Biblical Foundations 38: The Word of God 1
My friends, many times when we feel bad about ourselves, we try to then feel good about ourselves. E.g.: if someone says you are physically ugly, find someone else who will tell you that you are physically pretty/handsome! Or do things to yourself externally that will cause people to say you are physically pretty/handsome. But in both responses our focus is still on us—we are still technically being “self-ish”, focused on ourselves, when we feel bad.
Please read through the Psalms and see what those writers did when they felt bad, whether because of their sinfulness or the sinfulness of others—they described their souls as being in anguish and being downcast and then they immediately said, “But YOU, LORD, are good, holy, faithful, etc.” They tried to feel good about God, not themselves! They focused on God’s character, not themselves! Thus their focus was God-centered, not self-centered! Lord help us all to have God-confidence and a high Jesus-esteem, not self-esteem! That is the Biblical solution to our low self-esteem. 🙂
We are now going to spend some weeks looking at the Word of God, the Bible, Scripture, to see what it says about itself, to see the importance God reveals about His Word, the importance of Truth, the importance of doctrine.
Without realizing it, for the last 125-ish years in Europe and the U.S. there has been a steady move away from doctrine in Christian churches, a move away from the specifics of the Bible, and a move toward only a big-picture view of Scripture. We like to stay in the general ideas of the Bible—God is love, be kind to others—without getting into the specifics of what does that mean, how do we live that out, how do we determine what ISN’T Biblical love, what is/isn’t kindness, etc.?
Some say that we shouldn’t therefore focus much on doctrine, about Truth, about what to believe and what NOT to believe; just love people—that’s what Jesus did, they say. Love, not doctrine/correct beliefs, is Jesus’ focus.
But loved ones, in a world of short sound-bites where everything needs to be Tweetable and statements need to be 140 characters or less, such a statement seems wise, seems true, but let’s examine it more closely:
- Why is the New Testament so long, so specific in what to do and what not to do in various situations, if all we are supposed to do is love others in the general sense? God doesn’t needlessly repeat Himself; sometimes we pastors do 🙂 , but God doesn’t. The Bible is as long as it is because we need to know the specifics, not just the general, the Google-earth AND the Google-street. If you think the Old Testament is all about commands & God’s anger and the NT is all about feelings & God’s love, we’re not reading the same Bible: the NT has many commands, specific teachings for specific situations…and they aren’t suggestions by God—they are commands!
- Also, without doctrine, we can’t answer the fair and important follow-up questions to the idea that Jesus simply wants us to love others and be nice: what does it mean to love others? What do I do when loving others makes them mad? What do I do when I tell people about Jesus and the Cross and they call me a hater? What do I do when I read through the Bible and read things that God did that don’t seem loving, especially by cultural American standards? What do I do when I love others like Jesus and people start to get angry, the same way they got angry with Jesus when He loved them!?
The only way to answer those questions is with the Bible—with doctrine! In a confusing world where the adjectives “wicked” “sick” and “bad” are used to describe things that are noble, healthy and good, in a world where sin is celebrated and holiness is cursed, we need the Author of Life to define for us the terms/words of life.
Furthermore, while Jesus did say that we are to love others, that isn’t ALL He said. Hopefully we all agree that loving God is even more important than loving others—loving God with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength is the first commandment. Please remember what Jesus said about how we love Him: “If you love Me, you will obey My teaching” (John 14:23-24). Obeying Jesus’ teaching, His Word, His doctrine, is the way that we love Him! So we can’t say that Jesus doesn’t care about doctrine, correct beliefs, the specific teaching of the Bible—knowing and agreeing with and obeying the Bible is essential to loving God!
- In school, the teacher/professor doesn’t tell the class, “The goal this year is for you to learn stuff in general. Just read some books that teach you stuff in general and do a couple of assignments, or whatever you want, to show me that you are learning…something…anything. See you in a few months!”
- No! The teacher/professor gives specific lessons on specific topics and assigns specific projects to help you learn specifically and reach certain specific goals. Why do we think God would do the opposite?
While we will talk more about this in November, let’s not forget the Lord Jesus’ final commands to His followers in Matthew 28, His mission for them and us: He didn’t give a general instruction to go and be kind to people. He said specifically for them to, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Even today with a renewed emphasis on the Holy Spirit—which is right!—we often think that the Holy Spirit is somehow opposed to doctrine, that being filled with the Holy Spirit means we somehow graduate or move on from digging deeply into God’s Word and that then the Holy Spirit will give us such gut-feelings and intuitions that we won’t need the Bible much anymore. This couldn’t be further from the Truth…
John 16:12-13: “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.”
- More teaching! More doctrine! The rest of the New Testament needed to be written—the disciples had three years with Jesus face to face but there was so much more that they needed to know, more Truth to guide them and transform them and correct them and discipline them and encourage them and help them understand what is True from what is false! This was one of the Holy Spirit’s main roles—inspiring the rest of the New Testament. Now one of the Holy Spirit’s main roles is helping us to know and understand and agree with and obey the Bible’s teaching, the Bible’s doctrine—He continues to lead us into all Truth; not new Truth, but all of the Bible!! Oh how important this is, my friends, and how far we drift and float away off course when we only stay in the shallow/general end of the Bible…
- You don’t need a lifeguard when you are just dipping your toes into the 3 inch deep water of a zero-depth pool! Lifeguards are heavily stationed in the deeper sections of the pool—thatt’s where guidance and protection are needed. Thus the Holy Spirit leads us deeper into Scripture, not into the shallow ends and certainly not out of the pool of God’s Word!
Not only are doctrine & Truth essential to loving the LORD, doctrine and Truth and correct beliefs are also essential to truly loving others: Many just want to focus on doing actions of love instead of learning specific Truth from the Bible. Actions, not beliefs, are what matters, they say. But we forget that our beliefs directly influence our actions, we forget that the only way to truly do the acts of love that God has prepared for us is to be trained by the Truth of His Word—all of it (2 Timothy 3:10-17).
10 You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life,
[teaching—beliefs and doctrine!—and way of life—actions and deeds! They are related—you can’t have one without the other!]
my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, 11 persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. 12 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.
[Do you want to live a godly life IN Christ Jesus, or a culturally human life AROUND Jesus? Do you want the Lord Jesus to teach you a way of life that is hard, that involves carrying a cross and dying to yourself & your dreams each day, which will lead to earthly trials? Or do you want a general way of life, suggestions from Jesus instead of commands, a vacation instead of a vocation, an easier path that only involves some of the general teaching of the Bible?
Oh my friends, there are imposters and evildoers (see verse 13 above) who will try to deceive us with their actions and with their teaching, to trick God’s people into different definitions of love and different methods of loving. Do we believe this, or do we think that every book in a Christian bookstore is healthy, that every song or book or church that uses the words “love,” “God,” and “Jesus” all line up with God’s Word?]
14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned
[doesn’t say continue in how you feel/what you think is best/continue with your good intentions to merely be nice—continue in the Truth you have learned!]
and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
[All Scripture—ALL of God’s Word—is necessary to train us and teach us and correct us and discipline us and point out our wrong actions and wrong beliefs…WHY? To equip us for every good work, the good work of loving Jesus and loving others! We need doctrine, Truth, all of it, if we are to truly love others according to God’s definition of the word “love.”
- Like a malnourished child whose growth is stunted by poor nutrition and can only ride a small bike with training wheels, not able to truly go far distances. So our spiritual growth is stunted by not knowing and believing and submitting to and obeying & being nourished by the specific doctrines of the Bible—we never grow tall and strong to ride the big bikes across the big mountains and deep valleys of life!
Oh loved ones, we want specifics and not the general in so many other areas of lives—but with the most important thing—God & His Truth—we want the opposite!
- If you go to a restaurant, do you want the waiter/waitress to bring you food, or what you specifically ordered? If you have a food allergy, it would be dangerous for you to just have any food in general—you could die, the general food could kill you!
- If you go to the doctor or the hospital, do you just want a general vitamin or do you want something specific for your specific issue? If you need a shoulder replacement, you don’t want the doctor to just give you general health advice, “Eat well, get rest, drink water, and exercise for 30 mintues per day.” That is true and good and right, but that still won’t help you if you need a shoulder replacement! “But I can’t lift my arm, it hurts terribly!” “Well, we don’t do surgery here—that’s much too specific; some doctors might disagree with our diagnosis and technique. There’s a lot of different opinions out there and they’re all valid, so we just stick to the medical advice that all doctors agree on.” YIKES! You will be looking for another doctor fast!
- If you order something online, do you want specifically what you ordered or just anything in general from that store/website?
- Brides, do you want a general dress off the rack in a general size or a specific dress precisely tailored for you?
- Do you want your airline pilots to have a general idea of the principles of flight, or do you want them to specifically know what each button/switch in the cockpit does and rigorously follow their specific training for all situations?
Loved ones, if God only revealed general Truth in His Word, well that’s all we would teach! But then the Bible would be only a few pages long—“God is love, be nice, it will all work out in the end.” But God gets so specific in His Word for a reason! We have specific situations and specific problems and so He has specific answers and specific cures and guidance and specific teaching that we are to believe & obey.
Furthermore, this attack on doctrine, this divorcing of actions and beliefs, shouldn’t surprise us—it’s was the devil’s first strategy in the Garden of Eden. Remember back in the beginning in Genesis, the devil attacked God’s WORD to Adam & Eve: “Did God really say…?
And because Eve (and Adam!) didn’t remember God’s specific instruction, they fell into sin and so did the rest of humans (except for the Lord Jesus)! The original sin of Adam & Eve happened because they didn’t rely on doctrine–what God specifically said–and instead relied on a general/pragmatic approach to life, doing what they thought was best: “The fruit LOOKS pleasant, doing what we want/think is right will help us grow CLOSER to God, so it will work out in the end, it’s just a piece of fruit, not that big of a deal, He said we could eat from most of these trees (so this one is probably fine too), God should’ve put up an electric fence if this tree was so dangerous!!” Just as the devil’s strategy was in the Garden so long ago, it is also in the Church today.
Over the next few posts we will look at more passages of Scripture as it teaches us the importance of doctrine, of right beliefs. They matter, loved ones, because God says that they matter. Our beliefs directly influence our actions. May the Holy Spirit transform our beliefs to line up with the Bible so that our actions line up with the Bible.
Here are just three brief verses from the book of Job:
“Oh, that I might have my request,
that God would grant what I hope for,
9 that God would be willing to crush me,
to let loose his hand and cut off my life!
10 Then I would still have this consolation—
my joy in unrelenting pain—
that I had not denied the words of the Holy One.
What was Job’s “joy in unrelenting pain”? Not denying/turning away from any of God’s Word, no matter his suffering. Wow! Humbling. Agreement with and obedience to God’s Word was primary in Job’s mind even as he suffered.
May we long for the same from God—remaining in His Word to show that we really are His disciples (John 15:6-8).