The Believer's Authority
Binding and Loosing Spiritual Forces
by K. Neill Foster
©1995 Christian Publications Inc.
Used by permission
Authority might be called "the powerless power" because the one exercising it has no power in himself. The power of authority also varies. The local policeman has authority, as does the prime minister or president. Their powers, though, are not equal, nor necessarily of the same quality.
Now when we talk about the authority of the Christian believer, it must be said that he himself has no power. But the authority vested in him-and which is intended to flow through him - is omnipotence itself.
And if that doesn't keep you reading, nothing will!
In the Scripture's view of the world, authority levels are always evident. Creation itself demonstrates authority. The lion is the king of the beasts and everything else turns aside for him (Proverbs 30:30). That means that if a lion meets a dog on a path, the dog will turn aside. As would a cow, an elephant or an ostrich. Authority (and perhaps survival) makes it so.
Now if a cow meets a horse on the path, again one must turn aside. It will be the cow (unless she is angry!), and the authority structure in the animal world is the reason. If perchance a cat meets a dog on the trail, the cat will always turn aside, unless the dog is too tiny or the cat is angry! I do not think there would ever be a question about what would happen if a cat should meet a mouse on the trail. Either self-preservation or hunger would surely prevail!
Even among animals of the same kind there are levels of authority. When I was a boy we had a cow named Nancy. She was sloe-eyed, deceptively low slung, and indisputably the boss (or should I say belle?) of the barnyard. When new cows joined the herd, she battled them into submission. When the dogs threatened her calf (or any other cow's calf) she charged off to do the battle. She was the only cow I ever saw who had a personality and a conscience. And it was a sad, sad day when Nancy went to market.
But I learned some memorable lessons about authority from Nancy, and perhaps you will, too. I am persuaded that if we can see God's authority structure function in nature, we will find ourselves apt and ready to understand and experience the authority of the Christian believer.
Man has been given "dominion" or authority over the animal world (Genesis 1:26; Psalm 8:5-8). Again, because this world is sin-contaminated, there are exceptions, but man does have authority over the hungry lion if he cares to extend it.
A child may walk into a herd of cattle and though the child weighs no more than 40 pounds and the animals an average of 600 pounds each, the herd will divide to give way before that tiny human being. The reason is man has authority over animals.
The farmer in the middle of a field has authority over the angry bull charging him. But if he is not prepared to exert that authority, he had better climb the nearest tree!
The woman who is confronted with a tiny mouse in her living room has authority over the wee thing. But I am not sure she always is willing to get down off the furniture to exert it.
Still, God has given man authority over animals - the exceptions only prove the rule.
Men also exert authority over one another (Matthew 8:9-13). The centurion who talked with Jesus understood this. The mayor of the city, the chairman of the board, the president of the company, the husband of the home all have positions of authority, and we understand that well.
Without these basic authority structures there would be anarchy and chaos. We cannot even imagine an army without a structure of command.
And I hasten to add, if we can understand the function of human authority, we will easily grasp the principles of the believer' s authority.
Above the levels where human authority exists, there is a spiritual realm occupied by spiritual forces. There are spirit beings who, through the fall of man in Eden, have gained a place where they are able to dominate man. I doubt that an evil spirit could ever gain dominance over a man who had never sinned. Unfortunately, every man is a sinner and thus vulnerable.
Jesus (in Luke 13:11) confronted a spirit which had bound a woman for 18 years. The satanic power had somehow gained control over her and had held it for all those years. I am not suggesting she was necessarily victimized because of her own sin. But Adam's sin certainly was an antecedent to her bondage.
Paul confronted a spirit of divination which had gained control over a young girl. That spirit was dislodged in Jesus' name (Acts 16:16).
But those demonic spirits are themselves under authority. Satan is the head of a vast hierarchy of principalities, powers, rulers, and forces of spiritual wickedness in high places (Ephesians 6:12). How many levels there are in this system we do not know. But the Bible does speak of the Prince of Persia (Daniel 10); hence there may be satanic underlings who have specific authority over geographical areas of the world. We do know that Satan is neither omnipotent, omnipresent, nor omniscient. And because Satan has to "go about" his worldwide kingdom of darkness, his projects and activities must necessarily be carried out by subordinates or underlings.
In the last paragraph I introduced two additional authority levels which upon the testimony of Scripture do exist. Those who have with any frequency been involved in a ministry of deliverance and exorcism will verify what has been stated here. Studying the names and ranks of demons is an investigation which, though enlightening and real enough, tends to bring an unhealthy focus on Satan who is properly and significantly called the prince of this world. For that reason, we will not pause here.
The next level of authority may surprise you - it is that of the believer. If we diagram what we have been saying so far, it will appear something like this:
The moment a man believes in Jesus Christ he changes position in the diagram. Whether he feels it or not, he is above the enemy. This is represented by the arrow.
If there is one page Satan would like to tear out of the Bible, it is the one on which these words were written to early Christian believers: "And [God] hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:6). Colossians 2:10 further describes the believer's position: " And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power." And we must not forget the tremendous revelation of Colossians 2:15: "And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it."
Jesus Christ, through the power of His death and resurrection, asserted and now maintains this position of authority. For Satan, it is already" game over."
Now the delightful, awesome, even staggering truth is that the Christian believer, by virtue of his position in Jesus Christ, shares the Savior's total dominance and mastery over Satan. That is the reason why believers are the only ones who can confront the demonized and deliver them. "These signs shall follow them that believe; In my name they shall cast out devils" (Mark 16:17). And may I repeat, the believers are successful by virtue of their position in Jesus Christ and His authority which flows through them.
The tendency upon discovering the immense power in the believer's authority is often to be unduly fascinated by it. Certainly it is an awesome thing, and for that reason, I am sure, Jesus said, "Rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven"(Luke 10:20).
It needs also to be said that a deliverance ministry should never, never become an end in itself. Contemporary church history is strewn with the wreckage of good ministries which have been deflected into witch hunting and other hurtful emphases. The man who sets up a deliverance center and invites everyone to come to him with their demon problems will get far more than he bargains for. Deliverance is intended to follow, not lead, the preaching of the Word of God (Mark 16:20). A ministry which attaches any more than a peripheral interest to deliverance is a ministry which is threatened.
There are other avenues of Christian authority. I have met Christian brothers who are greatly blessed in praying for the sick. Invariably they understand that Christ's authority over disease has been extended to them (Matthew 10:1).
In addition, it is clear from Scripture that the ministry of leading new believers into the fullness of the Holy Spirit is one of authority. Simon the sorcerer may have had bad motives, but he did recognize that Peter and John had a ministry of authority (Acts 8:19, 9:17). Through the apostolic ministry of authority, the Samaritan believers were filled with the Holy Spirit.
However, the area upon which I would like to focus so far as the believer's authority is concerned is that of binding and loosing.
In Matthew 12:29 Jesus says, "How can one enter into a strong man's house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? And then he will spoil his house." From the context it is clear that Satan is the strong man. Thus the lines are drawn. For effective spiritual warfare, for victory over the enemy, we must first bind the strong man. Then we can spoil his house. All too often, attempts are made to brush by the strong man to get at the work of the Lord. And just about as often, we are frustrated.
Peter was one of the first who was given this authority, "And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:18-19).
For too long we have busied ourselves explaining why Peter did not have special authority. I think all this has been in reaction to the interpretation the Roman Catholics have given to this passage, making Peter the first pope and leader of the Church. Even before I understood what I do now, I was never satisfied with the traditional Protestant interpretations of this passage. My rule of interpretation for the Scriptures is this: If the literal sense makes common sense, seek no other sense. And, for the life of me, I cannot see why we should feel theologically threatened if we admit that Peter actually was given authority to bind and loose, to forbid and allow. That in no way is a declaration that Peter was a pope, nor that he was infallible.
Our fears and reactions are especially unnecessary because Jesus extended His authority of binding and loosing to all of His disciples. He said, "Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:18-20).
A careful reading of the Greek tense requires that verse 18 be understood this way: "Whatsoever you bind on earth is that which is already bound in heaven, and whatsoever you lose on earth is that which is already loosed in heaven." A friend puts it this way, "The believer does not exercise this authority according to his own reasons or whims; rather, by the Holy Spirit's leading, he is simply cooperating with the divine will in any matter."
We evangelicals vigorously claim the promises of verses 19 and 20. We believe that if two agree, it shall be done! We believe where two or three people are gathered together in Christ's name, He is there too.
By what logic, then, do we fail to believe that whatever we bind will be bound and whatever we loose will be loosed? Part of the reason for our failure is that we stagger at the thought. Is God really putting the throttle of omnipotence into our hands? In one sense, He is!
Binding and loosing are not indiscriminate any more than prayer is indiscriminate. They are aligned with heaven. Binding and loosing need to be controlled by the Holy Spirit as much as prayer.
Jesus said, "Whatsoever ye shall bind" (italics mine). You do it. Binding and loosing are not prayer. If you read this section and commence to pray, "O Lord, bind Satan," you have missed the whole lesson! The day is coming when the Lord will bind Satan and he will be cast into the abyss. But in the meantime believers must do the binding. If you believe, you do it! "I bind. I loose." These are the words of authority.
Binding and loosing need to be verbal, preferably out loud. And they need to be specific. Say exactly what you mean and mean what you say. I once was involved with a group of Christian workers in a case where no solution seemed possible until we were willing to loose what had been inadvertently bound and then re-bind it. It was a lesson, believe me, in the necessity of speaking specifically and exactly in binding and loosing.
I recall a dear Christian brother who heard me share this material. He had developed a prayer rut in which he regularly asked the Lord to bind Satan. I carefully and deliberately told the study group that binding and loosing were believers' prerogatives and responsibilities. I also said that if people continued to say, "O Lord, bind Satan," they would have missed the whole point of my teaching.
My brother listened carefully enough. So I wondered what his prayer would be like. If a prayer can be funny, his was, because he slipped in and out of his favorite prayer rut, he garbled his words, but he could not bring himself to seize the throttle that was available to him.
He had missed the whole lesson.
The policeman on a traffic stand does not pray, "O Lord, in the name of the city fathers, please stop this traffic." That is so absurd as to be ridiculous. But many Christians today are very much like such a policeman. They cannot bring themselves to just stop the traffic. They cannot bring themselves to believe that the throttle of authority is really in their own hands.
There are some biblical illustrations which lend additional insight here. In Mark 11:1-16 the colt had to be loosed for Jesus' use. Now Christ's supernatural power certainly was sufficient to bring that colt spontaneously to His side or even to create a colt for the job. Instead, He sent His disciples to do the loosing. There was the economy of the miraculous. The Savior did only what was necessary! He described the colt and its location. But He left something for the disciples to do. Loose the colt. And they did it.
Jesus also raised Lazarus from the dead, even after the process of decay had set in. But though He unleashed His resurrection power into Lazarus' corpse (John 11:39-48), there also was the economy of the miraculous. If Christ could raise the dead, He certainly could have snipped the grave clothes into a thousand pieces. But He chose not to do it. Lazarus had to shuffle forth and then the disciples had to loose him.
Spurgeon believed, and I heartily concur, that there are many like Lazarus in the church today. They are alive, but still hampered by grave clothes. They need to be loosed! Loosing them is a disciple's ministry.
In Luke 13:10-16, Jesus loosed a woman from a spirit of infirmity which had gripped her for 18 years. Paul and Silas were in prison, but through praise their bonds were loosed (Acts 16:26).
Isaiah, too, apparently sensed the necessity of loosing. He declared the loosing power of fasting (Isaiah 58:6).
I wish to conclude this booklet with some helpful illustrations, but I must first give a warning. If binding and loosing is a ministry directed against Satan, and I think it is, then extreme caution needs to be exercised. As Dr. Tozer once observed, "The devil knows more judo than you've ever heard of." We must remember that in disputing about Moses' body, even Michael, the archangel, did not dare bring a railing accusation against Satan (Jude 9). Any believer who is so foolish as to think he can taunt Satan will certainly get trouble - and lots of it. On the other hand, no believer sensing his absolute authority in Jesus Christ should ever fear the enemy.
On one occasion a friend of mine was ministering near the border of one of the southern states. A new bar was about to open across the state line. It was erected, finished and furnished - but not yet in use.
When my pastor friend learned of the situation, he sensed the bar was a threat to the work of the Holy Spirit in his area. So he and his wife, along with a young man, drove into the yard where the building was located. Sitting in their pickup truck, they joined hands and audibly in the name of Christ forbade the bar ever to open. And it didn't!
Whatever you bind, or forbid, including bars, will be bound. The key, of course, is to keep earth and heaven in tune, to be controlled by the Holy Spirit. Then what you " say," you will have. "Bind" and "loose" have the meanings of "forbid" and "allow."
A few years ago in the small town where we lived there was a farmers' strike or, more properly, a blockade, in which pickets took up positions to stop delivery of farm produce to the processing plants. Because our family owns a seed-processing plant we were involved. Some of the agitators were quite revolutionary and tempers flared. Violence threatened. The air in that small town seemed charged with hate and fear.
Finally, late one night, I came to a spiritual realization. The forces abroad in our town were evil. I lifted my hands toward the starry sky in my backyard and said something like this: "Lord, in the name of Jesus Christ I come against these forces and I break their power and bind them completely. And I loose the flow of seed into the plant." The very next day a judge in Calgary, Alberta, told the agitators their strike was illegal and their goals ridiculous. That very day seed began to flow into the plants.
A few days passed and we noticed that no seed was flowing into a plant our family owns in a nearby city. I had forgotten to include that plant in the loosing.. There was another prayer-and- loosing session and the seed began to flow there too. If you believe, as I do, that the invisible is more real than the visible, you will be inclined to agree that binding and loosing can be very practical indeed.
I limit my illustrations to three, but if you are spiritually perceptive you will see that binding and loosing can indeed apply to any - literally any - situation. Like the "whatsoever" Jesus used to teach about prayer, He used a "whatsoever" to teach about binding and loosing.
A few years ago, I was invited to a town in Montana. There the young pastor had been laboring faithfully. But one man, a backslider, had rejected the pastor's efforts. He was adamant. "I'll never go back into that church again," he vowed. The pastor understood binding and loosing because he had so persistently loosed the man from his backsliding. (There's a teaching tidbit right here - binding and loosing can be continual and repetitious.) He was so sure the man was going to return to his spiritual moorings that he had taken a 3x5 card and written a date plus words to the effect that the man in question was "loosed today."
All through the special meetings we prayed and loosed. We went to visit the backslider several times. But it seemed that each time we went, he was watching a football game on his television set. We were after the man's soul, but we couldn't get the TV off! Finally we came to the last day, a Sunday. The man was not there in the morning service and so after lunch I phoned him.
"Will you come to the service tonight?"
Later, as he milked cows he told his wife he was going to church. "But if those two preachers get on my back," he added, "I'll just bolt out of there."
The evening service came and the man strode into church. He listened to the gospel as if he had never heard it before. When the invitation was given he was the first to respond. Others followed him until the front pew of the church was filled with inquirers. We prayed with each one.
But when I came to speak to that backslidden brother, all I felt in my heart to say was simply, "Brother, in Jesus' name, I loose you. I loose you."
Immediately he said, "I take it. I take it."
When I looked into his eyes there seemed to be a lack of assurance, but his words were positive.
I let him return home without ministering to him further. But I was uneasy. He wasn't really clear in his eyes; he needed more help.
In prayer, the pastor and I kept on loosing our brother. I cannot recall if both of us went to his home once more or not, but at least one of us did.
The news was fabulous. "When I got home," he said, "I put on my pajamas and went into the living room to kneel down and pray. When I knelt down, all of a sudden, the Lord set me free. If God fills me any fuller it will blow a hole in my chest!"
He was a man who had been loosed. It seemed, indeed, that no other ministry had been effective. God help us not to stagger at any of His promises.
Now all this teaching is based on a basic theological fact: Jesus Christ is far above all principalities and powers. We are in Jesus Christ and seated with Him in heavenly places (Ephesians 1:20-22; 2:6). Each and every one of these tremendous spiritual weapons begins and ends in Jesus Christ.
To live and experience Jesus Christ is, among many other things, to exercise His power - to let it flow through us.
Some will be afraid. They do not believe it can really be true that such authority is committed to the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Like rookie policemen with uniforms, badges, and training, they stand quaking at the curb. They are sure if they have to stride out into the traffic and hold up their hands, nothing will happen.
But because of Jesus Christ the traffic will halt. If you call a halt to the forces of darkness they will - they must - obey.
Isn't it time we stepped off the curb and into the flow of life's traffic - out where the needs are? I think so.
Yield yourself completely to the Holy Spirit's control. Believe. Act. What happens will be awesome indeed!
This booklet is an excerpt from the book Warfare Weapons by K Neill Foster (Camp Hill, FA: Horizon Books, 1995)