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Reading the Bible to Be Transformed – Part 4

Allowing the Bible to Read Us

 

In the past few weeks we have dealt with:

  • The problem of Christian Transformation.
  • HSTP (Holy Spirit Truth Powered) Word of God
  • Knowledge Stool (Reason-Experience-Spiritual epistemologies)
  • The Price and Cost of Transformation.
  • The Biblical Method of Transformation.

 

Today we need an exhortation to further motivate us to assume the right posture (naked and exposed) before God’s HSTP word that we might allow it to read us – to transform us.

  • I think some of us still think there is another way – an easier way.

 

And to do that, I need to repeat the nature of the day-to-day condition of the believer.

  • My intent is to disavow you of any notion that fighting sin and seeking transformation outside of God’s HSTP word has any value at all – it is utter foolishness.
  • To do this, I will use some imagery from WWI and Jeremiah.

 

(Eschatologically, of course, believers will be fully sanctified and made complete when we are glorified with Christ.)

 

Transformed by What:

  • So, on a practical day-to-day basis, transformation is always occurring in our lives.

 

If we are not being transformed –

  • (1) By the HSTP Word of God into the likeness of Christ
    • Then
  • (2) We are being transformed by our flesh/world into the likeness of the world.

 

Consider what this means…

 

(1) Given that transformation –

  • “Implies being grasped, controlled and shaped” by something – M. Robert Mulholland.
  • And that if we are not being transformed by God’s HSTP word, we are being “grasped, controlled and shaped” by the world.

 

(2) This means that instead of God the Creator shaping the creature –

  • God’s fallen creation is shaping the creature.
  • Say What?
  • No possible good can come from this.
  • It is complete foolishness – the blind leading the blind.

 

There will be very little, if any, victory over sin and transformation into the likeness of Christ in this scenario.

  • This way of living is not going to produce a sin killing walk.
  • No matter how much we want to kill our sin (intent), this approach “ain’t gonna get it done”.

 

Elusive “Success”:

Now, from this stance in the world we can seek to fight sin and be transformed.

  • And I suspect this is how most of us fight sin.
    • The way Naaman wanted to be healed.
  • In fact, no doubt, this is probably because it is the easiest way.
    • Our waters are better than the Jordan’s.

 

The problem, however, is that its method of sin fighting is by “will power and check lists”.

  • It is artificial and short-lived.
  • The enemy is far too clever to be outwitted by our methods.

 

From this stance, the day isn’t spent in victory over sin, but in thinking about not sinning.

  • It doesn’t take long before we tire of this and give in.
  • No matter how much effort, preparation, and willpower we exert success remains elusive.

 

I can’t help but think of how A World Undone described many WW1 battles.

  • They portray the futility of fighting sin from a worldly footing.

 

Hindenburg Line:

The Germans on the Western Front created a virtually impenetrable defensive line called the Hindenburg Line.

 

G.J. Meyer describes it:

“The Hindenburg Line, as it took shape, proved far too formidable for the humble term trench warfare to remain appropriate. It began with a trench, but one that was to remain unoccupied. This trench was almost ten feet deep and twelve feet across— a trap for tanks, and an equally forbidding obstacle for men advancing on foot. Behind it, one after another, were five or more rows of barbed and razor wire, each row twelve feet deep and twice a man’s height, each twenty yards distant from the next. Then came the blockhouses, with two machine guns in each. Beyond them— dangerously far beyond, for enemy infantry trying to advance under fire— lay the first true line, a largely underground beehive of chambers and passageways covered with up to eight yards of earth and impregnable to artillery and bombs. Farther back still, also down below the  surface and positioned wherever possible on a reverse slope so as to be almost unreachable by artillery, were two lines of guns. This was defensive warfare raised to a new plane. It appeared to be invulnerable. It was the work of a commander of immense vision, energy, and ambition— a man prepared to bend the entire German Empire to his purposes” – G.J. Meyer.

 

The Entente (sin fighters for our purposes) prepared and strategized for months before attacking the line.

  • They built hundreds of miles of roads.
  • They laid thousands of miles of communication cables.
  • And then they attacked.
  • Their intention was to win.

 

They would first launch a massive artillery barrage – the numbers are mind-boggling.

  • They would then send wave after wave of calvary, tanks and men into the German lines.
  • The end result was almost always a complete massacre.

 

G.J. Meyer explains:

“The Germans simply pointed their machine guns at these knots of flesh and cut them down in swaths. ‘We were surprised to see them walking,’ said a German machine-gunner. ‘We had never seen that before… When we started to fire we just had to load and reload. They went down in their hundreds. We didn’t have to aim, we just fired into them’…‘again and again the extended lines of British infantry broke against the German defense like waves against a cliff, only to be beaten back’” – G.J. Meyer.

 

This is fighting sin and seeking transformation from a stance grounded in the world.

  • It is like attacking the Hindenburg Line on a horse with sword drawn.
  • It is suicide and leads to disillusionment.
  • In fact, French soldiers were so disillusioned by this warfare they mutinied.
  • Some “Christians” walk away from the Church.

 

Jeremiah’s Shrubs and Trees:

But lest we get too caught up in worldly illustration, Jeremiah paints a beautiful word picture of this principal at work.

  • I want to unpack his words just a bit.
  • The images he unleashes are incredibly powerful and are worth meditating on every day!

 

Jeremiah 17:5–8 (ESV) — 5 Thus says the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. 6 He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. 7 “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. 8 He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

 

1) Bush in the Desert – Attacking the Hindenburg Line:

Jeremiah speaks of a man who “is like a shrub in the desert”.

  • It doesn’t take much to visualize this scenario.
  • This man/bush is parched, dying, thirsting, dry, brittle, colorless, unsatisfied.

 

Jeremiah tells us how this dreadful state of existence occurred – how the man became a “shrub in the desert”.

  • “trusts in man”
  • “makes flesh his strength”
  • “heart turns away form the Lord”
  • “dwell in the parched places of wilderness”
  • “dwell in…an uninhabited salt land”

 

(1) The first three bring us right back to who is on the throne – us or Christ.

  • Are we going to attack the Hindenburg line our way or relent, submit, and posture ourselves to God’s way?
  • Are we going to rely on our will power and intent or the HSTP word of God?
  • For the believer, to do anything other is to turn “away from the Lord”.

 

(2) And the last two descriptions Jeremiah uses are ripe with symbolism.

  • The OT often contrasts the wilderness with the Promised Land.
    • The Promised Land representing God’s intent for the elect.
  • Moreover, the “wilderness”/“uninhabited salt land” also harken back to the land outside of the Garden of Eden (Sailhamer).
    • Unfettered fellowship with God.
    • Having God’s best.
  • And as we saw from Joshua, wilderness can carry with it the ANE idea of chaos.
    • Outside of the ordering influence of God.

 

So what is Jeremiah telling the Christian about living life under the shaping influence of the world?

 

2) Tree by the Water – HSTP Word of God:

Then Jeremiah speaks of a man who “is like a tree planted by water”.

  • “sends out its roots by the stream”
  • “does not fear when heat comes”
  • “leaves remain green”
  • “is not anxious in the year of drought”
  • “does not cease to bear fruit”

 

(1) It does no good to be near the water if one’s roots aren’t “sent out” to it.

  • So nearness isn’t enough – a root system must be grown.
  • Only coming to Church and Bible study is simply “being near the water”.

 

I think of Casting Crowns “Thrive” album cover art:

  • It conveys well the necessity of roots.

 

casting-crowns-thrive-album-art

 

For the believer, having roots goes back to the time and cost we talked about a couple week ago.

  • Things like going to Church, Bible Study, etc., are certainly part of cultivating a thriving root system.
  • But they are not enough.
  • One must also be submitting to the HSTP word of God in the profound ways we have been learning about.

 

(2) There is still heat and drought in spite of our Union with Christ.

  • But, contentment settles in regardless of the heat and drought (circumstances).
  • That is, when contentment’s source is God and His HSTP Word and not our efforts.

 

(3) And regardless of the circumstances, fruit is continually borne.

  • Direct evidence that one’s roots have been cultivated and are immersed in God’s HSTP word.

 

From this posture there is a real and lasting victory over sin.

  • The day is spent in praise and wonder that sin “x” has lost its power over you.
  • Your work in sin fighting bears fruit because it is not “will powered” but powered by the HSTP word.

 

But this posture is Isaiah’s “undone”.

  • It is the “naked and exposed”.
  • It is the “costly”.
  • But, it is the only way.

 

 

Reading the Bible to be Transformed – Part 1

Allowing the Bible to Read Us

 

Growing or Receding:

The believer is always in motion.

  • He is either growing in his likeness to Christ – renewing the mind, right thinking, sin fighting, contentment, loving one’s neighbor, speaking the Gospel, etc.
  • Or, he is receding from Christ in likeness to the world – self, self, self, me, me, and me.

 

Robert Mulholland says this:

“We are being shaped either toward the wholeness of the image of Christ or toward a horribly destructive caricature of that image” – M. Robert Mulholland, Jr.

 

A Christian’s life is to be characterized by the “growing” and not the “receding”.

  • Because of this, we need to realize a fundamental truth in the Christian life –
  • Foundational to “growing” in Christ and not “receding” into the world is…
    • The Holy Spirit Truth Powered Word of God – HSTP

 

HSTP://Word

(1) Holy Spirit Powered Word

 

Scripture speaks much of the connection between the Spirit and God’s word.

  • John 6:63 (ESV) — 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.
  • Ephesians 6:17 (ESV) — 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,
  • 1 Thessalonians 1:5a (ESV) — 5a because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.

 

Paul elaborates just how “Holy Spirit Powered” God’s word is:

  • 1 Corinthians 2:9–14 (ESV) — 9 But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— 10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. 14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

 

There are some profound truths in this passage.

  • Paul speaks about an entire body of knowledge – “the thoughts of God” – that is understood only through the Spirit of God.
  • And this body of knowledge was imparted “in words not taught by human wisdom”.

 

These words are contained in the Bible.

  • We need to consider the implications of this truth from God’s word about God’s word.

 

Knowledge Stool – Rabbit Trail:

In the World, knowledge of the world/truth comes from two epistemologies (usually working together).

  • (1) Empiricism – knowledge of the world/truth is apprehended by the senses – sight, touch, feel, smell, taste.
    • 5 degrees is cold.
    • An outhouse stinks.
    • Sandpaper is rough.
  • (2) Rationalism – knowledge of the world/truth is apprehended by reason and logic.
    • 2+2=4
    • I can’t be both physically in Utah and VA at the same time.
    • Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

 

But, Paul is telling us that these two aren’t enough – the stool is faulty; it will topple over.

  • There is a third leg on the stool only available to the Christian.
  • “The gospel, the wisdom of God, is beyond the reach of empiricism (“no eye has seen, no ear has heard”) and rationalism (“no mind has conceived”) – John Jefferson Davis.

“The things of physical sense are known by the physical senses; the things of logic and mathematics are known by logic and mathematics; but the things that are ontologically spirit (the mind of God, words of God, the content of the gospel) must be known by the Spirit (“God has revealed it to us by his Spirit” [vs. 10])” – John Jefferson Davis.

 

This is deep stuff.

  • Only the Christian can sit on the stool.
  • Only the Christian has access to every body of knowledge.
  • Only the Christian has access to the only body of knowledge that won’t pass away.
  • Only the Christian can know and be transformed by the “thoughts of God”.

 

Conversely, this means that there are “real” and “true” things that empiricism and rationalism cannot apprehend and know.

  • Access to these “real” and “true” things is “made possible by a uniquely Christian epistemology” – John Jefferson Davis.
    • A “logopneumatic” (Word and Spirit) epistemology – John Jefferson Davis.

 

(2) Truth Powered Word

  • Along with being a Holy Spirit powered word, God’s word is also Truth powered.
  • Jesus says so clearly in His high priestly prayer.
  • John 17:17 (ESV) — 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.

 

God’s word makes this connection over and over.

  • Psalm 119:160 (ESV) — 160 The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever.
  • Psalm 19:7–9 (ESV) — 7 The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; 8 the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; 9 the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.

 

Reason is Required – Rabbit Trail:

And yet, the HSTP Word must comprehended by the believer – it must be understood – to bring to bear all the power it has as the truth.

  • The necessity of the regenerated heart – stone to flesh – to engage with God’s word is heartily affirmed.
  • One’s heart must be inclined to receive and obey God’s word.
    • The heart and mind are intimately linked.
    • But, of course, even this truth can’t be known without engagement of the mind.

 

Yet, Scripture makes clear that the reasoning powers of the mind are part of the process.

  • Isaiah 1:18 (ESV) — 18 “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.
  • This text is literally saying, “let us debate our case in court” – TWOT.
  • This is, among many things, a call to understand what takes place in God’s law court with our sin.
    • Something that requires understanding and contemplation.

 

Scripture emphasizes this necessity:

  • 2 Peter 3:18 (ESV) — 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.
  • Genesis 3:1 (ESV) — 1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”
  • 2 Timothy 2:7 (ESV) — 7 Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
  • Proverbs 4:20 (ESV) — 20 My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings.
  • 2 Peter 3:15–16 (ESV) — 15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.

 

The Christian faith, then, is a “reasoned” faith.

  • Because it is truth, its power comes from apprehension of the truth.
  • Therefore, our “growing” in the likeness of Christ is “predicated on an accurate understanding of and response to such revelation” – Andreas Kostenberger.

 

This is easily demonstrated with a quick look at the ministry of Jesus.

  • John 6 shows thousands of people apparently immersed in the presence of Jesus.
  • They followed Him.
  • They ate with Him.
  • They learned from Him.
  • And, yet, they didn’t comprehend Him.
    • Again – heart and mind.
    • As a result, His Truth had no lasting power for them.
    • They were hungry the next day.

 

In fact, Jesus later quotes Isaiah to make this very point.

  • John 12:38–40 (ESV) — 38 so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” 39 Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, 40 “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.”
  • John 12:48 (ESV) — 48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.

 

So What:

Christ’s words in John 17:17 also tell us that God “sets us apart”, “sanctifies us”, “devotes us” to Himself through His HSTP word.

So, “In practical terms, no-one can be ‘sanctified’ or set apart for the Lord’s use without learning to think God’s thoughts after him, without learning to live in conformity with the ‘word’ he has graciously given” – D.A. Carson.

 

We are not sanctified by our thoughts.

  • We are not sanctified by our feelings.

 

We are only sanctified, set apart, and “growing” in our likeness to God by understanding, comprehending and grasping God’s HSTP word.

  • Isaiah 55:8 (ESV) — 8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
  • His thoughts and ways are found only in His HSTP Word.

 

The practical implication of God using His HSTP Word to “grow” us and set us apart for Himself is this:

  • “When we ask, ‘How can I obtain and keep…joy?’ or ‘How can I be holy?’…the answer is always, ‘Through a study of the Bible and the application of its truths to daily life” – James Boice.
  • There are no shortcuts!

 

The Problem:

We are depriving ourselves of joy and holiness – receding from Christ – by neglecting God’s HSTP Word.

  • We “engage in considerable religious activity” without much transformation – John Jefferson Davis.
  • Instead of being transformed more and more into the image of Christ and having victory over sin, we are being disappointed, tired out and left wanting more.

 

Many of us “take up the Bible and read its words, then walk away unchanged, uninspired, and uncertain” – Joel Green.

  • We read the Bible; we study the Bible; we have devotions; we hear sermons; we go to Bible study – but still…not much transformation.

 

Why?

“Most of us have woken too early, dressed in too little light, and found our blouse or shirt out of alignment: buttons in the wrong buttonholes. We did everything right, used good technique, placed each button carefully into and through the hole provided, but we started in the wrong place and therefore achieved an unwanted result” – Joel Green.

 

We are starting in the wrong place.

  • We think we are going about the Bible correctly.
  • But we are reading the Bible in the dark.

 

How do we know this is happening?

  • Sit down and have an honest talk with a believer.
  • “Why hasn’t God fixed me?”
  • “Why do I lack contentment?”
  • “Why don’t I love others?”
  • “Why am I still struggling with sin X?”
  • “I believe what Christ has done, but I don’t know what difference it has made for me”.
    • Except, “I am saved and going to heaven”.

 

The typical posture towards Scripture that accompanies these sentiments is –

  • We come to the Bible and mold it to our purposes.
  • We treat the text as a “meet my needs” dispenser.
  • “I feel like ‘x’ so I need to read ‘verse y’ to make me feel better”.
  • “Our general mode of reading is to perceive the text as an object ‘out there’ over which we have control” – M. Robert Mulholland, Jr.

 

We Need to Learn to Let the Bible Read Us:

The thing we are missing is this –

  • We may have learned to read the Bible, but we have not learned how to let it read us.
  • The Bible is not the only thing to be grasped and used, we are.
  • Lacking this in our Bible reading, “cannot sustain the people of God” – Joel Green.
  • We have to turn the lights on and reevaluate our view of God’s words.
  • It is time to get out of the dark.

 

Are we up for this reevaluation?

  • The Barna Group has discovered that most of us participate in a “cut-and-paste spirituality, embracing an unpredictable and contradictory body of beliefs, with feelings and emotions…more significant than” God’s word – John Jefferson Davis.
  • And a Biblical Literacy and Spiritual Growth Study showed that only one in ten evangelicals spend more than thirty minutes at a time in Scripture – John Jefferson Davis.
    • BTW – Time is not enough!

 

These dispositions toward God’s Word leave the Church with a big mess.

“People today are very much looking for religion to meet their needs. And this is not just in terms of internal feelings, but also peer approval and mystical coincidences. They expect God to give them happy feelings. They expect God to give them peer approval. They expect God to make every crazy unBiblical, unwise selfish plan they invent ‘work out’ by miracle. They feel very constrained by planning and moral boundaries, believing in a ‘God of love’ who is primarily concerned with their desires and feelings, not with rules and duties” – Wintery Knight.

 

Letting the Bible read us requires that we reevaluate our posture towards Scripture.

  • Are we “standing under” Scripture or “standing over” it? – Joel Green
  • Are we “ready to embrace the God to whom and the theological vision to which these writers bear witness?” – Joel Green.
  • Are we willing to sacrifice and give up what is required of us to allow the HSTP Word of God to transform us into the likeness of Christ?