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
(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.
- 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.
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!
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.
“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?