Understanding Power and Authority
Christ has given every follower his power and authority to defeat Satan and all evil spirits.
In this session, we're going to deal with the subject of the power and authority of Jesus Christ that's been given to us and the significance of living in that power and authority. Jesus made the promise to give us this power and authority in Matthew 16:18 when he said to Peter: "The gates of Hades will not be able to withstand or withhold the advancing church." Jesus was going to build his church. The church was going to advance. The gates of Hades could not withstand it.
Jesus is saying that he who is in us is greater than he who is in the world. His power is greater than the power of the enemy. When there is a head-on conflict between the power of the enemy and the power of God, the power of the enemy will lose every time.
How do we then live and walk in this power and authority? We understand from our last session that the world we live in has two realms—the natural and the spiritual. We need to be able to know how to live in this spiritual realm in a way that affects the natural realm. Instead of the spiritual realm only affecting me, I need to be living in a way that affects the spiritual realm, which in turn affects the natural realm.
Ten years ago, as I read Paul's amazing statement in 1 Corinthians 4:19-20, I began my personal journey in understanding the power we have as believers. Paul says in these verses that he's coming to Corinth to see the teachers that are there, and he's not coming to hear their words, but he's coming to see the power in their lives, "for the kingdom of God is not words, but it is power."
At that time ten years ago I was very committed to the Word and truths of God, to the expositional instruction of God's truth, and to trying to live out those truths, but I hadn't committed myself to understanding God's power. In that verse, I heard this question from the Lord: You've given yourself to me through my Word. Will you give yourself to me through my power? At that moment, I didn't know what it meant and couldn't relate with it. But pretty soon the Lord started us on a journey, and on this journey we began to understand the power of God. Specifically, we started to understand how he wants us to appropriate that power and do his work through that power, and that our lives should be characterized by the power of God.
Christ's power and authority
In Ephesians 1:19 Paul says, "I pray that you'll begin to understand the incredible greatness of his power." Now just prior to this Paul said, "I pray that a spirit of wisdom and revelation will be given to you," and he was praying that it would happen in three areas. One of the areas had to do with the power of God. Paul says:
I pray that you'll begin to understand the incredible greatness of his power for us who believe. This is the same mighty power which he brought about in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things in subjection under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church.
In between Christ's resurrection and ascension, he exhorted his disciples several times about his commission for them to go through Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth. He told them not to try to embark on this mission until first being clothed with power from on high, from God. So the disciples waited in the upper room, where God's Spirit was released upon them.
In the Gospels, Jesus models for his church what he wants us to do and be, including living in God's power. When I read the Gospels, I'm seeing the CEO of the church, the head of the church, not just telling us what to do, but modeling for us what he wants us to do. It is a challenge for us as believers in westernized Christianity to look at the life and ministry of Jesus and see how our church is measuring up. The church of Jesus Christ is to be carrying on the ministry that Jesus began in the Gospels. That's why he says, "As the Father sent me into the world, I'm now sending you." That was the last night, the end of his earthly ministry. He's saying I'm now sending you out the same way the Father sent me out.
In Acts, the early church is living out the life of the ministry of Jesus Christ without the incarnate Jesus. In other words, it can be done with Jesus ascended. He sent the Holy Spirit to be the Comforter and the one by whom we would carry out life and ministry.
From Romans through the end of the New Testament, there are truths, theology, and doctrine that demonstrate why and how we can live like Jesus and like the early church in the Book of Acts. When Jesus was living and ministering on earth, he was living and ministering as true man. Jesus as true God became true man. In that unique personage, he is both God and man. When he was ministering on earth, though, he was ministering in the capacity as man without falling back as a safety net on his attributes as God. He was showing us what a human being living in right relationship with God can live like.
So that gives us a backdrop as we come into Ephesians 1. How is it that we can live the life that Jesus lived? Paul says in Ephesians 1, "I pray that you'll gain insight and understanding. I pray that you'll get revelation into the surpassing greatness of the power of God that's at work in you."
Later in Ephesians 1, Paul says that the power at work in you is the very power that raised Jesus Christ from death. How many of us have ever thought of our bodies being vessels that carry the power of God, the very power that raised Jesus Christ from death? Let's say this aloud together: "The power that raised Jesus from death is resident in me."
How many of us need revelation to understand what it truly means? How many of us ask, "Do I need more power?" What hinders us from a life of God's power is not the need to get more power, but instead it's that we need a release of the power we've already been given in our union with Jesus Christ through salvation.
So what's inhibiting it from being released in my life? We cannot minister in God's authority when we're not living under God's authority. Jesus Christ, as true God yet true man, lived underneath the Father's authority. Jesus said that there was nothing he said or did that he had not first heard from the Father. In other words, Jesus lived under the authority of his heavenly Father.
Here are a couple verses that show that:
- John 5:30: "But I do nothing without consulting the Father. I do just as I am told. My judgment is absolutely just because it is according to the will of God, who sent me. It's not merely my own."
- John 8:26, 28: "I have much to say about you and much to condemn, but I won't, for I say only what I have heard from the one who sent me, and he is true." So Jesus said, "When you have lifted up the Son of Man on the cross, then you will realize that I am he and that I do nothing on my own, but I speak what the Father taught me."
Jesus did only what he saw and heard from the Father.
The reason Jesus' power is released and available so much more in the Gospels than it is for us is that Jesus was sensitive to make sure that everything he did and said was in obedience to the Father. He lived in the will of God. He didn't have a spirit of independence, rebellion, or insurrection. He had a spirit of submission to the Father.
Each of us should ask: Do I have any independence in my life? Do I have any lack of submission? Do I have any rebellion? Jesus understood how important it is that he did not allow rebellion to be in his life. 1 Samuel 15:23 says that "rebellion is as the sin of … witchcraft." Jesus ministered under God's authority. We must be sensitive that we're living in proper relationship and alignment with God's authority.
As the Father sent the Son in the world, the Son sends us in the world. If I'm on earth with the mission of the Father to do the works Jesus did, then I will because Jesus made a promise that not only will I do the very works that he did but I'll do greater works than he did. The church of Jesus Christ in westernized Christianity is not normal. We have to redefine normal. What is normal for the church of Jesus Christ? It's the Gospels. It's the Book of Acts and doing what Jesus did and even greater things than he did. The church is to be about making statements about the kingdom of God. After Jesus sets captives free and heals diseases, and the gospel is presented clearly, Jesus said the kingdom of God is here. For me to do the ministry of Jesus, I am going to need a power that is greater than what I possess in and of myself. God knew that, and that's why God gave it to us. I have his power right here, right now. It's settled, sealed, done, and complete. I have the very power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead.
There is a difference between authority and power. A distinction between power and authority is shown in Luke 4:36: "All the people were amazed and said to each other, 'What is this teaching? With authority and power he gives orders to evil spirits, and they come out.'" Luke 9:1 says, "He called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all the demons and to heal all diseases."
Authority is the capacity we have due to our position. I have the authority of God in me due to my union with Jesus Christ. Power is the capacity I have due to my life posture. For instance, Jesus said in the beginning of Luke 9 that he had given his authority and power to the twelve, and they went out and did amazing miraculous signs and wonders. A little bit farther in Luke 9, Jesus is on the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, James, and John. A man comes to his other disciples down below and says, "Will you heal my son, for he is caught up in these seizures by demonic activity?" They were not able to heal him. When Jesus comes down off the Mount of Transfiguration, the man comes up to him and says, "I asked your disciples if they would heal my son, and they couldn't. Will you?" Jesus then heals the son.
Was it God's will for the son to be healed? Yes. Had the disciples received authority to do that? Yes. Why was the power not released for it to happen? Well, that was the question the disciples had. They asked, "Jesus, why weren't we able to heal him?" And Jesus says, "This kind comes out by prayer."
Now I don't know all that was meant in Jesus' response to that, but here's what I think it means. I think Jesus was saying, You guys were depending only on yourself. Where was the prayer? Where was the sense of your dependence on God?
Ongoing prayer in preparation for ministry is certainly needed, but I just wonder if it's not possible that they may have been relying on their own capacity, and nothing happened. Sometimes strongholds—places where the enemy has a base of operation, such as pride—marginalize the release of the authority of God in our lives. God resists the proud, but he gives grace to the humble.
Rebellion will also marginalize the power of God, the power that raised Jesus from death, from being released in my life.
Fear has the same affect. At Kadesh-Barnea, when the Israelites had the option of going into the Promised Land, they heard about the giants and in fear said no, and then judgment came. God called them an evil generation because of their fear. Sometimes we look at fear as being unfortunate, while God calls it evil and wicked.
So I have to change my perception of what may seem to us to be innocuous issues, which in reality are very important issues if God's authority and power are going to be released in my life. Remember, when Jesus was in Nazareth, Scripture says he could not perform miracles there because of their lack of faith (Mark 6:5-6). Unbelief can compromise the release of God's power in me.
Authority is an absolute that we have in Christ, but power is relative. It's related to life posture. That's why my being set free, my restoration, and living free is more than just about me. It's about others that I'll minister to. It's about the lives that God wants me to be used in. It's about seeing the kingdom of God advancing so the gates of Hades cannot withstand it. When there's an encounter between the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light, the kingdom of light will win every time. So the kingdom of darkness must try to compromise the power of God in me through fear, unbelief, rebellion, and other sinful thoughts and emotions.
Therefore, I want to aligning my life to release power and authority. There's a difference between striving and aligning. By aligning, I mean bringing myself in alignment with God's truth. I want to bring my life into greater and greater alignment with God and his truth so his power can be released in my life in an increased measure. He's given me the power that raised Jesus from death. He's given me the Holy Spirit. With all that he's given me for weapons and resources, I have all I need for life and godliness. I just need to start operating in it.
What would it be like to see every believer, every marriage, every family, every church that names the name of Christ moving fully operational in the authority and power of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit? Hell could not withstand it. So the renewal, rejuvenation, and reformation of the church are crucial to God's mission.
Jesus gives his authority to us
In Ephesians 1, it says we've been given the power and authority of God at salvation, but in chapter 2, it opens up rather bleakly in the first three verses: "We were dead in our trespasses before God." In other words, that part of me that can receive the stimuli from God, that God sensitivity in me, was dead. I could not receive any stimuli from God. I "lived according to the course of this world." I lived "according to the power of the prince of the air." I lived "according to my own sinful, fleshly, impulses and desires." But in verse 4, it says, "God in his mercy made us alive in Christ Jesus." I was transferred from the kingdom of darkness and death to the kingdom of light and life. I was transferred from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of God. I had a real transaction take place at salvation. I had a kingdom swap that was huge and monstrous in my life. I became a citizen of a new kingdom that is a much better kingdom. It's God's kingdom. But it doesn't stop there.
In verse 6, it says, "And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in heavenly realms with Christ Jesus." Back in chapter 1 we are told Jesus Christ not only was resurrected from death but that he then ascended up to heaven and was seated at the right hand of God. Now God is spirit, so where is his right hand? There is no physical right hand. Symbolically the right hand represents authority and power. Jesus Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father far above all rulers and principalities—all these evil, demonic spirits.
At the moment you and I received Christ as our Savior, we were raised up and seated with Jesus Christ at the right hand of the Father, which means the authority of God that's in Jesus Christ is shared with us. We are joint heirs with Jesus Christ. That's something worth getting excited about. Why do we have frowns on our faces and live defeated? Right now the authority of God given to Jesus Christ, which raised Jesus Christ from death, is mine. It's in me right here. That's how the church of Jesus Christ is going to live like Jesus and advance against the gates of Hades, and that's why the gates of Hades can't stand up.
All of us have received this authority. This is demonstrated in Jesus' earthly ministry when he gave the disciples authority in Luke 9:1. He called his twelve together, and he said, I want you to go out and do ministry. You've been following me long enough; you can go out and do it yourselves. I'm breaking you up two by two, and I'm giving you authority and power. I want you to drive out demons. I want you to heal the sick. I want you to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom. You can just feel the oxygen get sucked out of the room. The disciples must have thought, I didn't know that's what this was about! I thought we were here to watch you. And so Jesus gives them authority and power, and they go out, and what do they do? Drive out demons, heal the sick, proclaim the gospel of the kingdom, and announce the presence of the kingdom.
This same thing happens to 72 people in Luke 10. They gather together, and Jesus goes through the same routine with them. Look at their response to being sent in his authority to cast out demons and heal the sick. Luke 10:17 says the 72 "returned with joy." They were elated. They said, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name."
He said to them, "I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning." Every time they carried out a spiritual transaction, made a declaration, or spoke out in faith, Satan fell like lightning out of heaven. He goes on to say, "Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy." How much of the power of the enemy? What does all mean? It means all! "I've given you authority over all the power of the enemy." It's been given to us in and through Jesus Christ.
When Jesus Christ left us on earth he said, "All authority's been given to me, and now I'm commissioning you." You go out and you make disciples just as I did. All that I did and all that I taught you, you do the exact same things. You teach others the exact same ways. It was to continue on. Jesus modeled it for us. He worked with a group of men that could be the yeast that would start this type of Jesus ministry throughout the church for century after century, millennia after millennia.
Authority and power is given in other places in Scripture. In Matthew 16:19, Jesus gives the keys of the kingdom to Peter. The keys refer to authority. We see the exact same thing in Matthew 18. In James 5:17-19 it says, "Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three-and-a-half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain and the earth produced crops."
We receive this authority at salvation
What we need to get hold of, what we need revelation about, is that we received the authority and power of Jesus Christ at salvation. I don't have to strive for it. I don't have to grovel for it. We all have been given the exact same authority and power in Jesus Christ. There are different gifts and different measures of gifts, but we all have the same authority and power. It's ours in our union with Jesus Christ.
The Epistles explain to us doctrinally and theologically how we can live in power and authority, as we see in the Gospels. Colossians 2:9-10 says, "In Christ all the fullness of deity exists in bodily form." Then it goes on to say, "And you have been given fullness in Christ." So all the fullness of deity is in Jesus Christ in bodily form, and in our union with Christ we've been given the fullness of God, "who is the head over every power and authority." It's not a power and authority that I have just for the sake of having it. It's a power and authority I have for the purpose of the kingdom mission I'm on, and it's over every power and authority. Why do you think Paul is always inserting that phrase, "the head over every power and authority"? He never wants us to go far from the reality of the mission we are on. So as I get set free myself, I want to be used by God to help others be set free, to come into the kingdom, and experience the power of God. That's what it's all about.
Since our mission is to set others free, I get nauseated by me-centered Christianity in which it's all about me. It's consumer Christianity. That's not what real Christianity is about. It's about being equipped for a purpose. I do not want to be contented with the way I am. I want a holy discontent about where I fall short in living in the fullness of God, so I can be used in a greater way for him and his kingdom. If it was just about my getting better, heaven's the best place to be.
Especially in the West the church of Jesus Christ needs to throw off the shackles of thinking, How can Jesus benefit me? Rather, the motivation for our relationship with Jesus should be to glorify him, enjoy his fellowship, and advance his kingdom and name. If it was just about being better, he would have taken me to heaven the minute I was saved. He's left me on earth for the same reason the Father sent him to earth. If we cannot live for something larger than ourselves, our lives are miserable. Part of living free is catching the vision of what God has left us on earth to do: to live for God and the well-being of others.
Jesus' power over sin and principalities is seen in Colossians 2:13-15:
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive in Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code with its regulations that was against us and stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
These verses describe the triumphant march of military and government figures over those they conquered, parading them down Main Street for the humiliation of the conquered ones. Jesus did that with demonic beings, and he's given us that same authority. Why? It's related to the mission.
It's helpful to think visually of a chart that depicts who has authority over whom, and the chain of authority is different depending on whether a person is an unbeliever or a believer in Christ. For those people who are unbelievers, Jesus Christ is at the top of the chain. Satan is below Jesus, because Satan is the prince of the power of the air, the ruler of this world. Underneath Satan are demonic spirits who have the capacity to influence people. Then below these spirits are human beings who are unbelievers, and then there are animals. But when we become believers, the chain of authority changes. Jesus Christ of course is still the head, but now believers are right under Jesus, and we are over Satan and other fallen spirits.
Psalm 8:6-8 says that when God created mankind, he put the earth under human authority. We're created just a little lower than God and greater than angels. When we become believers, we recover this status and authority. Unbelievers don't have that authority. They're underneath the influence of the enemy. So living free means being set free from the power and authority of Satan, and being released to live and operate in the power and authority of God given to us at salvation.
The importance of biblically and boldly facing Satan's kingdom
The Scriptures, the commission of Jesus Christ, and the times in which we live all demand that we live in Jesus' power and in his authority, that we live free. We cannot afford to neglect or marginalize this area of our life. We are in a war, and we cannot ignore our enemy. Jesus never did.
First Peter 5:8 says to be alert. Why? Because Satan, your adversary, roams around seeking to find people not just to give them a bad day, but rather to devour and destroy them. If there was a predator in the physical world that wanted to destroy you, or if you were in a war zone and needed to go down the street to get some bread, you would be alert at a level different than if you were in Disneyworld enjoying the rides. Peter says, "Be alert," because Satan is out to destroy. We can't be passive. We must exercise this power and authority in order to live free and triumphant. To have authority and not use it does not do us any good. We must appropriate it. I don't have to live mired underneath fear, self-hatred, and anger. Instead I can live as the triumphant one.
Demonic spirits were a constant reality in Jesus' life, and that is no less the case today for us. We may not see them quite as obviously now. Our experience has been, though, especially over the last few years, that this is the case. This last weekend, for example, before we came back to the States, there was a demonic manifestation that took place during a ministry session. Seldom in the last several years have we had a weekend of ministry when that has not taken place. I'm not saying it has anything to do with me or my wife, Cindy. I believe it has to do with the presence and power of God. Whenever Jesus would show up somewhere, demonic spirits would make themselves known. Demonic spirits cannot rest underneath the presence of the light and the power of God. Darkness cannot overcome light; light always overcomes darkness.
If this room was filled with light, and behind us was a room filled with darkness, and if we opened up the doors, do you think the darkness would come in and put out the light in this room? Or would the light in this room go into the other room and dispel the darkness? When Jesus would show up, demons immediately could not handle the light and presence of God. In the same way, as believers today move more into a ministry of power and authority, the demonic spirits are going to manifest. And when they reveal their hand, we have power and authority over them. We know how to set the captives free and to release the prisoners. And that's what we've seen happen. It's a joy and a delight. We see people transformed. They are transformed because they've been set free.
Demonic spirits are just as real today, but the light of God is not as powerful in the westernized church as it ought to be. The westernized church makes peace with them, making them much more comfortable. They just sit back and drink their soda and eat their chips and let things go on. They're not really pressured in any way.
When the church of Jesus Christ recovers who it is, demonic spirits are not going to be comfortable. I want to make it as uncomfortable for them as possible by the truth that I believe and live. In the West, there's a lot of fear, because demonic spirits know that if they can get us filled with fear we're going to pull back and not be on our game.
I believe we're seeing demonic manifestations all around us.
- Would we call rampant divorce a demonic manifestation?
- Would we call large numbers of prodigal people running from God and from their physical parents a demonic manifestation?
- Would we call unbridled anger a demonic manifestation?
- Would we call abuse—physical, emotional, sexual, whatever it might be—a demonic manifestation?
We may become fearful when we think of the demonic manifestations in the man in the region of the Gerasenes, in Mark 5. We don't want anything to do with that. Meanwhile the enemy is literally ravaging and shredding us because we don't want to acknowledge him and the need to fight him. Jesus did not tolerate demonic manifestations. He exercised his authority in every way. We should do the same, because at salvation we enter into Christ's authority.
Now let me just give you a couple of practical ways that we might do this.
Should we always assume that a sickness, headache, sadness, or heaviness of spirit is not due to demonic activity? For Job, the source of his affliction was the enemy, and it could be the same with us. Because we don't consider the possibility that the enemy is at work, he just has carte blanche, free access to keep exercising his devious deeds against us. It goes back to what we were talking about in the message on "One World, Two Realms." Do I have a humanistic, rationalistic way of thinking that won't allow me to consider such a possibility because I'll look fanatical, like I've lost true north, like I'm just two steps away from an institution? We should at least ask ourselves whether a problem could have a spiritual cause. I cannot tell you how many times I have suffered from excruciating headaches and sever sore throats that were removed and released by taking authority over them.
Demonic manifestations happen when a person prepares to do some type of ministry that's going to infringe upon the territory of the enemy. Demonic spirits aren't going to lay back and say, "This is really interesting." No, they're going to oppose. Eighty years before Moses began to lead Israel out of Egypt, he was almost killed as an infant. Jesus lived thirty years before he began his earthly ministry and had an attempt on his life as an infant. The enemy is malicious and relentless enough to know his kingdom is going to be compromised by those who call themselves by the name of Jesus Christ. The enemy will oppose and resist one way or another.
Don't assume a string of misfortunes is not due to demonic activity against you. Exercise your authority.
Don't assume that relentless and powerful temptation is not due to demonic activity against you. Exercise your authority.
For example, I thank the Lord that through the course of my life, and by God's grace, I've not had huge battles with sexual temptations, pornography, or other similar issues—until about six months ago. For a month, there was an onslaught that was ferocious down deep inside of me. I felt then that I could never get away from the onslaught. I had to fight. I had to resist. It was exhausting. Then all of a sudden I realized, Hang on a minute. This is not my heart. This not the way I want to live. It's not the way I want to be. And I've not historically had a huge problem in this area. There must be something going on spiritually. When I was able to identify that it was demonic activity and exercise the authority of Christ in me, it broke and it was gone.
Don't think the enemy is not behind bad dreams that you or your family members suffer. Exercise your authority. We have helped many people who had children who had nightmares, night terrors. When they began to exercise their authority, take responsibility for it, and say "no more," the nightmares and night terrors ended. In our westernized mind we just don't resort to that thinking. We labor under so much that is part of this spiritual realm, and we don't exercise the authority that Christ has given us.
Remember: the power that raised Jesus Christ from death is in you. So when you have prayed through the prayer of repentance, and then you come to the stage of rebuking, resisting, and renouncing the enemy, do you think that a spiritual transaction happens? Oh yeah, you can take it to the bank, because the very power that raised Jesus from death is in you. When you speak, demons must obey—unless we give them a place to operate. And that's what we are going to talk about in our next session: how we can make sure they don't have a place to operate.
Mike Riches is pastor of Harborview Christian Fellowship in Gig Harbor, Washington, director of the Sycamore Commission, and author of Living Free.