By What Authority Are You Living?

By Mark D. Roberts

February 24, 2021

Scripture – Luke 20:1-2 (NRSV)

One day, as [Jesus] was teaching the people in the temple and telling the good news, the chief priests and the scribes came with the elders and said to him, “Tell us, by what authority are you doing these things? Who is it who gave you this authority?”


In Luke 20 some leaders asked Jesus a question, “By what authority are you doing these things?” Because Jesus knew the questioners were trying to trap him, he dodged their question. Yet, this question remains a probing one for us. How might you respond if someone were to ask, “By what authority are you living?”

Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.


Today’s Scripture passage is part of a remarkable story in Luke 20. It begins with Jesus teaching people in the temple, telling them the good news of God’s kingdom. While this was happening, Jesus was approached by several Jewish religious leaders who posed to him a question, “Tell us, by what authority are you doing these things?” (Luke 20:2).

Jesus could have answered this question in a straightforward way, saying something like “God” or “my Father in heaven.” But he discerned that his questioners weren’t really interested in his answer. They were trying to trap him. So he responded back to them with a question about the authority behind the ministry of John the Baptist. Jesus knew that he was putting the leaders in a bind. No matter how they answered his question, they would be in trouble with the people, since the people acknowledged John’s divine authority but the leaders did not. When they refused to answer Jesus, he returned the favor, refusing to tell them the source of his authority.

Meditating upon this passage, I’m curious about how we might answer the question once posed to Jesus. If somebody were to ask you, “By what authority are you living?” how might you respond?

We all live under a variety of authorities, of course. For example, I exist under the authority of my city (Pasadena), state (California), and country (United States). I function pastorally under the authority of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). In my job, I have been authorized by Fuller Seminary. I was hired by President Mark Labberton in 2015. Mark has delegated his authority over me to Kara Powell, the Chief of Fuller’s Leadership Formation Division. Both Kara and Mark are ultimately accountable to Fuller’s Board of Trustees, not to mention the Lord.

So, you could say that I do my job under the authority of Fuller Seminary. That’s true and I’m grateful for what Fuller has entrusted to me. But, in truth, I serve another authority, one that ranks higher even than Fuller’s president or trustees. The ultimate authority for my life is the triune God, the God who is made know through the Scriptures, the God who became incarnate in Jesus, the God who guides and empowers through the Holy Spirit. My heart’s desire is to do everything in life in a way that honors my primary authority, even as I seek also to be faithful to what Fuller expects of me.

Now, you might be tempted to think, “Of course you work for God, Mark, because you serve in a Christian ministry. But what about me? I work in a business or a studio or a school. I work for a CEO or a principal or my shareholders. I have a boss who is clear about their authority over me. How can I do my work under God’s authority?” I admit that there isn’t a simple answer to this question. Scripture tells us to submit to earthly authorities as they implement God’s righteousness (see Romans 13:1-7). Yet sometimes the different authorities in our lives demand divergent or apparently contradictory actions. As we acknowledge the complexity of having various authorities over us, I believe every one of us needs the clarity of knowing that God alone is our ultimate authority. God alone is King of kings and Lord of lords. God alone is to be obeyed no matter what.

This means that you can do your “ordinary” work, not just for your boss, but also for God. Suppose you’re selling shoes. You can think of your work in different ways. You can sell because that’s what your boss requires. You can sell because that’s what brings home a paycheck. And you can also sell as a way of serving people, caring for their needs. You can choose to treat your customers and colleagues with respect and kindness because that’s what your heavenly Boss expects of you. You can commit yourself to being a person of integrity at work because in so doing you are honoring God, offering your work as an act of worship.

In this season of Lent, let me encourage you to take time to reflect on how authority functions in your life. How would you respond if someone were to ask you, “By what authority are you living?”


See you if you can name the various authorities under which you live today.

In what ways do you experience God’s authority in your life?

If you work in a “secular” occupation, how do you understand what it means to do your work with God as your ultimate authority?

How might God’s authority impact the way you live in your family? In your community? In your church? In your civic engagement?


Think of something that will remind you of God’s authority over every aspect of your life. You might set a timer, or put a sticky note somewhere you can see it throughout the day; you name it. Do whatever will help you remember God’s authority for the next week. See what difference it makes in how you think, feel, and act.


Lord Jesus, of course you could have answered the question posed to you if you had wanted to. No doubt that your authority came from your Heavenly Father in a unique way. You made that abundantly clear in other contexts, when people were not trying to lure you into a trap.

Lord, as you know, I live under various authorities. But I believe that you are my ultimate authority, the one to whom I am ultimately accountable, the one whom I wish to honor with everything that I do. Sometimes, Lord, it’s hard to know what your authority means in my life, what it requires of me. So I ask you to teach me through your Word and Spirit.

Moreover, I ask that you help me to learn to live each moment under your authority, guided by your righteousness, and for your glory. If I were to be asked under what authority I live, may I truly say, “Under the authority of the triune God.” Amen.

P.S. from Mark

If you’re a pastor or organizational leader, you might want to recommend Life for Leaders to your people. This Bible-based devotional seeks to help followers of Jesus know the Lord more deeply and live out their faith more fully. Because of the generosity of our supporters, we are able to offer Life for Leaders without charge to all subscribers. Simply send folks to any daily devotion (see Subscribe button below) or to our Sign Up page.

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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Living Under the Power of God (Romans 13)

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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