
In vss. 14-17, we see that self-control – authority over self comes from 4 things – which God calls His people back to.
- A full & rejoicing heart. Ps. 50:14a – “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving.”
Temptation’s greatest tool is our dissatisfaction with God’s appointments.
You cannot REJOICE in what you do not recognize you have.
A heart unwilling to joyfully submit to God’s authority in providentially assigning us the circumstances of our lives – results in loss of control over what we OUGHT to have authority over.
Look at the present situation in today’s society where people so reject God’s authority in assigning them a sexual orientation – how all sexual authority over self is completely missing.
Temptation ALWAYS argues we are missing something of ultimate joy and satisfaction given our present circumstances and limitations.
And it can only be fought when we dwell on the perfect wisdom of God in bringing us into the circumstances most perfectly suited to our growth in grace and into the image of Christ Jesus.
Even to rejoice in the particular temptations we face – knowing God’s wise and loving design in allowing them.
- A life of rehearsed holy habits. Ps. 50:14b – “and perform your vows to the Most High,”
No skill is acquired without practice, and it is as much true of taking rightful authority over sin and self as in anything else we may encounter.
I have used the example of my experience with SuperMario Brothers before, but bear with me.
The more we do it, the better we become.
Over and over and over again. This is why there is so much repetition built into the Bible itself.
Learning my own weaknesses and propensities. And learning new ways to cope with new attacks.
If you are not practicing refusing sin and controlling your thoughts, then will not win over sin or control your thoughts or impulses.
No one masters what they do not practice.
You cannot skillfully DO what you do not REHEARSE – repentance is a study in repetition.
But there is more here: The older theologians used to talk much about the Believer and using “the means of grace.” What they meant by that is not that doing certain things save us or brings us saving grace – but that grace is wrought out in our lives in taking advantage of the things God has provided for that end.
In the context of Psalm 50 – Not keeping their vows has to do with failing to keep up the regular covenant responsibilities that belong to them under the Mosaic covenant.
But such things have their own application under the New Covenant as well. As those who are betrothed to Christ to be His Bride – faithfulness to Him and to His purposes in the world is implicit.
No, we are not under the Mosaic law like the ancient Israelites, but we are still to live within God’s order.
Gathered worship – for the public glorifying of His name.
Prayer – as betrothed to one who is pledged to be our provider instead of looking to others – especially the world. Fellowship, intimacy.
The Word – Committed to hearing Him and believing Him above and to the exclusion of all others. No one else can occupy His place of authority nor replace His expressions of love and faithfulness.
Ministry to others – As any spouse adopts the other’s families, so we take the members of His family as our own and we want to extend all we can to them.
Communion – Remembering His substitutionary death on our behalf the way He has asked us to until He returns.
- A conscious reliance upon the indwelling Spirit of God. Ps. 50:15 – “and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”
If I am not looking to Him, how can I have His help?
You cannot RELY on someone you have no RELATIONSHIP with.
Cultivating the habit of calling upon Him and looking to Him to supply in our hours of temptation.
- Regular exposure AND SUBMISSION to God’s truth in His Word. Ps. 50:16-17 – “But to the wicked God says: “What right have you to recite my statutes or take my covenant on your lips? For you hate discipline, and you cast my words behind you.”
You cannot RECALL what you do not KNOW – EVEN THE SPIRIT DOESN’T DO THAT FOR YOU.
Notice effects of the Fall. We have minds that are literal sieves when it comes to storing up Biblical truth. The Holy Spirit cannot bring to mind what I have never learned. What I refuse to keep exposing myself to. No one gets a suntan by one exposure to the sun, though they may get burned! Tanning takes repeated, systematic exposure.
Our souls cannot get a “Son-Tan” any other way either.
- A full & rejoicing heart.
- A life of rehearsed holy habits.
- A conscious reliance upon the indwelling Spirit of God.
- Regular exposure to God’s truth in His Word.