Authority and Grace
Why are authority and grace so closely tied together?
We are not under Law but under grace. This New Covenant truth is incontrovertible (Rom 6:15). Yet grace is also founded upon the authority of God. How so? What is the relationship between God’s authority and grace? Here are some thoughts about that:
First, the only way God could, in His sovereignty, offer grace is if He has the authority to do so, and He does. Anyone can come along and say, “I’m giving you grace,” or “I forgive you of your sins,” but without the authority to enact grace, such a claim would be ludicrous. God can follow through with His gracious offer of forgiveness because He has the inherent authority to do so. From God’s side, grace and authority are tied together in such a way that there could be no grace without His absolute authority to give it. Mark 2 shows Jesus forgiving the sins (grace) of the paralyzed man who had been brought to Him. Yet only God can forgive sins; no one else has the authority to pronounce forgiveness. When people were questioning, Jesus said, “But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” the paralyzed man was healed (v. 11). Authority and grace go hand in hand. If not, forgiveness would not be possible.
Second, from our side, the only way we can learn to more fully appreciate God’s grace is by recognizing His absolute authority in everything. Think about this further:
A recognition of the need for grace from God is a recognition of our own failures and need for salvation. If we don’t see the horror of sin and its consequences, then we will not see our need to rely upon God for dealings with those consequences. A reliance upon grace is a reliance upon the authority of God for that grace.
Furthermore, if we rely upon our own authority rather than God’s, then we are not living with trust in God’s grace. If we don’t fully recognize God’s authority, then we will be relying on our own authority, and when we rely on our own authority, we negate grace. Salvation rests upon the authority of God and His ability to give grace.
When we act without God’s authority, then we are acting on our own (or another’s) authority. This makes the work our own work, not God’s. Doing our own works and failing to submit to God and His works, we have fallen into our own system of justification. This whole mentality is spoken against in Scripture. For example, the concept of boasting for our own works is set over against God’s grace and what He has done for us. Paul makes this point (in a number of places):
“God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “ Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor 1:27-31)
In this passage, God’s authority is absolute. He did what He did to bring us to Him, and His actions negate our ability to boast in our works because we are not in a position to act on our own authority.
Grace does not give permission (authority) to act outside of God’s will (cf. Rom 6:1-2; Jude 4). We may think that grace gives us more freedom to act on our own, but the irony is that the more we act on our own authority, the less we are respecting the authority of God; and when we undercut God’s authority, we diminish His ability to give grace. Authority and grace work together. If we respect God’s authority, we will appreciate His grace all the more. The fact that He has absolute authority underscores how significant the grace is offered by the only One who can truly give it.
If we are going to say that we need to live by faith through the grace of God, then, to be consistent, we must also say that we need to live by faith in the authority of God, for if we try to by-pass God’s authority, we show little appreciation for the grace that comes by the same authority that we are attempting to circumvent.
Bear in mind the fact that grace teaches to live consistently with His will, including denying the ungodliness that would separate us from Him (Titus 2:11-14). Thank God for His grace. Thank God for His display of authority through Christ. Thank God for another opportunity to submit to His will.