Jesus & The Bible

Jesus is not the Bible. We do not bow down to the book on the table, as if it contains Jesus. However, we cannot find Jesus outside of the Bible. For humans, God has given us the Scriptures as the only way we know Jesus. Jesus is in Heaven and we can pray to Him there. But we cannot hear the voice of Christ outside of the Scriptures. We cannot know Christ’s character outside of what read in the Scriptures. How do we know the work in our lives is the Spirit of Christ and not the Devil? The Bible.  The Bible is where we find Jesus. There is no Jesus in church tradition unless He is the Jesus of the Bible. There is no Jesus in your heart unless He is the Jesus of the Bible. The preacher is not preaching Jesus unless he is preaching the Jesus of the Bible. When someone believes they can find Jesus outside of the Scriptures they have left the anchor of God’s Word for either a church tradition, whether written (Roman Catholic) or spoken (celebrity preacher) or some personal experience where they met or heard Jesus. If we seek to find and follow Christ outside of the Scriptures we have shifted the foundation for our worship of Christ and walk with Christ from the words of God to the words of men.

The Danger of Hearing God’s Word

God’s mercy is great, but it is not endless. In the life of a man, a church, a denomination, a community, or a country a place can be reached where even God’s mercy cannot be found.  II Chronicles 36:15-16 describes one such a circumstance: 

The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD rose against his people, until there was no remedy. 

God loved His people, Israel. He loved them enough to send them prophets and messengers. He loved them enough to send them messengers early and late or as the ESV says, “persistently.” He sent Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, Hosea, Amos, and others. They came and they preached and they preached and they preached. They risked death and ridicule to bring them God’s Word. Why? God loved His people.

But the people would not hear. They mocked, despised, and scoffed at the prophets. They killed them, ran them out of town, threw them into pits, ignored them, and laughed at them. They continued to worship idols, commit adultery with the nations, oppress the weak and poor, commit sexual immorality, and ignore God’s law……Until there was no remedy. Look at that sentence. Let it sink in. “Wait,” we say, “Isn’t God’s mercy always there for the taking whenever I need it?” No. There was a point of no return. There was a line where God’s wrath could no longer be stayed. His mercy did not just keep coming and coming. Eventually His mercy dried up. Then He sent the Babylonians and they besieged Israel, burned her, led her best men away as prisoners, left the land ravaged, and killed her women and children.

Whenever we hear the Word preached it is God’s mercy to us. He is being kind to all, but especially to the hard-hearted. He is saying, “Here is my Word one more time. Now repent and turn.” He is saying, “Don’t take advantage of my patience. Don’t wait. Turn and be saved.”  

Sitting under God’s Word week after week, month after month is only good if we are repenting and pushing on to greater obedience. Hearing God’s Word without seeing the holiness of God, our own depravity, the wonderful provision of Christ, and the need to be forgiven will lead to hearts of stone, eyes that glaze over when the Word is preached, and a life that is not conformed to Christ. Often the hardest hearts in the world are those who hear the Word of God over and over and yet do not repent.

God’s compassion can run dry. A man who sits under the preaching of God’s Word week after week, but does not turn and change will find himself crying out for help and it will not come (Proverbs 1:28-29).  A denomination that tolerates sin despite the prophets in her midst will find her gates battered and the sheep slaughtered.  A church that allows grievous sins in her midst to go without rebuke and without discipline will find Jesus striking her with sword of His mouth (Revelation 2:16). There comes a point where there is no remedy, where the only option left is judgment. This idea is echoed in Hebrews 6:1-8 and in James 1:21-27, as well as numerous other passages throughout God’s Word.

II Chronicles 36:15-16 is a warning for all of us who enter God’s house week after week. Hearing is not enough. We must pray that the Spirit will work through the Word to change us. We must strive for holiness and the death of sin in our lives (Romans 6:12). Where we fail we must confess our sins and throw ourselves upon the mercy of Christ. Where we grow in holiness we must give thanks to the One who has begun a good work in us (Philippians 1:6). Otherwise we will find ourselves looking for a remedy when there is none. And we will be cast out with those who mocked God’s messengers.

Similar Posts:
Are You Embarrassed? 
Two Types of Preaching
Questions on Repentance

Reading is Not Enough

Every year the elders at our church give a recommended Bible reading schedule that will get someone through the Scriptures in a year. Some of our congregation follow this schedule. Some follow another schedule. As a pastor I know that my congregation cannot grow without a regular steady diet of God’s Word.

But what about when people read God’s Word, but do not grow?  How can someone read the Bible day in and day out, often for years and not become more holy or not see significant spiritual growth? How can someone read the Bible daily, attend sermons weekly and be a spiritual infant? We all know people who have read God’s Word repeatedly and know it well, yet are still spiritually immature or are even drifting further and further from the faith. How does that happen?

There is no one size fits all when it comes to this. There are many reasons why someone reads the Bible and yet does not grow. However, having observed this pattern over the years there are a couple of reasons that consistently show up when this occurs.

Outside Authority
Reading the Bible only produces growth and maturity if the Bible is the absolute authority in one’s life. If there is another authority that trumps the Bible then reading it will produce change when it lines up with that other authority. The authority is what rules a person’s heart, not God’s Word. That authority can be tradition, family, friends, data, anti-naturalistic presuppositions, modernistic individual ideas, Netflix, pleasure, etc. This list is almost endless. Most of us think the Bible is our authority. But when we are confronted with an unpleasant truth from the pages of Scriptures we appeal to someone or something else that allows us to continue as we are. I am not encouraging a me and my Bible only mindset. We need other input. But all other input must be subordinated to the Word of God. We do not grow if there is an outside authority that often confirms our biases and allows us to read the Bible, but not really change.

Reading It for Others 
If I was to pinpoint one main reason why people read the Bible and yet do not grow it is this one. Too many people read the Bible for other people. They read it with the sins and problems of those around them in mind instead of their own. Reading is mainly about teaching others instead humbling ourselves. We prepare a meal for others, but refuse to eat it. Of course, this is a great failure of pastors and teachers. We study, but not for ourselves. We mine the riches of God’s Word, with an eye to the holiness of our people, but not to personal holiness. But it is also a problem among Christians who are not pastors or teachers. We read the Bible so we can teach our spouse or our children. We read it so we can evangelize. We read it so we can confront members of other denominations or confront members of our own churches. We read it to defend certain doctrines. None of this is inherently wrong. But it must not be first. First we should read for ourselves. What does the Lord want to teach me today? Where have I gone astray from his paths? Where has my zeal gotten weak? Has my love for Christ gone cold? Is there a specific sin the Lord is bringing to my attention that I need to repent of? Is there some part of His character he wants me to examine more closely? David uses the word “I” dozens of times in the Psalms. Why? David knew his walk with God was the priority. As we take those truths and apply them we will be fit to teach others with not just our words, but our lives.

Lack of Ongoing Practical Obedience
The Bible is not a magic pill we take to become more holy. To grow in Christ and holiness we must keep pressing. Too often we are like a 40 year old who was a star athlete in high school, but is now overweight and can barely run a 40 yard dash. He talks often his feats in high school not realizing that he has not grown since then. We too look back to previous greatness but are stuck in neutral, coasting through our Christian life. We keep up appearances, but there is no growth happening. One reason we can read and not grow is that we are not pressing forward. We read the Bible last year. We will read it again this year and gain next year. We look back with fondness on growth that occurred 5 years ago or 10 years ago. But we are no longer maturing. We don’t weep over our sins much.  We check the boxes, but do not examine our lives.  We don’t address our specific sins. We don’t cultivate those virtues we are weak in. Sin has taken root and we are too lazy to get in the dirt and pull it out. Holiness is too hard so we read the Bible and talk about the Bible, but don’t obey it. What is interesting about this problem is that when we work hard to grow the Bible comes alive to us. Passages that were dead leap to life.  We stop reciting the same verses over and over and find new ones. Books of the Bible that we thought were irrelevant but read because we had to now become more interesting.  Our eyes are opened to sins we did not see before. We come to love God more and people more. But this does not happen by remembering past battles we have won. It happens because we are still fighting, still on the front lines. It happens because we take God’s Word and push it into the corners of our lives. All the Bible reading in the world will not compensate for laziness in our walk with Christ.

I would encourage reading the Bible over and over again. It is our life. It tells us about our great God, the Son He sent, and the Spirit who now indwells us. It tells us about our sin and the remedy for it. It tells us about the world God made and how to relate to the people in it.  Read and read again. But reading is not enough.  If we don’t believe it is our absolute authority, don’t read it personally, and don’t constantly seek new ways to apply it to our lives we will find that we know the facts of the Bible well, well enough to convince others we are mature. But the reality is we are still spiritual infants.

The Supreme and Infallible Judge

Francis Turretin’s section on Scripture, his 2nd topic, is marvelous, wonderful, invigorating, and Biblical. I recommend it for all who are interested in the Protestant view of Scripture. The 20th question in the Topic is:

Whether the Scriptures (or God speaking in them) are the supreme and infallible judge of controversies and the interpreter of the Scriptures. Or whether the church or the Roman Pontiff is. We affirm the former and deny the latter against the papists. 

He then says:

This is a primary question and almost the only one on account of which all the other controversies about the Scriptures started. From no other cause is either that authority of Scriptures called in question by the papists or their integrity and purity attacked or their perspicuity and perfection argued against, than to prove the Scriptures cannot be the judge of controversies and the necessity of having recourse to the tribunal of the church. 

He then gives seven reasons why Scripture is the supreme and infallible judge.

First, “God in the Old and New Testaments absolutely and unconditionally sends us to this judge.”

Second, “The practice of Christ and his apostles confirms this for in controversies of faith they appeal to the Scriptures.”

Third:

A supreme and infallible judge is one who never errs in judgment, nor is he able to err; is uninfluenced by prejudice and from whom is no appeal. Now these requisites can be found neither in the church, nor councils, nor pope, for they can both err and often have erred most egregiously.

Fourth:

Man cannot be the infallible interpreter of the Scriptures and judge of controversies because he liable to error. Our faith cannot be placed in him, but upon God alone from whom depends the sense and meaning of the Scriptures and who is the best interpreter of his own words. 

Fifth:

If there was such a judge as the papists maintain: (a)  it is a wonder that the Lord never mentions this interpreter who is so essential; (b) that Paul in his epistles…does not inform them even by a single word of so great a privilege; (c) that Peter in his catholic epistles did not arrogate this as about to be transmitted to his successors, much less exercise it; (d) that the popes were neither able nor willing by that infallible authority to settle the various most important controversies which the Romish church cherished in her own bosom (i.e., between the Thomists and the Scotists, the Dominicans and the Jesuits, the Jesuits and Jansenists, etc.). 

Sixth:

The church cannot be regarded as the judge of controversies because she would be a judge in her own cause and the rule of herself.  For the chief controversy is about the power and infallibility of the church, when the very question is whether the church is the judge, or whether the church can err. 

Seventh, “the ancients here agree with us.” Turretin then goes on to quote church fathers who agree that the Scriptures are the final judge.

Here are a couple of other quotes from this section and the next, which is on what authority the church fathers should have in the church. All parentheses are his.

When we say that the Scriptures are the judge of controversies, we mean it in no other sense than that they are the source of divine right, and the most absolute rule of faith by which all controversies of faith can and should be certainly and perspicuously settled. 

The orthodox (although they hold the fathers in great estimation and think them very useful to a knowledge of the history of the ancient church, and our opinion on cardinal doctrines may agree with them) yet deny that their authority, whether as individuals or taken together, can be called authoritative in matter of faith and the interpretation of the Scriptures, so that by their judgment we must stand or fall. Their authority is only ecclesiastical and subordinate to the Scriptures and of no weight except so far as they with them. 

Therefore we gather that the fathers neither can nor ought to be regarded as judges in our controversies, but as witnesses who (by their wonderful consent) give testimony to the truth of Christianity and prove (by their silence or even by weighty reasons) the falsity of the doctrines introduced by the papists beyond and contrary to the Scriptures. Their writings must be respectfully received and read with profit. Yet at the same time they cannot have any other than our ecclesiastical and human authority (i.e., subordinate and dependent on the Scriptures. 

Bavinck on Scripture’s Clarity

“The doctrine of the perspicuity [clarity] of Holy Scripture has frequently been misunderstood and misrepresented, both by Protestants and Catholics. It does not mean that matters and subjects with which Scripture deals are not mysteries that far exceed the reach of the human intellect. Nor does it assert that Scripture is clear in all its parts, so that no scientific exegesis is needed, or that, also in its doctrine of salvation, Scripture is plain and clear to every person without distinction. It means only that the truth, the knowledge of which is necessary to everyone for salvation, though not spelled out with equal clarity on every page of Scripture, is nevertheless presented throughout all of Scripture in such a simple and intelligible form that a person concerned about the salvation  of his or her own soul can easily, by personal reading and study, learn to know the truth of Scripture without the assistance and guidance of the church and the priest.” 

(Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 1, p. 477)