The Bible Says: What is Your Response and Why? Part I
Introduction: The series: The Bible Says So: What is your response and Why addresses a fundamental life issue: your standard for truth and life. It helps you answer by showing the beauty and majesty of the Bible. Concerns, queries, and the quest for answers never change. Such it is with truth and the source of truth. Is there truth, how does one find it? The Bible says: what should be your response and why? The issue is one of standard and choice, both in picking the standard and holding fast to it – believing and acting on what it says or thought to say.
Four time-honored-questions with various answers have been presented by the science of philosophy. The questions include:
1. What is my origin – where did I and everything else come from? Who or what is the originator?
2. What is my purpose – why am I here?
3. What is my identity – who am I?
4. What is my destiny – where am I going?
The fact that questions can be asked and answered is an important fact. How is it possible for anyone to ask and answer those questions? What is man that he should be interested in origin, purpose, identity, and destiny? The answer to that question takes us back to a standard for rationality and morality. Each of the four questions requires a standard not only in asking them but in order to answer them. Before we precede to answer the questions, we must settle the issue of standard?
One’s standard is based on faith. Practically and experientially faith is trust and confidence in something. The object of one’s faith is a person’s standard which he uses to interpret life and facts. He has faith in his standard and his own capacity to decide which standard to use. Man is a standard chooser and user and he has faith in both of those activities. He has faith, his senses, his logic/reason, and his feelings which are grids that are used to interpret facts. In the end, he still trusts himself. The other option is to trust another person and his word. Who will you trust? In answering the four questions you must first know your standard and the difference it makes in using it.
Every person was born with a set of presuppositions or assumptions. These presuppositions guide a person’s thoughts, desires, and actions. By virtue of creation, every person is a theologian, in or out of proper relationship to God. A Christian is a proper theologian and has God’s word as his standard for answering the four questions. A non-Christian is out of proper relationship to God. His standard is other than the word of God. His answers to the four questions are opposed and in contrast to biblically-based answers.
God’s word, the Bible, is His personal, powerful, self-expression of who He is, who you are, and what He has done, is doing, and will do. God has revealed Himself, His plan, His purposes, and His program with motivations to listen, to learn, and to love God and neighbor. It sounds so simple and in one sense it is. Paul made these points on Mars Hills (Acts 17:22-31). Paul addressed man’s origin.
The Bible teaches that this is God’s world – He is Creator, Controller, and Sustainer (Acts 17:24-26; also see Ps. 24:1-2). The Bible gives man’s identity and purpose: We are His creatures, created beings, His offspring. Our purpose is to seek Him and perhaps find Him – origin and purpose (Acts 17:25-28; also see Gen. 1:26-31). Man has a destiny. He will be judged by the just Judge of all the world and enter into everlasting blessedness or torment and misery (Acts 17:30-31; also see Gen. 18:25; 2 Thess. 1:5-10). In Acts 17:31, Paul adds that it is Christ who will judge and declare the final destiny because He is the resurrected Christ and King (also see Matt. 25:31-46; Acts 10:42). If the Bible is not your standard, you choose to trust and follow self in contrast to trusting God. The option of self-choosing your standard and the standard-maker dates back to the Garden and it is a theological matter.
What are some of the reasons you would not choose God’s word as your daily and final standard by which you think, desire, and act? Basically the reasons are ignorance, arrogance, or a combination of the two. Knowledge, and a lack of it, always includes knowledge of God, self, others, and God’s control. Ignorance in any of these areas will motivate a person to choose or maintain another standard other than God’s Word. Arrogance that is high and open-handed is better considered as rebellion. Such it is with those who ignore doctrinal truth in lieu of their own counterfeit “truth” or those who twist Scripture to justify themselves (John 5:39-41). Before his conversion, Paul wrote that he was a perfect example of ignorant arrogance or arrogant ignorance (Acts 26:9-10). Such were the Jews who crucified Jesus (Acts 3:17).
1. How do you answer the four questions?
2. What is your standard?
3. What difference does it make and what have been the results?
4. What makes it hard to trust God and His standard, the Bible?
5. What makes it easy to trust yourself?
The Bible Says: What is Your Response and Why? Part II
No matter a person’s source and standard for truth there are reasons that he maintains the trustworthiness of his standard. Reasons abound but they will center on the person’s right to hold to his standard. Reasons include: the majority rules (others hold to such and such); pragmatism (it works or it does not work, never really defining those terms); my upbringing (“I was taught and learned things that way,” “I must find out for myself,” and “I gotta be me – I like it.”). There are three aspects that we need to remember: the standard, the source of that standard, and the holding to the standard. The person will make claims about himself, others, and God based on his standard. This allegiance is often verified by the person’s experience, feelings, and reasoning.
Scripture claims to be the very Word of God and is authoritative, sufficient, trustworthy, and reliable. A logical question follows: how can any person treat Scripture any differently? Yet many do reject the truth of Scripture. Many answers have been given to denigrate and malign the Bible’s claims. One major argument is the fact of apparent contradictions in the Bible. Since the Gospels directly depict the life and ministry of Jesus, they are prominent targets for critics who are hoping to undermine the validity of Scripture and thereby God Himself.
There are similarities and differences in the Gospels. The four gospels have been authored by four different authors at various times. These differences have been used as a means of discrediting God and His Word. Once the label infallible Word of God is removed from Scripture anything goes. You are free to pick and choose and create your own gospel. One theologian-critic (Ned B Stonehouse) asked the question: God by inspiration of the Holy Spirit has given us four gospels – why?” He then answers his own question by asserting that they are distinctive elements of each gospel and for each paragraph of each gospel. He goes on to say that the Gospels are significant parts of whole New Testament witness to Christ and as such is the rightful heritage of orthodox Christianity. He appealed to justice being done to their inherent unity (from one author, the Holy Spirit) and diversity. Each gospel gives/is a distinctive portrait of Jesus and His message painted under the control of Holy Spirit. There is a unifying integrity and distinctness of each gospel. Obviously the author paraphrased above takes a high view of God and His Word.
Consider five reasons that account for the similarities and differences in the Synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke (I am indebted to Dr. S Dyer and his class at Greenville Theological Seminary). One is the testimony of the apostles. Matthew as an apostle was able to draw on his own observations and experiences after his conversion and apostleship. He must have done research in order to include those parts of his Gospel which occurred prior to his conversion. Mark received his knowledge of the life of Christ as a disciple and interpreter of Peter’s teaching and preaching. Luke in his preface (1:1-4) wrote that he received information from eyewitnesses and ministers of the word (these are one group of people). Most likely, Luke referred to the Apostles as this one group. Thus Luke presented the testimony of the apostles in his Gospel.
A second reason is the oral transmission of the gospel. The Lord commissioned the Apostles to preach the gospel. In Acts 1-12, Peter was the primary spokesman and in Acts 13-28 Paul was the primary spokesman. Peter’s message set the tone and the basic structure of the gospel presentation and structure of the gospel message. Thus common material is found in the Synoptics and accounts for similarities.
Third, the gospel writers had written accounts other than the canonical gospels. This is especially true of the gospel of Luke. Since he was not an apostle nor associated with the original band, he needed to do research in preparing his gospel (Luke 1:1-4). This, too, would explain similarities in the gospel accounts. A fourth reason in our brief overview is that each evangelist wrote with a different perspective on the life of Christ. Moreover, there are abundant sources of material at each writer’s disposal. Each evangelist was selective in his use of the material. Both of these facts help explain the unity and diversity of the gospels.
Lastly, the writing of each evangelist was superintended by the Holy Spirit. In other words, Scripture is inspired by Him and under His care. The weight of the verbal, plenary inspiration of Scripture is heavy here. When this high view of Scripture was recognized and accepted there was no gospel problem. Once the high view of God and Scripture was attacked, the demand to find a solution to apparent discrepancies in the gospels grew louder and louder until now many doubt the word of God. They would rather rely on their own standard: logic and reasoning, feelings, experience, and others. In fact, there is no gospel problem. The Bible is the Word of God and it still holds true today.
1. What is your standard for truth and on what basis?
2. What do you think of the apparent discrepancies in the Bible and how do you respond?
3. What is your response to the work of the Holy Spirit in Scripture?
The Bible Says: What is Your Response and Why? Part III
An important aspect of answering any question is your presupposition and subsequent starting point. If you begin with the belief that God is fallible, that His word is fallible, or that you, or someone you trust, is the standard for truth, then you will work hard to fulfill your goal of proving that God and His word are charlatans. You will be following the serpent’s lie that he used to seduce Adam and Eve. On the other hand, if you believe that the Bible is God’s powerful, purposeful, and personal self-expression, you will consider the facts as you evaluate the Word of God. The study of God’s truth is sacred ground so the believer will tread humbly, respectfully, and carefully. His goal will be to seek understanding as he seeks the mind of the Triune God.
The Gospels show remarkable differences and similarities. Each author brings his own perspective and eyewitness account of Jesus, His teaching and His actions along with His association with His initial disciples. Undoubtedly Jesus presented His teachings in short lessons and at other times in lengthy discourses. The Gospel writers never claimed to be exhaustive in their accounts but brought their own emphasis. Each perspective was designed to give a full-orbed, complete view and understanding of the Triune God. God was gracious in giving us a mosaic of Himself – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The gospel of Matthew emphasizes Jesus as the long-awaited, promised Kingly Messiah, the greater David and the covenant fulfillment of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenant. Jesus was born in a lowly estate but He was King of the Jews. He ascended to His Father as the Exalted King of the universe. Matthew’s gospel is marked by several mountaintop experiences as means of revelation of who Christ was, what He was doing, what He would do, and what He would continue to do as the risen Christ and King. Mark presents Jesus as the active, busy, hard-working, suffering Servant of Jehovah who was rejected. Jesus is the Servant of Jehovah because He is the Messiah and He is the Son of God (Mark 1:1; 15:39).
Luke presents Jesus as the God-man, truly God and truly man. He emphasizes Christ’s humanity and Jesus’ determined movement toward Jerusalem (Luke 9:51). Jesus was working salvation first for Jew then the Gentile as part of God’s sovereign plan. John’s emphasis is on Jesus’ glory and deity. Jesus is the Son of God. John declares Who Jesus is, what He did, and the reasons why He did what He did. John’s gospel is at most an account of about three weeks of Jesus’ ministry and chapters 13-19 narrate about one day of His life.
It is a fact that there are discrepancies in what is presented in each gospel. Certain parallel passages within the three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), and sometimes in the fourth gospel (John) report the same events but may be described differently. This fact alone emphasizes that freedom from discrepancies or apparent lack of agreement was not a condition of acceptance when deciding which books should be part of the New Testament. One would expect some disagreement because of the different perspective, skills, personal characteristics, and literary styles of each writer.
For instance, Mark and John have Jesus entering into private and public ministry early in their gospels. They emphasize the fact that Jesus had work to do and was eager to do His Father’s will. If agreement had been the deciding condition for canonicity, God would have given us one gospel, not four.
The gospels were considered authoritative because they were early eye-witness accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings. Apostolic connection, not agreement, was the criteria of trustworthiness and canonicity. In the same vein, nearly 20% of Old Testament consists of repetitions. This is most prominent in the books of Kings and Chronicles. Neither is originality a necessary qualification for acceptance of Scripture (E.E. Harrison).
The gospel writers were independent narrators of the person and work of Christ. But there is enough of a discrepancy in the gospels to show that there could not have been a concerted and collective effort among the gospel writers to agree. Yet there is enough agreement that shows that the Bible was written by one author with one message. Differences are evident because the Holy Spirit used different individual writers with varying assets so as to produce a multifaceted picture of Jesus and His word as ordained by the Father and applied by the Holy Spirit.
Given the fact that discrepancies exist, what now? Begin with yourself. What is your purpose for bringing this fact to light especially when it is age-old? What is your basis for stating the obvious and how have you responded to it? If you begin with God, the Holy Spirit, you will humbly begin with a desire to learn. Be sure to ask these questions: What is the reason that God would have seeming discrepancies in His Word? Do they disprove God, His truth, and Christianity? Do you run to God for answers or away from Him concluding that He must answer to you? What and who will you trust? In the end, God may leave unanswered the reason why He works the way He does. He is God and you are not. We are thankful that He continuously reminds us of those facts.
1. Discrepancies are a reality in God’s word. What is your response?
2. Have you discovered any discrepancies yourself or do you depend on what others say?
3. What is your starting point in addressing discrepancies?
4. What is your ending point?
The Bible Says: What is Your Response and Why? Part IV
In the present age, there is a concerted effort to discard the Bible and God with it. Unfortunately, the movement is within the Church as well as outside of it. A pivotal question is this: Was the Bible, written in the past, written for the Church’s instruction then and for us today? The answer to that question is of monumental significance.
Two men gave their view centuries ago. Martin Luther wrote that he will trust in God’s unchanging word. He encouraged himself and others by the truth that God’s Word stands forever. Jonathan Edwards wrote that the wisdom of God was not given for any particular age, but for all ages. Most recently, George Knight encouraged believers by emphasizing that the New Testament writers gave general teachings regarding particular situations. He noted that their teaching contained lasting principles that apply to all human beings in every age. The New Testament writers communicated general principles and not simply instructions that were applicable only for the particular age and situation that the writer was addressing. The format written for our instruction is particularly evident in Paul’s writings and emphasizes the continuity of Scripture, God’s trustworthiness, and His fulfillment of all that He has promised (Rom. 4:23-24; 15:1-6; 2 Tim. 3:15-17; 1 Cor. 9:8-10; 10:6,11).
The Church should draw strength and encouragement from the fact that God has preserved His word through all the ages. Instead, the Church and culture have moved back to the Garden and are asking the same question Satan posed to Eve: did God really say…? Moreover and sadly, it seems that the Church and culture have moved passed this “stage” and overtly and covertly have rejected God and His Word. They function as if they don’t care what God has said. They have inverted Romans 11:36, which is Paul’s closing praise of God. In it he wrote that all glory is God’s because all things are from God, through God, and to God. Too often the Church, and always the culture, emphasize that all things are from man, through man, and to man. Man has taken center stage with the claim that he knows best. When a person, culture, and Church attempt to bring God down to their size, right becomes wrong, peace becomes an illusion and feelings, and light becomes darkness (John 1:5-10; Jer. 6:14; 8:11; Isaiah 5:20). Consequences in the form of trouble and misery follow.
What is a person to do? Only the Christian can and will proclaim the truth that God proclaims: the Bible is really God’s word. The only other option is that it is not. God speaks to His people in this age by His Spirit in His word. What will it take to convince you that God is true and every man a liar (John 14:6; Rom. 3:4; Ps. 116:11)? Paul used this passage to vindicate God in the face of rebellious Israel. Did God lie when He sent Israel into exile only to re-gather her? Sinful, rebellious Israel did not prove God a liar. His judgment of her and gathering of the remnant juxtaposed God’s justice and His love. Israel’s rebellion could not deter God from keeping His promise formulated in eternity. Saving His people did not undermine His justice. Judgment and redemption/salvation are linked. The Bible says so!
Salvation is the beginning of God’s faithfulness for any individual. Once saved, the believer begins to think and desire differently. He embraces God’s truth in lieu of his own and the culture’s. He becomes desirous of pleasing God simply because God is God and he is not. This new focus goes hand in hand with a changed view of God and self. The believer begins with absolute truth – Jesus Christ and His word (John 14:6; 17:17) and focuses on that which is simple and the clear. He then works toward a godly conclusion for direction in daily life.
For instance, the Bible teaches that God created the sexes – man and woman – as well as activity between them. He ordained marriage between one man and one woman. In this creation activity, God gave mankind knowledge of his origin, purpose, and identity. Changing a person’s phenotype (looks, anatomic features, and even physiology) does not change God’s original creation. The person is still a person with a God-given identity and genotype: a pair of sex chromosomes that are XX for a woman and XY for a man. God has marked man and woman as male and female in this earthly life as well as the life to come. God will judge each person as male or female based on His original design not a person’s wants and demands and his attempts to change himself. Truly what God has established as His forever design let no man attempt to change. God is God, man is man, and woman is woman. Getting this correct is a matter of life and death.
1. What must God do to convince you that He is God and the Bible is His word?
2. What must you do to accept and act upon the truths in #1?
3. In the area of standard-making and standard-keeping, how do you interpret and apply Matthew 22:37-40? How would doing so change your life and the life of others?
The Bible Says: What is Your Response and Why? Part V
What do you see and hear as you survey the environment and atmosphere of this age? Just what is going on in and with the culture? After you have articulated your observations, what is your response? Do you cower and take to the hills for cover based on your own observations or do you rely on the present cultural guru to direct you and give insight? Perhaps you capitulate and join the crowd. Too often, people picture and label God’s providence under such names as life, cultural norms, situations, lady luck, that is just the way it is, or random events. When people arrive at any of those conclusions their bad theology has them focus on mountains so big that they can’t climb or holes so deep that they can’t get out. Problems and people are considered out of God’s purview and control. Rather for the Christian the time is now. It is now-time and high-time to reflect and act upon the truth of the living Word, Jesus, and the written Word, Scripture (John 14:6; 17:17).
There is no question that the world seems out of control. Where does God fit in if He does? Certainly He does! He has His Church and His people right where He wants them – for His glory and their good. However, this type of God is counterintuitive, counterproductive, and countercultural. So what is new? There is nothing new under the sun including sinful views of God, self, others, and the world in which God created and placed every person. Each of us and the Church has a choice. On whose side will you stand: for and with God or against Him (Joshua 24:14-15; Exodus 32:26; 1 Kings 18:21). It is a matter of life and death – in the present life and eternally.
One article made the statement: “Biblical illiteracy has become an epidemic across America. Many professing Christians, simply don’t know what the Bible teaches and often hold to unbiblical or even heretical beliefs.” Such it is now. Such it has been throughout the ages. Isaiah called the people to the law and the testimony (Isaiah 8:20). The Psalmist praised God and made the Torah his delight and counselor (Psalm 119:16, 24, 70, 174) and his lamp and light (Psalm 119:105). David had a high view of God and His word. It is not so today.
Please remember Paul’s warning to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:28-31. The trouble is within the Church as much as it is with the culture. The Church, God’s Church, has become culturized. The author quoted above wrote that a recent study reported a mere 10% of Americans have a biblical worldview despite 70% of Americans claiming the label of Christian. Basic biblical teachings are not much in evidence.
Consider several thoughts that will help God’s people rightly respond to God’s providence.
1. Hold firmly to the fact that God is God and His word is true. Develop ways to express this truth practically and helpfully.
2. Don’t assume people know the gospel and other basic biblical truths. First ask yourself: what is the gospel and what is life after salvation? Don’t assume knowledge, especially regarding young people. Keep it simple and basic. Help people understand that the gospel message of salvation is more than a fire escape out of hell.
3. Make biblical truth relevant and appropriate to yourself and to the person in his situation given his level of knowledge and his willingness to hear and apply that truth. How much truth does a person need before he begins to think, desire, and act like Christ? Simple basic truths that speak into the person’s identity and situation are key.
4. Teach the whole counsel of God. That means you the teacher are first to be a good student. You must have an understanding of God’s plan of salvation – regeneration and sanctification. Grow as a wise theologian with a desire to have others do the same no matter their age.
5. God is majestic and so are His ways. Help people encounter the eternal and ever-present God of the universe. He has worked and is working throughout redemptive history – from the Garden to Zion. Help people and yourself catch a glimpse of that truth.
6. Biblical narratives (stories) have a place. Use God’s stories well. They are history and depict God’s role in His world with people. Emphasize God’s control and good purpose as He works in His world.
7. Help people appreciate the continuity of Scripture. God has one plan, one message, and one person for His people which are illustrated on the pages of Scripture. God is glorified and His people should be excited, hopeful, comforted, and encouraged.
8. You and others become question-askers. Ask appropriate questions of yourself and of others. Ask questions knowing that God has answered them in His Word by precept and principle. Christianity is a reasoned faith and God has answers. His word is all we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3-4). Help others appreciate the beauty and relevancy of applied biblical truth daily. Truly, it will refresh your soul as well as theirs.
1. What is your answer to the phrase: The Bible says?
2. What is the basis for your answer?
3. What standard do you use and what changes have you made in yourself based on your answer?
4. Assess yourself in the mirror of His word and write down what you learn about self and God. What changes have you made? See James 1:22-25 and Hebrews 4:12.