“Sanctify them by the Truth; Your Word is Truth” (John 17:17 NIV).
Things do not change suddenly, until they do. Growing up becomes growing older. Only God can say, “I the Lord do not change” (Malachi 3:6 NIV). For many things, what was once a necessity to know is no longer so. Surviving, coping, and prospering may no longer require navigating by the stars, reading the signs for a trail, or starting a fire without matches, but navigating the internet, responding to an email or text, purchasing online, or remembering where you filed something on your laptop may now be just as crucial. And, before I forget, I’d like to share with you.
Seven Basic Concepts About Scripture
First, the Word of God is Truth. Jesus, who is the Eternal Logos (John 1:1), interceded on our behalf directly before He was betrayed to be crucified. His concern was for our welfare, even when faced with unimaginable pain and suffering on the Cross. He prayed for our sanctification, which is the ongoing process of making us like Him. “Sanctify them by the Truth; Your Word is Truth” (John 17:17 NIV). He was crystal clear on what was Truth, for He had only recently declared, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6 NIV). His self-awareness gives us the insight of where we are to find all the important questions of life (Jesus is “the Way”), what the certainty of anything is (Jesus is “the Truth”), and how we are to conduct ourselves (Jesus is “the Life”). In fact, through Christ’s sacrifice, His Spirit, and His Word, “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness” (2Peter 1:3 NIV).
Second, Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit. Paul was discipling his son-in-the-faith Timothy on how to treat the Word of God. “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” (2Timothy 3:16-17 NIV). The uniqueness of Scripture is God breathed it from His very mouth. Not paper, ink, or electronic files, but the essence of Scripture comes from God. Our English word for inspire comes from the Latin, inspīrāre, to breathe upon or into. Scripture is not a physical, dead book, but a living thing. We do not venerate the Bible, like an idol to be worshipped, but we give it the respect it is due. A story is told of an older sister, who was asked by a liberal minister, if she believed in the inspiration of the Bible. That she did, she replied. Both the Old and New Testaments? Aye, she did, and the covers, too, because it kept the book clean! “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God” (1Peter 1:23 NIV).
Third, Scripture is infallible and does not contradict itself. Jesus, whose “name is the Word of God” (Revelation 19:13 NIV), because He is the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 NIV), He is infallible and does not contradict Himself. No one but God can rightly make that claim. This is the foundation of Historic Protestantism. Jesus masterfully answered His Jewish opponents that if the OT Law said, “You are gods” (Psalm 82:6 NIV), when speaking to “mere mortals” (82:7), and since “Scripture cannot be set aside [Greek, luthēnai, be broken]” (John 10:35 NIV), “Why then do you accuse Me of blasphemy because I said, I am God’s Son?” (10:36 NIV). Scripture is not arbitrary. It cannot prove opposite positions at the same time. One or the other, but not both. Man attempting to outwit God and catch Him in an inconsistency is not only impossible but utterly foolish! Whenever NT Scripture references the fulfilment of an OT prophetic passage, it is a demonstration of the consistency and infallibility of Scripture. Similarly, whenever Scripture references any subject, it is infallible, unless it is only accurately restating a misunderstanding of man or lie of Satan. “You will not certainly die, the serpent said to the woman” (Genesis 3:4 NIV). Jesus Christ is the Ancient of Days (Daniel 7:9,13,22), who will come the Second Time and render infallible judgment upon the earth, since the Father has given Christ the “authority to judge because He is the Son of Man” (John 5:27 NIV). The Word of God can be safely trusted, since it is infallible and without contradiction. “The name of the Lord [Word of God] is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe” (Proverbs 18:10 NIV).
Fourth, Scripture was canonized or agreed upon by both Israel (the OT), then the Church (the NT). Between 300-200 BC the prophets were added to the OT canon, which is the Hebrew Bible or Masoretic text. The same 39 books we identify as our present OT, were also the only books held sacred by the Jews, according to Josephus (37-100 AD). In both the OT and NT, the agreement or corroboration of two or more witnesses was necessary to establish the authenticity of any testimony. “One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses” (Deuteronomy 19:15 NIV). “Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses” (2Corinthians 13:1 NIV). Most Christians in the Early Church were in agreement about the 27 books of the NT canon by the middle of the second century AD. “And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe” (1Thessalonians 2:13 NIV). The assurance of God that His Scripture will endure was given by Christ in the lesson about the Fig Tree generation. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away” (Matthew 24:35 NIV). Christ vilified those Jews, who attacked the integrity of the OT canon with their false traditions. “Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that” (Mark 7:13 NIV). Nearly the last words of the NT canon ends with a stern warning: “18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. 19 And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll” (Revelation 22:18-19 NIV).
Fifth, Scripture must be preserved for it to be used by humankind. If Scripture is not divinely preserved, man may be affected by Scripture, but it will not be available to be employed to any practical end. “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever” (Isaiah 40:8 NIV). Unquestionably, God’s Word “is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens” (Psalm 119:89 NIV), but Jehovah commissioned OT Israel to be “entrusted with the very words [Greek, logion, oracles] of God” (Romans 3:2 NIV). Historically, Levitical copyists have faithfully preserved the Hebrew Old Testament, which can be found in the Ben Chayim or Bomberg Text of the Rabbinic Old Testament. The attention to the smallest “jot” (Hebrew letter) and “tittle” (Hebrew pen stroke) were said by Christ, “Until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18 NIV). Preservation of Scripture is not merely mechanical, but inscripturated upon the heart. “You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone” (2Corinthians 3:2 NIV). It makes sense that God would use His people to preserve His Word. “As for Me, this is My covenant with them, says the Lord. My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you, and My words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips, on the lips of your children and on the lips of their descendants — from this time on and forever, says the Lord” (Isaiah 59:21 NIV). It also makes sense that Satan would attempt to destroy the Scriptures by neutralizing or exterminating Christians. “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1Peter 5:8 NIV).
Sixth, Scripture must be taught and interpreted by the Spirit of God. In both the OT and NT, God is supposed to be our teacher. “Teach me to do Your will, for You are my God; may Your good Spirit lead me on level ground” (Psalm 143:10 NIV). In the NT, God’s Spirit, whom Jesus said, “Lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:17 NIV) after Pentecost, He “will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (14:26 NIV). The teaching of God’s Spirit (1) will be chiefly about our Source of Power, for “He [the Spirit] will testify about Me [Jesus]” (15:26 NIV), (2) will teach us “all the Truth” (16:13 NIV) about everything, but in particular, will advantage us with teaching about “what is yet to come” (16:13 NIV), and (3) will provision us with “all that belongs to the Father” (16:15 NIV), which Christ said, “Is Mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from Me what He will make known to you” (16:15 NIV). Treasure the teaching of the Scriptures by the Holy Spirit.
“Do not interpretations belong to God?” (Genesis 40:8 NIV). Unconverted man without the Spirit of God cannot properly understand the Word of God. “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit” (1Corinthians 2:14 NIV). This is where the Church is today. The canon of Scripture has already been set. “What does the Scripture say?” (Romans 4:3 NIV) can only be answered with the teaching and interpretation of the Holy Spirit. Interpreting Scripture, especially where there are differences within the Body of Christ, must be addressed solely through the Holy Spirit, such as (1) when the question of including the Gentiles into the Church was answered by Peter, “8 God, who knows the heart, showed that He accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as He did to us. 11 We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are” (Acts 15:8, 11 NIV), and (2) when the question of eating meat offered to idols was answered by Paul, “1 Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. 3 The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. 4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. 5 One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. 15 If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. 22 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves” (Romans 14:1, 3, 4, 5, 15, 22 NIV). The Holy Spirit always counsels us to interpret the Scriptures with love to God and one another, but especially love for those who differ with our understanding.
Seventh, Scripture is God’s way of giving us faith. Though grace is God’s unmerited favor reaching out to man, and faith is man’s just responsibility to lay hold of God, Do we really think it was solely our naked faith that convinced God to save us? “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8 NIV). Faith, we find, is what comes to us from the Word of God. “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17 KJV). Faith is an active believing and confiding in God. The Holy Spirit works faith into our heart, as we are persuaded of God’s trustworthiness from the testimony of the Word of God. We study the Scriptures to explore God, to understand ourselves, and to make ourselves useful to others. Faith is confidence in God. “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1 NIV). The Spirit of Christ opens our understanding to His Word. “Then He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45 NIV). Understanding of Scripture must be preceded by a greater love for God first, then our neighbor as ourself. “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” (1Corinthians 13:2 NIV). Whatever we find difficult to conceive or verbalize, God cuts to the essence of the matter in us. This is why we seek out Spirit led understanding, when we “study the Scriptures” (John 5:39 NIV). Faith and understanding of Scripture go together. “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12 NIV). We are justified by faith. “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1 NIV). And, as Paul declared to the Romans, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile” (Romans 1:16 NIV). “Believes” (1:16 NIV) is in the present tense, in the Greek and the English. Look at it from God’s point of view. Is He justifying us so He can fill Heaven with people who have little or no confidence in Him? Or, has it been His plan from the beginning for us to be “God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10 NIV)? We cannot fool the Almighty into saving us as our assurance of happiness in Heaven for eternity and our insurance against endless suffering in the Lake of Fire. If we do not believe Him simply because He is trustworthy, and if we do not repent simply because we hate the sin as God does, then we are trying to work ourselves into our conception of Heaven. It won’t work. “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:27 NIV).
We are sanctified by faith. “Sanctify them by the Truth; Your Word is Truth” (John 17:17 NIV). To sanctify is to set something apart, and when God does it, then it is made holy. It is apparent from Scripture, our necessity to continue in faith after our having been justified. If believing God has always been the necessity for becoming justified by God (Romans 4:9), then sanctification is only a continuation of the same process. The ongoing argument about the nature of faith and salvation needs to address sanctification from God’s point of view. It is not whether I will be deprived of Heaven, if I fall into sin; but, does God deserve a holy people, and can He make us holy, not just in principle, but in practice? “By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain” (1Corinthians 15:2 NIV). Multiple times, the same requirement is repeated in the Gospels by Christ — “the one who stands firm to the end will be saved” Matthew 10:22; 24:13; Mark 13:13 NIV). I, too, do not believe in a works salvation, but continuing to believe God to the end, how is that not a good thing? The ongoing growth in grace and becoming more like Jesus Christ is the sanctification by faith in which we are to persevere, and who exactly can accomplish such a thing in us? Only as we submit by faith to the Holy Spirit will He produce the fruit of the Spirit. “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God” (Romans 8:14 NIV). Paul’s voice militates against the legalistic, self-justifying works of the law in attempting to be saved, and he still understands that, when he warns Timothy, “if we endure, we will also reign with Him. If we disown Him, He will also disown us” (2Timothy 2:12 NIV). Remember Paul’s Spirit inspired masterpiece of the Gospel of the Grace of God in the Epistle to the Romans, where he said, “The righteous will live by faith” (Romans 1:17 NIV), he also wrote: “20 Granted. But they [Israel] were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you either. 22 Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in His kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off” (Romans 11:20-22 NIV). We are actively sanctified by faith, becoming more like Christ, producing the fruit of the Spirit, justifying God for choosing us, and preparing us to dwell and reign with Christ in His Kingdom — all because of the Holy Spirit working faith into us through the Scriptures. Hallelujah!