Every Christian wants to have the presence of God that produces a peaceful, orderly life for themselves and to be able to give that peace to others. Well, this is exactly how God has set things up to work. The problem is knowing how to connect to God so that this happens. The basic “recipe” for doing this is found in the Gospels. It is the foundation for spiritual authority in the life of a believer.
In Matthew Chapter 16, we see Jesus begin equipping the disciples for their role in leading the church after the resurrection. The setting is Caseara Philippi, a city full of false gods and pagan temples. Here, in front of all of these idols, Jesus asks the disciples who they believe he is. Peter’s answer sets everything in motion, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Knowing that Peter had heard from the Holy Spirit, Jesus is now ready to start developing them for their leadership roles.
“Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven,” (Matthew 16:17-19).
Have you ever had God reveal something to you only to have it take months or years to fully understand it? This is where Jesus starts with Peter. He tells Peter he will have the keys of the kingdom, which in simple terms, means he will be a leader and a teacher. Then the hidden gem is given: whatever you bind … shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose shall have been loosed in heaven.” Did you see it? This is all about hearing the Holy Spirit, something that had already begun in Peter but wasn’t yet mature.
Binding and loosing was a rabbinical saying about a teacher/leader’s authority in ancient Israel. But in Jesus’s church, the leader’s actions have already been decided in heaven. That is Peter’s first hint that he has to hear and understand what God is doing to act in God’s authority. Peter hasn’t learned this yet. So in the next three scenes in Matthew, Jesus teaches the disciples to hear God before acting, just like he does (John 5:19). This is the basis for Spirit-filled ministry.
Lesson 1: Jesus reveals that he will be killed and raised from the dead in Jerusalem. Peter doesn’t like this, so he tried to bind this without listening to God. This is from the flesh, not Spirit. So Jesus says in effect, “Peter! You weren’t listening! My interests come first, not yours! Listen to me!” (See Matthew 16:21-18.)
Lesson 2: You will not trust God for big things without being rooted in a deep, authentic understanding of who he is. Peter, James, and John see and feel the majesty of God when Jesus reveals his glory and speaks with Moses and Elijah in the Transfiguration. Now, the strong-willed Peter wants to loose something, so he blurts out in effect, “Let us build tabernacles and stay here!” This time the Father speaks, “Peter, you don’t get it! Jesus gives the orders, not you! Listen!” (Matthew 17:1-8).
Lesson 3: This lesson is one of the clearest definitions of spiritual authority in the Bible. Authority is not about what we say or decide to do. It’s about what God has decided to do. The words that have a deep impact on people’s lives come from God, not man. This time all twelve disciples get the lesson. They come down from the Transfiguration and find the remaining nine disciples unable to cast a demon out of a little boy. What they had done up to now was through God demonstrating his power. This was a beginner’s lesson. Now they needed to mature, to be in tune with him. Deeper results require a deeper heart connection. Jesus didn’t just cast out the demon; he knew the boy needed to be healed. The disciples had not discerned this because they had not asked God about what was going wrong.
After Jesus removed the demon and heals the boy, he reveals that the disciples’ faith was in the wrong thing, their own authority. Faith is defined in the Bible as following the revealed word of God (Romans 4:3, 10:17). Jesus says the problem was that they didn’t go and ask the Father what to do when they needed his revelation (Matthew 16:14-21, Mark 9:29). (Note: The word fasting is not in the earliest manuscripts of Matthew, Mark, or Luke in this story. This is an issue of prayer and dialogue with God, not fasting.)
Spiritual authority is based in hearing, with being in touch with God’s heart. There is no biblical teaching that God delegates spiritual authority into our hands and then leaves us to figure out how to use it. Every good thing in the kingdom comes “down from the Father” (James 1:17). If Jesus worked this way, hearing and following (John 5:17), who are we to think we can decree or act on our own?
I recently shared a story of seeing a woman healed of a significant childhood trauma that was partially responsible for a mental illness. The healing happened by doing nothing more than sharing what God put on my heart to tell her. This is how the kingdom is sown into the heart. It is how Satan is defeated, through the transformation of the heart that goes so deep that Satan has no more tools to work with. It is all predicated upon learning to hear. For “Lo, I am with you ALWAYS, even to the end of the age,” (Matthew 28:20).