What We Want to Believe (The Word of God)

What We Want to Believe (The Word of God)

Feb 08, 2009

Preacher: Jason Wolin

Series: What We Want To Believe

Category: Membership


Today we are going to begin a new series.  For the next 9 weeks we are going to survey the different doctrines of the Bible starting with the Doctrine of the Word of God, the character of God, the person of Christ, the Holy Spirit, the doctrine of Man, salvation, sanctification, glorification, the doctrine of the church, and the doctrine of eschatology or end times. 

And there are several reasons we think this series is important

  1. A Key time in the life of our church to ground us in the fundamentals of what we believe. There are a lot of new people who may not be familiar with where we stand theologically.  As we grow as a church we want to be united around the Scriptures.  When we finish this series we will have 9 sermons recorded which outline what we feel the Bible clearly teaches.  And so if a newcomer walks in the door and really is hungry to understand where we stand as a church theologically, we could hand them this packet of CD’s to listen to. 
  1. A second reason for the series has to do with the fact that our church does not have an official doctrinal statement. We do have a statement of faith.  The difference between a doctrinal statement and a statement of faith is length.  The statement of faith is intended to be a one page ultra high level summary of what we believe.  A doctrinal statement is intended to be multiple pages and is a far more detailed summation of what our church teaches.  So at the end of this series we will have the pieces of the puzzle ready to be assembled into what we believe the Bible teaches.  And we thought rather than work through that process as a leadership team, why not invite the whole church to be part of it so we can learn and grow together!

Each of these sermons has the potential to be an entire series in and of itself.  So we had to find a way to define the scope of what we were trying to teach through, that was narrow enough to make clear boundaries, but not too narrow so as to exclude unnecessarily.  We wanted a series that was broad enough to encompass the diversity of allowable biblical positions, but not so broad that clear error is embraced.  So, the point of this series is to define the doctrinal limits of this local body of believers.   If you were to teach in this assembly of believers this series would act as a guide what we don’t want you to teach against. 

As we move our way through this series, there might be questions that arise in your head.  If you have questions, write them down and there will be a chance to submit them at the end of the series.  Or, even better, if you login to the forum off of our home page, there is a tab labeled Q & A and you can post your question there.  That way we can start thinking about the questions in advance.  The final sermon in the series will be a Q & A sermon where we will try and sort through those questions and answer them in the best way we can.

We were going to title this series, “What We Believe.”  But we chose to title it, “What We Want to Believe” to highlight the fact that even though this is our best understanding of what the Scriptures teach us, we spend a lifetime trying to get that theology into our feet.  We don’t really believe a hell exists or else we would spread the gospel differently.  We don’t really believe that this world is passing away or we would invest differently.  We don’t really believe that Jesus is all satisfying because we would drink from his Word differently.  So we want to make this series highly practical.  We want to answer the question, “What should this doctrine do in my life?”

If you want to explain this series in technical terms, you would say we are going to do a systematic theology of the major doctrines contained in the Bible.  And what people mean by systematic theology, is that you comb through the Bible and gather all relevant data on a particular area of theology.  So let’s say we wanted to know what God has revealed about angels.  You would start in Genesis chapter 1 read straight through to the end of Revelation and write down all the direct and indirect references to angels you could find.  Then you would sit down with that list and systematize it.  You would break it up into clear statements the Bible makes about angels.  Things the Bible seems to say about angels but are not quite as clear, etc.  That is what this series is all about. 

So right up front, I confess I will not do that on my own.  That is an impossible task.  Okay Jason, your task for this week is to systematize what the Bible says about Salvation.  Ready, set, read.  Systematic theology is something all of us are doing all the time.  It takes a lifetime to even get started.  So I am relying heavily on several systematic theologies to do the hard work of compiling the data and then structuring it in an understandable way.  To pretend that I could structure it in a more helpful way or organize it more clearly would be pretty naïve.  My friend and I always joke that if you come up with something new in the Bible you’re a heretic. 

So we begin this series with a focus on the Word of God.  And that is certainly an appropriate introduction since everything we are going to be saying is based on the Bible.   The entire foundation of systematic theology is the Bible.  So we want to talk about that foundation before we begin.

Let me explain from philosophy why it is so important to start here.

Einstein made the extremely helpful claim, “Everything is relative.”  That is so true in physics.  When I say, “that was a huge fire!”  I have to ask the question, Compared to what?  Compared to a match, a candle, a Bunsen burner, a fire in your fireplace, a forest fire, a nuclear bomb, the sun, beetlejuice, a supernova?  When we are talking about physics, the concepts of relativity serve us greatly to help describe the universe.

But, at the core of the Christian’s worldview is a belief that relativity does not apply to truth.  Truth is not relative.  Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” 

Aristotle answered that question this way, “A statement is true if things in reality are as the statement says they are; otherwise it is false.”

  1. It is true that snow is white if and only if snow is white.
  2. It is true that John believes that the earth is flat if and only if John believes that the earth is flat.

That is a good definition of truth.  Reality is an absolute.  Reality is our fixed point of reference.  Truth equals reality.  Truth and reality are the same thing.  And for the Christian the Bible is the only way we can truly understand reality.  The Bible is our lens to understand the world. 

“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). This verse is interesting because Jesus does not use the adjectives ἀληθινός (G240) or ἀληθής (G239, “true”), which we might have expected, to say, “Your word is true.” Rather, he uses a noun, ἀλήθεια (G237, “truth”), to say that God’s Word is not simply “true,” but it is truth itself.

The difference is significant, because this statement encourages us to think of the Bible not simply as being “true” in the sense that it conforms to some higher standard of truth, but rather to think of the Bible as being itself the final standard of truth.

So to reword Aristotle, “a statement is true if it agrees with the Bible’s understanding of reality.”

The Bible is God’s Word, and God’s Word is the ultimate definition of what is true and what is not true: God’s Word is itself truth.  So to summarize, we are supposed to think of the Bible as the reference point by which every other claim to truthfulness is to be measured.

So for our outline today we are going to look at 4 characteristics of the Bible that we teach here in this body of belivers.  We are going to look at 4 things that we believe about the Scriptures.

The Bible has four characteristics.

  1. Scripture is Authoritative -  The authority of Scripture means that all the words in the Bible are God’s words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God.

That is a grand statement.  That the very words of the supernova creating, quantum physics constructing deity of the universe has spoken in this book.  And of all the words he could have chosen to given to man, he chose these words.  That is a large claim.

So, how do we know that the Bible is the Word of God?

We know that the Bible itself claims to be the Word of God. 

  • Probably the most well known verse in this regard is 2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;  17 that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
  • 2 Peter 1:21
  • Many other examples: “Thus says the Lord…”,  “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. (Mathew 4:4) Paul quotes Jesus’ words as Scripture (1 Timothy 5:18).   Paul says, “what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord. (1 Cor. 14:37).”  It’s easy to belabor this point if you want to.

So the Bible claims to be the Word of God, but it is one thing to agree, “Yes the Bible claims to be the Word of God”  but it’s another thing entirely to be convinced that those claims are true.  After all there are many other books that make the same claim.  So from the position of the skeptic, how convincing is that?  Not very.

It feels like circular reasoning.  How do you know that what the Bible says is true? because the Bible is God’s Word?  How do you know that Bible is God’s Word? because it claims to be that.    How can you trust those claims?  Because Scripture is God’s Word. 

It is very important to admit that this is a form of circular reasoning.

However, the use of this kind of reasoning does not make it invalid.    Because all arguments for an ultimate authority have to appeal to that authority for proof:  otherwise there would be a higher authority to appeal to.   This problem is not unique to the Christian who is arguing for the authority of the Bible.

An atheist or agnostic or evolutionist or deist have to do the same thing.  An atheist might have reason as their highest form of authority or they might have logical consistency or sensory experience

They have to reason the same way.

“My reason is my ultimate authority because it seems reasonable to me to make it so.”

“Logical consistency is my ultimate source of authority because it is logical to make it so.”

“The findings of human sensory experiences are the ultimate authority for discovering what is real and what is not, because our human senses have never discovered anything else:  thus, human sense experience tells me that my principle is true.”

“I know there can be no ultimate authority because I do not know of any such ultimate authority.”

So every claim of ultimate authority, by definition, must appeal to itself. 

This kind of reasoning is what is referenced in Hebrews 6:13  For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself,

So it may be circular reasoning, but it is not invalid.

So if all forms of ultimate authority must appeal to themselves, How do you choose among the competing forms of ultimate authority?  In a perfect world, the truthfulness of the Bible will commend itself as being far more persuasive than other religious books, or than any other intellectual constructions of the human mind.  The final and ultimate authority is going to prove itself by aligning with what we know around us, by matching what we know about ourselves, by defining reality. 

But (and this is a big exception), the Bible is only going to be persuasive if we are thinking rightly about the nature of reality, and only if we are thinking rightly about ourself and only if we are thinking rightly about God.  The trouble is that sin warps everything.  Sin is fundamentally irrational and sin makes us think incorrectly about everything, especially reality.  So the Scriptures make it clear that left to our own devices, we would never choose God.  Left to our own devices, we are never going to see how the Bible and reality harmonize. 

That is why we must say that the final, ultimate reason that any one of us believes the Bible is because the Holy Spirit has intersected into our lives and caused the words of the Bible to resonate in our hearts and God’s Spirit gives us understanding and assurance that the words of the Bible are the actual words of our Creator speaking to us.  

It is helpful to learn that that Bible is:

  • Historically accurate
  • Internally consistent
  • Prophecies that have been fulfilled hundreds of years later
  • Influenced the course of human history more than any other book
  • Continued to change the lives of millions of individuals throughout its history
  • Profound depth

All of these taken together are not ultimately and finally convincing. 

  • What is finally and ultimately convincing is the Holy Spirit causing the Scriptures to leap forth with light.

This has a profound effect on how we approach someone in evangelism.  The most important piece of literature you can ever have someone read is the Bible itself.   Evidence that demands a verdict by Josh McDowell is an incredibly helpful book to clear away obstacles to help a person see that there is logical consistency in the Christian worldview.  But it is not ultimately convincing.  People need to read the Bible and God convinces them of that truth. 

God’s Word is authoritative because he said it was.  And that can only be believed if through reading that Word, God reveals that what you are reading is a perfect description of reality.

Under this heading of God’s Word as authoritative, there is one remaining, very important item to address:  inerrancy.  The reason this is important is because many people in evangelicalism today (and I mean many) will claim that God’s Word is authoritative, but only in matters pertaining to faith and practice (or some other similar caveat).  That is not what we mean.

Inerrancy as we define it (and I’m borrowing from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology) is :  The inerrancy of Scripture means that Scriptures in the original manuscripts do not affirm anything that is contrary to fact.

This definition focuses on the question of what is true and false in the language of Scripture. The definition in simple terms just means that the Bible always tells the truth and that it always tells the truth concerning everything it talks about. This definition does not mean that the Bible tells us every fact there is to know about any one subject, but it affirms that what it does say about any subject is true.

Many people do not agree with that.  So we want to affirm this and not teach against this in our church.

Does inerrancy mean there are no errors in the Bible?  It means there were no errors in the original documents, but it does allow for transmission errors.  And we do know that there are a handful of transmission errors, none of which have any major theological implications.  

  1. Scripture is Authoritative, Scripture is Clear - The clarity of Scripture means that the Bible is written in such a way that its teachings are able to be understood by all submissive people who will read it seeking God’s help.

Probably one of the first questions that arises when you talk about this is simply:

Why Do People Misunderstand Scripture?

Clearly people disagree on how the Scriptures are to be understood.  Even during Jesus’ lifetime, his own disciples at times failed to understand the Old Testament and Jesus’ own teachings (see Matt. 15:16; Mark 4:10–13; 6:52; 8:14–21; 9:32; Luke 18:34; John 8:27; 10:6).  There were times in the early church when Christians did not understand or agree on the teachings of the Old Testament or about the letters written by the apostles:

Acts 15:7 talks about the church entering into “much debate” in the Jerusalem counsel regarding the inclusion of Gentiles in the new covenant.  Peter’s misunderstood this issue in Galatians 2:11–15.

Think how many doctrinal and ethical issues that had to be corrected by the New Testament epistles. In fact, throughout the history of the church, doctrinal disagreements have been many, and progress in resolving doctrinal differences has often been slow.

The mere fact that many disagreements about the meaning of Scripture have existed throughout history reminds us that the doctrine of the clarity of Scripture does not imply or suggest that all believers will agree on all the teachings of Scripture. Nevertheless, it does tell us something very important—that the problem always lies not with Scripture but with ourselves. What we are running up against here is something similar to that of the authority of Scripture.  We affirm that the words of Scripture have all the authority of God himself, we also realize that many people do not acknowledge that authority or submit themselves to it. Similarly, we affirm that all the teachings of Scripture are clear and able to be understood, but we also recognize that people often (through their own shortcomings) misunderstand what is clearly written in Scripture.

The doctrine of the clarity of Scripture therefore has a very important, and ultimately very encouraging, practical implication. It tells us that where there are areas of doctrinal or ethical disagreement (for example, over baptism or predestination or church government), there are only two possible causes for these disagreements: (1) On the one hand, it may be that we are seeking to make affirmations where Scripture itself is silent. In such cases we should be more ready to admit that God has not given us the answer to our quest, and to allow for differences of viewpoint within the church. (This will often be the case with very practical questions, such as methods of evangelism or styles of Bible teaching or appropriate church size.) (2) On the other hand, it is possible that we have made mistakes in our interpretation of Scripture. This could have happened because the data we used to decide a question of interpretation were inaccurate or incomplete.

Or it could be because there is a weakness on our part, for example,

  • personal pride,
  • or greed,
  • or lack of faith,
  • or selfishness,
  • or even failure to devote enough time to prayerfully reading and studying Scripture.

But in no case are we free to say that the teaching of the Bible on any subject is confusing or incapable of being understood correctly.  The Bible may choose to leave things mysterious.  That is very different from being confusing.  We shouldn’t think that persistent disagreements on some subject through the history of the church mean that we will be unable to come to a correct conclusion on that subject ourselves.

  • The Necessity of Scripture – The necessity of Scripture means that the Bible is necessary for knowing the gospel, for maintaining spiritual life, and for knowing God’s will, but is not necessary for knowing that God exists or for knowing something about God’s character and moral laws.

In Romans 10:13–17 Paul says:

For, “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher?...So faith comes from what is heard and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ.

This passage is just one of several that show that eternal salvation comes only through belief in Jesus Christ and no other way.  Speaking of Christ, John 3:18 says, “He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” Similarly, in John 14:6 Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.”

Peter, on trial before the Sanhedrin, says, “there is salvation in no one else for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Of course, the exclusiveness of salvation through Christ is because Jesus is the only one who ever died for our sins or whoever could have done so. Paul says, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all...” (1 Tim. 2:5–6). There is no other way to be reconciled to God than through Christ, for there is no other way of dealing with the guilt of our sin before a holy God.

But if people can be saved only through faith in Christ, someone might ask how believers under the old covenant could have been saved. The answer must be that those who were saved under the old covenant were also saved through trusting in Christ, even though their faith was a forward-looking faith based on God’s word of promise that a Messiah or a Redeemer would come. Speaking of Old Testament believers such as Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah, the author of Hebrews says, “These all died in faith not having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar...” (Heb. 11:13). The same chapter goes on to say that Moses “considered abuse suffered for the Christ (or the Messiah) greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he looked to the reward” (Heb. 11:26). And Jesus can say of Abraham, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56). This again apparently refers to Abraham’s joy in looking forward to the day of the promised Messiah. Thus, even Old Testament believers had saving faith in Christ, to whom they looked forward, not with exact knowledge of the historical details of Christ’s life, but with great faith in the absolute reliability of God’s word of promise.

To be saved, you must turn to Christ.  And to turn to Christ you must have his Word.  This is a large motivation for missions. 

The United Bible Society announced, that as of 31 December 2007 The Bible, with deuterocanonical material was available in 123 languages. The Tanakh and New Testament were available in 438 languages. The New Testament was available in 1168 languages, and portions of the Bible were available in 848 languages, for a total of 2,454 languages of the 6,900 known languages listed.

In 1999, Wycliffe Bible Translators announced Vision 2025. This project aims to see Bible translation begun by 2025 in every remaining language community that needs it. They currently estimate that 2,251 languages, representing 193 million people, need a Bible translation.

So this doctrine teaches that those 193 million people are unable to respond to Christ because they do not have a Bible.  That is not intended to be guilt inducing.  But it is intended to be affirmed.  There is a reason that we want to push into unreached people groups.  Because those people cannot hear the gospel without the Bible.

  1. The Sufficiency of Scripture – The sufficiency of Scripture means that Scripture contained all the words of God he intended his people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains everything we need God to tell us for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly.
  1. We don’t need to search elsewhere.

The sufficiency of Scripture should encourage in our journey of discovering what God wants us to think (about a particular doctrinal issue) or to do (in a particular situation). We should be encouraged that everything God wants to tell us about that question is to be found in Scripture. This does not mean that the Bible answers all the questions that we might think up, for “The secret things belong to the Lord our God” (Deut. 29:29). But it does mean that when we are facing a problem of genuine importance to our Christian life, we can approach Scripture with the confidence that from it God will provide us with guidance for that problem.

There will of course be some times when the answer we find is that Scripture does not speak directly to our question. (This would be the case, for example, if we tried to find from Scripture what “type of music” to follow on Sunday mornings, or whether it is better to kneel or perhaps to stand when we pray, or at what time we should eat our meals during the day, etc.) In those cases, we rely on principles which guide our attitudes and goals.

As we go through life, frequent practice in searching Scripture for guidance will result in an increasing ability to find accurate, carefully formulated answers to our problems and questions.

  1. Other revelation is not needed.

The Bible, alone, contains everything we need God to tell us for trusting and obeying him perfectly.

It’s interesting to notice that whenever other documents challenge the authority of Scripture (whether we are talking extrabiblical Christian literature of the first century or from the accumulated teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, or from the books of various cults such as the Book of Mormon), the result has always been (1) to deemphasize the teachings of the Bible itself and (2) to begin to teach some things that are contrary to Scripture. This is a danger of which the church must constantly be aware.

  1. The sufficiency of Scripture also tells us that nothing is required of us by God that is not commanded in Scripture either explicitly or by implication. So in other words, you don’t have to spend time wondering what God wants you to do. You can know exactly what God wants you to do. 
  • What does God want me to do with my money? The Bible answers that question.
  • What does God want me to do with my time? My kids, how does God want me to conduct myself in the workplace
  • What kind of husband, mother, father, grandmother does God want me to be. You don’t have to read Oprah to discover that.

Story of Josh….