A recent survey from Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life concluded that “most Americans say they are absolutely sure about standards of right and wrong – and are just as sure that no one religion holds an exclusive franchise on the truth,” according to an article by the Dallas Morning News. It goes one to say, Overwhelming majorities of Americans say they believe in God (or a “universal spirit”). But substantial majorities from all major religious categories also say they believe their religion is not the only path to eternal life, and that there’s not just one correct version
From the outset of any discussion about God, his being, and his attributes, there must be the open admission that we cannot possibly fully comprehend an infinite God with our simple and finite minds. Yet, because God has revealed certain things about himself in his Word, the Bible, we must strive to describe God so as to communicate and understand who this God is and how he reveals himself to us. While we cannot fully define God, our best description is nonetheless necessary.
Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5). Paul’s exhortation to be regularly testing the sincerity and purity of your own faith is not given in order to make you doubt your salvation every other day. Faith in Christ is exactly that: faith in Jesus’ finished work, not in our own faithfulness. However, we are to be regularly doing the hard work of honest self-appraisal.
Although the writing of the Bible spanned some 1,500 years and now even the most recent book of the Bible is almost 2,000 years old, the unashamed contention of historic Christianity is that the Bible is error-free from start to finish. The Bible makes numerous and uncompromising claims as to its own authenticity and divine origin (over 3,800 such claims).
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Romans 8:16). Paul is speaking here to Christian believers, to those who have trusted their past, present, and future to Jesus as their Savior and Lord. And Paul reminds Christians that the Holy Spirit within us now gives us the true witness that we are his. The Spirit, it is important for us to recognize, is not lying to us. This is not merely some pep talk that the Spirit gives us, in order to make us feel better:
The doctrine of the “perspicuity of Scripture” is a well-known and important teaching within the Christian faith. This doctrine refers to the fact that the Bible is clear, that it communicates perfectly. All scripture is profitable (2 Timothy 3:16). The Bible can be understood by anyone, barring mental handicaps (2 Timothy 3:15). This doesn’t mean it is easy to correctly understand; rather, the Bible requires careful, thoughtful study (2 Peter 3:16). Equally vital as the doctrine of Scripture’s perspicuity, however, is the balancing consideration of the “perspicacity” of the reader.
Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, interpretation is part of almost every human’s daily life. Communication would not be possible without a common understanding and means of interpreting. However, even with years of practice, we can all misjudge or misinterpret someone else’s—even our own spouse’s—words, actions, or facial expressions. This danger of misinterpretation is even greater when we come to the Bible.
For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you … your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything (1 Thessalonians 1:8). Paul, writing to the church at Thessalonica, commends them for their “acoustics.” The message they had received was being reverberated throughout their community, and beyond.
True faith is an act of the will, in the sense that God gives us a new will in the new birth, along with faith (John 1:12-13; Ephesians 2:8). God does not make us robots; he successfully woos our hearts. Faith is not merely an act of the will, because it is also the act of the Holy Spirit in our souls, drawing us to Jesus Christ, and bringing us to trust in him as he is revealed in his Word (James 1:18).
I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another (Romans 15:14). Paul, writing to everyday and average Christians in the church at Rome, insists that every Christian should be “able to instruct.” Paul gives two criteria for our being ready and able to give the right kind of counsel: being full of goodness, and being filled with knowledge. We can’t help others draw closer to God if we are not ourselves walking closely with God.
I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Notice that Paul couches the amazing Christian claim that “Christ died for our sins” in both Scriptural and historical language: “in accordance with the scriptures.”
While knowledge of the truth is very important, it is possible to put so much emphasis on the letter of it that the application is forgotten. Paul reminds us that knowledge alone just puffs a person up, while knowledge according to love actually builds up. So here is a thought for pastors, especially, and by implication the people in the pew as well.
In studying through a difficult passage of Scripture recently, I came across a quote from Charles Spurgeon that applies to every passage of Scripture: “My love of consistency with my own doctrinal views is not great enough to allow me knowingly to alter a single text of Scripture. I have great respect for orthodoxy, but my reverence for inspiration is far greater.
Now the Lord said to Abraham, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1) How does Abraham go from idolatry to being a believer in the one true God? God speaks to him! This in a nutshell differentiates Abraham’s story from that of his father Tera who was a Babylonian idolater (Joshua 24:2). God is the one who initiates salvation, God is the one who calls Abraham out of pagan darkness into the light of His truth. God’s redemptive work, like the Creation itself, begins with God
Why should I be concerned with doctrinal nuances? Isn’t that stuff just for preachers? This is a common question, or at least a common attitude, with which I have come into contact as a pastor. The richly diverse and meticulous language of Scripture, and a careful theology of Scripture, is often seen more as professional jargon for clerics than every day food for the souls of every day people. But nothing could be further from the truth.