What We Believe: The Bible

What one believes drives what they do—that is an unavoidable fact of life.  We may not even be aware of all the beliefs that we have, but behind each of our actions there is a motivating belief.  This post is part of a series featuring foundational truths that Christians believe so that we can have those truths in the driver seat of our lives.  To that end, this post will have sections describing What We Believe—each with a corresponding description of What We Do. This is also available as a free digital booklet (PDF).

What we Believe: The Bible is From God

The Bible is revealed by God to humanity.

Humanity is wrecked by sin. Every part of us (our mind, desires, will, etc.) is corrupted by sin.  We all have the sinful tendency to go our own way and ignore God (Romans 1:18-21 and 3:10-12).  We would have no way of knowing better or figuring out for ourselves if it wasn’t for God graciously revealing Himself, His love, and His salvation to us in the Bible.  In God’s revealed message to humanity—the Bible—we receive direct knowledge about God, creation, humanity, salvation, the future, and so forth.  Personal experience and human reasoning cannot show us; in order for us to have right understanding of those things, it is necessary that God reveal it to us.

The Word of God is revealed by inspiration.

“The Bible…contains sixty-six books written by about forty human authors over nearly 2,000 years.  It has two main sections (Old Testament and New Testament) written in two main languages (Hebrew and Greek, respectively), and includes a mixture of types of literature.  Although the Bible contains a great variety of material, written by many human authors over a long period of time, it holds together as a unity.  Fundamentally, it is just one book written by one author with one main subject.  Christians should have no qualms about accepting that the Bible was written by people.  Its books were written by a variety of authors at different times in history and bear the marks of the personalities and eras that produced them.  But God ensured by his Spirit that everything they wrote was exactly what he wanted them to write.”[1]

 

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.  (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV)

 

For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.  (2 Peter 1:21 ESV)

 

God certainly used the experiences, personalities, and abilities of the human writers, but he directly communicated His message through them for our benefit.  2 Peter 1:21 points out how the Bible was produced by the direction of the Holy Spirit.  God is the ultimate author of the Bible.

The Bible is free from error.

“The Bible is a reflection of its Author. If it is inspired by God (2 Peter 1:21) and is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16-17), then it must be perfect. If not, we have a major problem with the character of God. The Bible itself claims to be perfect. ‘The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times’ (Psalm 12:6). ‘The law of the LORD is perfect’ (Psalm 19:7). ‘Every word of God is pure’ (Proverbs 30:5, KJV). These claims of purity and perfection are absolute statements. God’s Word is not mostly true or nearly perfect. The Bible doesn’t claim merely to be true in spiritual matters but not in other matters. No, the Bible argues for complete perfection.”[2]

The Bible is our final authority.

The Bible is an extension of God Himself.  To hear His combined words that make up the Bible is to hear Him. Obeying His words is obeying Him. Disregarding God’s Word is to ignore God. Our opinion of God is made evident by our opinion of His Word (see 2 Samuel 12:9-10 and John 14:23a).

Psalm 138:2b (ESV)

for you have exalted above all things

your name and your word.

On every topic where the Bible speaks, the Bible has the final say.  We are not to rely on feelings, tradition, or human experience.  For Christians, truth is ultimately measured by the Bible.

The Bible is permanent.

In Matthew 5:18, Jesus plainly stated that God’s inspiration of the Bible extends to even the smallest letter (iota) and the smallest mark (dot, literally like the dot on the “i”).  Jesus makes the point that because God has declared truth in the inspired Word, that everything said in his Word is to be heeded and will stand up to eternity.

For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota (jot), not a dot (tittle), will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (Matthew 5:18 ESV)

“An iota is something very small.  An iota is the smallest letter of the Greek alphabet. The expression “not one iota” comes from the Bible (Matthew 5:18).”[3]  Jesus made clear that God’s inspiration extends to every dot and letter of every written word He has revealed.

What we do:

›           Praise the Lord that even though we are blind sinners, he has graciously given us the light of His Word.

›           Because of inspiration, it might be helpful when reading the Bible to start with “the Holy Spirit says…”  Time spent in God’s Word is time spent listening to what God has said.

›           Realize that the Bible is authoritative for our lives.  As a result, we are to submit our lives to what it teaches.  We should not come to the Bible with our preconceived notions.  We should not read it looking for what we want to hear; we should read trying to understand what the author tried to communicate.

›           Because the Bible is free from error, we should care about what God is communicating in every aspect of Scripture.

›           Be humble when we read the Bible.  We should realize we need its message.  We should be eager to change when it challenges us.  We should accept that the Bible is a better guide for us than our feelings and desires.

›            Stand confidently in the truth of the Bible even when our culture is running the opposite direction.  The Word of the Lord is true; it is sure.

›           Realize that the Bible imposes obligations.  As God commands in the Bible, we are to do; when He gives information, we are to believe it; when He makes promises, we are to embrace them.

What we Believe: The Bible is Clear and it has a central, coherent message throughout

The message of the Bible is clear.

The Bible is clear enough that anyone who seriously reads it will understand its basic message.  The Bible can be interpreted at face value in a normal, literal sense. In giving us the Bible, God accommodated our weakness, speaking to us on our level.  His revealed Word isn’t in a language that only God understands; it is given to humanity in our languague and uses illustrations familiar to the human experience so that we can understand.  Further Deuteronomy 6:6-7, which instructs Israel on how to handle the Word, expects that everyone–not just the most educated priests–will understand His Word well enough to teach others.

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deuteronomy 6:6-7 ESV)

That doesn’t mean it is wrong to ask someone to help us understand the Bible.  That also doesn’t mean that every part of the Bible is equally clear. Additionally, not every believer is in the same place in our growth and maturity in Christ. God has graciously given teachers for His people (Ephesians 4:11ff). Someone who is more aware of the whole message of Scripture can help us understand a difficult passage.  Someone more familiar with the various literary types in the Bible (historical narrative, poetry, prophecy, letter, etc.) can show us how to interpret and get the most value out of those sections of the Bible. However, the gospel and instruction for Christian living is plain to all who read the Bible.

The Bible is clear, but that doesn’t mean that everyone understands it.

Humanity is limited.  We are broken by sin.  We have to work hard to understand some things.  We are prone to forget the things we have known.  When we don’t understand the Bible, it is a reflection of our own shortcoming—not an inadequacy in the Bible.

And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.  (Luke 24:25-27 ESV)

Jesus assumes that the two disciples on the road to Emmaus understood the Old Testament’s basic teaching of Christ’s death and resurrection.  The problem is that they are slow to believe what is so plainly understood in Scripture.  “Never, ever do you hear Jesus say this, ‘Oh, I understand how your problem arose, the Scriptures aren’t clear on that subject.’ He never says that. Instead, whether he’s talking to Jewish scholars or untrained rabble crowds, he always assumes that the blame for not understanding any teaching of Scripture is not to be placed on the Scripture, but on the ones who fail to understand. Every time. Again and again he says this, ‘Have you not read? Have you not read? Have you never read in the Scriptures?’ Or, ‘You are wrong because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God,’ Matthew 22. The problem is not with the Scripture, but with you. It’s all there.”[4]

So, at times someone will encounter a passage of Scripture that is difficult to understand or interpret.  But, sometimes a passage that is otherwise easy to understand becomes difficult to understand simply because of unbelief.

For the Christian, we have the benefit of the indwelling Holy Spirit working to give us understanding of the Bible and applying it to our hearts.

“For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.  (1 Corinthians 2:16 ESV)

“Our inability to understand, our inability to grasp, our inability to know is overcome by redemption. We now have the mind of Christ. We now are taught by the spirit as we read. We now understand the connection between spiritual thoughts and spiritual words. The spiritual man appraises all things.”[5]

God is the single ultimate author of the Bible; it is a coherent book of books with a central message all throughout.

The Bible is sixty-six books written over nearly 2,000 years by about forty human writers.  Yet it focuses on the central message of what God has done to have a relationship with us. “It is God’s Word: he is the ultimate author. The Bible obviously covers a great deal of ground.  But there is one supreme subject that binds it all together: Jesus Christ and the salvation God offers through him.  That is true not just of the New Testament but of the Old as well.  Jesus, speaking of the Old Testament, said, ‘These are the Scriptures that testify about me’ (John 5:39)… Many Christians have an idea that God decided to send Jesus to earth only after his first plan failed; his original idea (Plan A) was to give people an opportunity to become his people by obeying his law.  But they failed, so he scratched his head and came up with another idea (Plan B): to save people by grace through the death of Jesus.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  God had always planned to send Jesus.  The whole Bible points to him from beginning to end.  In the Old Testament, God points forward to him and promises his coming in the future.  In the New Testament, God proclaims him to be the one who fulfills all those promises.”[6]

What we do:

›           Trust that when you make an effort to read and understand the Bible that it will be a fruitful experience.

›           Use Scripture to interpret Scripture.  God’s revelation has amazing unity.  A passage in the Bible about our duty as neighbors can be better interpreted and understood when looking at other passages about what it means to be a neighbor.

›           The Bible is clear, but that “does not mean that we are to stop using our minds to better understand or interpret Scripture.  We are commanded to study the Word (2 Timothy 2:15).  Those who search it out are commended (Psalm 1:1-2; Acts 17:11).  Also, we recognize that there are difficult passages in the Bible, as well as sincere disagreements over interpretation. Our goal is to approach Scripture reverently and prayerfully.  When we find something we don’t understand, we seek an answer from God through prayer and research.  We turn to the Author for a deeper understanding of His perfect Word.”[7]

›           “The fact that the Bible is one book should have big implications for the way we read it. … With the exception of some of the Proverbs, the Bible does not contain isolated sayings (we should read it in context).  I should be wary about dipping into it at random and extracting individual verses without any regard for their context.  I am almost bound to misunderstand the Bible if I read it that way.  Each verse needs to be understood in the context of the chapter in which it appears, and each chapter in light of the book as a whole.  And there is a wider context we must consider as well:  the whole Bible.”

What we believe: God’s Word is powerful and effective

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17 ESV)

“Picture in your mind some church you have known.  Now, just for a moment, take away the programs.  Take away the children’s nursery.  Take away the parking lot and the musical instruments and the bulletins.  Take away the building.  Take away everything but the people of the church itself.  Imagine all these members of the church standing together in a field.  If you like, you can imagine it’s a sunny day and nobody’s getting wet.  Make the field as nice and flowery as you like.  The point is this, all you have are the people.  Once you have this church in your head, ask the question: What do we need to grow this church in both numbers and spiritual depth?  Do we need the building back?  Or the musical instruments or the bulletins?  What must we have? … What’s absolutely necessary for life and growth?  Answer: God’s Word working through God’s Spirit.  Somebody has to pick up a Bible and read it.  And someone has to explain it so that people will understand it.  When this happens, the Spirit begins to work upon people’s hearts, causing them to believe the words and give a proper weight to them.  The people then repeat the words in their songs and prayers.  They discover, most remarkably, that they can speak to God as guided by these biblical words.  They also repeat the words of God to one another throughout the week.  They help each other discern His will for their lives.  Their lives begin to be shaped by the words, so that they begin to live differently at work and at home.  They discover these words are life-giving, hope-giving, and love-producing.”[8]

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven

and do not return there but water the earth,

making it bring forth and sprout,

giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;

it shall not return to me empty,

but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,

and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

(Isaiah 55:10-11 ESV)

God’s Word is not like our word.  We are all too familiar with the possibility that someone would speak to us in lies.  Even as we desire to speak truthfully, we find that folks sometimes don’t understand us, we don’t come across like we intend to…our words aren’t always effective.  Not so with God.  His Word is powerful.  It produces the intended effect.  God’s Word applied by the Holy Spirit doesn’t fall short; it succeeds.  It hardens, it softens, it produces worship, it fosters obedience, it changes priorities, it communicates the gospel, and it grows believers.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  (Hebrews 4:12 ESV)

What we do:

›           Rely on the Word applied by the Holy Spirit to change us, bring about growth, and save the lost.

›           Realize that anything the church does around the Word (preaching, teaching, congregational reading, etc.) is a top priority ministry of the church.  At home, we should also invest in understanding Scripture and applying it to our lives and we should take care to share it and teach it to our children, family, and friends.

›           In order to make a meaingful Great Commission impact, we must confindently share truth from the Bible to a culture that is increasingly hostile the message of Christianity.

What we believe: The Bible is enough

The Bible is the only guide we really need.

The Bible is authoritative and true.  But is it enough?

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.  (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV, emphasis added)

If Scripture completes the believer and equips us for every good work, what other information or guidance is necessary?  God’s answer in the Bible is,  “none.”  It would be a serious mistake to overlook how 2 Timothy 3:16-17 speaks to every important matter of thought and life: teaching (how we should think), reproof (confronting bad thinking), correction (confronting wrong acts), training in righteousness (how to act correctly). All of life falls under one of these categories.

The Bible tells us everything that matters about everything that matters. If something is important, God has given us all the information we need about that topic in the Bible.  If something truly matters, God speaks to it in truth to all people for all time.  That is not to say that the Bible tells us everything about everything.  The Bible doesn’t teach us about how to be good at trim carpentry.  His revealed Word tells us everything we need to know Him, grow in Him, and serve in His Kingdom.

However, we have so many questions about how to use our time, how to live, and how to navigate relationships.  Scripture doesn’t tell us everything we may want to know.  How many hours a week should I work?  Should I watch this TV show?  Should my children have a smartphone?  Should I restrict their internet access on that smartphone?  We need guidance.  The questions could be endless.  How does the Bible tell us what we truly need to know in all these instances?  Let’s propose four categories of thinking through guidance from the Bible:

  1. Plain commands from Scripture: This is the easiest category to recognize. These are statements requiring obedience to specific commands.  Do not murder.  Do not steal.  Do not lie.  Love God.  Love one another.
  2. Principles from Scripture: Guidance for a wide range of behavior without specifying specific actions. An example of a guiding principle would be found in Mark 7:11-13.

But you say, “If a man tells his father or his mother, ‘Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban’” (that is, given to God)—then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.  (Mark 7:11-13 ESV)

The principle here is that using phony piety to get out of something that you should do is wrong.  As non-Jews in America this won’t make any sense if we try to claim “Corban!” in place our duty—but we can apply the principle to a wide range of situations.  Don’t use phony piety to get out of an obligation.

  1. Matters of Christian wisdom: For obvious reasons, the Bible doesn’t talk about cars, much less how to go about buying them. The Bible doesn’t talk about whether a person should go to college or get a job, when they should have children, and so on.  Let’s take the car buying scenario as an example:  God doesn’t care if we get a Ford or a Chevy, a black car or a red truck or a green van.  How can we know that?  We know that because there is no part of Scripture that identifies those as important factors.  However, we know that the Bible demonstrates God’s concern for whether we are proud or humble, whether we serve others, whether we are cheerful and generous givers, whether we are burdened with too much debt, whether we can live up to our word (financially or otherwise).  We have to take all those points into consideration when making decisions as Christians.  We have the freedom to make wise and unwise decisions—and to live with the results of our decisions.
  2. Unimportant decisions: These things we can feel free to just decide. They aren’t in the Bible because these things simply don’t really matter.  What color pants should I wear today?  What should I eat for breakfast?  Should I write my checks with a blue pen or a black pen?

Aside from category #4 there is not a single situation in life that cannot be addressed by Scripture.  And, it is true that a good number of technological advancements and geographical changes (among other things) have occurred since the whole of the Bible was given to humanity.  But the human heart and the human condition has not changed since Genesis 3.  The Creator of the universe, Designer of the human heart, and Author of the Bible is able to guide us for all time.  For example, the Bible speaks clearly about how we should and should not use the Internet.

The Bible is a finished work; it is complete.

The foundation for the Church is already laid.  We do not need it to be laid again.  We don’t need new revelations.  We don’t need dreams and visions.  We don’t need a committee of prophets to give us new details about Jesus, the gospel, and how we should live.  Additionally, the Bible indicates that what we have revealed to us in the New Testament—God-inspired teaching from the apostles that were taught by Jesus personally—is complete.

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.  (Jude 1:3 ESV, emphasis added)

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book.  (Revelation 22:18 ESV)

The Bible starts out with Genesis to describe the very beginning of humanity and ends by describing the final, future Kingdom of God in Revelation. Roughly three quarters of the Book of Revelation details the end of this present earthly human experience.  Although Revelation 22:18 only directly applies to the book of Revelation, the implied point is unavoidable:  the very book that details yet-to-come end-time events and Heaven has this prohibition against adding prophecy.  It indicates that the Bible was complete at the time of Revelation’s writing.  Everything in between Genesis 1:1 and Revelation is for our benefit as God’s people.  It is complete; it is everything we need to be saved in Christ and to follow him.

What we do:

›           Make every effort to understand and apply the Bible to your life.  It tells us everything we need to know Him, be reconciled to Him, and serve Him.

›           Do not rebel against God’s Word; but also, do not fall into legalism the error of legalism by adding to His Word.

›           We shouldn’t expect and don’t need a new word or revelation from God to faithfully and fruitfully live life.  If we feel that the Spirit is leading or prompting us to something, then any such thing should be compared to Scripture.  If it goes against the Bible it should be rejected.  If it doesn’t, we have to ask why a “new” word is necessary if it describes truth already in the Bible.

›           Rely on guidance from the Bible for how the church should govern itself, appoint leaders/teachers, conduct worship services, minister to youth, care for the poor, etc.  “God created the local church. The local church was not a human invention. The disciples did not sit around after Christ’s ascension and brainstorm the local church into existence.”[9]


Footnotes:

  1. Vaughan Roberts, God’s Big Picture, InterVarsity Press, 2002, selections from pp 14ff
  2. www.compellingtruth.org/biblical-inerrancy­
  3. http://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/iota
  4. John MacArthur, Reasons to Trust the Clarity of Scripture, May 28, 2006
  5. Ibid.
  6. Vaughan Roberts, God’s Big Picture, InterVarsity Press, 2002, selections from pp 14-18, emphasis added.
  7. www.compellingtruth.org/biblical-inerrancy
  8. Jonathan Leeman, Reverberation: How God’s Word Brings Light, Freedom, and Action to His People, Moody Publishers, 2011, pp 19-20
  9. Rob Rienow, Reclaiming the Sufficiency of Scripture, Randall House Publications, 201

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