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For us to understand the significance of our legal position in God’s kingdom, we must go all the way back to Adam. Before God created man, he said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground” (Gen. 1:26). Then after creating Adam and Eve, he said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28).
Adam ruled the earth and everything in it. God told him to subdue the earth, which literally meant he was to walk on it and use it as he saw fit. Adam had authority over all the earth. For the creatures in heaven, all activity surrounded God’s throne because he was the ruler. On earth, however, Adam was the ruler. This caused God and Adam to have a unique relationship because they had so much in common.
Psalm 8:4-5 gives us some interesting insight about Adam’s responsibility and his relationship with God: “what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor.” The word translated “care” literally means “go to,” as in to visit or attend to someone. Also, the phrase “angels” is the Hebrew word elohim, the plural form of “god.” These verses tell us that God, who is worthy to receive all glory and honor, made man a little lower than himself and crowned man with glory and honor. God, the ruler of all creation, visited Adam, ruler of the earth. They had much in common, so they could visit and “talk shop,” virtually as peers.
When Adam sinned, Satan received Adam’s authority. After that, Satan legally was the prince of the world. When Satan offered Jesus the world in exchange for his worship, he made a legitimate offer because the world was his to give. Adam not only lost his authority over the earth, he lost his glory and honor. Losing his glory may have been what caused him to be naked or notice that he was naked, as described in Genesis 3:10.
But there continues to be something in man’s nature that causes him to know he should have authority on earth. Sin has perverted that knowledge and causes him to want authority for his own benefit. In our present state, if we have power and authority, it is natural for us to use them for ourselves. We often become domineering or demanding and abuse our authority.
God’s concept of authority is service, rather than dominance. Humility and agape, the primary traits of godly character, cause us to consider the other person’s needs and be unconcerned about our own. Godly character causes us to use power and authority to serve others, not ourselves.
As we have seen, Adam had power and authority over the earth. The earth was his to use as he thought appropriate, because he was its ruler. Adam’s sin had profound significance for him and for his domain; all of creation has been subjected to frustration and decay as a result of Adam’s sin (see Rom. 8:20-22).
There is hope, however. “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!” (Rom. 5:17). One consequence of your salvation is the restoration of authority, which enables you to reign in life.
There has been a lot of teaching on the authority of the believer, and it is based on scriptural truth. But I think there is an important fact missing in the application of that teaching: that the purpose of the believer’s authority is to serve. Everything you do as a believer must be motivated by humility and agape, and that includes exercising your authority.
Spiritual authority in the hands of a carnal Christian is generally ineffective and sometimes even harmful. The carnal believer still focuses on himself and tries to use his authority for his own advantage, which renders his authority largely ineffective (see James 4:3). His attempted misuse of his authority produces only limited results, which can cause confusion and doubt. This may be harmful if it makes people wonder whether God’s Word is really true.
It is essential that you change the way you think if you are to use your authority effectively. To begin with, you will not even use your spiritual abilities until you are convinced you have them and can use them. Repenting, or changing the way you think, does not impart spiritual abilities; it releases them.
All authority other than God’s is delegated. Jesus gave his disciples authority to drive out demons and to cure every kind of disease and sickness; that is, he delegated his authority to them. When the centurion approached Jesus about his sick servant, he understood that authority is delegated, and Jesus commended him for his understanding (see Matt. 8:5-10). God gave you some of his authority by delegating it to you. You are to use it in his behalf, that is, in his name. You are to use it as he would: to do kingdom business.
Consider for a moment the keys you use to open the door to your home or to start your car. Keys are pretty ordinary and in today’s culture they are essential. Keys have specific purposes. For one, they permit access to something of value; if something were not of value, you probably would not lock it up. Second, access to something of value implies a certain amount of responsibility for the way you use it. Giving someone a key is a sign of trust, privilege and responsibility.
In Matthew 16:19, Jesus tells Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” Based on the universal significance of keys, we can conclude that Jesus was giving Peter access to the treasures of heaven. As mentioned earlier, giving someone a key clearly implies a certain amount of trust and responsibility.
In other Scriptures, Jesus said we were to store up treasures in heaven rather than on earth. To store up something means to save it up, store it away, to reserve it or even hoard it. I think this has two implications. First, it suggests we will receive rewards in heaven and should not expect them on earth. This is typically called delayed gratification because it means you are willing to wait for the benefits of your current efforts. If you were to go to college, for example, you might be willing to submit to several years of hard work with no pay, expecting your efforts to pay off in the future with a good job. That is a form of delayed gratification.
The Book of Revelation describes some of our future rewards as Christians. We will have the right to eat from the Tree of Life. The second death will not hurt us. We will receive some of the hidden manna. We will receive a white stone with a new name on it. We will receive the morning star. We will be dressed in white and made a pillar in God’s temple. And we will have the right to sit with Jesus on his throne. One of Jesus’ parables suggested one reward might be to rule cities. These are obviously future rewards and we could easily consider them treasures in heaven.
When Jesus spoke of storing up treasures in heaven, he may have been suggesting something else as well. He could have meant we can receive treasures now, but kingdom treasures rather than earthly ones. Let us pursue this concept a bit.
There are New Testament verses that refer to treasures or riches that do not fit the world’s definition of valuables. Paul said his goal was “that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:2-3). He refers to full riches of complete understanding, plus treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden in Jesus. That is, he considered certain knowledge, wisdom and understanding to be riches and treasure.
In another place, Paul wrote of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ, then described that knowledge as “treasure in jars of clay” (2 Cor. 4:6-7). The treasure he spoke of is the knowledge of God’s glory as perceived in Jesus.
What is the purpose of all this understanding, knowledge and wisdom? These are like the treasures of a skilled craftsman, the understanding, knowledge and wisdom that enable him to perform superior work. In the same way, the understanding, knowledge and wisdom we receive through Jesus and about Jesus enable us to be effective members of his kingdom, doing God’s work with great effectiveness and skill. We have this understanding because Jesus gave us the keys of the kingdom. The kingdom keys give us access to what is reserved for kingdom use.
The legal matters are complete. God has legally transferred you to his kingdom and adopted you as his child. He has authorized you to operate under the laws of his kingdom and use his resources to conduct his business in his behalf. You are his child and legal representative on earth.