Sunday Sermons

Sunday Sermons

The Final Authority


In spite of the fact that we live in the world when many people are ignoring what the Bible teaches, it’s still a world where many groups profess they are following the Bible. Yet saying that one is following the Bible or that the Bible is their only guide does not always equate to actually living up to this claim (James 1:22-25). “Most treaties on religious authority assert that God is the final authority in religion, but this bare assertion does not make its way. Unless the assertion is expressed in a more concrete fashion it becomes a mere platitude”(The Pattern of Religious Authority, Bernard Ramm, p. 18).

  • The Obvious Starting Place: God

To this day many people would not argue with the premise that God is the ultimate authority. While their conception of God might be off, or they may not always live up to this conviction, most would not argue with the claim that God is the final authority in the universe. The Bible presents God as personal, and being absolutely reliable (John 3:33), absolutely true (Titus 1:2), and absolutely loving (1 John 4:8). Jesus put it this way, “This is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the onlytrue God” (John 17:3). It is clear that no mere mortal has ever come close to being any one of these things. In addition, the Bible asserts that everyone answers to God and is judged by His standards (2 Corinthians 5:10; Acts 17:30; John 12:48).

  • One Extreme: Subjective Feelings

There are two extremes when it comes to authority. One extreme is subjectivism, where each man becomes His own authority, or, as the Book of Judges puts it, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:21), yet as Solomon put it, “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool” (Proverbs 28:22). If each man is his own authority, then there is no such thing as absolute authority or truth. This is seen in the observation that six billion final authorities and six billion truths make the whole idea of authority and truth meaningless. What we learn at this point is that authority in religion must be objective rather than some subjective opinion, feeling or experience. Just as a subjective wish or feeling cannot determine what is true in chemistry (science would cease to exist if such wishes became the final authority), in like manner, feelings are not the final authority in religion. In fact, seeing that religion deals with man’s relationship to God, salvation and eternal destiny, (subjects far more important and relevant than even science), authority in religion must be even more objective than any other fields.

  • Another Extreme: Religious Experiences

Religious experiences must not be allowed to trump Divine revelation, because not all religious experiences are valid. Religious experiences have included such things as child sacrifice and temple prostitution. The problem with putting one’s religious experience as the final authority is that one is putting it in the place of Divine Revelation, and if that is true, then all religious experiences are true. The dilemma that is often not faced by people who place their “experience” ahead of Scripture is that they do not grant the same right for others. Obviously, not all claimed experiences are valid nor should they be accepted. For example, the person who claims that their experience proves they were saved prior to baptism (Mark 16:16) often will not accept the salvation claim of the religious non-Christian. The Pentecostal who claims that God is speaking through him or his church often will not accept the claim of the Mormon who claims to have the same type of experience. The religious liberal who claims that all religions are just another path to God is equally faced with the dilemma of how to accept the religious experiences found among people in various world religions, yet reject the same type of religious experiences of people in groups which ardently teach that Jesus is the only way. If truth exists, then my experience (to be valid) must conform to that truth. For example, the Eunuch and the Jailer both rejoice after being baptized (Acts 8:39; 16:34), because baptism is for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). Therefore, making my own feelings or the feelings of others the final authority, is not only the end of authority, but the end of truth. It is man deciding to sit in a place that solely, and rightly so, belongs to God. It is rather arrogant to claim that my own subjective and fallible feelings, which can be easily swayed by some thing as simple as missing a single meal, can replace the wisdom of God.


  • Another Extreme: Authoritarianism

Sadly, some people when they hear the word “authoritarian” immediately think of the God presented in the Bible. God is the final authority (Romans 3:4), yet God is not “authoritarian”. Allow me to offer the following lines to evidence to make this point:

  1. God is not excessive with His authority, He does not abuse His power. He is not only the source of all truth, but of grace as well (John 1:17). God cannot be accused of being excessive with His authority seeing that He repeatedly offers forgiveness and undeserved second chances to those who violate principles that even the average, everyday person can see are wrong to transgress (Galatians 5:19).
  2. God does not force anyone to believe or obey, rather He persuades men through the gospel message (Romans 1:16).
  3. God’s word is not filled with arbitrary rules, the word of God is not only true, it is just. God’s authority is always mingled with His patience, love, mercy and justice. “When God appears stern in His action and causes His wrath to fall upon man, it is a wrath based on the veracity of the facts, and governed by impeccable justice” (Ramm, p. 22). Consider the following two passages on this point:

“And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things” (Romans 2:2); “If the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense” (Hebrews 2:2).

  • Jesus: “All Authority has been given unto Me” (Matthew 28:18)

“His word is to be accepted as authoritative because He is The Word(John 1:1) and because He is The truth (John 14:6), for being ‘The Truth’ He is an absolutely veracious person. His authority is not that He is a religious genius, but the Son. He is not the most sensitive of religious souls, but the Son. He is not the most perceptive of the prophets, but the Son. He is the Son and this is His authority, and this is the ground for His demand for absolute obedience” (Ramm, p. 47). This is an excellent observation, that is, we do not follow Jesus because He is some “religious genius”, “cutting edge popular thinker” or because He is “sooo... sensitive”. We follow Him because He is the Son of God and backed up that claim (Romans 1:4). Jesus finished the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) by saying “that the foolish man was the man who ignored His word, and the wise man was the man who kept His word (Matthew 7:24). To reject Him is to ask for doom, darkness, and judgment” (Ramm, p. 47). There are couple of things that we need to remember about Jesus. First, besides citing the Old Testament, the only other “authority” that He referenced was His own teaching, “But I say unto you…” (Matthew 19:9; Matthew 7:29). Frequently He would begin a sentence by saying, “Truly, truly”, and this is the same type of expression as the Old Testament phrase, “Thus says the Lord”. Secondly, in the Great Commission, He commanded that the entire world be exposed to the gospel message and that all converts are to be brought under the authority of His teachings (Matthew 28:20).

  • The Apostles: “I have sent them into the world” (John 17:18)

“The apostles were not merely classic examples of Christians, neither were they apostles because they were ‘first generation’ Christians, neither were they apostles because they were geniuses” (Ramm, p. 52). So, I am not compelled to obey the writings of Paul because he was clever, rather, I must submit to the writings of the apostles, because they were Jesus’ chosen representatives to the world, and their words are His words (1 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Corinthians 14:37). “The apostles are not corrupters of revelation but conveyors of revelation. Their word is not an intrusion upon revelation but part of the schema of revelation. They were not wedges and hindrances between Christ and Christians but links and bands” (Ramm, p. 52). What this means is:

  1. When Jesus delegated authority to them (Matthew 18:18), and when Jesus had the Holy Spirit inspire them to preach and write (Ephesians 3:3-4), there was no dilution of truth or authority.
  2. If there are differences in the words, grammar or style of one New Testament book from another, it is because the Holy Spirit has the ability to make use of the vocabulary and style of the various writers, yet none of this compromised God’s truth (1 Thessalonians 2:13). In fact, Paul would certainly be offended by the idea that the books that He wrote are filled with hispersonality. He often asserts that what he wrote were the commands of Christ (1 Corinthians 14:37), the words selected by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:4,13), and he was preaching Christ and not himself , “For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord” (2 Corinthians 4:5).
  • The New Testament: “What it really is, the Word of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:13)

The New Testament is all truth Jesus promised (John 16:13). It is the final revelation of God to man (Jude 3), it is complete (2 Peter 1:3; 2 Timothy 3:16-17), and understandable to all who read (Ephesians 3:4). It is just what one would expect if God did exist, and God did speak to man (Hebrews 1:1-2).